Battle of Brice's Crossroads

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The Battle of Brice's Crossroads was fought on June 10, 1864, near Baldwyn in Lee County, Mississippi, during the American Civil War. It pitted a 4,787-man contingent led by Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest against an 8,100-strong Union force led by Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis. The battle ended in a rout of the Union forces and cemented Forrest's reputation as one of the great cavalrymen.

The battle remains a textbook example of an outnumbered force prevailing through better tactics, terrain mastery, and aggressive offensive action. Despite this, the Confederates gained little through the victory other than temporarily keeping the Union out of Alabama and Mississippi.

Contents

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's movement, 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, located in Lee County, about 15 miles (24 km) 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's projected path. He chose Brice's Crossroads, in what is now Lee County, which featured four 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 Union cavalry division reached Brice's Crossroads and the battle started at 10:30 a.m. when the Confederates 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 strong 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.

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