Tag Archives: Nathan Bedford Forrest

The Battle of Tupelo

July 14, 1864 – Federal forces held off an assault from Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry, but Forrest remained a major threat in the region.

As July began, Forrest’s troopers continued disrupting Federal lines of supply and communication in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee. Major General William T. Sherman, the overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, directed Major General Cadwallader C. Washburn, commanding at Memphis, “to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it costs 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury.”

Gen A.J. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Washburn assigned Major General Andrew J. Smith to lead this latest expedition. It was hoped that Smith would have more success than Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis did in June. Smith’s command consisted of 14,200 men that included a black infantry brigade, a cavalry division under Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson, and six guns.

Smith was to “pursue Forrest on foot, devastating the land over which he passed or may pass, and make him and the people of Tennessee and Mississippi realize that, although (he is) a bold, daring, and successful leader, he will bring ruin and misery on any country where he may pause or tarry. If we do not punish Forrest and the people now, the whole effect of our past conquests will be lost.”

The Federals left La Grange, Tennessee, on the 5th and moved south into Mississippi, clashing with Forrest at Ripley two days later. After driving the Confederates off, Smith directed his men to burn the town courthouse, along with many churches and private homes. The Federals continued leaving destruction in their wake as they crossed the Tallahatchie River and swept through New Albany.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Smith’s men reached Pontotoc on the 11th, where they met increased resistance. Meanwhile, Forrest gathered a force of about 6,000 Confederates at Okolona to the south. Major General Stephen D. Lee, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, had ordered Forrest not to provoke a battle until Lee could bring up reinforcements, so Forrest waited at Okolona in hopes of luring Smith into an ambush.

Lee had received word that Federal forces were going to move east from New Orleans to attack Mobile. He therefore planned to hurry 2,000 Confederates to reinforce Forrest, and then once Smith was defeated, Lee would send these troops to defend Mobile.

Meanwhile, Smith thwarted Forrest’s ambush by turning instead toward Tupelo, 15 miles east on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Grierson’s cavalry rode ahead of the main Federal body to wreck railroad tracks north and south of the town. The Federals repelled harassing attacks on their flanks and rear before stopping on the night of the 13th on a low ridge at Harrisonburg, two miles west of Tupelo.

Earlier on the 13th, Lee arrived at Okolona with his reinforcements to join with Forrest. Lee took command of the combined force of 8,000 men and led it in pursuit of Smith. The Confederates arrived opposite the Federal positions at Harrisonburg that night. Forrest said to Lee:

“The enemy have a strong position, have thrown up defensive works and are vastly our superior in numbers and it will not do for us to attack them under such conditions. One thing is certain, the enemy cannot remain long where he is. He must come out, and when he does, all I ask or wish is to be turned loose with my command. I will be on all sides of him, attacking day and night. He shall not cook a meal or have a night’s sleep, and I will wear his army to a frazzle before he gets out of the country.”

Gen S.D. Lee | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lee rejected this plan because it would take too long, and he needed to hurry his troops to Mobile. Lee instead opted to launch an all-out assault on the numerically superior enemy force in the morning. An erroneous report from a Confederate scout stating that the Federals were preparing to retreat further emboldened Lee to attack.

On the morning of the 14th, Lee had trouble getting his men into line, which caused delays. The Confederates finally advanced at 7 a.m., but the attacks were disjointed and piecemeal, and the Federals easily beat them back with concentrated artillery and small arms fire. The Confederates never got within 30 yards of the enemy line.

Lee ordered a halt to the attack after two hours. Both sides continued skirmishing, and the Federals burned several buildings in the town that night. In a rare victory over Forrest, the Federals sustained 674 casualties (77 killed, 559 wounded and 38 missing), while the Confederates lost 1,347 men (210 killed, 1,116 wounded, and 41 missing). Forrest was among the wounded, shot in the foot. Rumors spreading among the Federals that Forrest was dead were quickly dispelled.

Smith could have counterattacked the next day and destroyed the Confederate force, but he learned that his men had just one day’s rations left because most of the food had spoiled in the heat, and he was short on ammunition. He therefore followed up his tactical victory by withdrawing east through Tupelo. Lee directed Forrest to pursue the Federals.

