Jack Hurst on the Civil War

Jack Hurst is a former journalist who has written for newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Tennessean. He is the author of Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography and Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War. A descendant of both Union and Confederate military officers, he lives with his wife outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

Jack Hurst is the author of Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography. From Hurst’s book, it is apparent that Forrest was a fierce and controversial Civil War officer, an unschooled but brilliant cavalryman, and an epic figure in America’s most contentious war. As he reveals in his penetrating and illuminating biography, Nathan Bedford Forrest, in the course of rising from private to lieutenant general in the Confederate Army, revolutionized the way armies fought.

In Hurst’s detailed and fascinating account of the legend of the “Wizard of the Saddle,” we see a man whose strengths and flaws were both of towering proportions – a man possessed of physical valor perhaps unprecedented among his countrymen, as well as ironically, a man whose social attitudes may well have changed farther in the direction of racial enlightenment over the span of his lifetime than those of most American historical figures. When Forrest died in 1877, he was despised throughout the North, but it is noteworthy that his funeral in Memphis was attended not only by a throng of whites but by hundreds of ex-slaves.

Jack Hurst was born in Maryville, Tennessee, in 1941 and graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1964. He was a staff reporter for the Nashville Tennessean for ten years, and for the Philadelphia Inquirer for three years, and was a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Hurst is also author of Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest, and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War. He is descended from a Union cavalryman from Tennessee and related to a Confederate general from Georgia. He currently lives with his wife outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography

Cover of "Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography" by Jack HurstHe was a fierce and controversial Civil War officer, an unschooled but brilliant cavalryman, an epic figure in America’s most celebrated war. A superb tactician and ferocious fighter, Nathan Bedford Forrest revolutionized the way armies fought in the course of rising from private to lieutenant general in the Confederate Army. In this detailed and fascinating account of the legend of the “Wizard of the Saddle,” we see a man whose strengths and flaws were both of towering proportions, a man possessed of physical valor perhaps unprecedented among his countrymen. And, ironically, Forrest the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was a man whose social attitudes may well have changed farther in the direction of racial enlightenment over the span of his lifetime than those of most American historical figures.

Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest and the Campaign That Decided the Civil War

Cover of "Men of Fire" by Jack HurstThis book looks at one of the earliest critically important campaigns of the American Civil War, the Federal attacks on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and the roles of U.S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest in the fighting. On the face of it this was a fairly obscure campaign, often only noted as a key stepping stone in the career of Grant, but as the subtitle makes clear, Hurst does not share this view.

It does help that I agree with Hurst’s main point, that it was the fighting in the west that decided the result of the American Civil War. While so much attention on both side (then and since) focused on the fighting in Virginia, in the west Federal armies under Grant and then Sherman dismantled the Confederacy. By the end of the war the Union’s western armies were rapidly approaching Lee’s army in Virginia from the south.

My only slight niggle with this book is that Forrest is rather over-billed in the title. He stands out on the Confederate side at Fort Donelson as just about the only competent senior commander present in the fort, but as a cavalry commander during a siege his actual role was really only to harass the Federal Troops, and then to escape before the end. In contrast Grant was the Federal commander on the ground, and so features rather more prominantly.

Although Grant and Forrest get top billing, Hurst does not neglect the important role played by figures such as the Federal naval commander Andrew Foote, the commander of the ironclad fleet, or by Forrest’s incompetent superior officers at Fort Donelson.

This is a well written, very readable work, well supported by contemporary accounts of the fighting (but not overwhelmed by them). The campaign is set in it’s historical and political context, with good sections on the roles of more senior Federal and Confederate commanders in the months before the fighting began (mostly infighting on the Federal side and indecision on the Confederate!).

Location:
Cowan Center for the Arts Theater
301 Montgomery St., Cowan, TN, 37318

Date/Time
Date(s) - 03/27/2011
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm