Monday, May 18, 2009

Brice's Crossroads

Brice's Crossroads is a great battlefield. When I first visited the park had just been expanded from a small one acre parcel preserved like Tupelo into the battlefield we have today. The visitor's center was very new, I think we were there during its first summer. I know that land has been added since that year but its somewhat hard to tell because the surrounding area is still rural and not a series of strip malls and houses. I've been back a few times since then, I think the battle is interesting and the park is nice to visit. Plus its relatively close to Shiloh so its an easy side trip to make.

Forrest achieved a stunning victory. He used the thick woods to his advantage to hide his inferiority in numbers. He was aggressive. And he also benefited from the heat and the incompetence of General Sturgis. I recently read Grierson's memoirs and he says he urged Sturgis many times to not fight there, to fight somewhere to the rear. But Sturgis did not believe there were many Confederates in front of him or that he'd fight them before Tupelo. Once Sturgis did commit his infantry to the fight at Brice's Crossroads his men had to double time march to the fight and the sweltering heat helped sap their strength. A worn out foe faced a relatively fresh foe.

The lines formed semi circles around the crossroads. When Forrest did break the Union lines they had a small bridge to cross to safety. This choke point quickly became Forrest's next goal and he quickly gained that. The rout was on. Many Union soldiers were captured and the rest continued to flee back to Memphis. Forrest continued to chase them until his men dropped from their saddles asleep. Forrest was outnumbered more than 2 to 1, about 8500 to 3200. He caused casualties of 2600, which included about 1500 men captured, and lost just under 500. He also captured 16 cannon. Sturgis would never hold an important command in the Civil War again. Rumors that he was intoxicated soon spread but apparently those are untrue. Grierson did say that Sturgis campaigned with a significant supply of alcohol but that he was not drunk that day.

As you travel west from the visitor's center in Baldwyn you pass several markers that explain the June 10, 1864 battle. Here are the markers in order as you find them coming west.

Looking back towards the crossroads.

Union perspective of the bridge from the high ground.
Just north of the crossroads is a small cemetery dating to the time of the battle. There are about 90 Confederates buried here. The Union dead were buried on the battlefield but later moved to the Memphis national cemetery.

Here are the NPS' plaques. They are very similar to the ones at Tupelo.

I was last there when I went to see the unveiling of the Tennessee state monument at Shiloh. Unknown to us Brice's Crossroads was unveiling a new monument around that same time. It ended up being a few days after we left but we did get this photo of the monument. It leaves a lot to the imagination but its the best we could do.


Chris Evans said...

I was very glad that Brice's Crossroads expanded from one acre to over 800 acres. Standing at the Crossroads is a battlefield vist that I'll always remember. I agree that it is a very interesting battle and battlefield. The visitor center is a nice addition and I believe they have a neat diorama of the battle. I hope to get back there soon. It'll be interesing to see Eric Wittenberg's book on Brice's Crossroads and Tupelo when it is published in the future.
Thanks for the post,

Nick said...

I like Wittenberg but I'm not sure I'll like this book. I have a feeling he'll nit pick every little mistake by Forrest until the conclusion is that Forrest was lucky he wasn't whipped. This battle is Forrest's best work and while he did benefit from Sturgis' mistakes he also fought a good battle. I know Wittenberg is not a fan of Forrest's work so I fear the book will be like his Sheridan book.

Chris Evans said...

I agree that Brice's Crossroads was an excellent fought battle by Forrest. I believe that he was a very good battlefield commander. He was certainly personally very brave but his battles were for the most part well fought. These battles (like Brice's Crossroads) are sometimes treated like they were sideshows but this was what he was ordered to do. He was suppose to disrupt the Union forces out of Memphis. It is easy to nitpick battles from the comfort of our home that has nice air conditioning but it is a completely different thing to be in a middle of a battle with the bullets cracking against the bones and the heat (or cold) making life miserable and no quick comminucations with your flanks. Forrest seemed quite adept as a self taught commander in my opinion. I hope Wittenberg will be fair to both sides and commanders in his book.