Forrest’s Confederates chased Smith back into Tennessee but were repeatedly thwarted by his rear guard. The Federals returned to La Grange on the 20th, where they boarded trains to Memphis. Smith reported to Washburn the next day, “I bring back everything in good order, nothing lost.”

Smith kept Forrest away from Sherman’s supply line on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, but he did not destroy Forrest’s command as ordered. Sherman wrote that Smith should “pursue and continue to follow Forrest. He must keep after him till recalled… It is of vital importance that Forrest does not go to Tennessee.” Smith immediately began preparing for another campaign.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 765-66; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 433, 436-37, 439; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10672-755; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 465, 467-70, 472; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 534-35, 537-40, 544-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 748; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 694

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The Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

June 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest scored one of his greatest victories against the Federal effort to stop his Confederates from harassing Major General William T. Sherman’s supply lines.

Brig Gen S.D. Sturgis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Sherman, the Federal commander in the Western Theater, ordered Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis to lead a force into northern Mississippi to find and destroy the railroads useful to Forrest’s Confederate command. Forrest had continuously harassed Sherman’s supply line on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, and Sherman wanted him eliminated once and for all.

Sturgis left Collierville, Tennessee, with 8,100 infantry and cavalry, along with 400 artillerists and 22 guns. His specific instructions were to “proceed to Corinth, Mississippi, by way of Salem and Ruckersville, capture any force that may be there, then proceed south, destroying the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to Tupelo and Okolona, and as far as possible toward Macon and Columbus.”

Major General Stephen D. Lee, the new Confederate commander of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, directed Forrest to leave his Tupelo, Mississippi, headquarters and raid the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad with 2,200 cavalrymen and six guns. But before Forrest could cross the Tennessee River, he received urgent orders to turn back and face Sturgis, whose Federals were advancing on Ripley, Mississippi.

Unsure where Sturgis might attack, Forrest’s troopers rode back and took positions between Tupelo and Corinth. Sturgis’s first objective was the Mobile & Ohio Railroad running through Tupelo, but he had no reliable information on Forrest’s whereabouts and could expect no help from civilians. Moreover, the Federals did not reach Ripley until the 7th due to heavy rain and mud. They had advanced just 50 miles in a week, and their supply train was so far behind the main column that the men were reduced to half-rations.

Sturgis held a council of war to decide whether to turn back due to the incessant rain and delays. Sturgis’s officers recommended pressing forward regardless, and Sturgis obliged. The Federals headed southeast from Ripley the next day. Forrest had initially thought they were moving to reinforce Sherman, but the southeastern movement compelled him to guess they were targeting Tupelo instead. He therefore began planning to attack the Federals before they got there.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the night of the 9th, the Federals camped about nine miles northwest of Brice’s Crossroads, a heavily forested area about 20 miles north of Tupelo. Forrest issued orders for his three columns to converge at the crossroads and block Sturgis’s advance. Forrest would be close to his supply base while Sturgis’s supplies were still coming up. Forrest also had civilians providing him with key information on the Federal movements. Forrest said:

“I know they greatly outnumber the troops I have at hand, but the road along which they will march is narrow and muddy; they will make slow progress. The country is densely wooded and the undergrowth so heavy that when we strike them they will not know how few men we have.”

The rain stopped on the 10th, giving way to extreme heat and humidity. Taking the heat and mud into account, Forrest guessed that the Federal cavalry would come up first, which he could defeat before the Federal infantry arrived. Sure enough, Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson’s 3,300 Federal cavalrymen were in the lead, knocking back the Confederate pickets, crossing Tishomingo Creek, and reaching Brice’s Crossroads at 9:45 a.m.

A small Confederate force arrived, which Grierson pushed east down the road to Baldwyn about a mile. The rest of Forrest’s command arrived around 11:30 and turned the tide, pushing the Federals back to Brice’s. Grierson called for Sturgis to bring up the infantry, but when the troops finally came up at 1:30 p.m., they were exhausted from hurrying to the front and hungry from being on half-rations.

