Murfreesboro was a transportation hub on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. The town had a population of 4000. The railroad, completed on February 11, 1854, had cut travel time to nine hours by rail, opposed to twenty-two hours by stage. Eleven major roads also intersected the town paved with compressed stone binded with tar.
Murfreesboro attracted growing businesses and enjoyed high property values as a result.
Colonel Forrest had no formal education beyond the sixth-grade and no prior military training, but he was a natural tactician. He entered the Confederate army as a private and rose to the rank of lieutenant general.
According to historian, Shelby Foote, “In his first fight, northeast of Bowling Green, the forty year old Forrest improvised a double development, combined it with a frontal assault-classic maneuvers which he could not identify by name and of which he had most likely never heard.”
Forrest used bravado, deception and aggression to take the town.
On the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Forrest tricked Union pickets by having his vanguard pretend to be part of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry. They surrounded the Union soldiers and took them prisoner. No shots were fired.
Forrest intended to catch the rest of the Union forces sleeping. He positioned his troops, including Texas Rangers and Georgia cavalry. The cavalry would ride through town, positioning themselves between the Minnesota forces and the town. Forrest would lead Morrison’s battalion against the downtown forces.
At day break, Texas Rangers were within sight of Union tents. They charged, awakening the sleeping Pennsylvanian cavalrymen. Most were captured, a few killed.
Morrison’s battalion with Forrest in the lead, charged downtown and found the jail on fire. A number of area men had been arrested by Union soldiers and were being held there. The Rebel troops forced the door open and hauled prisoners out.
Confederate Captain William Richardson wrote of the raid, saying he’d “never forget the appearance of General Forrest on that occasion; his eyes were flashing as if on fire, his face deeply flushed, and he seemed in a condition of great excitement.”
Forrest ordered his troops to assault the courthouse and take the garrison. Three hours later, he ordered the courthouse to be set on fire. Union troops quickly surrendered.
Downtown Murfreesboro was now under Confederate control. Forrest captured the remaining Federal units near Oaklands and outside of town by Grantland.
After riding back into town, Forrest sent a flag of truce, telling the two colonels the remainder of the Union troops had surrendered, even thought they hadn’t, as a ruse to force their surrender.
The Union commanders, both seriously wounded, surrendered at noon.
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