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1864 August 5: Battle of Tupelo

August 9, 2014

The following article on the Battle of Tupelo, which was fought July 14-15, 1864, did not appear in The Prescott Journal until its August 5, 1864, issue.  The Battle of Tupelo—also known as the Battle of Harrisburg—was a victory for the Union in northern Mississippi.  After the Confederate victory at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads (June 10), the supply lines for General William T. Sherman’s armies in Georgia became increasingly vulnerable.  The Union’s District commander, Wisconsin’s General C. C. Washburn, dispatched a force under General A. J. Smith to deal with Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest.  The Tupelo victory ensured the safety of the Union supply lines for the Atlanta Campaign in Georgia.

An interesting note, the Battle of Tupelo was the last time that General Forrest’s famed cavalry corps fought Union infantry during the Civil War.

Gen. A. J. Smith’s Mississippi Expedition—The defeat of Forrest at Tupelo.

A dispatch to the Chicago Journal says a cavalry officer, who actively participated in Gen. A. J. SMITH’S late expedition against FORREST, furnishes the following particulars concerning the affair :

The expedition, comprising two divisions of infantry, one brigade of negro troops, and a division of cavalry, commanded respectively by General Mower [Joseph A. Mower], Colonel Moore,¹ Colonel Benton [sic]² and General Grierson [Benjamin H. Grierson], all under the command of General Smith, left LaGrange [sic] on the 5th instant, proceeding southeast towards Ripley, and on the 7th the advance of the cavalry under Colonel Haynes, arrived seven miles north of that place, when a short skirmish took place, which resulted in the falling back of the rebels three and a half miles, with the loss of seven or eight men killed and wounded, our loss being none.

Here they took a strong position on high bluffs from whence they were dislodged after an hour’s fight by the 2d Iowa cavalry, who charged up the hill, killing five or six, and occupying the position vacated by the rebels.  The cavalry encamped on the ground and waited for the infantry to come up, and on the morning of the 8th the army entered Ripley, then moved toward New Albany, with the cavalry on the left.  The 3d Iowa cavalry was sent ahead on a reconnaissance towards the Tallahatchie river, where they met a large force of the enemy occupying a strong position on Kelly’s Ford.  A slight skirmish occurred, resulting in routing the rebels with a loss of three men on our side when the regiment returned to the main force.

Map of Mississippi (cropped), from "Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War"

Map of Mississippi (cropped), from “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War”³

On the morning of the 9th the entire expedition crossed the Tallahatchie, encamping on the south side that night.  On the 10th they marched south towards Pontotoc, the infantry by the main road, and the cavalry by another road, three or four miles to the left.  Still further to the left was a battalion of cavalry, which on striking the Tusumbia and Pontotoc road, discovered a broad train leading towards the latter place.  It proved to be that of Buford’s4 rebel division from Tupelo.

The whole army marched into Pontotoc on the 11th, the cavalry still on the left, with the exception of the 7th Kansas, which brought up the rear.  After an hour’s fight, the rebels were driven out in every direction, leaving a number of killed and wounded.  Up to this time our loss did not exceed three men from the time of starting.

Forrest at this time was in a strong position at Brasham’s Cross Roads, expecting to meet the expedition at that place, but finding that he was misled, moved rapidly toward Tupelo, and from thence to Okolona, where he threw his forces out six miles west to Prairie Mount, taking a strong position on a range of hills extending two miles around.  On the 13th, the expedition, instead of moving to Okolona, where Forrest was expecting to meet it, marched direct to Tupelo.  Forrest heard of this, and at once started north for Tupelo again, but General Smith reached the place first, obtaining the choice of position, where a terrific battle occurred, in which the rebels suffered a terrible punishment at the hands of the cavalry and negro toops [sic], who charged them with desperate fury in every direction.  The rebel loss was heavy ;  150 of their men fell into our hands.