Both sides held their ground and traded fire until Forrest’s troopers worked their way around both Federal flanks, and Confederate artillery poured canister into the enemy line. Sturgis contracted his line into a semicircle around the crossroads, facing east.

Confederates attacked the bridge over the Tishomingo around 3:30 p.m., and although they were repulsed, they caused enough confusion among the Federals for Sturgis to order a withdrawal. The Confederates continued attacking the Federals as they funneled onto the Tishomingo bridge, causing them to flee in panic and leave most of their wagons and guns behind.

Some Federal officers called on Sturgis to counterattack, but he replied, “For God’s sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone, I will let him alone! You have done all you could, and more than was expected… Now all you can do is to save yourselves.”

The Confederates chased and harassed the Federals all the way back to Memphis. This was one of Forrest’s most remarkable victories of the war. His men captured 176 wagons and 16 guns while sustaining 492 casualties (96 killed and 396 wounded).

This was one of the Federals’ most embarrassing defeats in the Western Theater, as Sturgis was routed by a force a third of his size. The Federals lost 2,240 men (223 killed, 394 wounded, and 1,623 captured). However, Sturgis did prevent Forrest from wreaking havoc on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, which Forrest had planned to do before having to come back to face the Federals in northern Mississippi.

After this failed expedition, Sturgis remained in Memphis “awaiting orders.” When Sherman learned of the defeat, he exclaimed, “There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead!”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 173; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 79; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 520; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 189-90; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 418, 422-23, 425; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7626-36, 7647-87, 7698-718, 7784-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 447, 450-51, 453-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 512-13, 515-16, 519, 521; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 748; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 346; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 729-30

The Impending Georgia Campaign

April 24, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman worked to coordinate the efforts of three Federal armies in a drive on General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman had worked with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to plan a major Federal thrust into northern Georgia. This plan was based on Major General Nathaniel P. Banks returning Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s 10,000 Federals he had borrowed from Sherman for his failed Red River campaign. As the deadline for returning Smith’s men came and went, Grant told Sherman to proceed with his plan without expecting Smith’s help.

However, Sherman had to wait until his other troops returned from furloughs. These men included most of the Army of the Tennessee, now led by Major General James B. McPherson. Since Grant wanted all the major offensives to start at the same time, he asked Sherman, “Will your veterans be back to enable you to start on the 2nd of May? I do not want to delay later.” Sherman replied, “The veteran divisions cannot be up by May 2, but I am willing to move with what I have. I am now getting all in hand ready, but every day add to my animals and men. If you can, give me till May 5.”

Sherman then wrote Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, that two of McPherson’s divisions were delayed by transportation and payroll. Sherman wrote, “I want McPherson to have 30,000 men, but if we can’t get these two divisions in time, his force will fall far short. General Grant telegraphs me to be ready May 2. Make dispositions accordingly. McPherson is least ready.”

Sherman notified McPherson, “We cannot wait for the veterans. Make every possible preparation.” Sherman planned to move against Johnston’s Confederates with three armies–McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee on the right, Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland in the center, and Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio on the left. They would continue operating as three independent armies, with Sherman directing their overall movements.

According to Sherman’s instructions, “In all movements each army will be kept well in hand with no detachments except scout and skirmish, and risking as little as possible in side issues or small affairs.” The armies of McPherson and Schofield were to “confine their movements to those of the center habitually,” and the soldiers “should be instructed to fight with desperation to the last.”

On the 10th, the day after he unveiled his overall plan, Grant sent more specific instructions to Sherman: “I will stay with the Army of the Potomac and operate directly against Lee’s army, wherever it may be found. You I propose to move against Johnston’s army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.”

Grant did not specify where Sherman was to go, but Sherman decided to target Atlanta, a major transportation and industrial center. Atlanta was second only to Richmond in its importance to the Confederate war effort, and its fall would open a path to the Atlantic coast. Sherman told Grant, “Georgia has a million of inhabitants. If they can live, we should not starve.” He pledged to “make Georgia howl.”

