Nathan Bedford Forrest had no formal military education and was, as John Morton, Forrest's Chief of Artillery, put it, "the negative of a West Pointer." He regarded maneuvers and exhaustive drill as unnecessary and cared nothing for conventional tactics. He disregarded Army regulations when he felt it best for his command to do so. Forrest's unconventional methods often brought him into conflict with his superior officers but they found it hard to fault his success.
A Brilliant Tactician
Forrest had the ability to instantly grasp the strategic possibility of every situation. His supreme confidence in his ability and judgment allowed him to act without hesitation.
"His plans of battle were not chalked out on blackboards nor drawn on charts; they were conceived on the instant and as instantaneously carried out. He struck as lightning strikes, and his tactics were as incalculable to the enemy. ?"
A Master of Psychological Warfare
Forrest skillfully employed misinformation and bluff to spread exaggerated reports of the strength of his force.
"No device for creating this impression was too insignificant to be called into play. The constant beating of kettledrums, the lighting and tending of numerous fires, moving pieces of artillery from one point to another, the dismounting of cavalry and parading them as infantry, nothing was overlooked."
Carefully instructed "stragglers" spread inflated reports. Elaborate shows of strength were staged for prisoners, who were then permitted to escape. The tactics were successful. Forrest's strength was consistently estimated to be much larger than it actually was. After the attack at Lexington on December 18, 1862 estimates put Forrest's force at "from ten to twenty thousand."
An Aggressive Opponent
Forrest never let his foe see that they had the advantage, never abandoned his aggressive stance. After Fuller's Brigade arrived at Parker's Crossroads, Forrest ordered every man he saw to turn about and fight the enemy. When halted by Forrest, Sergeant Nat Baxter exclaimed, "General, I am entirely unarmed, have neither gun, pistol nor sword." Forrest shouted, "That doesn't make any difference, get in line and advance on the enemy with the rest; I want to make as big a show as possible."
His forceful display convinced General Sullivan that Forrest meant to marshal his forces and attack in earnest. Instead, Forrest escaped from the battlefield.