Civil War and Carroll County, Tennessee
Carroll County, like many other counties in West Tennessee, was a divided county.
Livestock farmers did not have slaves and were for remaining in the Union, cotton
growers or row cropper had slaves and were for seceding from the Union. resulting in
their meeting at the Huntingdon Court House in Huntingdon for a heated discussion
resulting in those for remaining in the Union leaving by the North door and the
others leaving by the South door.
Carroll County is not regarded as a place of much military importance during the
Civil War, although many brave men from this area fought and died in that conflict
for both sides, not much mention of the events or terrible hardships that came to
this part of Tennessee has been made. However, an event on the South Fork of the
Obion River between McKenzie and Huntingdon showed what men will endure for a cause
they believe in. The over-night crossing of the flooded South Fork of the Obion River
by General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his troops in December 28, 1862 is probably one
of the most significant events that took place in Carroll County during this
conflict. It is hard to believe that 2,000 men, with almost that many horses and
mules, 12 pieces of artillery and 30 to 40 wagons, accomplished such a feat in such
bad weather and in total darkness. After crossing the Obion River, General Forrest
fought the enemy on December 31st, at the famous Battle of Parker's crossroads a few
miles south of the Carroll county line in Henderson county, Tennessee.
Let's go back to mid December, 1862 and follow General Nathan Bedford Forrest and the
events that led up to his passage through Carroll County. General Forrest, a military
genius, was also a genius at selecting his staff. Colonel Jacob (Jake) Biffle of
Wayne County and Colonel Robert Milton Russell of Trenton, Gibson County are very
significant in his success in his first raid into West Tennessee. General Forrest
received his orders from General Braxton Bragg on December 10th at Columbia,
Even though General Forrest had been ordered on the raid, he complained to General
Bragg that many of his men were not well equipped. Some had shotguns, while others
had flintlock muskets from the Mexican War of 1846. Be that as it may, General
Forrest accepted his challenge and set his troops in motion from Columbia to Clifton
on the Tennessee River. Clifton was home territory for Colonel Jake Biffle. He knew
that Union troops guarded Cerro Gordo a few miles south, so they chose Clifton to
make their crossing. Reaching Clifton on the 15th of December, a distance of 70
miles, Forrest took time to scout the river for Union gunboats and then began to
ferry his men and equipment across the Tennessee River to the Western side.
At this point we should review the situation:
General Forrest was putting himself and his troops in great danger because of the
great task that lay ahead for him in West Tennessee. Earlier in 1862, General U.S.
Grant's Union forces had made a clean sweep of the whole western region of Tennessee.
The North had defeated the South at Columbus, Kentucky, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,
Island No. 10, Fort Pillow, Memphis and the great Battle of Shiloh. By December of
1862, the Union forces claimed control of western Tennessee and down into
Mississippi. Garrisons had been posted at most towns along the railroads to guard the
supply lines from being retaken or destroyed by Southern forces.
After crossing the Tennessee River, General Forrest first encountered the enemy at
Lexington on the 17th of December. He met them head on and forced them back toward
Jackson, then out-flanked them and captured 150 men and officers, 2 pieces of
artillery, 300 Sharpes carbines, ammunition and 200 horses with some wagons. Part of
the Union cavalry fled back to the safety of Jackson, there proclaiming General
Forrest must be 5,000 men strong and was headed to Jackson. He only had about 1,800
men at this time.
General Forrest reached Jackson on the 18th of December and an estimated a force of
10,000 Union troops. After a brief skirmish at Salem Church, then Spring Creek, Webb
Station and Carroll Station, Forrest left Spring Creek for Humboldt along the Mobile
and Ohio Railroad. This was General Grant's supply line between Columbus, Kentucky
and Holly Springs, Mississippi. General Forrest arrived at Shiloh Church near
Humboldt on the Peay Ridge Road and sent troops to Humboldt to destroy the bridges on
the railroad. He then took the Peay Ridge Road to Trenton, home of Colonel Robert
Milton Russell. At Humboldt on the 20th of December, part of his force captured 200
prisoners, 500 rifles, 300,000 rounds of ammunition and other supplies.
Meanwhile, General Forrest and the rest of his troops moved on toward Trenton where
the girls school cheered as he entered town. General Forrest positioned his Bull Pups
on Texas hill and fired upon the heavily fortified train depot. After a short time,
the Union forces gave up. Forrest took 400 prisoners, 1,000 horses and mules, 13
wagons, 7 caissons, 20,000 rounds of artillery and 400,000 rounds of small-arms
ammunition. The days take also included 100,000 rations of food and a large amount of
clothing., blankets and cavalry equipment valued at $500,000.
On December 21, Forrest moved northward along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad toward
Union City. He left Colonel Jake Biffle and his cavalry to cause havoc along the
Christmasville Road to Huntingdon. As Forrest proceeded to Union City, he captured
stockades at Rutherford and Kenton, taking 300 more prisoners and destroying the
tracks and bridges through the Obion River bottom there. Pushing on toward the north,
Forrest reached Union City on the afternoon of the 22nd.