To take Atlanta, the Federals had to go through Johnston’s army, which was stationed at Dalton, about 30 miles southeast of Chattanooga on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. As Sherman continued gathering men and materiel, Johnston knew what he was planning for. President Jefferson Davis gave Johnston several ideas on how to thwart Sherman’s upcoming offensive, including sending troops to Virginia before the Army of the Potomac was reinforced or attack Sherman before he got moving. Johnston rejected these ideas because they risked defeat, something he did not think the Army of Tennessee could handle after being demoralized at Chattanooga.

Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose Confederates were operating in Tennessee, advised Johnston, “I am of the opinion that everything available is being concentrated against General Lee and yourself. Am also of opinion that if all the cavalry in this and your own department could be moved against Nashville that the enemy’s communication could be broken up.”

To Davis, Forrest proposed joining forces with Major General Stephen D. Lee’s cavalry to disrupt Sherman’s supply line. Forrest wrote, “With our forces united, a move could be made into Middle Tennessee and Kentucky which would create a diversion of the enemy’s forces and enable us to break up his plans.” Forrest had suggested this plan to Johnston and Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk (commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana), but neither had responded. Forrest assured Davis that “such an expedition, managed with prudence and executed with rapidity, can be safely made.”

Meanwhile, Federal preparations continued. Sherman wrote Grant on the 24th, “I only ask as much time as you think proper to enable me to get up McPherson’s two divisions from Cairo.” Sherman did not want to move against Johnston until all three armies were ready. He wrote:

“I see that there is some risk in dividing our forces, but Thomas and Schofield will have strength enough to cover all the valleys as far as Dalton. My own opinion is that Johnston will be compelled to hang to his railroad, the only possible avenue of supply to his army, estimated at from 45 to 60,000 men.”

Sherman would have nearly 110,000 men when all three armies were combined, many of whom had reenlisted for another three years.

While Sherman had twice as many troops, Johnston had the advantage of acting on the defensive with hardened veterans. Sherman acknowledged that “if Johnston stands at Dalton, we must attack him in position.” He informed Thomas, “You had better make ready with every man you can take along. I will come down as soon as possible.” Sherman would take up headquarters with Thomas in the center of the three armies.

Sherman arranged for Nashville to be the major supply depot for this upcoming campaign. He worked through the logistics of transporting supplies to his troops, and he arranged for crews to repair railroad tracks almost as soon as Confederate raiders tore them up. A remarkable 193 railroad cars would be shuttled from Louisville, through Nashville, and on to Chattanooga on a regular basis.

All “excess baggage” would be discarded, including “company tents” and other so-called amenities. Sherman himself would travel with just one wagon for his headquarters and staff. Each regiment would have just one wagon, with the troops carrying “five days’ bacon, 20 days’ bread, and 30 days’ salt, sugar, and coffee, nothing else but arms and ammunition.”

Sherman threatened a quartermaster, “I’m going to move on Joe Johnston the day Grant telegraphs men he is to go hit Bobby Lee, and if you don’t have my army supplied, and keep it supplied, we’ll eat your mules up, sir–eat your mules up!”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-22, 27; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20723-36; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 393, 395, 397; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2279-98, 2386-406

The Fort Pillow Controversy

April 12, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry attacked the Federal garrison at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River, and a controversy ensued over whether black troops were killed after surrendering.

Forrest’s troopers descended on Fort Pillow as part of their raid on Federal outposts and supply lines in western Tennessee. Forrest also sought to avenge Federal depredations being committed in the region; several men suspected of aiding the Confederacy were held without charges, and one of Forrest’s officers had been tortured and murdered.

The fort was a large earthwork on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, about 40 land miles north of Memphis. Held by Federal forces since June 1862, the fort protected a nearby trading post, and it was garrisoned by 557 Federal troops under Major Lionel F. Booth. Of these troops, 262 were newly recruited former slaves, and the rest were mostly Tennessee Unionists (whom Forrest’s Tennesseans considered traitors). The Federal tinclad gunboat U.S.S. New Era patrolled the Mississippi riverfront behind the garrison.

