Location: Tupelo, Mississippi
Webpage: National Park
General Description: During the spring and summer of 1864, Union Major General William Sherman was on the march from his victories in Chattanooga to capture Atlanta. Success of this campaign was contingent upon supplies along the single track Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. In May, Major General Stephen Lee, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, sent Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest to strike this supply line and his mounted infantry certainly knew how to destroy a railroad. Sherman ordered Brig General Samuel Sturgis to meet this threat. After being defeated by Forrest at Brices Cross Roads in June, command was given to Major General A J Smith to once again destroy Forrest’s cavalry. Smith marched into northern Mississippi with over 14,000 men in a column that stretched over 15 miles long. Unlike the previous attempt by Sturgis, Smith conducted a slow deliberate march into Mississippi keeping his troops together in a single column. Forrest harassed the column multiple times trying to draw off smaller units. In the meantime, Major General Lee created a strongly fortified position in Okolona drawing troops from throughout northern Mississippi laying what they hoped would be a trap for the Smith. However, once Smith learned that this meant Tupelo was undefended he decided to move his command there, thus gaining a hold on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and forcing the Confederates to attack him. They spent the night of July 13 fortifying a defensive line along the crest of a low ridge in Harrisburg (now in Tupelo city limits). At 7:30 am on July 14, the Confederates began a series of uncoordinated charges against the Union position. Unlike the battle at Brices Cross Roads, the Union soldiers were ready for them. Instead of a coordinated attack, the Confederate center attacked first and was easily repulsed with heavy casualties. The Confederate left flank then attacked and again were easily repulsed. Forrest, commanding the Confederate right flank choose to ignore his orders and did not attack the Federal left flank. The Confederates attempted another charge after dark but again were unsuccessful. Even though they had held off the Confederates, General Smith decided to begin a withdrawal on July 15, giving limited supplies and low ammunition as his reason. The Union army marched 4 miles to the north, crossing to the north side of Old Town Creek and began to camp for the night. They were unaware that Forrest was in pursuit, so at 5 pm the Union soldiers were surprised by an attack with artillery and infantry fire from a commanding ridge south of Old Town Creek. The Federals scrambled to form a line and successfully pushed the Confederates off the ridge, forcing their retreat back to Harrisburg. Smith was able to then withdraw back to Tennessee, partially fulfilling his objectives. While not destroying the Confederate forces in Mississippi, he severely weakened their ability to pose a serious threat to the Sherman’s supply lines, which was the main objective.
1) Although this was an important battle near the end of the Civil War, the battlefield itself has been completely swallowed by the city of Tupelo. The National Park Service is limited to a 1-acre memorial within the Tupelo city limits on the edge of the actual battlefield and a 14 acre site along Old Town Creek north of town where the surprise attack on the afternoon of July 15 occurred. It is unfortunate that there was not more of the actual battlefield to be seen, but it is not surprising that it has been lost to urban sprawl. Consequently it takes but a few minutes to visit the main site in the town of Tupelo.
2) It takes little more time to visit the site along Old Town Creek, which is nothing more than a few interpretive signs overlooking the camping site of the Union troops.