June 10, 1864 in Prentiss and Union Counties, Mississippi
Union Forces Commanded by: Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis
Confederate Forces Commanded by: Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest
**Missing and Captured
Conclusion: Confederate Victory
The Battle of Brice's Cross Roads pitted a 3,200-man contingent led by Maj. Gen. Nathan B. 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.
At the beginning of June, Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest set out with his cavalry corps of about 2,000 men to enter Middle Tennessee and destroy the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which was carrying men and supplies to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in Georgia.
As Sherman advanced in his offensive in northwest Georgia, he became increasingly concerned about his fragile supply and communication lines and the security of the single-track railroad over which he supplied his more than 100,000 men from Nashville and Chattanooga depots because of depredations by Forrest's cavalry raids. To effect a halt to Forrest's activities, then based in in northeast Mississippi, he ordered Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis to conduct a penetration into northern Mississippi and Alabama with a force of around 8,500 troops, 8,100 infantry and cavalry and 22 cannon manned by 400 artillerists, to destroy Forrest and his command. On June 1, Sturgis, after some doubts and trepidation, departed Memphis. Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, alerted of Sturgis, warned Forrest. Lee had also planned a rendezvous at Okolona, with Forrest and his own troops but told Forrest to do as he saw fit. Already in transit to Tennessee, Forrest moved his cavalry 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 Cross Roads, which featured muddy roads, heavily wooded areas and the natural boundary of Tishomingo Creek, which had only 1 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 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. On June 10, at 9:45 A.M., a brigade of ?? Gen. Benjamin H. Gierson's cavalry division reached Brice's Cross Roads. 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 vicious Confederate assault soon pushed them back at 11:30 A.M., when the balance of Forrest's cavalry arrived on the scene. Gierson called for infantry support and Sturgis obliged. The line held until 1:30 P.M., when the first regiments of Union 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 Union 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 P.M., the Confederate 2nd Tennessee assaulted the bridge across the Tishomingo. Although the attack failed, it caused severe confusion among the Union troops and Sturgis ordered a general retreat. Most of the artillery and wagons were abandoned. With the Confederates 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 6 counties before the exhausted Confederates retired. This brilliant tactical victory against long odds cemented Forrest's reputation as one of the foremost mounted infantry leaders of the war. After the battle, the Union army again accused Forrest of massacring black soldiers.