Brice’s Cross Roads National Battlefield

Location: Baldwyn, Mississippi

Webpage: National Park

General Description: In the spring of 1864, Major General Sherman had the task of capturing Atlanta and moving across Georgia on his “March to the Sea”.  In May, Sherman was making slow progress towards Atlanta with multiple battles against the Confederates Army of Tennessee under the command of General Joseph Johnston.  This left Major General Stephen Lee in command of the remaining Confederate forces Mississippi.  He wisely allowed Major General Nathan Forrest free reign to command his forces of mounted infantry to do what he could to disrupt the Union supply lines.  Although Sherman was making steady, but slow progress towards Atlanta, this left his supply line stretching back to Nashville along a single rail line vulnerable.  Major General Samuel Sturgis was put in command of a 8,000 man Expeditionary Force out of Nashville to eliminate the threat posed by Forrest and his cavalry of 3,500 Confederates.  Knowing the element of surprise was his best weapon, Sturgis attempted to move quickly into northeastern Mississippi to attack Forrest.  However, 6 days of rain caused considerable delays and strung out his command.  A single cavalry brigade reached the area of Brice’s Cross Roads on June 10 after 10 days of slogging through mud and swollen creeks and rivers.  They surprised a Confederate patrol and gave chase to a position east of the Cross Roads where they met a Confederate brigade at 9:45 in the morning of June 10.  The Union forces were forced back to the cross roads while the remainder of the Union cavalry arrived in support.  In the meantime, the remainder of Forrest’s command of 3,500 soldiers began a process meant to encircle the Union cavalry who had dismounted to form battle lines across the cross roads by 11:30.  The Federal lines held until 1:30 when the first infantry units finally arrived, exhausted from having to run 3 miles to the battle.  The superior numbers of the Union briefly held the initiative and attacked the Confederate left flank.  However, Forrest was not about to retreat or even just hold their ground.  Beginning with cavalry attacks from the extreme left and right flanks that caused confusion in the ranks of the Union army, he ordered the cannon in the center to unlimber and advance alone to within point blank range of the Union center.  They then fired canister into the center of the Union lines causing it to collapse.  All of these factors caused massive confusion and panic in the Union soldiers who thought they were outnumbered and they began to break.  Orderly retreat was further hampered by the supply wagons that had mostly crossed Tishimingo Creek on the only small bridge across the swollen creek.  Attempting to pull back the supply wagons back across the creek created a massive bottleneck at the creek.  The Confederates continued to push their advantage by continuing to roll the cannons forward by hand and firing on the retreating Union troops.  If not for the bravery of the Colored Troops protecting the crossing the entire Union army would likely have been lost.  Even then it was a complete rout of a much superior force and a resounding victory for the Confederates.  It also meant the end of Sturgis’ command. However, even though the Union was defeated at Brice’s Cross Roads, it still meant that Forrest had been kept occupied and away from Sherman’s supply lines in Tennessee.  In addition, Sherman was not finished with Forrest as he ordered another force of 14,000 soldiers to move into Mississippi to meet this threat at the Battle of Tupelo in July.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) There is no National Park Visitors Center for Brice’s Cross Roads National Battlefield, as administration is handled out of the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center in Tupelo.  In fact the actual NPS National Battlefield consists of a single acre right at the Cross Roads itself.  The remainder of the battlefield is owned and administered by the Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield Commission which has a very nice Visitor Center called Mississippi’s Final Stands: The Last Battlegrounds.  They have a lot of useful information about the battle along with a good video about the battle, numerous prints of paintings of the commanders, and reproductions of pages from the journal Reverend Agnew that provided detailed chronology of the battle along with life and culture in the area.

VisitorCenter

2) The Commission has also constructed a multi-stop driving tour of the battlefield with signs along the road to the points of interest.  As you approach the cross roads, there are a couple of monuments along the road commemorating the initial battlelines and troop movements over the morning of June 10, 1864.

Monuments

3) Located adjacent to the NPS site is a 3 acre cemetery that dates back to 1852 where the Bethany ARP church was located.  In the back of the cemetery are 104 headstones that represent those Confederates known to be killed or mortally wounded during the battle and buried in a mass grave on the site.

ConfederateGraveyard

4) The NPS site consists of a monument and two mounted cannon to the center of Brice’s Crossroads.

CrossRoads

5) Continuing on the driving tour you come to a parking area overlooking Tishimingo Creek where the US Colored Troops had to answer a mounted cavalry attack on the extreme left flank of the Union forces.  The noise from this skirmish helped to convince the Union troops at the cross roads that they were surrounded with no way back across the Tishimingo Creek.  While the Colored Troops were able to drive the Confederates off the ridge, the Union troops were already retreating, only to be blocked by the bottleneck at the only bridge across the swollen creek.

ColoredTroopsStand

6) Another parking area at the Creek includes a newer version of the bridge that existed across Tishimingo Creek in 1864.  The Union had mistakenly brought most of the supply wagons across the creek in behind the Union lines up at the cross roads.  When the Union forces began their retreat, trying to get these supply wagons back across the bridge created a fatal bottleneck that turned the retreat into a rout.  Not only were most of these supply wagons ultimately captured, but many of the Union soldiers were killed or captured trying to cross the creek.  If not for the efforts of the US Colored Troops to counter the Confederate advance on the creek, it would have been much worst.

OverlookOfTishimingo

7) The driving tour then follows the retreat of the Union forces under pursuit by the Confederates.  One of the stops is at the site of James C. Jourdan burial site, a wounded Confederate soldier that was taken in by the Phillips family and buried in their front yard.

8) Another stop is at White House Ridge where Reverend Sam Agnew lived at the time of the battle and the site of a major skirmish between the running Union forces and Confederates in hot pursuit.  Interpretive signs chronicle the experiences of the Agnew family as a running battle erupts around their home.

9) The final stop on the driving tour is all the way back to the outskirts of Tupelo.  This is the site of the Battle of Old Town Creek, which marked the final skirmish in the Battle of Tupelo in July of 1964.  It was at this location that the retreating Union forces were surprised by the Confederates as they were trying to make camp the day after the Battle of Tupelo.  The Confederates were quickly repulsed and the Union army settled in for the night before continuing their retreat back to Tennessee.