Battle of Brice's Crossroads
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|Battle of Brice's Crossroads|
|Part of the American Civil War|
Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site
|United States (Union)||CSA (Confederacy)|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Samuel D. Sturgis||Nathan B. Forrest|
|Mississippi Expedition||Forrest's Cavalry Corps|
|~8,000||~3,200 to 4,874|
|Casualties and losses|
|223 killed, 394 wounded, 1623 missing||492 killed and wounded|
The Battle of Brice's Crossroads was fought on June 10, 1864, near Baldwyn in Lee County, Mississippi, during the American Civil War. Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest led a 4,787-man contingent 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. It was his greatest victory.
The battle remains a textbook example of an outnumbered force prevailing through better tactics, terrain mastery, and aggressive offensive action. But the Confederates gained little in the long run through the victory, only temporarily repelling Union forces from Alabama and Mississippi.
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 suppress 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' 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 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. He selected an area to attack ahead on Sturgis' 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. As their infantry would be too tired from the forced march to offer real help, 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.
At 9:45 a.m. on June 10, a brigade of Benjamin H. Grierson's Union cavalry division reached Brice's Crossroads. The battle started at 10:30 a.m. when the Confederates performed a stalling operation with a brigade of their own. Forrest 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.
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 the field. In this phase of the battle, Forrest commanded his artillery to unlimber, unprotected, only yards from the Federal position, and to shred the Union line with canister. (Which in effect turns a cannon into a giant shotgun.) The massive damage caused Sturgis to re-order the line in a tighter semicircle around the crossroads, facing east.
At 3:30, the Confederates in the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry 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 Tennesseans still pressing, the retreat bottlenecked at the bridge and a panicked rout developed instead. The Union forces fled wildly, pursued by Forrest's forces on their return to Memphis across six counties before the exhausted Confederates retired.
The Confederates suffered 492 casualties to the Union's 2,240 (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. After the battle, the Union Army accused Forrest of massacring black Union soldiers, a charge raised after his assault on Fort Pillow, Kentucky.
- One 3-inch (76 mm) steel gun, rifled
- Three 6-pounder James bronze guns, rifled
- Two 3.8-inch (97 mm) James bronze guns, rifled
- Five 6-pounder bronze guns
- Two 12-pounder bronze howitzers
- Three 12-pounder Napoleon bronze guns
Factors leading to the Union loss
In correspondence with General Sturgis, Colonel Alex Wilkin, commander of the 9th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment listed several reasons for the loss of the battle. He stated that General Sturgis, knowing that his men were under-supplied, having been on less than half rations, had been hesitant to advance on the enemy, but had done so against his better judgment because he had been ordered to do so. When the cavalry had engaged the enemy, many of the infantry had been ordered to advance double-time to support the cavalry. In their weakened condition, many had fallen out in the advance. Those who did arrive were exhausted at the beginning of the battle, while the Confederates were fresh and well fed, owing to a large supply in their rear.
The roads were wet and sloppy due to six sequential days of rain, which slowed the advance of the supply wagons and ammunition train. Several men were detailed to try to make the roads passable. Additionally, the horses pulling the trains were poorly fed because there had been little in the way of forage for them to eat along the way. This accounted for Forrest's capture of the artillery and supplies.
Intelligence had entirely favored the South, because the Confederates had been constantly fed information about the position and strength of the Union army from civilians in the area, while Sturgis had received no such intelligence. Because of this information, Forrest planned to meet the Union Army at a place where he could ambush Sturgis and make retreat as difficult as possible (Tishomingo Creek was in their rear with only a single bridge as a crossing point.) This place was close to the Confederate supply depot, and very far from the Union's.
When the retreat had occurred, with food and supplies exhausted, many of the Union soldiers were unable to retreat with the rest because of fatigue. This was why so many Union soldiers were taken prisoner during the battle.
Finally, Wilkin stated that the rumors that Sturgis had been intoxicated during the battle were entirely false.
The battle is commemorated at Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, established in 1929. The National Park Service erected and maintains monuments and interpretive panels on a small 1-acre (4,000 m2) plot at the crossroads. This is the spot where the Brice family house once stood. The Brice's Crossroads Museum is in Baldwyn, Mississippi, a mile from the battlefield. Brice's Crossroads is considered one of the best preserved battlefields of the Civil War.
In 1994 concerned local citizens formed the Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield Commission, Inc., to protect and preserve additional battlefield land. With assistance from the Civil War Trust (formerly the APCWS and the Civil War Preservation Trust), and the support of Federal, State, and local governments, the BCNBC, Inc. has purchased for preservation over 1,330 acres (5.4 km2) of the original battlefield. Much of the land was purchased from the Agnew Family in Tupelo, who still own some of the property that became the site of the battlefield.
The modern Bethany Presbyterian Church is at the southeast side of the crossroads. At the time of the battle this congregation's meeting house was located further south along the Baldwyn Road. The Bethany Cemetery, adjacent to the Park Service monument site, predates the Civil War. Many of the area's earliest settlers are buried here. The graves of more than 90 Confederate soldiers killed in the battle are also located in this cemetery. Union dead from the battle were buried in common graves on the battlefield, but were later reinterred in the National Cemetery at Memphis, Tennessee.
The roads that form Brice's Crossroads lead to Baldwyn, Tupelo, Ripley, and Pontotoc, Mississippi. Tupelo is the county seat for historic Lee County, Mississippi. The roads, paved today, are still a major route into Lee, Prentiss, and Union counties, with thousands of cars traveling through the national battlefield to reach other destinations.
- Brown, Dee, Dee Brown's Civil War Anthology, Clear Light Publishers, 1998, p 205
- Current, Richard N. chief editor. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. "Brice's Cross Roads, Mississippi," by Brian S. Wills
- O.R., Series I, Vol. XXXIX, Part 1, p. 227.
- Andrews, C. C., ed. (1891). Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars 1861-1865. St. Paul, Minn: Printed for the state by the Pioneer Press Co. pp. 420–426.
- Dee Brown, Civil War Anthology, p. 190
- , Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield Commission, Inc.
- The Agnew family donated Samuel Agnew's diary to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Samuel Agnew was the minister of Bethany Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the 1870s-1902. His diary recounts his experiences during and after the battle. It recounts in detail the aftermath of the engagement and the effect it had on the community. A link to this material is provided in the external links section.
- National Park Service battle description
- U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
- CWSAC Report Update
- Brice's Crossroads website
- Samuel Agnew's 1863-1864 Diary
- Animated Map of the Battle of Brice's Crossroads