Battle of Tupelo
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The Battle of Tupelo was a Union victory over Confederate forces in northern Mississippi which ensured the safety of General William T. Sherman's supply lines.
After the Confederate victory at the battle of Brice's Crossroads, the supply lines for Sherman's armies in Georgia became increasingly vulnerable. District commander, Cadwallader C. Washburn dispatched a force under General Andrew J. Smith to deal with Confederate cavalier, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Smith's forces arrived in northern Mississippi (Pontotoc) on July 11, 1864 by marching from La Grange, Tennessee. Forrest was nearby with 6,000 troops but under orders from his superior Stephen D. Lee not to attack until reinforcements arrived. The next day Lee arrived with 2,000 reinforcements. As ranking officer, Lee assumed command of the Confederate forces. Smith moved eastward from his encampment at Pontotoc towards Tupelo. Forrest considered Smith's movements a retreat while Smith was intending to destroy the railroads at Tupelo. On the night of the 13th Smith constructed breastworks near Harrisburg, an abandoned town a mile west of Tupelo. Early on July 14 Lee ordered an assault on the Union lines. Lee attacked the Union right under General Joseph A. Mower while Forrest assaulted the Union left held by Colonel David Moore and General Benjamin Grierson. Throughout the morning Lee and Forrest led a series of uncoordinated attacks against defended positions which Forrest later claimed were impregnable.
During the night Smith burned the remains of Harrisburg but the flames illuminated his lines. Forrest led a daring night assault against the Union left defended by a brigade of USCT (African-American soldiers) which held strong and repulsed Forrest. On July 15 Smith began to move north. Forrest attacked Smith's rearguard and was again repulsed and wounded in the foot. A few days later Smith returned to La Grange, Tennessee from where he had originally departed.
Smith was criticized for not destroying Forrest and although he was hasty to leave the field, the Union forces had in fact not inflicted a tactical defeat on the legendary Forrest, because Forrest had no participation in the planning and execution of the battle. Sherman's supply lines had been protected from Confederate raids. Although Smith had achieved his main goal of the campaign, Forrest's cavalry still remained at large as a viable force.
The battle is commemorated at the Tupelo National Battlefield, which was founded in 1929.
Order of battle
- 1st Division - Brigadier General Joseph Mower
- 1st Brigade - Colonel William L. McMillen
- 2nd Brigade - Colonel Alexander Wilkin, k
- 3rd Brigade - Colonel Joseph J. Woods
- 4th Brigade - Colonel Lyman M. Ward (detached from XVII Corps)
- 2nd Division - Colonel David Moore
- 1st Brigade - Colonel Charles D. Murray
- 2nd Brigade - Colonel James I. Gilbert
- 3rd Brigade - Colonel Edward H. Wolf (detached from 4th Division)
- Cavalry Division - Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson
- 2nd Brigade - Colonel Edward F. Winslow
- 3rd Brigade - Colonel Datus E. Coon
- 1st Brigade - Colonel Edward Bouton
Department of Alabama, Mississippi & Louisiana - Major General Stephen D. Lee
Cavalry Corps - Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest
- 1st Division - Brigadier General James R. Chalmers
- Rucker's Brigade - Colonel Edmund Rucker
- Roddy's Brigade - Colonel Philip D. Roddy
- McCulloch's Brigade - Colonel Robert McCulloch
- 2nd Division - Brigadier General Abraham Buford
- Lyon's Brigade - Colonel Edward Crossland
- Bell's Brigade - Colonel Tyree H. Bell
- Dismounted Brigade - Lt. Colonel Thomas T. Barnett