Affair at Jackson


By exaggerating the size of his cavalry, Nathan Bedford Forrest kept a Union force of 10,000 penned in Jackson. He did considerable damage to railroad bridges and delayed Grant’s movement to Vicksburg.

It was said that Ulysses S. Grant hated to hear Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s name, because bad news was sure to follow. During Forrest’s West Tennessee Raid in December, 1862, the southern force struck successfully at Lexington before moving on to Jackson, where 10,000 Federals commanded by General Jeremiah Sullivan were entrenched. Forrest, whose cavalry force numbered no more than 2500 ill-equipped troopers, missed no opportunity to exaggerate the size of his force by beating drums to indicate the presence of infantry, having his cavalry dismount and march around like foot soldiers, lighting numerous fires, and moving artillery around to create the look of a large force advantageously deploying its guns for battle. Forrest also filled the ears of prisoners with inflated estimates of his strength before paroling them to spread disinformation to their Union comrades manning the lines in Jackson. Forrest wanted to keep Sullivan penned up in Jackson so he could wreak havoc in the countryside. Dividing his force, he sent one group north of Jackson to Carroll’s Station and another to the south towards Bolivar. As Forrest expected, each force did maximum damage to the railroad and its bridges. On December 19, Forrest launched a feint against Jackson that successfully drove Sullivan’s Union cavalry back into the town, gaining him a day’s advantage over any pursuit. By the time Union forces began to coalesce, Forrest had burned railroad track and trestles all the way up to Union City, slightly north of the Obion River. Although Sullivan’s men eventually cornered Forrest at Thompson’s Station northeast of Jackson, the southern general extricated himself and most of his men to fight another day. Forrest’s West Tennessee Raid and Earl Van Dorn’s destruction of the Union supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, delayed Grant’s movement on Vicksburg, since resupply would have to come over the railroads Forrest had destroyed.

  • Forrest spread disinformation and used various tricks to make just 2,500 ill-equipped troopers look like a large force
  • He burned rail lines and bridges all the way to Union City
  • Sullivan’s Union troops eventually cornered Forrest, who escaped.