The Dare of Some of Forrest’s Men


The following article first appeared under the above title in the “Confederate Veteran” and was then re-published in “The Hickman Courier” on March 6, 1908 under the title “A Little Story of Confederate Gallantry; and Unassuming Heroes of the Lost Cause Who Dwell Among Us”. It is recorded here exactly as it first appeared.

In the latter part of March, 1865 – when the War between the States was on the verge of collapse, when General Grant had closed in on Richmond, when Sherman was burning his way through our homes, when Hood had been driven out of Tennessee, and when Gen. N. B. Forrest, with about three thousand men, was camped at West Point, Mississippi – a feat of dash and dare occurred which showed the mettle of his men.

Ben Brown of Company L, 3rd Kentucky (now dead), and Tom J. Milner of Company I, 12th Kentucky (now a leading physician in Greenville Texas), having failed to secure fresh horses at their homes in Kentucky, as ordered to do by their officers, came back into Mississippi and forced some farmers to give them some good horses for their broken-down ones.

This would have been all right and no crime in Kentucky, simply a war necessity; but not so in Mississippi.  Our boys needed those horses in defending Mississippi against the Federal invaders.  Ben and Tom were followed, arrested, and put into the guardhouse by some of Forrest’s Mississippi Cavalry and charged with stealing.

This prison was very close to Forrest’s headquarters, was surrounded by many regiments of soldiers, companies of scouts, field artillery, etc., and was guarded by thirty soldiers who kept about twenty prisoners in an upper room, with a stairway on the outside.  Four guards stood at the foot of these steps, two at the top, and twenty-four were in reserve in the lower story, with double doors open at the stairway.  Our Kentucky troops, Buford’s Brigade, were camped some nine miles northeast, and pickets guarded every road.

Our prison comrades wrote to us and told us the whole story.  We, through our officers, who freely sympathized with them, tried hard to get them released, but utterly failed.  Ben and Tom were good, true soldiers, therefore fourteen veterans – namely, Add Brown, John Bushart, Bob Bushart, Newt Bushart, Rufus Johnson (all dead), Bill Murphy, Sam Stone, George Strather, John Smith, James H. Saunders, Don Singletary, Jap Nall, Mike Ward, W.P. Butler – hastily volunteered to go to the release of our comrades at any hazard.

After a hasty caucus, John Bushart and Don Singletary were sent to the prison to see the situation, warn our comrades of our intentions, and make every arrangement for our move that night at 11 p.m..  After going into the prison and talking with Ben and Tom, Comrades Bushart and Singletary took in the lay of the troops, Forrest’s quarters, batteries, etc. and then went back toward camp, some five miles, and met their comrades.

This squad of fourteen reached West Point in due time, and rode in between a fence and a small clump of hazel bushes within fifty yards of the prison and Forrest’s headquarters.  Add Brown and John Smith held all horses.  John Bushart and Jap Nall took charge of a small cabin of jolly folks, who seemed to be dancing, and the rest of the men went quickly in the darkness of night to the prison, surprising and capturing the guards on post.

Each one of the rescuers was armed with two revolvers, and ready for war, if war must come.  We knew our business, but little was said.  It took us perhaps three minutes.  The reserve guards were aroused, surprised and confused; but they caught up their guns, and we had a hand-to-hand encounter, and barely escaped war to the finish.  One shot or casualty would have meant death and destruction to many.

One of our men ordered them to be quiet and no harm would occur, and they obeyed.  In the meantime, James H. Saunders and Bill Murphy had secured Ben and Tom, and had warned the guards that we were taking one of their men along, and would kill him if they made an alarm; but had not taken either of their men.  They were afraid to alarm until they called their roll and found no one missing.

So our tactics worked to perfection.  Every one was at his best and acted well his part.  We escaped with our comrades, flanked all pickets, got into camp, cleaned the mud off our horses, hid our two comrades, and lay down just before a courier from Forrest’s quarters dashed up and ordered roll call and absentees noted.

Captain J. F. Morris (now Dr. Morris, of Madisonville, Texas) was happy that all were present.  But alas! our greatest trouble was yet to come.  We had committed mutiny and the penalty was death.

The next morning Gen. B. H. Lyon had Companies L, 3rd Kentucky, and I, 12th Kentucky, arrested and put in the very prison we raided the night before: and the day following Generals Forrest, Lyon, and Jackson sat as a court of inquiry to find out the leaders or men who were guilty; but we were up to our business and played a little tactics.

We held a council and agreed that in this court we were not to know or tell anything on each other.  We were to know nothing about our comrades, to forget it all, but to tell whatever we wanted to about ourselves except the truth of our trips.  This worked well: we outgeneraled the generals, and all were released except Bob and John Bushart and John Beard.  Yet the generals got no proof against them.  A little later, Captain Morris assisted in getting these released and exonerated.  Ben Brown (now dead) and T. J. Milner (now a leading physician at Greenville, Texas) were hid out near our camp and cared for.

General Forrest soon moved for a raid.  We were on the scout when the war closed and made our way home without ever being paroled.

In Memphis, Tennessee, soon after the war, First Lieut. Wiley Bushart talked over the above facts with General Forrest: and when the General learned that fourteen men had done this feat and outwitted his court, he said “Lieutenant Bushart, that was the only time I was ever outgeneraled; and if I ever go into war again, I want every one of those men as my staff officers or couriers.”

In 1906 (Capt) Dr. Morris, of Madisonville, Texas, wrote to his scribe concerning this West Point raid in part, as follows:  “I am free to state that you were a brave, good, gallant soldier, and a gentleman possessing the highest type of manhood.  The release of Ben Brown and Tom Milner from the West Point Prison was, in my opinion, an honorable, manly, and valorous deed.   I indorsed it.  I was at Meridian, Mississippi, when Ben Brown was recaptured and brought there and thrown in the stockade in irons.  In the meantime three of the Bushart boys were sent there by General Forrest on suspicion.  We succeeded in freeing Ben Brown from cuffs and turning him loose; and as there were no charges against the Bushart boys, I demanded of the provost marshal their trial or release. He turned them over to me and we returned to camp.  Not only our regimental and brigade officers commended the raid but, you remember, General Forrest himself after the surrender complimented the boys who were engaged on their bravery.  You all were exonerated.  Ben and Tom had obeyed orders in obtaining fresh horses.  Your chivalry should go down in history among the brilliant of our victories.  You fought a good fight.”




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