Battles and campaigns

Brice's Crossroads

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By Rees Taylor

 

On June 10th 1864, the classic battle of the War was fought. It was fought in Northern Mississippi, regarded by this time as a military backwater for operations. it was not a large battle; in fact, the opposing forces are relatively small.. This battle has a number of unique features.

 

 


Firstly it is one of the most comprehensive defeats inflicted during the war.

 

Secondly the battle is followed by an unrelenting pursuit of the defeated army, which is almost unparalleled during the Civil War.

 

Thirdly, the victorious side is an entirely mounted force with artillery support. The vanquished is a combined arms group containing infantry, artillery, and cavalry. It is axiomatic that mounted troops will always be defeated or driven off by infantry unless they themselves have infantry support. This offensive victory by cavalry was contrary to all current perceived military thought

and experience.

 

Fourthly, on the morning of battle the Union commander has his troops concentrated, within easy supporting distance of each other. Again, as a contrast, the rebel forces are widely scattered on the morning of the battle, major elements are up to 25 miles from the battlefield and have to make major efforts to reach the site.

 

Fifthly, it almost goes without saying that the victorious Confederate forces are out numbered by odds of something worse than 3 to 2.

 

To set the scene, in April 1864 Forrest has returned from Tennessee with considerable numbers of recruits and equipment. For Stephen D Lee, who commands the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, Forrest's return is very welcome, the troop strength to defend the region has been augmented to around 9,500 men mostly mounted and armed. Lee needs every man he can get hold of, because as Departmental Commander, he has extensive commitments to defend.

 

In Mississippi he has to cope with the defence of the Black Prairie region south of Okolona, a major source of foodstuffs for the Confederacy, it is so fertile the region is known as 'Egypt' because its fertility rivalled that of the Nile.

 

Strategically it is vulnerable to Federal attacks from Vicksburg in the west and Memphis to the northwest. In central Alabama Lee has to protect the major industrial areas around Selma and Montgomery, vulnerable to assaults from the north via Athens or the east from Rome, Georgia. Lee was also subject to other pressures on his military resources, Louisiana was part of his Department, but the most pressing call was assisting the Army of Tennessee's defence of Atlanta. Forrest believed the most effective help Lee could give would be to turn him loose in central Tennessee to wreck Sherman' s supply lines.

 

During May there is essentially a race to seize the strategic initiative, both Lee and Washburn, who is the Federal district commander, order expeditions prepared.

 

Forrest appears to win the race, he plans to link up with General Roddey in northern Alabama, add 1,000 troopers to his expedition, cross into Tennessee and wreck the railroads. On the 1 st of June accompanied by 2,600 men of Buford's Division Forrest marches out of Tupelo, for the Tennessee River, by way of Futton and Russellville, Alabama. When he reaches Russellville, on the 3rd June Forrest hears of Sherman's riposte.

 

Conscious of his vulnerability Sherman has ordered Washburn, to assemble a force of not less than 6,000 troops, for an advance into Mississippi. The expedition is aimed at the Mobile and Ohio R.R. destroying it from Corinth to Tupelo and if possible down to Okolona and Columbus.

 

The Union army marches from Memphis on the 1 June 1864, it has between 4,800 and 5,000 infantry, with about 3,300 cavalry and 22 guns. They are organised into an ad hoc infantry division with 3 brigades including one of U.S.C.T, and a 2-brigade cavalry division, all with organic artillery It is not clear from the record who was to command the force, but after it sets out Brig-Gen Samuel D Sturgis arrives and takes command. Moreover within the brigades there was a somewhat makeshift organisation. Some of the forces were proper to other brigades and divisions; some had not served actively, some units were large due to recruiting, some reduced by active service.

 

In addition to its normal compliment of baggage, the army has 256 x 6 mule wagons attached carrying rations for 20 days plus ammunition and medical supplies. This number of wagons is a significant drag on mobility, but the area down to Okolona had been denuded of supplies and the wagons were seen as essential, enabling the expedition to penetrate south of Okolona. Sturgis is not unmindful of the burden and returns 41 empty wagons escorted by 400 unfit troops. After the 4th, the supply of forage is exhausted, and the demand for the animals slows the column considerably.

 

By the 5th, Sturgis has crawled to Forrest's old home of Salem, Mississippi, delayed by the wet roads, swollen streams and the supply train. At this time the Confederate command believes that Corinth is the objective of the expedition. Sturgis reinforces this belief by detaching 400 men, late evening of the 5th. They were to march via Ripley, raid the railway depot at Rienzi, then to march north, destroying bridges and trestles up the railroad line. They were to seize a crossing towards Corinth and ascertain Rebel strength at that site. The main effect of this sortie was to keep the Confederates guessing about Federal intentions; it does tear up a few miles of track, but in all other respects it fails. After difficulty in crossing the flooded Tallahatchie River, the raiders rejoin the column at Ripley on the 8th.

 

Reports tell Forrest that the raiders have entered Rienzi on the 7th and the main Federal column is moving towards Ruckersville. The columns aim is still not clear to the Rebels, it could move further east and reinforce Sherman, it could move south along the railroad, so at this time they have to keep their options open. Leaving Tupelo, Forrest rides the 22 miles to Baldwyn, leaving orders that Buford's Division and the artillery should follow. Lee comes down to Baldwyn by train. He and Forrest discuss the news and reports, which by now are 24 hours old. Both then go north, by train to Boonville, with Forrest again leaving word for Word to follow on. Buford carries out his orders arriving on the 9th. As insurance, some of Bell's troopers are pushed a further 7 miles north and scouts Rienzi during the night of the 9th/10th.

 

Later on the 9th Johnson's Brigade arrived at Baldwyn. At Boonville on the 9th Forrest is joined by the last element of his army, Rucker and his brigade ride into town. He brings news that finalises Confederate plans; Sturgis is located on the Futon Road beyond Ripley. If he continues down that road he will cut across the Mobile and Ohio RR at Guntown. This convinces Lee that Sturgis's is heading for Okolona and prairie region. Lee also thinks the way to deal with the Federals is to allow them to move deeper into Confederate territory, then destroy them using Chalmer's division and reinforcements from Mobile.

 

Lee orders Forrest to recall Bell's brigade, and to march south to Okolona next day. He also gives Forrest discretionary orders, which allows Forrest to act as his judgment dictates. Lee then takes the railroad south to organise his defences. Several hours after Lee departs further more specific information is received about the Federal troops; they are located 13 miles south east of Ripley, at Stubbs plantation, which confirms their intentions.

 

Forrest meets with Buford, Lyon, Rucker and his artillery commander Morton that night. He tells them where the Federals are, and of Lee's plan to lure them to disaster. He then orders Boots and Saddles for 4a.m., the direction of march by the old Wire Road. Forrest was familiar with the area of operations, he had moved to the area when he was 16, and of course he had served in the operations around Shiloh in 1862, so when he directed his line of march there is little doubt that he knew that the Wire road crossed the Fulton Road at Brice's Cross Roads 6 miles west of Baldwyn.

 

We left the Union forces on the 5th having sent off their raiding party. The cavalry moved onto Ruckersville, where it received information from their own raiders that Rienzi was clear of Rebels although about 3,000 cavalry had moved south. More importantly reports said there was no forage to be had, and recommending a more southerly route for the column.

 

As a response the column was moved on a more southerly course towards Ripley, as they did so Rucker' s troopers began skirmishing with the Federals. To date the forage problem was severe, the animals required over 23 tonnes of grain and 30 tonnes of hay per day, minimum. Movement had been slow due to the rain-affected roads and the large train. The troops had been placed on rations of meat and half rations of hardtack, foraging was forbidden. Although it was probably down to the hovering Rebels, that little was picked up.