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

A portion of Forrest’s command consisting of 1,500 horsemen under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers attacked the outposts at 5:30 a.m. on the 12th and surrounded the fort by 8 a.m. Federal artillery and the New Era’s guns could not be positioned to hit the Confederates, who took the high ground on the perimeter and killed Booth. Command passed to Major William F. Bradford.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest arrived around 10 a.m. and directed an attack in which the Confederates captured the Federal barracks on the south side of the fort. The New Era steamed downriver to replenish her ammunition. Forrest’s aide, Captain Charles W. Anderson, stated that “it was perfectly apparent to any man endowed with the smallest amount of common sense that to all intents and purposes the fort was ours.”

When Forrest’s ammunition train arrived around 3 p.m., he sent a courier to Bradford under a flag of truce demanding surrender and warning, “Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.”

Bradford asked for one hour to consult with his officers. However, Forrest could see the New Era on the river and feared that she carried reinforcements. He gave Bradford just 20 minutes, stating, “If at the expiration of that time the fort is not surrendered, I shall assault it.” During the 20-minute ceasefire, Federal troops mocked the Confederates from the fort parapets. Confident he could hold the fort, Bradford finally replied, “I will not surrender.” Forrest attacked immediately.

The Confederates easily broke through the outer defenses, scaled the parapets, and drove the defenders down the bluff toward the river. The Federals tried fleeing to the gunboat, but it pulled back under the heavy Confederate fire. The fight soon degenerated into a panic, as Forrest and his officers tried stopping their men from wiping out the entire garrison.

In the end, all 557 Federals were killed, wounded, or captured (231 killed, 100 wounded, and 226 captured). Of those taken prisoner, 58 were black and 168 were white. The Confederates also captured six guns and 350 stands of small arms while losing just 100 men (14 killed and 86 wounded). Federal Acting Master William Ferguson, assigned to investigate Fort Pillow the day after it fell, reported:

“About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed…

“All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes… Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops…

“Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate…”

In his report, Forrest wrote:

“The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.

“The approximate loss was upward of 500 killed, but few of the officers escaping.

“It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners. We still hold the fort.”

Witnesses accused the Confederates of killing Federal soldiers–particularly the black soldiers–even after they surrendered. Survivors later testified at a congressional hearing that the Confederates shouted, “No quarter!” while shooting or bayoneting several men who had already laid down their arms. Northerners generally decried the “Fort Pillow Massacre,” viewing it as indicative of the atrocities that Confederates committed against black soldiers for fighting against them.

Forrest argued that the engagement could hardly be called a “massacre” since he had taken 226 prisoners, none of whom were seriously injured. He also maintained that some Federals picked up their weapons and resumed firing after they surrendered, and therefore suffered the consequences. Others claimed the high black casualty rate was due to their brave defense, as they were the last to flee.

Four of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet members—Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles—publicly supported the execution of an equal number of Confederate prisoners of war in retaliation. But Major General William T. Sherman, overall commander in the region, recommended no vengeance, and Lincoln ultimately agreed. Forrest and his men were not called upon to testify in their own defense after the war. Nevertheless, black soldiers used the rallying cry, “Remember Fort Pillow!” for the rest of the conflict.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 167; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 25; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 187-89; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20657-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 392; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2298-338; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 417-19; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 108; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 484-85; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190-91; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 277-78

Forrest’s Confederates Enter Kentucky

March 16, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a Confederate cavalry expedition into western Tennessee and Kentucky.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Forrest, stationed at Columbus, Mississippi, with 5,000 troopers, received orders to move north. His mission was to attack Federal outposts, recruit volunteers, capture deserters, and disrupt the Federal supply line along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Forrest took 2,700 of his men on the excursion.

A little over a week later, a detachment of Forrest’s 7th Tennessee Cavalry surprised and captured the Federal 7th Tennessee Cavalry at Union City in northwestern Tennessee. The Confederates placed logs on wheels to resemble cannon and left a note: “If you persist in defense, you must take the consequences. N.B. Forrest, Major General, Commanding.” The Confederates took 481 prisoners, 300 horses, and a large amount of supplies.

Meanwhile, Forrest’s main force continued north toward Paducah, a strategic Kentucky town near the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers which had been under Federal control since September 1861. After riding 100 miles in 50 hours, the troopers arrived outside Paducah on the 25th. The Federals, led by Colonel Stephen G. Hicks, quickly fell back to Fort Anderson, a strong fortification west of town.

