General Nathan Bedford Forrest
Hughes Ford - Franklin, Tennessee
November 30, 1864
Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest envisioned what was coming. He had reconnoitered Federal fortifications earlier that morning from the upstairs balcony of the McGavock home at Carnton plantation. It was clear to Forrest, after three years of battlefield experience, that the enemy troop strength and breastworks were far too strong for a frontal assault. Forrest had aggressively protested General Hood's plans to attack the center of the Federal position. Hood had replied "I do not think the Federals will stand strong pressure from the front." General Forrest remarked, "General Hood if you will give me one strong division of infantry with my cavalry, I will agree to flank the Federals from their works within two hours' time."
Not only did Hood not give General Forrest the division of infantry requested, Hood split Forrest's cavalry command in half, sending one section under the command of Chalmers to protect the left flank and Forrest to protect Hood's right.
Undaunted, Forrest was determined to try and turn the Federal's flank with what remained of his battle seasoned cavalry and escort. Forrest did not wait for the general attack that was to begin at four o'clock. At about 2:45pm Forrest and his cavalry charged across the Harpeth River at Hughes Ford, 3 miles upstream from Franklin. Federal cavalry protecting the river crossing, under the command of Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton, were quickly pushed back or overrun.
When Union cavalry commander Brig. General James H. Wilson received word at 3 p.m. that a portion of his command had retreated and that Forrest was crossing the river, he ordered reinforcements from the rest of his division to move south from the Brentwood Turnpike and attack Forrest. These forces were armed with seven shot Spencer Carbine repeating rifles.
It seemed for awhile that Forrest would be successful in turning the Federal left flank, thereby saving thousands of southern boys from certain death. But Wilson, using the tactic of dismounting his cavalry to fight on foot, which Forrest had perfected earlier in the war, stopped the southern cavalry's advance with volley after volley from repeating rifles.
General Wilson would later write in his report, "Upon this occasion General Hood made a fatal mistake, for it will be observed that he had detached Forrest, with two divisions of his corps, in a side operation, which left him only Chalmer's Division to cooperate with the main attack of his infantry. Had his (Forrest) whole cavalry force advanced against me, it is possible that it would have succeeded in driving me back."
As he heard the roll of thunder, the sound of battle in Franklin, General Forrest envisioned what was happening to his brothers-in-arms.