 

With this as a background McMillen hears Sturgis pointing out the danger of being defeated so far south. Grierson was for pressing on, but leaving the wagons at Ripley, McMillen joins in the discussion and is for pressing on till they either achieved their objective, or were beaten. Any other alternative would be disgrace. It is difficult to know what we should draw from this report, but it leaves a lingering suspicion about Sturgis. In the event the advance was continued next day. Forage continued to be sparse and it rained heavily during the night, keeping the roads heavy. When the column halted on the 9th it had only moved 14 miles to the southeast of Ripley.

 

On June 10th as every other day, the cavalry led off, Waring's followed by Winslow's brigade left at 5.30 am. Not until after 7:00am does the infantry follow. Hoge's brigade then Wilkin's infantry. Bouton's brigade of USCT got their usual position of guarding the wagons. The 55 USC Infantry being placed in, and on the wagons. The 59th USC infantry marched behind, with a section of the 2nd USC artillery. Bouton's troops did not set off until 10.30. Sturgis and his staff rode ahead of the infantry.

 

During the morning march the infantry fell progressively behind the cavalry. One of the reasons for this was nature of the road from Stubbs plantation, it was described as being both windy and undulating, hemmed in and bordered by dense thickets, forcing the cavalry to use the road rather than the edges. The infantry and wagons marching behind had to struggle through a road already cut up by horses, artillery and the brigade wagons. Compounding the problem was where the road crossed the Hatchie bottom. It had been bad for the cavalry but now was all but impassable for the infantry and wagons, so they halted and corduroyed the road. It had rained heavily in the night and the day was already hot and humid and airless.

 

Sturgis and the infantry were still at the bottom, when the first of Grierson's messages reached him. Whilst the infantry halted the cavalry pushed on. About 9.30 Waring's brigade was nearing Tishomingo Creek, and the bridge spanning it. As they approached, the opening shots of the battle were exchanged, between a Rebel patrol and Waring's vanguard. The rebels were chased off and patrols were sent out on the Fulton and Baldwyn roads. Forrest marching with his escort had reached Old Carroliville at about 9:00am; there he learnt that the Federal column was within 4 miles of the crossroads. To delay the enemy he sent a squad off with an aide, it was these men who exchanged shots with Waring's advance guard.

 

Forrest remained at Old Carroliville, where Lyon, Rucker and Johnson's brigades joined him. Receiving word that his detachment was retiring, Forrest sent Lyon was off to develop the enemy, Johnson and Rucker were ordered to draw rations and rest whilst a courier was sent up the Wire Road to Buford, who was to hurry along Bell and the artillery. Buford was also ordered to detach a regiment. Nom Bell's brigade when he reached Old Carroliville; they were to follow a farm track that meandered towards the Futon Road near the bridge. Already Forrest was developing his plan of action and these troops were to play a significant role, as events unfolded during the day.

 

By now Waring's brigade had crossed the creek; he was convinced, from local information supported by tracks in the road that the Confederates threat came from Baldwyn. Essentially he was right; Waring pushed his troops up the Baldwyn Road about a mile, where they deployed as a response to the stiffening Rebel resistance. The 2nd New Jersey, the 3rd and 9th Illinois were advanced in front of the developing line, but they retired on the brigade, as Lyon's troops came on. Meanwhile opposite Waring events were unfolding.

 

As Forrest went forward with Lyon, he sent a squadron under Capt H.A. Tyler to test the Federal mettle but they came scuttling back under a hail of bullets. Responding to this, Lyon dismounted his brigade across the Baldwyn Road into the blackjack scrub, right to left the 7th, 3rd and 12th Kentucky. The 8th Kentucky was kept as a mounted reserve less one squadron (Tyler's). Tyler was sent to picket the left of the brigade as far as the Fulton Road. Again, although small in number these troops were to significantly affect the course of the battle.

 

I will take the opportunity at this point to talk a little about the blackjack scrub, which populates the battlefield and made life so difficult for the soldiers. It is a tree/shrub of the red oak family, in June it '64 was in full leaf with large <7" x 7"> leathery leaves and spines to tear and catch clothing. Apart from a few acres of fields around the crossroads and the odd cleared field the area was thick with this plant.

