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Battle of Brice's Crossroads

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Battle of Brice's Crossroads was fought on June 10, 1864, near Baldwyn, Mississippi, during the American Civil War. It pitted a 3,200-man contingent led by Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest against an 8,500-strong Union force led by Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis. The battle ended in a rout of the Union forces and cemented Forrest's reputation as one of the great cavalrymen.

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 trepidation, departed Memphis on June 1. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, alerted of Sturgis, warned Forrest. Lee had also planned a rendezvous at Okolona, Mississippi, 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 remained unsure of Union intentions.

Forrest soon surmised, correctly, that the Union had actually targeted 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. He choose Brice's 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 three hours ahead of its own infantry, devised a plan that called for an attack on the Union cavalry first, with the idea of forcing the enemy infantry to hurry to assist them. Their infantry would be too tired to offer real help and the Confederates planned to push the entire Union force against the creek to the west. Forrest dispatched most of his men to two nearby towns to wait.

Battle

At 9:45 a.m. on June 10, a brigade of Benjamin H. Grierson's cavalry division reached Brice's Crossroads and the battle started at 10:30 a.m. when the rebels performed a stalling operation with a brigade of their own. Forrest then ordered the rest of his cavalry to converge around the crossroads. The remainder of the Union cavalry arrived in support, but a vicious Confederate assault soon pushed them back at 11:30 a.m., when the balance of Forrest's cavalry arrived on the scene. Grierson called for infantry support and Sturgis obliged. The line held until 1:30 p.m. 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 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 to shell the Union line with grapeshot. The massive damage caused Sturgis to re-order 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 suffered demotion and exile to the far West, where he would later become a casualty at Little Big Horn. After the battle, the Union Army again accused Forrest of massacring black soldiers. However, historians believe that charge unwarranted, because later prisoner exchanges undermined the Union claim of disproportionate death.

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