Here, as so many times before, General Forrest used his ability for quick and
decisive action to capture the town and the 250 Union troops guarding the railroad
there. From Dec.23rd to the 25th, the entire command rested and destroyed railroad
bridges around Union City as far north as Moscow, Kentucky. The 5,000 Union troops at
Columbus, Kentucky became so afraid they would be captured, they began dismantling
their heavy cannons and dumped their powder in the Mississippi River.
The day after Christmas, General Forrest put his command in motion to the southeast
along the Nashville and Northwestern (NWR road) toward Dresden. He camped there for
the night and received reports from his scouts that a force of Union troops were
moving from Trenton to Union City and Trenton to Huntingdon to cut him off from
returning to the Tennessee River. Forrest quickly moved his troops to McKenzie
Station of Carroll County on the afternoon of the 25th of December.
General Forrest sent Colonel Robert Milton Russell and his men toward Huntingdon 6 or
7 miles to take and hold the crossing of the South Fork of the Obion River. Scouts
reported back about 9 o'clock that night that the Union forces had destroyed the
bridges over the South Fork of the Obion River south of the high road going to Paris
from Jackson. Colonel Russell had met enemy there, but had managed to get his men
across. At this news, General Forrest sent Major N.M. Cox at a gallop to seize the
road from Huntingdon to Paris and cross if possible and hold the enemy in check.
General Forrest found himself and his troops in a very bad position. Union troops
were coming from Union City behind him and coming from Trenton to Huntingdon in front
of him. General Sullivan's brigade was at Huntingdon, General Dodge was moving up
from Corinth, Colonel Lowe from Fort Henry, Colonel Lawler from Jackson and General
Haynie sent troops from Trenton. Forrest was virtually surrounded by several thousand
Union troops, with no way to cross the South Fork of the Obion river at flood stage.
Union telegram from Brig. General Jeremiah C. Sullivan to General Grant: Huntingdon,
Tn. Dec. 29, 1862 8:06 p.m. I reached Huntingdon before the rebels knew I had left
Trenton. I have Forrest in a tight place, but he may escape by me not having
cavalry......My troops are moving in on him in three directions, and I hope for
success. Realizing the desperate situation he was in, General Forrest knew he must
find a way to cross the South Fork of the Obion River and get his troops to safety.
The crossing known as the Double Bridges on the McLemoresville Road, near Big Buck
seemed to be the only hope for the rebel raiders and their heavy wagons with the
spoils they had collected. The Union forces had overlooked these bridges as they were
thought to be impassable and were left unguarded.
General Forrest and his brigade reached the South Fork bottom about 11 o'clock on the
night of the 28th of December. They quickly began to cut timbers to brace up the
bridges and lay as tracks for the wagons and artillery. After this was done and the
slow painful crossing started, General Forrest drove the first wagon across to
inspire his men not to give up. The General made it across, but the next two teams
slipped into the icy backwaters. Soon, these were pulled out, and the rest were
helped across by hand, twenty men to each wagon. In some cases, the wagons were so
heavily loaded that the men threw flour and coffee in the mud holes to get them
through. Finally, the artillery was drawn across fifty men to each gun and caisson.
The men were becoming very weary and demoralized by this time from such a hardship.
It is hard to imagine men wading waist-deep freezing water, pushing wagons across a
swamp at night in such conditions. This type of crossing would have been very
difficult in daylight in the summer time.
By the morning of the 29th, the men and equipment were all south of the South Fork of
the Obion River and headed down the Big Buck Road for McLemoresville. Colonel Robert
Milton Russell and major N.M. Cox rejoined the command near Newbill's Crossroads.
Remember, Colonel Jake Biffle was left to play havoc along the road from Trenton to
Huntingdon. Colonel Fuller left Trenton on the Christmasville road through Concord to
Waterford of the Rutherford Fork of the Obion River. Colonel Biffle was biting at his
heels. At Waterford, Colonel Fuller was advised by a local man that he should turn
right on the Burlington Highway to get to Huntingdon the quickest way. As he turned
right, there was a skirmish at Waterford was the stragglers being overtaken by
Colonel Biffle. Four of these troops were killed and buried on the William Goodman
farm in the family graveyard.
William Goodman was one of the first settlers in Gibson county, thought to have been
here before the Chickasaw Indians were removed. His son Fielding G. Goodman had a
cotton gin at Waterford. Fielding G. Goodman was first married to Delila Woodson,
sister of Jane Woodson Robinson married to George W. Robinson who was with General
Forrest. George W's cousin joined R.H. Goodman (son of F.G. Goodman) Colonel Biffel's
forces the very day that this skirmish happened. Some think he may be the one that
sent Colonel Fuller off on this route to Huntingdon. Colonel Fuller spent the night
at Shady Grove that night instead of Huntingdon because of the extra milage. Colonel
Jake Biffle went on the Jackson with Colonel Stephens.