Hicks had just 665 men, but they were supported by artillery and two tinclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Peosta and Paw Paw) on the Tennessee River. Forrest sent Hicks a message: “If you surrender you shall be treated as prisoners of war, but if I have to storm your works you may expect no quarter.” Forrest did not actually intend to assault the fort; he only wanted horses and supplies.

The Federals responded to Forrest’s demand by blasting the streets with their artillery, joined by fire from the gunboats. Brigadier General Mason Brayman, the overall commander at Paducah, later wrote that the tinclads–

“… shelled the rebels out of the buildings from which their sharpshooters annoyed our troops. A large number took shelter in heavy warehouses near the river and maintained a furious fire upon the gunboats, inflicting some injury, but they were promptly dislodged and the buildings destroyed…”

Colonel Albert P. Thompson disregarded Forrest’s orders and led two regiments in an assault on Fort Anderson. The Federals repelled them, inflicting 50 casualties (10 killed and 40 wounded), though Hicks claimed to have inflicted 1,500 casualties. Thompson, who lived nearby, was among those killed. The Federals sustained 60 casualties (14 killed and 46 wounded).

Meanwhile, the gunboats fired about 700 rounds. According to a gunner on the Peosta:

“We kept putting the shell and grape into them from all the guns we could get to bear. Their riflemen and some of the people of the town got into the buildings down by the river and pelted us with musket balls but we soon gave them enough of that for we directed our whole fire on them at short range with shell grape and canister and soon fetched the bricks around their eyes… They would have had the fort and the city if it had not been for us, for they were out of ammunition in the fort.”

Forrest finally withdrew the next morning, taking 50 prisoners, 400 horses, and more supplies. Before leaving, the Confederates destroyed cotton and a steamer in dry dock. Forrest’s raid had alarmed residents of the Ohio River Valley, but the Confederates failed to establish a foothold in Kentucky. They fell back toward Fort Pillow on the Mississippi.

After Forrest left Paducah, he learned from a local newspaper that his troopers had missed out on capturing 140 army horses hidden in a mill. Forrest resolved to return next month and get those mounts.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 385, 388; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2249-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 409, 411-12; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 552; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 477-78; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190

The Battle of Okolona

February 22, 1864 – Confederate horsemen caught up to withdrawing Federal cavalry and clashed in northern Mississippi.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Brigadier General William Sooy Smith’s 7,000 Federals continued their withdrawal toward Memphis the day after skirmishing with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 2,500 Confederates near West Point. Forrest pursued, and near dawn his advance elements attacked Smith’s rear guard in “the prairie,” an open field about four miles south of Okolona. As Confederate reinforcements joined the fray, they charged and drove the Federals through town.

Smith organized a defense line a mile north of Okolona, but another Confederate charge broke it. The Federals fell back another mile and tried making a stand, only to be pushed back again. Smith finally halted his troopers in woods on Ivey’s Farm, about seven miles northwest of Okolona.

The Confederate cavalrymen dismounted and charged the new Federal line, but they were repulsed; Forrest’s brother, Colonel Jeffrey E. Forrest, was killed in the assault. General Forrest had two horses shot out from under him during the fight. The Confederates charged a second time while trying to turn Smith’s right flank, but this failed as well.

Smith then ordered a counterattack, but the numerically inferior Confederates fought it off. They also repulsed a second countercharge, using their sabers when they ran out of ammunition. Smith finally ordered his troopers to continue withdrawing toward Pontotoc. Forrest did not pursue due to exhaustion and lack of ammunition. The 11-mile running skirmish was over.

This was one of Forrest’s greatest victories (despite losing his brother), having beaten an enemy force nearly three times his size. He lost 110 men (25 killed, 75 wounded, and 10 missing) at Okolona and 144 total in the three-day span of February 20-22. The Confederates seized three stands of colors.

Smith lost 388 men (54 killed, 179 wounded, and 155 missing) at Okolona. His troopers nearly faced starvation on their return to Tennessee because they had ravaged the countryside coming into Mississippi. Smith reported that his men had captured 200 Confederates, freed about 3,000 slaves, and burned 2,000 bales of cotton.

