Copyright (c) 1999 H-Bar Enterprises
This is one chapter of a book Confederate Wizards of the Saddle by Bennett H. Young. It is copyright (c) 1999 H-Bar Enterprises and is used here by their permission. Many thanks to them for allowing me to do so. Please do not copy.
You will notice that Mr. Young spells Brices' with a "y" instead of an "i". I believe the latter to be correct.
It is especially fitting to have this chapter on the Tippah County Confederate page. Nathan Bedford Forrest was born in Bedford County Tennessee and moved to Tippah County while in his teens. He lived in what was then the western part of the county but is now in Benton County. His home was about five miles west southwest of Ashland and in the Liberty Methodist Church area about a mile or two from my great great grandfather, Elijah Cox's home. Forrest's father was poor and died while he was still a teenager and the support of his family fell on him. By the time of the war, he was a wealthy slave trader in Memphis Tennessee. His mother was a Beck and the Beck's remained in Tippah County. This is one reason the Federals made so many raids into that area, around old Salem after "Forrest's hair". Salem itself was destroyed during the war. In 1870, Benton County was formed and Ashland made the county seat. Since it was only five miles or so from Salem businesses moved to Ashland to rebuild and Salem was never rebuilt. The post office was still Salem on the 1880 census for this area even though there had been no Salem for more than 15 years at that time.
Forrest rumoured associations with the original KKK and his occupation before the War often results in him
not get the recognition he deserves for his achievements as a great cavalry leader. He
enlisted as a private and rose to become a Lt. General. He was uneducated
to the point that it was difficult to read anything he personally wrote.
The reports he made to headquarters must have been written by his staff.
He was not a West Point graduate nor a Virginian and had no one who
had the ear of Jeff Davis to sing his laurels. Davis knew he was
great but did not know until after the war just how great he was.
Gen. Sherman knew and feared him more than anyone else. Mr. Young
tells of the length to which Sherman went not only to defeat him, but to
Forrest at Bryce's Crossroads
One Who Rode With Morgan
Commander-in-Chief of the
United Confederate Veterans Association
Chapple Publishing Company, Ltd.
by Bennett H. Young
Women of the South
FORTY-EIGHT years and a half have passed, since the last drum-beat of the Confederate States was heard and the furling of their flag forever closed the most wondrous military tragedy of the ages. Numbers and character considered, the tribute the South paid to War has no equal in human records.
Fifteen hundred years ago, on the Catalaunian Plain, where Attila, King of the Huns, styled "The Scourge of God," joined battle with the Romans under Oetius, and the Visigoths led by Thorismund, tradition has it that hundreds of thousands of dead were left on the field. The men who followed the cruel and remorseless Attila were a vast horde, organized for war, with plunder as the highest aim of a soldier's life, and the Romans and Visigoths were men who followed war solely for the opportunity it afforded to enslave, rob and despoil those they conquered. On both sides the men who filled the ranks had neither intelligence nor patriotism, and with each, war was a profession or pastime, devoid in most cases of any exalted purpose, even the dream of a conviction, or the faintest gleam of a principle.
If the dead on that fatal field were numbered by the hundreds of thousands, their demise was a mere incident in the conflicts which were carried on for no truth, and in their loss the world suffered but little more than if as many beasts of. burden had been sacrificed on some heathen altar to appease the God of War.
The American war, in the middle of the nineteenth century, dealt on both sides with far different materials. Christianity, liberty, education, culture and refinement had reached a very high limit on the human scale. When the North and South faced each other, moved by patriotism and principle, the legions drawn from the very best materials that the race could offer, with inherited courage, quickened by personal and social pride, and with memories and traditions of great military achievements, and ennobled by ancestral escutcheons of exceeding splendor, there met for battle such men as the world had never before seen, aligned for conflict.
Half a century gives time to gather data, to measure losses, to calculate sacrifices, to weigh difficulties, to figure results, and to look calmly and justly at the history and the conduct of what must ever be classed as one of the great wars of the ages.
The very fact that the South lost lends pathos and sentiment to the story of what her sons accomplished. As time, aided by the scrutinizing finger of Truth, points out with impartial fairness what each did in this gigantic grapple between two Anglo-Saxon armies, we are enabled, even now, while thousands of participants remain, to judge, recount and chronicle with accuracy the most important events that marked this mighty struggle.
Cavalry played a most important part in the Civil War. In fact, without this arm of the service, the Confederacy could not have so long maintained the unequal contest; nor the Federal Army have prevailed as quickly as was done. The story of the campaigns of Stuart, Wheeler, Morgan, the Lees, Forrest, Hampton, Ashby, Mosby, Green, Van Dorn, Shelby and Marmaduke, and their associates, gave war a new glamour, opened to chivalry a wider field for operation, painted to adventurous genius more entrancing visions, and made the service of men who rode to battle a transcendent power of which warriors had hitherto not even dreamed.
So far as has been historically made known, there is no similar service performed by the cavalry of any period. General Morgan, with his command, made two distinct marches of one thousand miles each into a hostile country. Shelby is reported to have ridden fifteen hundred miles when he raided into Missouri in September, 1863. There were times, probably, when Stuart and Hampton and their associates had fiercer conflict, but the strain was never so long drawn out and the calls on nerve and muscle and brain were never so severely concentrated as in these marches of Morgan and Shelby.
General Wheeler, in his raid around Rosecrans, was twenty-five days in the rear of the enemy, menaced on every side, and his men fought with a courage that was simply transcendent. His marches were characterized by fierce fighting and covered a more limited territory, but his captures and his destruction of property have few counterparts.