Near McLemoresville, General Forrest stopped for a time to let his troops rest and
fed the animals. There, he learned of 10,000 Union troops from Huntingdon that were
about to move against him. About 10 o clock, the troops were put into motion on the
back roads leading from McLemoresville to Lexington. Late that afternoon, the troops
reached the area around Union Church near flake's Store, about 9 miles north west of
Lexington and 6 miles west of Clarksburg. Here they camped for the night and rested
the next day, while scouting parties kept a close eye for the enemy.
About 4 o'clock a.m. on the 31st of December, General Forrest moved on to Parker's
Crossroads where he met the Union forces commanded by Colonel Cyrus Dunham. As the
Union forces drew up in line for battle, General Forrest quickly dismounted Dibrell's
and Russell's regiments and put them forward as skirmishes. The artillery, commanded
by Freeman and Morton, was placed on a ridge about 600 yards from the Union position
and opened a steady fire upon the Union guns. After an hour or so of hard fighting,
Colonel Dunham's forces were driven back to the east side of the Huntingdon and
Lexington road, or southeast of Parker's Crossroads. By 12 o'clock noon, Forrest's
artillery had knocked out all of the Union artillery and driven the Union forces
further back across an open field into a clump of woods, killing and wounding many of
them. At this point several white flags began to appear among the forces of Colonel
Dunham's beaten forces. It seemed that General Forrest and his troops had won the
battle, the enemy had been driven back steadily for about four hours and now were
surrounded by the Confederates. But just as General Forrest was about to accept the
surrender of Colonel Dunham and his men, the worst thing that could happen, did.
Two fresh brigades under General Sullivan and Colonel Fuller slipped in behind
General Forrest and were beginning to attack. Remember, Colonel Fuller would have
been there in the morning had not he spent the night at Shady Grove. The scouts that
he had sent to watch for them had not reported back in time and allowed General
Forrest to be surprised by the reinforcements. Also, remember, Colonel Jake Biffle
was in Jackson on the morning of December the 31st with Colonel Stephens. When he
first heard the guns at Parker's Crossroads, he came at a gallop. As he arrived to
save General Forrest, again, General Forrest gave his famous reply when asked what to
do, Charge them both ways. Immediately, Forrest and his men began to leave the field
of battle and get to safety. This was done as best they could; many who had
dismounted to fight were unable to get back to their horse. They were able to get 6
pieces of artillery and most of the wagons rolling and on the road to Lexington.
There was some confusion, but most of Forrest's troops escaped capture because
Colonel Jake had arrived in time and General Forrest led a fierce counterattack
himself. After stopping briefly in Lexington to eat and feed the animals, General
Forrest led his men back to Clifton where they raised the barges they had sunk when
crossing before. They crossed the river on January the 1st, 1863.
The December, 1862 raid into West Tennessee by General Nathan Bedford Forrest was
definitely one of his most brilliant expeditions. In the short 15 day period, Forrest
and his men had traveled about 250 miles behind enemy lines, fought daily skirmishes
and three sizable battles with the enemy. Despite all this the command averaged
moving 20 miles a day over terrible winter roads. General Forrest actually ended the
campaign with more men than he started with, while killing or capturing 2,500 Union
troops. He had taken or destroyed 10 pieces of artillery, captured 10,000 rifles and
pistols and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition, plus many other supplies, food and
equipment. This raid also destroyed 50 bridges and many miles of track on the Mobile
and Ohio Railroad; General Grant's major supply line into West Tennessee and
General Nathan Bedford Forrest (of Prussian fighting descent) with his quickness and
ability to disrupt the enemy introduced new tactics of warfare into the Civil War
still studied and used today. Had General Robert E. Lee known about the tactics of
General Forrest in time, he might have used his tactics in other fields of battle.
General Forrest had struck such a blow to General Grant in West Tennessee with such a
small force, he should be remembered as The Wizard of the Saddle. General Sherman
also recognized him when he called him That Devil Forrest. But let us not forget, the
men he chose to lead under him, Colonel Robert Milton Russell, West Point Graduate,
Infantry. General Forrest had a man to hold the horses while the others fought
dismounted. He only used the horses as transportation unless absolutely necessary.
This article, contributed by Jere R Cox, was taken from an article in the History of
Carroll County, Tennessee Volume One, 1987 submitted by Dale Cooper and Colonel Jack
Barnett Biffle, Born to Fight by Sons of the South Publications by Brent A. Cox. Some
of the information was researched by Brent a. Cox and Dan Kennerly, author of
Firstest with the Mostest. submitted by Jere R Cox
- This article, contributed by Jere R Cox, was taken from an article
in the History
of Carroll County, Tennessee Volume One, 1987
submitted by Dale Cooper and Colonel Jack
Barnett Biffle, Born to
Fight by Sons of the South Publications by Brent A. Cox.
Some of the information was researched by Brent a. Cox and
Dan Kennerly, author of
Firstest with the Mostest.
submitted by Jere R Cox