 

Lyon's brigade, having steadied then went forward through the blackjack, until it reached an open field, which was about 400 yards wide. Seeing the Federals deployed in the wood opposite, they halted. Whilst Lyon reconnoitered the position, his men threw up breastworks on the edge of their wood whilst Union artillery began shelling them. Around 10:00am the Union cavalry commander, Brig. Gen, Benjamin Grierson, arrives and at this time makes a couple of decisions that again, materially affects the battle.

 

Decision 1 as I will call it, is when Grierson receives reports that a Rebel column is crossing from the Baldwyn to the Futon Road, thus potentially out flanking the line on the Baldwyn Road. To prevent this happening, Winslow's brigade is brought across the bridge and sent 600 odd yards down the Fulton Road. Most of the brigade deployed to the left, to link up with Waring's Brigade, with one battalion deployed to the right of the road. Apart from the road itself this area is heavily wooded, with thick scrub and blackjack. As a further precaution pickets are sent down the Fulton Road and 200 men are sent to watch the Pontotoc Road. A battalion of the 4th Iowa is detached to the west of the stream, to guard the divisional trains near the bridge. The Union lines now resembled a big semi circle extending from the Baldwyn Road to the Fulton Road, and were completed between 10.30 and 11.00am.

 

Grierson's reasoning may have been astute, but there is no column of Rebel troops, except perhaps Capt Tyler's lonely squadron as it spread out to picket the left of Lyon's brigade. As a good officer Tyler responds to Winslow's deployment, by promptly informing Lyon that the extended Union line now overlaps his line of battle.

 

Grierson's second decision is made about the same time. With the opening shots, Grierson very properly sends off a contact report to Gen. Sturgis. Then follows it up with another message timed at 10.00 am. It makes several points; it estimates the enemy as 600 men, that the cavalry has a good position and suggests that a brigade of infantry be rushed to him. The first report reaches Sturgis just before 11.00 am, the second shortly after, a delay of about 1 - 1 hours to cover the 7 mile distance. The first report does not unduly alarm him; Sturgis expects to meet the enemy's cavalry. The second message triggers more response from Sturgis, he orders McMillen to quicken Hoge's brigade to the cavalry's support, the pioneers were to continue corduroying the road and an aide was sent to Grierson with detailed orders. Orders that were already compromised by Winslow's deployment, 700 men were to be retained on the Fulton Road, reinforced by Hoge's men. They were to push on; the rest of the cavalry was to be deployed against the threat along the Baldwyn Road. Having sent his aide off, Sturgis leaves the infantry and rides to the battle.

 

Grierson orders to Hoge's brigade to quicken their march. They respond, but suddenly the infantry are 7 miles behind the cavalry and have a lot of ground to make up, on a hot, humid day. Still the Union forces at Brice's were not in bad shape, they outnumber the enemy, and they have deployed covering both main avenues of approach, and have taken steps to cover any others. They have correctly divined the main axis of the enemy's advance; and had made a reasonable estimate of the forces opposing them, and support was on its way.

 

On the down side, the scrub limited their view and whilst they had cleared the bottleneck at the bridge they had not expanded their bridgehead over the creek. This could pose a severe problem should they be forced to retire, with limited space for deployment and maneuver. The banks of the creek, although not wide, were steep and again blackjack was all around, the creek was high with rainwater. A retreat using only the bridge would become a nightmare unless strict discipline and order, was maintained. Support was a long march away. At this point the Federal command should have taken the initiative and moved against Lyon's troops. As it was, Forrest, forever the aggressive commander seizes the moment. A strong double line of skirmishers from Lyon's brigade is pushed into the field to their front, supported by the 31st and 12th Kentucky. For the next hour there is a lot of noise and smoke from the artillery, but to no effect.

 

Waring later reports this hour-long skirmish as a 'heavy engagement' but the effects are negligible. What it does is reinforce Federal suspicions, that lurking in the trees, are great numbers of Rebels. Without the troops to support it, they cannot believe that the enemy would bring on a general engagement. After an hour Lyon's troops retire to their former positions, still skirmishing. As they do so, Rucker's Brigade joins the fray, deploying on Lyon's left flank.

