Battle of Tupelo, 14-15 July 1864

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tmh10

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One of the biggest threats to General Sherman’s forces attacking Atlanta came from the Confederate cavalry that threatened his very lengthy supply lines. One of the most effective of those cavalry forces was the one commanded by Nathan Bedford Forrest. In June 1864, Sherman had ordered an expedition sent from Memphis to defeat Forrest, but that first force had been defeated at Brice’s Crossroads on 10 June 1864.
A second much larger expedition was dispatched under General A. J. Smith in an attempt to reverse that defeat. This force, of some 14,000 men, set off into Mississippi, on 5 July 1864. Forrest was in the area with 6,000 men, having been reinforced since Brice’s Crossroads. However, he was not the senior Confederate officer in the area. That honour fell to Stephen D. Lee, who brought 2,000 extra troops, bringing the Confederate strength up to 8,000 men.
On 13 July, Smith was at Pontotoc, Mississippi, 19 miles west of Tupelo. That day he stopped his move south, and turned east, with the intention of cutting the railroad at Tupelo. Forrest was soon in pursuit, catching the Union force six miles short of Tupelo. After repelling Confederate attacks on his rearguard, Smith camped at Harrisburg, one mile from Tupelo.
The next morning, Smith formed his infantry into a defensive line, hoping that Forrest would attempt to attack it. At the same time, Grierson’s Union cavalry was sent to Tupelo to destroy the railroad. Sure enough, Lee ordered an attack, which was launched at six in the morning. Unfortunately for Lee and Forrest, Smith’s men were already in position, and the attack was repelled with heavy losses. The fighting continued across the morning, as Lee and Forrest attempted to find a weak point in the Union line, but without success.
Despite their repulse in the morning, the Confederates were not finished. Late that evening (about nine in the evening), Forrest launched an attack on the Union left, where it was repulsed by a force that included Colonel Edward Bouton’s brigade of troops from the USCT (United States Colored Troops). This attack was also repulsed. A final attack was launched the next morning, and once again defeated. It was during this final attack that Forrest was wounded.
Smith had already decided that it was time to return to Memphis. His ammunition and supplies were low, and with the railway at Tupelo now broken, he felt he could do no more. Even this movement helped protect Sherman’s supply lines, as Forrest’s cavalry followed the retreating Union forces for some time.
As often towards the end of the war, several different figures can be found for Forrest and Lee’s losses during the fighting. Forrest’s official report gave losses of 153 killed, 794 wounded and 49 missing, for a total of 996. At least one Union writer later reported at least 350 dead. A figure of 210 dead and 1116 wounded, for a total loss of 1,326 seems to be more accepted. Union losses were much lower, at 82 dead out of a total of 650 casualties. One of the Confederate wounded was Forrest, shot in the foot during the fighting.
Forrest’s wound was clearly not all that serious. His raids continued across the summer and autumn of 1864, and included one raid into Memphis that August that actually reached the Union headquarters in the city! Nevertheless, as one of only two defeats inflicted on Forrest during the war, the battle of Tupelo came at the right time to increase Union confidence in their ability to repel attacks on their supply lines.

http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_tupelo.html
 

diane

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Sherman smelled Union victory a long while before it came! This battle, and some others, was a direct result of Sherman's aggressiveness and precise maneouvers against the weakening Confederates.

A J Smith and Ben Grierson were in command of Union forces at Tupelo - they were cut of considerably different cloth than Sturgis! They also made much better use of the colored troops. These men wanted a crack at Forrest and were not afraid of him. They would have made a signifigant difference at Brice's Crossroads if Sturgis had had faith in them.

I'm not sure why this is counted as a defeat for Forrest - Tupelo was S D Lee's baby! Forrest had boils and fever - when Lee asked him to command he turned it down. He also warned Lee not to do it. Had Forrest been in command, there would have been no Tupelo. As with Wheeler at Dover, Forrest did his best but his heart wasn't in it. After the Kentucky brigade got chewed to pieces, Forrest made a rare mistake. He withheld Roddey's corps - thinking committing them would be sending more men to useless death. At that point, however, it may well have turned the tide for the Confederates. Smith, interestingly, accomplished his minimum task - protecting Sherman's supply lines - but did not finish the task Sherman really wanted done. He hastily left the field instead of pursuing Forrest and destroying him.

Forrest's foot wound laid him up for quite a while (in later years it gave him a limp) but led to his meeting King Philip - his famous war horse. A little known fact is son Willie, who was riding just behind his father, was also shot at the same time - in the arm.
 

RobertP

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You don't hear much about the battle of Tupelo, also called Harrisburg, but it is important to me as my g-grandmother's brother, Billy Garrett, was killed there. As an older woman she wrote a memoir recalling the sad and gruesome tale of her mother traveling from near Holly Springs to Harrisburg to recover his body in a mass grave. Billy's older brother James was killed at Chancellorsville earlier and his body recovered and sent home also. The brothers share a common tombstone as shown in the photo.