At night the rebels made an assault on the temporary works thrown up by our men, but meeting nothing but disaster on each attempt.  On the night of the 15th the last day’s rations were distributed, and the next morning our forces started on the return, followed at a respectable distance by Buford for four miles, when he returned with heavy loss from a skirmishing expedition.

From the night of the 15th to the night of the 19th Gen. Smith was obliged to subsist by foraging, his supplies being entirely exhausted.  At Salem, on the night of the 19th supplies were received, and on the 20th the expedition reached LaGrange [sic], with the loss,  all through, of less than five hundred men killed, wounded and missing.  He brought back two hundred and fifty prisoners.  On several occasions the rebel dead were buried by our men.

Gen. Grierson says the entire rebel loss cannot fall short of 4,000 men.  Rebel dispatches captured by Gen. Hatch admit the loss of 2,400.5

The brunt of the battle was borne throughout by the cavalry and negroes, who were constantly in the most exposed positions.

The return of the expedition was owing to the falling short of supplies.  It did not lose a gun or a wagon from the time it started from LaGrange [sic].

Among the rebels killed were Colonels Faulkner, Moworay, Nelson, Harrison and Forrest—the latter a brother of Gen. Forrest, who was wounded in the foot.  Col. Wilkins [sic: Alexander Wilkin] of the 9th Minnesota, and Lieut. McMahon, of the 9th Illinois, were the only officers known to be killed on our side.

1.  David Moore (1817-1893) participated in the Mexican War as captain Company E, 3rd Ohio Infantry. He moved to Missouri in 1850 where he farmed. When the Civil War started he was recruited to organize a unit of Missouri Home Guards to protect the area from Confederate raiders and Moore was elected the unit’s colonel. Moore participated in the Battle of Athens and in the fall of 1861 his unit and the 2nd Missouri Home Guards were combined to form the 21st Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Moore was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and part of his right leg was amputated. After he recuperated and returned to the 21st Missouri, he had to quell a mutiny. The 21st Missouri next participated in the battles of Iuka, Second Corinth, and the Vicksburg Campaign. Nearly all of 1863 was spent in garrison duty, protecting Union supply lines and strategic towns. In 1864, Moore and the 21st Missouri participated in the Meridian Expedition, the Red River Campaign, and the Battle of Tupelo, where Moore and his men were noted for their fierce stand against Forrest’s dismounted cavalry. The regiment returned home to Missouri briefly in 1864 in response to Sterling Price’s Raid. In February 1865 Moore was brevetted a brigadier general of Volunteers and began organizing the 51st Missouri Infantry. After the War he served in the Missouri State Senate and he was active in the Grand Army of the Republic.
2.  Edward Bouton was a 30-year-old native of New York and businessman of Chicago, who had sold his business and spent his personal funds to raise and equip an artillery battery. Bouton’s battery fought well at Shiloh, and he was selected to command a regiment of United States Colored Troops. He now commanded a brigade of two regiments totaling 1,200 soldiers with two pieces of artillery. Bouton had previously fought Forrest on June 10, 1864, at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, also in northern Mississippi.
3.  “Map of Mississippi,” from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War, by Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry M. Alden (Chicago: McDonnell, 1866-68): 570; available in the UWRF Archives (E 468.7 .G87 1866).  We added the route of the expedition in gold with the village names mentioned in this post underlined in gold; Tupelo is underlined in red and Harrisburg is circled in red; two previous engagements in northern Mississippi—at Holly Springs and Corinth—are underlined in blue.
4.  Abraham Buford (1820-1884) after serving in the United States Army during the Mexican War, Buford joined the Confederate States Army in 1862 during Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky. Buford served as a cavalry general in the Western Theater, participating in the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Champion Hill, the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, the Battle of Nashville, and Wilson’s Raid. After the War, he retired to his native Kentucky and became a thoroughbred horse breeder.  His cousins John Buford and Napoleon B. Buford were Union generals.
5.  Actual casualties were 648 for the Union and 1,300 for the Confederates.

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