By MIKE WEST, Courier Editor
Sunday, July 13, 1862 was an important day for Woodbury and ol' "Murfreesborough" as well.
Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest came knock, knock, knocking on the Rutherford County Courthouse door and liberated a number of citizens from Cannon County who were facing the hangman's noose.
It was an important day for Forrest as well. It was his 41st birthday and he celebrated with the first independent victory of his controversial military career.
Forrest, who was born in nearby Chapel Hill, has been both been mythicized and demonized by history. To followers of the "Lost Cause," Forrest was a brilliant commander who would have won the war for the Confederacy, if only he had been placed in charge. To his detractors, Forrest was a racist responsible for the worst massacre of the Civil War and is still vilified for founding the Ku Klux Klan.
Naturally, the truth lies somewhere between.
Forrest's raid on Murfreesboro displayed his military genius at his best. Unlike many of the commanders on both the Union and Confederate sides, Forrest did not have any formal military training. He wasn't a Mexican War veteran and he only had a sixth-grade education, but he was the only man on either side to enter the war as a private and rise to the rank of lieutenant general.
He was instead, a natural tactician who had an eye for the terrain and was the anthesis of West Point trained officers who were restrained by tradition and who judged their chances for success solely on the strength of numbers.
"In his first fight, northeast of Bowling Green, the forty year old Forrest improvised a double envelopment, combined it with a frontal assault-classic maneuvers which he could not identify by name and of which he had most likely never heard, " wrote historian Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative.
During the raid on Murfreesboro, Forrest was to display even more creative military moves.
He took the town through a mixture of bravado, deception and aggression.
Murfreesboro, with a population of nearly 4,000, was an important transportation hub on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, which had gone into service on Feb. 11, 1854. Completion of the railroad cut the travel time between Nashville and Chattanooga from 22 hours by stage to nine hours by rail. Eleven major roads radiated from town, a number of them were macadamized (paved with compressed stone binded by tar.)
Completion of the railroad also boosted property values in Murfreesboro as well as attracting new, successful businesses. Despite these developments, agriculture was king in Rutherford County.
On April 27, 1862, Union forces began to march on Murfreesboro as part of orders from Washington D.C. to secure and repair the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. The Union troops headquartered there spent their time on picket duty and in training. Generally, the townspeople were less than friendly and troops became the target of catcalls and the occasional stone.
Despite a fear of attack, the Union leadership in Murfreesboro did nothing to unify its forces or to develop any fortifications. The jail and Courthouse on the Square became their headquarters. Trouble intensified when the Yankees began to raid area farms and mercantile stores. In a number of cases, if farmers or shopkeepers resisted, they were placed under arrest by Federal troops in either the jail or courthouse.
By early July 1862, at least 12 prominent citizens were being held. Prime property like Oaklands plantation, owned by Lewis and Rachel Maney, was being occupied by Union troops. Michigan troops, under the command Col. William Duffield of the 9th Michigan, were camped on the front lawn of Maney's home.
Meanwhile, the Confederate army learned of Union plans to push through Middle Tennessee in an effort to relieve the Unionist communities in the eastern portion of the state. Cavalry raids were ordered to disrupt the lines of communications for the Union forces which where then under the command of Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Bell, who was eventually replaced by Gen. William S. Rosecrans.
Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest was ordered on June 11, 1862 to go to Chattanooga by Gen. Pierre Beauregard. Forrest was still recovering from a serious wound he sustained just after Shiloh. As the Rebels retreated to Corinth, Forrest and his cavalrymen covered the rear where they encountered the 4th Illinois cavalry and two brigades of infantry commanded by Gen. William T. Sherman. Forrest charged, throwing the Union troops into disarray. Forrest was seriously wounded when he found himself surrounded by Federal reserves.
Forrest was not allowed to take his regiment to Chattanooga, but he was permitted to pick several officers and 20 men as his escort, which was placed under command of his brother, Capt. William Forrest. Once in Chattanooga he added the 8th Texas Cavalry "Terry's Rangers" to his brigade.
Commanded by Col. John A. Wharton, Terry's Rangers were a hardy group of cowboys from the cattle ranches of Texas. Two Georgia units under command of Col. J.K. Lawton and Col. James J. Morrison were also added along with 100 Kentuckians, who had previously served with Brig. Gen. Benjamin H. Helm, President Lincoln's Confederate brother-in-law.
He departed East Tennessee with the Texas Rangers and the 2nd Georgia Cavalry on July 9, making a forced ride of nearly 50 miles to Altamount. After resting a night at Altamont, the troopers headed for McMinnville where they were joined on the 11th by Morrison's cavalry and two companies of Tennessee troops and the 100 Kentuckians.
Now totaling some 1,400 men, the unit departed for Murfreesboro on June 12, only stopping to feed horses and men late that night in Woodbury. A state historic marker "Forrest Rested Here," marks the stop on the eastern side of Woodbury.
There Forrest was approached by many of the female residents of Woodbury who informed the colonel that most of the town's men had been taken prisoner the previous night by Union troops who charged them with giving aid to the Confederate army.
While briefly resting in Woodbury, Forrest reassured the women that their men would be home the following night. He told his troopers July 13 was his 41st birthday and that they would celebrate by a victory in Murfreesboro. By this time, his scouts had informed the cavalry commander that Murfreesboro was occupied by the 9th Michigan and 3rd Minnesota infantry, a portion of the 7th Pennsylvania cavalry and an artillery battery consisting of four cannons.
