John R. Scales – Brig. Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.)
Savas Beatie, 2017, 480 pp., $32.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
There are many military leaders of interest in the American Civil War, yet one who seems to garner a great deal of attention is Nathan Bedford Forest. He is one of those characters of controversy, even to this day, but to me, one of the more interesting parts about his participation in the war is his rise in the ranks from the onset of the conflict. And there are even points in the book which prove how his actions and encounters shaped the Western Theater of the war. John R. Scales, Brig. Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.), brings to life some of the points throughout Forrest’s life, especially the campaigns he fought during the Civil War.
John R. Scales is a returned Brigadier General of the Special Forces. He has served for three decades, including tours in Vietnam and Afghanistan. He has a Ph.D. in engineering and has worked in that field since retiring from the military. He has written two previous works: Sherman Invades Georgia, and A Reluctant Hero’s Footsteps. He is a past president of the Tennessee Valley Civil War Rountable and often leads tours in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. He has also received a number of patents for inventions during his time as an engineer.
One of the things that I appreciate about this book that it not only looks at Forrest, but looks at the battles and campaigns which surround him. Being part of the Western Theater of the war, one of the issues I have is that there are a great deal fewer works on those engagements than the Eastern Theater. Throughout the book, Gen. Scales presents the engagements in each chapter. Sometimes they even read as though they area guide to anyone interested in visiting the battlefield. It almost feels as though he is taking the reader through the field himself in a way that I have not read in the past few years. His cumulative review of the raid or battle at the end of each chapter is also quite insightful as Gen. Scales excels at the narrative in this book. Aided by some fine maps and photographs, this book not only is a great insight into Forrest, but into the west. For those readers looking for a deeper book into the life of Forrest, you will find some interesting reading here, but the focus is more on the battles and raids which Forrest conducted during his military career.
I highly recommend this book, not only as a look into Forrest himself, but into the Western Theater of the Civil War. I found that Gen. Scales not only brings those battles to life, but walks hand in hand with you on the trails to point out the importance of certain things never pointed out before. Forrest may be a character deeply steeped in controversy, but this book puts that aside and instead focuses on his military career instead, even giving you glimpses into other commanders who surrounded Forrest. Overall, if you are interested in the Western Theater of the war, this book is highly recommended.