Monday, January 26, 2009
Tupelo National Battlefield - Tupelo, Mississippi
The failure of the Union army to destroy the Confederate force under Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Brices Cross Roads in June of 1864 forced Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to order a second strike, this time under a different commander.
Still alarmed that Forrest might break his tenuous 100+ mile supply line, Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith to "follow Forrest to the death, if it costs 10,000 lives and breaks the treasury."
Smith pushed south from Memphis in July and by the 14th was in the vicinity of today's Tupelo. There he entrenched his army as the Confederates moved up to meet up under the command of Maj. Gen. Forrest and his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee.
Both Forrest and Lee were excellent officers, but the Battle of Tupelo was not their finest hour. The two officers uncharacteristically hurled their forces against the Union breastworks in attacks that were unusually uncoordinated. The fighting was brutal and casualties piled up.
The Confederates were unable to take the Union position, but Smith also was unable to drive them off. Accepting that the battle had ended in a tactical draw, he began to withdraw back to Memphis. The Confederates pursued, attacking the rear of his columns as he went in a running battle that continued for miles. Forrest was wounded in one of these attacks.
In the end, Smith had not follower Forrest "to the death," but he had badly battered the army of the Confederacy's "Wizard of the Saddle." The battle all but ended any fears that Forrest's cavalry might break Sherman's supply line, assuring the eventual success of the Atlanta Campaign.
The site of the Battle of Tupelo is largely built over today, but a small section has been preserved at the Tupelo National Battlefield on West Main Street in Tupelo. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/natcheztupelobattle.