 

The 7th Tennessee and 18th Mississippi Battalion are dismounted, Duff's 8th Mississippi are kept mounted and sent to Tyler's squadron, both then move further left to protect Rucker's flank, as the Confederate line is extended. Having bamboozled the Federals with Lyon's demonstration, Forrest throws Rucker's men forward in another demonstration. The 18th Mississippi advances across an open field alongside the 7th but press too far. They get caught in a cross fire from Winslow's left and Waring's right and they break back to the tree line. The 7th Tennessee is also forced back when their flank is exposed by the routing troops. Both regiments prepare to meet the expected Union counter attack, which never materialises.

 

As these events happen, Johnson's Brigade arrives and like Rucker's men they have had an hour's respite. This brigade of about 700 men deploys on the right of Lyon and immediately goes forward, but within five minutes retires. It is difficult to understand the purpose of this movement, apart from keeping the Federals off guard, and it may have served to show them that there were indeed troops lurking in the undergrowth. Whatever, it does seem to have caused the redeployment of the 2nd New Jersey from the right of Waring's Brigade, to the left, as the Federals attempted to shore up their flank.

 

The time is about midday, the sun is still beating down and Forrest in his shirtsleeves has determined to launch his first major attack. He rides the length of his battle line telling his men to move forward on the signal, when he completes his ride the bugles are blown and the attack goes in. To support the 4 mountain howitzers on the Baldwyn Road, Waring has brought up a section of the 14th Indiana Battery. They open on Rucker's men as they advance, but after being held up by the undergrowth, the Rebel attack is pushed home and they break into Waring's brigade near it's junction with Winslow's. Severe hand-to-hand fighting erupts with the cavalry using their brace of pistols to good effect at close range. Colonel Rucker's horse is shot down and he is wounded, but not disabled, in the stomach.

 

Meanwhile on Waring's right, 7th Indiana is in trouble, the 210-man battle line is under severe pressure. Their support, the 2nd New Jersey has gone. Nor are they receiving much help from Winslow's brigade on their right. Probably, the undergrowth has prevented an effective union between the brigades, because when the Confederates break in, they do so on the right of the regiment. This implies they lacked support from the right or perhaps Winslow's men were engaged to their front. Regardless,the Indiana troops fall back, and the Confederates move into the vacant gap and overlap the Union lines to the right and left. This creates a cascade effect, as successive Federal units are flanked, then forced to fall back, along the whole line.

 

Observers say there was a natural break following this intense attack, as the Federals fell back, and the attackers geared themselves up for the next effort. The time is now about 1.00pm, Forrest had sent word to Buford to detach a regiment from Bell's Brigade. This had been duly done; the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry under Col. Barteau was now making its way through the farm tracks towards Tishomingo Bridge and we left Sturgis riding to the front after ordering Hoge's brigade to hurry to the cavalry's support. Sturgis later wrote, "He specially ordered that the infantry should not be brought up at the double". Which of course is nonsense, McMillen had set a hard pace from the outset and there was a natural tendency for troops to speed up hearing the fighting. The pace only increased with repeated orders to hurry up and push on. The infantry reports abound with the reality of the situation that continual messages were sent to the infantry to hurry along.

 

What is worse Wilkins brigade was drawn into this killing race to the crossroads leaving the 3rd Brigade and the wagon train gradually behind as the infantry hurried onwards. Is anyone surprised to hear that the two brigades were reeling with heat exhaustion and sunstroke by the time they reached the battlefield?

 

Just before 1.00 pm General Sturgis arrived at the crossroads, 20 to 30 minutes ahead of his infantry. Because there is no Confederate artillery firing, he still believes only cavalry opposes him, which is essentially true. On arrival he finds the roads converging on the crossroads, thick with ambulances, horseholders and parked artillery and he later writes of heavy firing going on. This seems to time his appearance towards the end of the first main rebel attack.