However, Smith failed to link with Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee at Meridian, and Sherman had to call off his advance on Selma, Alabama, as a result. For this, Sherman called Smith’s effort “unsatisfactory.” By the end of February, Sherman was back at Vicksburg and Smith was back at Collierville, the starting points of their two-pronged expedition into north and central Mississippi.

The Federal high command next looked to conquer western Louisiana and eastern Texas, and secure that region’s 500,000 cotton bales. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, directed Sherman to send 10,000 troops to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf, which would be conducting the campaign. Sherman would then meet with Grant to develop plans to capture Atlanta.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 377-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 963; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 401-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 467-69; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488, 702

Northern Mississippi: Smith’s Incursion

February 21, 1864 – Brigadier General William Sooy Smith’s Federal cavalry troopers experienced trouble reaching the main Federal army in Mississippi due to opposition from Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates.

Brig Gen W.S. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

While the Federal Army of the Tennessee’s march from Vicksburg to Meridian had been a resounding success, Smith’s ancillary cavalry expedition was not. Smith led his 7,000 troopers out of Collierville, Tennessee, on the 11th, 10 days behind schedule and one day after he was supposed to have linked with the Federal army at Meridian. Once Smith and the army joined forces, they were to continue moving east and capture the important factory town of Selma, Alabama.

In the first week of Smith’s incursion into northern Mississippi, his men averaged less than half the projected 25 miles per day, even though they only met minor resistance from Forrest’s Confederate horsemen. Part of Smith’s delay involved tending to the fugitive slaves flocking to his command for protection. The Federals also made frequent stops to destroy farms and railroads. Smith finally reached Okolona, Mississippi, on the 18th.

Major General William T. Sherman, overseeing the destruction of Meridian, stated “that in consequence of hearing nothing from General Sooy Smith he may change somewhat his former plans.” He canceled the planned drive on Selma and ordered his forces to prepare to return to Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Federals began pulling out of Meridian on the 20th. During their 17-day rampage through Mississippi, they sustained just 170 casualties (21 killed, 68 wounded, and 81 missing). The troops slowly moved northwest toward Canton, while Sherman dispatched scouts to try finding Smith’s lost cavalry in northern Mississippi.

During this time, Forrest assembled his 2,500 Confederates at West Point, about 30 miles south of Smith’s Federals at Okolona. Advance elements of both forces began clashing between the two towns on the 19th, as Forrest developed a plan to draw the Federals into West Point and trap them between the narrow stretch of land between Oktibbeha Creek and the Tombigbee River.

Elements of Smith’s force skirmished with part of Forrest’s command at Prairie Station, about 15 miles north of West Point, on the 20th. As the Federals tried pushing south toward the town, more Confederates joined the fray, including a brigade led by Forrest’s brother, Colonel Jeffrey E. Forrest, near Aberdeen. Smith knocked the Confederates back, and his men entered West Point just as General Forrest hoped.

Smith began doubting the wisdom of occupying West Point, especially after receiving word that Major General Stephen D. Lee’s Confederate cavalry was coming to reinforce Forrest. Citing illness, Smith turned command over to the next ranking officer, Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson. But when Grierson planned to continue southward, Smith resumed command and ordered his men to withdraw northward the next day. Smith sought to protect his supply train and the growing number of slaves following his troopers.

Colonel Forrest’s men pursued and met up with Smith’s Federals on the morning of the 21st. The Confederates staged a fighting withdrawal, pulling the Federals farther south into the narrow stretch of land where General Forrest hoped to trap them. The Confederates then counterattacked, but the Federals put up a stiff resistance and repulsed two charges.

Sensing that this was a “trap set for me by the rebels,” Smith ordered a withdrawal, despite outnumbering the enemy two-to-one. The Federals formed a rear guard and withdrew across the Oktibbeha. This ensured that Smith’s cavalry would not link with Sherman’s army. General Forrest arrived with the rest of his force and ordered a pursuit that continued into the next day.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 375-76; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 926-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 400-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 466-67; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488, 702