Union General William T. Sherman described Nathan B. Forrest as the ‘most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side’. As the Confederacy’s disruptor-in-chief, Forrest specialized in the lightning cavalry raids, and his assault on Johnsonville was the culmination of a three-week rampage through western Tennessee. Arriving on the Tennessee River, he captured two steamboats and used them to transport his artillery to the west bank of the river opposite the town. Spotting the activity, a flotilla of Union gunboats was sent to attack Forrest’s positions, opening fire on the morning of 4 November. In response, the bombardment of Forrest’s artillery captain was devastatingly effective, destroying four Union gunboats, a host of other vessels and inflicting massive damage on the town’s supply depot. That night, Forrest departed as quickly as he had appeared ‘by the light of the enemy’s burning property’. Losing only two men, Forrest had significantly impeded Sherman’s plans.
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