The Confederates rode the 18 miles to Murfreesboro, arriving at the outskirts of town at about 4:30 a.m.
Using deception, Forrest's vanguard took out the 15 Union pickets without a shot being fired by pretending to be part of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry arriving for duty. The cavalry surrounded the Union soldiers and took them prisoner with drawn pistols. No shots were fired and no alert was given.
Colt Navy revolvers were the preferred weapons of the Confederate troopers along with shotguns, which gave them a definite advantage in firepower in close combat situations. Forrest didn't like sabers, believing them to be a rattling nuisance.
The Union forces were in three positions with the largest detachment at Oaklands, another downtown at the Square and a third across town near Stones River. That third unit, the 3rd Minnesota was 500 men strong with four pieces of artillery.
It was Forrest's intention to catch them all sleeping. And he did.
In columns of four, the Confederates rode quietly into town. Forrest directed the Texas to assault the Michigan/Pennsylvania troops near Oaklands. The Georgia cavalry was to ride full bore through town and position themselves between the Minnesota forces and town. Forrest was to personally lead Morrison's battalion against the forces downtown.
Just as day was breaking, the Texas Rangers were poised within sight of the Union tents. When the command was given, they charged, rousing the sleeping Pennsylvania cavalrymen. Some of them were killed, but most were captured.
The 9th Michigan was better prepared and was quick to offer resistance to the Texans. Col. W.W. Duffield stepped from his tent and rallied his men until he was seriously wounded by Col. Wharton, who was then shot down. Duffield, shot in the groin and left thigh, led the defense until he passed out from loss of blood. Lt. Col John G. Parkhurst reorganized and repositioned the Federal troops behind a cedar fence, which was strengthened with wagons and hay bales.
Heavy fire from the Texas Rangers kept the Michigan troops penned down and unable to come to the assistance of the other Union troops.
Lewis Maney, his wife, Adeline, and their children watched the clash from an upstairs window at Oaklands.
Meanwhile, Morrison's battalion, in Forrest's direct command, charged downtown where they discovered the jail on fire where a number of area men were being held. Several of them had been condemned to hang on the 13th, including a Baptist minister and four of his neighbors and Confederate Capt. William Richardson, who penned an account of the raid.
Flames were high when Rebel troopers forced open the jail door and dragged the prisoners out. Forrest personally checked their condition.
Richardson wrote he would "never forget the appearance of General Forrest on that occasion; his eyes were flashing as if on fire, his face deeply flushed, and he seemed in a condition of great excitement."
While the Confederates went door to door downtown looking for Federal officers, the remaining provost officers took refuge on the second floor of the Courthouse, which was very easily defended. From their perch, the Union troops were able to pepper any Rebel within range.
In response, Forrest ordered his troops to assault the courthouse from all four sides, batter down the doors and take the garrison. After two or three hours fight, he ordered the courthouse set on fire. The Union troops quickly surrendered.
Brig. Gen. T.T. Crittenden was captured along with his staff.
With downtown Murfreesboro under Confederate control, Forrest then acted to capture the remaining units near Oaklands and outside of town close to Grantland, the home of the Murfree family (near the modern intersection of Medical Center Parkway and Broad Street.)
The 3rd Minnesota immediately formed into lines after hearing the clatter of small arms fire downtown, but they had moved only 400 yards when spotting Lawton's Georgia cavalry. Held in check, the Minnesota troops plinked at the Confederates from long distance using the four-cannon battery.
Accessing the situation, Forrest led a small detachment around the Minnesotans and attacked their base camp. Now the troops under Col. Lester could neither advance nor retreat.
He then turned to subterfuge.
Riding back into town Forrest sent a flag of truce to Duffield and Parkhurst in their strong position near Oaklands.
Forrest told the two colonels that the remaining Union troops had surrendered (they hadn't) and he was concentrating his entire force on their position. He demanded unconditional surrender or he would put every man to the sword.
Duffield and Parkhurst, both seriously wounded, discussed the offer and accepted it, surrendering at noon.
Forrest left enough men to guard those troops and then trotted back across town with the remainder of his troops.
He then used the same ruse on Colonel Lester. Forrest sent a flag of truce forward with this message:
"Murfreesborough, July 13, 1862
Colonel - I must demand an unconditional surrender of your force as prisoners of war, or I will have every man put to the sword. You are aware of the overpowering force I have at my command, and this demand is made to prevent the effusion of blood. I am, Colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lester asked to consult with Duffield and was immediately taken, under escort, downtown where the dog and pony show continued with Forrest constantly rotating units so it appeared he had far greater numbers. After seeing Duffield and his surrendered men, Lester immediately capitulated.
Nathan Bedford Forrest had captured Murfreesboro, saved a number of citizens, and started building his legend.
Maj. Gen. J.P. McCown, CSA, telegraphed his report in:
"Forrest attacked Murfreesborough at five o'clock Sunday morning, July 13th, and captured two brigadier-generals, staff and field officers and 1200 men; burned $200,000 worth of stores; captured sufficient stores with those burned to amount to $500,000; sixty wagons; 300 mules; 150 or 200 horses, and field battery of four pieces; destroyed the railroad and depot at Murfreesboro. Had to retreat to McMinnville owing to the large number of prisoners to be guarded. Loss 16 or 18 killed, 25 or 30 wounded."