IMG_0700-001.JPG
 
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NedBaldwin

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Sherman wrote that his intent for AJ Smith was "to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury." Smith turned out to be not as aggressive or capable as Sherman thought.
 

Tascosa

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Well, if Smith making a rapid retreat over objections from his own officers is a victory, then maybe Hooker was a
success at Chancellorsville. Both Grant and Sherman sent chastising letters to Smith to get on Forrest's tail and *stay there.
 

NedBaldwin

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Well, if Smith making a rapid retreat over objections from his own officers is a victory, then maybe Hooker was a
success at Chancellorsville. Both Grant and Sherman sent chastising letters to Smith to get on Forrest's tail and *stay there.
And Smith had to go after Forrest again, only to be fooled by Forrest who ran around him and raided Memphis.
 
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diane

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The second Memphis raid was more of a success than it's been said. Forrest didn't get the prisoners freed and he didn't capture the Union generals he was after, but he did get Union troops out of northern Mississippi to reinforce Memphis. And some fun was had. Bill Forrest rode into the lobby of the fancy Gayoso Hotel and little brother Jesse sprinted upstairs to catch Gen Washburne. Washburne was gone and Jesse went to the window, watching the chubby general chug down what is now known as "Washburne's Escape Alley" in 'his cutty sark'. Then he turned around and jumped a yard - Mrs Washburne was sitting in the middle of the bed with a blanket pulled up to her chin - apparently hubby had borrowed her cutty sark! "A good Sunday morning to you, Mrs. Washburne!" said Jesse, and swiped her husband's uniform. Bedford, in the meantime, was displaying considerable horsemanship - leaping fences and racing through flower gardens - headed for the prison. He found a pretty solid Union line at the female academy and decided to abort that mission. All told, the Forrest brothers tore up Memphis that day!
 

DixieRifles

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It seems that many accounts point out the fact that Gen. Forrest was subordinate to General S. D. Lee and was opposed to the attack at Harrisburg on 14th. "Coming Like Hell" points out that the assault against the Union line was an impossible task. Also, most of the troops under Forrest's direct command, which occupied the extreme right of the line, did not take part in this attack.
General Forrest pulled his forces back to re-form a new line and was in position to catch Smith's pursuing cavalry in the open if he would only take the bait. But Smith did not pursue---as Sherman had intended---and instead claimed he was low on rations and began his move back to Memphis.
Forrest had two brigade commanders, McCulloch & Crosland, wounded. Ruckers had already received a serious wound. Most of his regimental commanders were killed or wounded.
For a battle lasting 1 & 1/2 hours, it was a costly affair indeed.

I'm a big fan of General S. D. Lee, but this was not one of his glory moments.
 
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In the big scheme of things, this foray worked as intended. It kept Forrest away from Sherman's supply line. Smith inflicted a costly defeat on Forrest's cavalry, and withdrew intact. Didn't kill NBF, but wounded him...not too shabby.

In general a raiding force has a difficult time continuing an offensive after a major engagement unless they have a strong supply line or have dispersed the opposing forces. Neither of these were the case, so Smith's decision appears prudent.
 
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Coonewah Creek

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Just another of many examples of the weakness of Davis's departmental command system. There were substantial forces in the Mississippi Department, including Forrest's cavalry, which could and should have been employed against the railway and depot lifeline that supported Sherman's main thrust against Atlanta and Joe Johnston. So Sherman's strategy to keep Forrest pinned in Mississippi worked. Sherman wasn't afraid of Wheeler being able to do much to hurt him, which proved to be the case. Just look at Johnsonville for an example of what Forrest might have done had he been turned loose earlier.
 
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Just another of many examples of the weakness of Davis's departmental command system. There were substantial forces in the Mississippi Department, including Forrest's cavalry, which could and should have been employed against the railway and depot lifeline that supported Sherman's main thrust against Atlanta and Joe Johnston. So Sherman's strategy to keep Forrest pinned in Mississippi worked. Sherman wasn't afraid of Wheeler being able to do much to hurt him, which proved to be the case. Just look at Johnsonville for an example of what Forrest might have done had he been turned loose earlier.
You'll get no argument from me on those facts.

But the question remains, was Forrest even able to make a strategic difference at that point during the War ?

Personally I think it was too late.
 
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scone

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Just another of many examples of the weakness of Davis's departmental command system. There were substantial forces in the Mississippi Department, including Forrest's cavalry, which could and should have been employed against the railway and depot lifeline that supported Sherman's main thrust against Atlanta and Joe Johnston. So Sherman's strategy to keep Forrest pinned in Mississippi worked. Sherman wasn't afraid of Wheeler being able to do much to hurt him, which proved to be the case. Just look at Johnsonville for an example of what Forrest might have done had he been turned loose earlier.
Those know the area (Johnsonville) Took us on a tour years ago my civil war round table and SCV group
 
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