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Battle of Brice's Crossroads

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Brice's Crossroads is an American Civil War battle fought near Baldwyn, Mississippi, which pitted a 3,200 man contingent led by Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest against an 8,500 Union force led by Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis. The battle ended in a complete route of the Union forces and cemented Forrest's reputation as one of the greatest cavalrymen of all times. This battle remains a textbook example of a grossly outnumbered force prevailing through better tactics, terrain mastery and aggressive offensive action. Despite this, the Confederates gained little through the victory other than keeping the Union out of Alabama and Mississippi temporarily.

Situation

Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman had long known that his fragile supply and communication lines through Tennessee were in serious jeopardy because of depredations by Forrest's cavalry raids. To effect a halt to Forrest's activities, he ordered Gen. Sturgis to conduct a penetration into northern Mississippi and Alabama with a force of around 8,500 troops to destroy Forrest and his command. Sturgis after some doubts and trepidations departed Memphis on June 1st. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, alerted of Sturgis, warned Forrest. Lee had also planned a rendezvous at Okolona, Miss. with Forrest and his own troops but told Forrest to do as he saw fit. Already in transit to Tennessee, Forrest moved his cavalry (less one division) toward Sturgis but was unsure of Union intentions.

Forrest soon surmised, correctly, that the Union target was actually Tupelo, Mississippi, about 15 miles south of Brice's Crossroads. Although badly outnumbered, he decided to repulse Sturgis instead of waiting for Lee and selected an area to attack ahead on Sturgis' projected path. For this purpose, he choose Brices' Crossroads which featured muddy roads, heavily wooded areas and the natural boundary of Tishomingo Creek which had only one bridge going east to west. Forrest, seeing that the Union cavalry moved 3 hours head of its own infantry, devised a plan that called for an attack on Union cavalry first with the idea of forcing enemy infantry to hurry to assist them. Their infantry would be too tired to offer real help and the entire Union force would easily pushed against the creek to the west. He dispatched most of his men to two nearby towns to wait.

Battle

At 9:45am on June 10, a brigade of Gierson's cavalry division reached Brice's Crossroads and the battle started at 10:30am when the rebels performed a stalling operation with a brigade of their own. Forrest then ordered the rest his cavalry to converge around the crossroads. The remainder of the Union cavalry arrived in support but soon were pushed back in the face of a vicious Confederate assault at 11:30am when the balance of Forrest's cavalry came. Gierson called for infantry support and Sturgis obliged. The line held until 1:30pm when the first regiments of federal infantry arrived. The Union line, initially bolstered by the infantry, briefly seized the momentum and attacked the Confederate left flank but Forrest had other plans. He launched an attack from his extreme right and left wings before the rest of the federal infantry could take to the field. In this phase of the battle, Forrest commanded his artillery to unlimber, unprotected, only yards from the federal position and shell the Union line with grapeshot. The resulting massive damage caused Sturgis to reorder the line in a tighter semi-circle around the crossroads facing east. At 3:30 the rebel 2nd Tennessee. assaulted the bridge across the Tishomingo. Although the attack failed, it caused severe confusion among the federal troops and Sturgis ordered a general retreat. With the rebels still pressing, the retreat bottlenecked at the bridge and a panicked rout developed instead. The ensuing wild flight back to Memphis and pursuit carried across six counties before the exhausted Confederates retired.

Aftermath

The Confederates suffered 472 casualties to the Union's 2,164 (including 1,500 prisoners). Forrest captured huge supplies of arms, artillery and ammunition as well as plenty of stores. Sturgis was demoted and sent to the far west where he would later become a casualty in Little Big Horn. After the battle, Forrest would again be accused of massacring black soldiers by the Union Army. However, historians believe that charge to be unwarranted because later prisoner exchanges undermined the Union claim of disproportionate death.

Later Gen. Sherman would remark to Secretary of War Stanton:

I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined, and if he should be at fault, he shall have no mercy at my hands. I cannot but believe he had troops enough, and I know I would have been willing to attempt the same task with that force; but Forrest is the very devil and I think he has got some of our troops under cower. I have two officers at Memphis who will fight all the time, A.J. Smith and Mower. The latter is a young brigadier of fine promise, and I commend him to your notice. I will order them to make up a force and go out to follow Forrest to the death, if it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead.



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