 

First Grierson, then Waring and Winslow appear in short order, all request relief for the cavalry, "who are worn out and must be nearly out of ammunition". Sturgis orders Grierson to rally and form the stragglers around the cross roads ... the artillery is unlimbered and readied for action. But the situation on Waring's front is severe; Sturgis is approached by Captain Joyce of the 10th Missouri cavalry, he wants to know who will support his guns on the Baldwyn Road.

 

Sturgis is shaken when he learns that Waring's brigade has left the gunners unsupported. He discovers there are no formed troops between the Rebs and the bridge, except the artillery, Sturgis, and his escort. Sturgis orders his escort, the 100 men of the 19th Pennsylvania Cavalry to deploy and support the artillery until the infantry arrive. As this happens, Rebel artillery fire begins bursting around the crossroads.

 

For Winslow there will be no support for at least 30 minutes Winslow is ordered to hold his ground and only if an overwhelming force attacks him, is he to shorten his lines and retire on the crossroads. However when relief arrives for Winslow, Rebel troops are massing to his front. As Sturgis arrives on the Federal side, Buford arrives on the Confederate, with Morton and Rice's guns having completed an 8-mile march. The batteries go into action behind Lyon on the Baldwyn Road; Buford is able to tell Forrest that Bell's Brigade is close behind.

 

Forrest leaves Buford in charge of the right and leads Bell's brigade along farm tracks, to the Fulton Road. When they reach it, the column turns right towards the crossroads. When they meet Duff and Tyler's troopers, they dismount and deploy across the road. Bell's right connecting with Rucker's left. Duff and Forrest's escort companies are to the left with Tyler's men near the Pontotoc Road. Forrest is utilising every man he can find at this stage. The time is around 2.00pm and they are about to launch the second major attack of the day.

 

We left the Yankee troops at around 1.00 pm, Waring's brigade had collapsed and Sturgis was attempting to shore up his line around Baldwyn road. Col. McMillen arrives preceding his men he is immediately assailed by Waring who demands to know how quickly relief will arrive, "it's a question of seconds as to whether he could hold the Baldwyn Road". The reply is 10 to 15 minutes. McMillen is disgusted, he rides back to the head of his column, which he finds marching at the quick-time, he tells Hoge that "the damn cavalry are starting to retreat", and orders them up at the double, he then precedes them to the battlefield, clearing a way through the stragglers. The last mile or so is a nightmare for the infantry; men go down with heatstroke in the dust, the rest barely able to stand.

 

By 1.30 pm the Federal situation has apparently stabilised, the crisis on the Baldwyn Road has passed, the Confederates did not push home their advantage over Waring and more infantry is now arriving. The 95th Ohio is detached and deployed north of the Baldwyn Road, extending the line formed by Hoge north. The 9th Minnesota and 1st Illinois Artillery are kept at the crossroads as a reserve. 114th Illinois and the 93rd Indiana are sent down the Fulton Road to relieve the remainder of Winslow's cavalry.

 

They deploy linking up with Hoge's right, the intention is to release Winslow's 3rd & 4th Iowa, who were to remount and patrol to the creek from the right of the Brigade. The 72nd Ohio, having reached the crossroads is turned around and sent back to the bridge. Already Forrest's forethought is beginning to reap dividends, Barteau's 2nd Tennessee has been seen near the bridge approaches. Fearful of some attempt on the left and rear of his army Sturgis sends the regiment, supported by section of guns, to a little knoll commanding the bridge, where it is later joined by about 75 dismounted cavalry. Both sides deploy skirmishers but there is little action.

 

By about 2:00pm all troops are on the battlefield, except Bouton's brigade, which is still toiling with the train on the Ripley Road. The crisis for the Union seems to have passed, but Forrest has completed his arrangements and is ready to attack again. Bell's men advance, guided by the Fulton Road, where the underbrush is particularly dense, and they are able to close to 30 yards, before they are seen. There nearness allows them to use their revolvers to great effect, the Blue infantry reply but their rifles are big and clumsy and slow to load in comparison.

