Beginning of a Legend
— Forrest's First Raid —
For two weeks in July 1862, Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest led 1,400 cavalrymen through Middle Tennessee to raid, scout and disrupt the Union Army of the Cumberland's operation there. Leaving McMinnville on July 13, Forrest fought actions at Murfreesboro, on the outskirts of Nashville, at Manchester, and elsewhere. He also destroyed railroad tracks and cut telegraph lines. Forrest's raid, his first independent command, was also the first large-scale raid within the Federal lines in the western theater. It earned him a promotion to brigadier general.
Few Union soldiers stationed in Murfreesboro were stirring in the early hours of Sunday morning, July 13, 1862, when Confederate Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry thundered down East Main Street. The substantial Federal garrison here under Gen. Thomas T. Crittenden guarded the vital Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad line, but the troops had been separated into three groups. An infantry regiment, a cavalry detachment, and an artillery battery were camped on Stones River more than a mile northwest of the town square.
Another regiment bivouacked at Maney's Spring (Oaklands mansion), and an infantry company guarded the courthouse.
After capturing the sentinels on the outskirts of town without firing a shot, Forrest formed his men into three columns and attacked each separate Federal detachment simultaneously. The action on the square was heavy, and Union sharpshooters killed more than twenty Confederates from protected positions in the courthouse and surrounding buildings. The Federal defenders held fast until the Confederates set fire to the first floor of the courthouse and threatened to burn them out.
The combination of surprise, strategy, and guile proved to be effective. Each of the three Federal detachments surrendered in turn. Forrest's cavalry took more than a thousand prisoners, including Crittenden, four artillery pieces, and a large quantity of military stores. They also freed a number of local citizens being held hostage in retaliation for the killing of some foraging Union soldiers.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest Courtesy Library of Congress
Gen. Thomas T. Crittenden Courtesy Library of Congress
Rutherford County Courthouse Courtesy Tennessee State Library and Archives