 

There is confusion in the Union ranks, the commander of the 93rd Indiana thinks the advancing Rebs are friends. He orders his men to cease-fire; Bell's men close quickly and unleash their firepower, the Lieut. Col. goes down with a fatal wound. The attack catches the Union troops on the Fulton Road with their redeployment incomplete. The 3rd and 4th Iowa are forming up on the Fulton road ready to fetch their horses that are near the crossroads. Without their protection Wilkin's line on the Fulton Road is overlapped on their right. To prevent the inevitable withdrawal, Winslow proposes that the 3rd and 4th Iowa remain and protect the flank. Sturgis is advised of the offer, but he substitutes the 7th Illinois and 10th Missouri, the Iowan's are withdrawn.

 

This causes real problems. Manpower in the substitute regiments is about 240 men; the lowans have 900. Neither regiment is on the spot, unlike the Iowan's and finally having removed the lowans they are not employed elsewhere. They literally march back to their horses, remount and watch the baggage slip back over the bridge. Wilkin cannot prevent his line from being forced back almost to the crossroads. Not until the large 9th Minnesota is committed does the situation on the Fulton Road stabilise, Col. McMillen is able to rally the Illinois and Indiana infantry. They push back Bell's brigade, the 16th and 20th Tennessee recoil and Duff's troops break sweeping away the 19th Tennessee.

 

The whole Confederate line recoils and the Federal troops regain all the lost ground. This is a crisis for the Confederates, but Forrest and Bell are on the spot pushing and leading men back into the fight. Forrest plugs the hole in his line with his escort companies. The ubiquitous Capt. Tyler sees the Minnesotans advance, so he throws his men into a line directly on their flank and enfilades them; the Federal infantry check their advance. In the midst of this Forrest sends orders for Buford to press the attack on the right. Forrest could hear Rucker's brigade was fiercely engaged, but knew nothing of Buford's front.

 

Having reorganised Bell's men and seeing the Federals had stopped their advance Forrest goes to see what is happening on the right. Essentially not a lot, despite his orders, he arrives on the Baldwyn Road and finds only 2 of Morton's guns firing. Not happy he orders the rest into action. Now there is no hint of censure in his after action report, but I suspect he was unhappy with the "attack" on the right. He tells Buford to order Lyon and Johnson to press the attack to their front. This they do, but Buford was left with orders to attack with Bell and Rucker. What we find is, that only after Forrest turns up are Hoge's skirmishers driven in and his men closely engaged.

 

The main worry till that time for Col. Hoge had been enemy columns "moving along my left towards my rear" with no sign of a strong assault by the Rebels. As an aside, perhaps these columns were Johnson's brigade, but I think they may have been Barteau's men, winding their way to the bridge area. Whoever, they certainly occupied his attention. About the time Bell attacks on the left, Barteau's troops go forward, deployed as skirmishers towards the bridge, making maximum noise, to look bigger than they are. No doubt Barteau does this when he sees the 72nd Ohio move away, leaving the bridge exposed and undefended apart from a few companies. When the 72nd moves off so does the artillery section, never to return.

 

To counter this, the 72nd has to double back to their original position, which they reach just in time to make the 2nd Tennessee to fall back. I think this occurs about 4.30 to 500pm, as after the attacks by Lyon and Johnson there appears to be another pause in the fighting. In the lull Buford reports hearing firing over to the right to Forrest. Forrest uses his time to organise the final blow, he meets his commanders and he rides his lines encouraging his men to one final effort. For Capt. Morton he has a special and dangerous task, before he tells him the Captain suggest that Forrest takes a rest as he looks exhausted, a somewhat risky suggestion. But to Morton's surprise he agrees, perhaps testimony to the exhausting day.

 

So it is a recumbent Forrest who outlines his role for Morton. He tells Morton that the Yankees are beaten, one more charge and they will break, and to help them along he wants the Capt. to have four of his guns loaded with double rounds of canister and they were to be limbered ready to move. When the charge blew he was to charge to close range, then deploy and sweep the enemy lines with fire. After his brief rest Forrest was up and on his way with more special orders, this time for Capt. Tyler. His role in the attack was to mount his men, sweep around the Union flank and engage anyone he met at pistol range.

 

Shortly after this conversation Forrest completed his preparations and the charge was sounded and the attack began. Morton closed with his guns and blasted the Federal infantry, whilst the troopers closed with enemy. Under this onslaught, the Union infantry edged steadily backwards. Anxiousness certainly set in amongst the rear echelon elements, Barteau's men saw to that, as they tried to break across the bridge all together. The fighting troops seem to have held together as they were compressed into a decreasing amount of space in the bridgehead. As the Federal lines compress the penultimate act in this drama begins, the arrival of Bouton's infantry. Throughout the day they have been tramping or riding with the mule train, they have listened to the firing for some time, but have been tied to their charges.

 

Ed Bearrs in his book thinks Bouton arrives about 2.30pm, I think it may be somewhat later, Bouton reports that the general withdrawal is happening when he arrives. Unless he arrived far ahead of his men and this appears unlikely for other reasons, I do not think that the train could have made such good time, it took the infantry 2 - 2 hours to march the same distance at the quick and the double. So round about my time of 4.30ish Bouton sees the Federals retiring, he collects first 9 companies of the 59th USC Infantry, forces them across the bridge and joins the 72nd Ohio and the Iowa remnants and essentially become the rearguard. These troops hold off the pursuing Confederates whilst everybody else retires, they are aided by several events; the main wagon train is corralled northwest of the bridge and prepared to retreat from the outset, which allows it a head start. During the day the water levels on the creek have fallen allowing some regiments to wade across. Remarkable as it may seem, as most of the army went west or more correctly northwest towards Ripley, the USC Infantry managed to join their comrades forming the rearguard.

 

For the rest of the evening the rearguard beat off a series of heavy attacks and fell back to successive blocking positions along the Ripley Road. There was heavy fighting between the black troops and the Confederates, from the last line before darkness; Bouton launched a counter attack which threw the Rebels back after hand-to-hand fighting. The Black infantry had very heavy casualties during and after this. When darkness falls Forrest cleverly utilises his resources, he keeps 10 men mounted and these pursue the Yanks, everyone else gets 4 or 5 hours rest until 1.00 am the next day when they are roused to continue the chase. These men have a disproportionate effect; any thought of resting and reorganising was abandoned by the Federals.

 

When the artillery and wagon trains reach the corduroyed part of the road, most are abandoned. In fact anything that delays the men is abandoned, including personal equipment and weapons. Bouton's men re-supply themselves with ammunition thrown away by the white troops. During the next day the retreat continues with Sturgis utterly out of it in all senses, he has no idea where anybody is or what they are doing. At Ripley, on the approach of the Confederates most of the army retreats on one road and abandons the rearguard to retire on another. Fortunately Col. Wilkin leads the 9th Minnesota, 14th Illinois, Bouton's men and remnants of the 4th Iowa back to Federal lines. Having taken 10 days to reach Brice's from Memphis it took the unburdened Union troops 2 days to return.

 

Confederate casualties amounted to about 10% of their strength. Union casualties' approached 30% with Forrest capturing 16 guns, and 1618 men.

 

A major tactical victory with some interesting strategic results:

 

Forrest drives Sturgis out of Mississippi and he maintains and extends his moral superiority over Federal troops.

 

Sturgis never holds another command during the war, he asks for a Board of Investigation, this meets and publishes in 1865, making no recommendations, he remains in the army and retires a Colonel.

 

A J Smith's Corps is held over in Memphis and used in the next invasion of northern Mississippi in July. Rather than sent to the Atlanta front.

 

Forrest is kept out of Tennessee until after Atlanta has fallen.

 

Some commentators see this battle as a precursor to the mobile warfare of the late 20th century and there is no denying that his mobile battle will have some lessons for students. His pinning of the enemy, his employment of flank attacks and distractions, his use of terrain, his tactical innovation, his ability to motivate and lead his men, his rapid marches and concentration of force. His ability to juggle and husband his resources, the relentless pursuit and his daring makes this the classic battle of the war.