No fair man, reading the story of General Dick Taylor's exploits, in the spring of '64, can come to any other conclusion than that he and his men were heroic, of abundant patience and exhibited almost unlimited physical endurance.
The same can be said of Forrest. He did not ride so far as Morgan, Marmaduke or Shelby on a single expedition, but what he lacked in distance he made in overcoming difficulties and in the extent and constancy of conflict, and in the tremendous losses inflicted upon his enemy's property and troops.
Shelby's Raid into Missouri in September, 1863, which lasted thirty-six days and involved marching fifteen hundred miles, an average of thirty miles per day, is a story of extraordinary skill and endurance.
Stuart's Chickahominy raid around McClellan's army, his march to Chambersburg and return, and the Battle of Fleetwood Hill will ever command the admiration of cavalry students.
Hampton's Trevilian campaign, his cattle raid, and the management of General Lee's cavalry before Petersburg point to him as a leader of wondrous enterprise, a soldier of unbounded daring and a strategist of great ability.
The cavalry generals who have been chosen as the chid subjects of this book all possessed, in a remarkable degree, the power of winning the confidence of their followers and their loyal support under all circumstances. With Hampton, men followed wherever he led, they never reasoned why they should go, they only asked that they be informed as to the will of their leader. And so it was true of Morgan, Stuart, Forrest, Shelby and Wheeler. They all had the absolute trust of their followers. No man beneath them in command ever questioned their wisdom or their judgment in battle or march. But when it came to inspiring men with the spirit of absolute indifference to death and relentlessness in the pursuit of the enemy, few would deny that Nathan Bedford Forrest did this more effectively than any leader who was engaged in the struggle. Generals Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sidney Johnson, Joseph E. Johnston always commanded the respect, devotion, love and admiration of their soldiers to such an extent that at any time they would have marched into the very jaws of death, under their leadership; but those who study the life and the extent of Nathan Bedford Forrest's achievements will generally agree that in inspiring his soldiers to fierce, persistent battle and absolute indifference in conflict, few, if any, equalled him, none surpassed him. The conduct of his soldiers at Bryce's Crossroads, where he fought first cavalry and then infantry, sometimes mounted, most generally on foot, would show that he could exact from men as superb service as any soldier who ever led his followers into battle.
This suggestion as to Forrest does not detract from the glory of any other Confederate leader. We meet this almost hypnotic influence in many phases of life other than military. Those who study the actions and characteristics of General Forrest and who looked upon the faces of the men following him could but realize that by his bearing, example and dash he got the best and bravest that it was possible for human nature in war to give.
Romance, patriotism and love of adventure inspired the cavalry of the Confederacy to follow their renowned leaders. No man who has calmly read the stories of the conflicts and marches of the Army of Northern Virginia, or the Army of Tennessee, or of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi Department can fail to be filled with wonder at the duties the soldiers of these armies so cheerfully and so willingly performed. Without pay, illy clad and poorly fed, yet they were always brave. Though hungry in battle they were always courageous; and in conflict they had only one aim, and that was to defend their country and destroy its enemies.
There was much in the narratives of the South's past to inspire cavalrymen with Lighthorse Harry Lee valor. Their fathers. and grandfathers had ridden with Marion and Sumpter, had fought with Shelby, Preston, Sevier and Campbell at King's Mountain, or had gone with Isaac Shelby and General Harrison into Canada to fight the Battle of the Thames, or composed the dragoons who had gone with Scott and Taylor to Mexico. The boys and young men of the South had read and reread the accounts of what these horsemen of the long ago had accomplished, of the dangers they had faced and the laurels they had won, and these records of a splendid past filled their hearts with deepest love of their country, and fired their souls to make achievements the equal of those of their renowned ancestry. The most romantic and chivalrous side of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 had their happenings with horsemen, and the most of those were either on the Southern soil or came from the states which sympathized with the South.
It was this antecedent history that gave such impetus to the Confederate youth to find, if possible, a place in the cavalry. The men of the South were not only familiar with the use of firearms, but a majority of them were skilled horsemen, and these two things combined brought to the Confederate cavalry volunteers, active, adventurous, daring, reckless, vigilant, chivalrous soldiers that were bound to perform the highest type of military work.
In the American war, cavalry was to change its arms, the sabre was to be almost entirely eliminated. In its place was to come the revolver and the repeating rifle, the magazine gun and the short Enfield. The holsters were to be abandoned. Instead, the belt with the six shooters and the sixty rounds of ammunition. These new cavalrymen were not only to serve as scouts, but to act as infantry, to cover military movements, to destroy the lines of communication, to burn stores, to tear up lines of railway, to gather supplies, to fight gunboats, capture transports; all these without any equipment of any kind, except their horses, their arms and some horse artillery of limited range. In a large part, they were to feed in the enemy's country, rely upon their foes for arms and ammunition. They were to have no tents; no wagons, except for ammunition; no cooking utensils, other than a wrought iron skillet. These, with canteens and food found on the march, were to prove their only means of subsistence. They were to be trained to ride incessantly, charge stockades, capture forts, take their place alongside of the infantry on the battle line, and to build or defend hastily constructed fortifications. No cavalry before had performed these services and none will ever perform them again. The newer conditions of warfare will change altogether the work that will be required of cavalry. The improvement in firearms, particularly in the artillery, would render the oldtime cavalry superfluous and its use, under the past methods, a simple slaughter without benefit.
These men, carried by horses with great celerity from place to place, were to perform a distinct and different service in war; sometimes in a single night they would march fifty miles. Sometimes in a day they would march seventy-five to ninety miles. They would destroy stores of supplies, wreck railroads, burn water stations, demolish trestles, attack and burn wagon trains. Their best living was to be obtained by victory and the popular application to the fortunes of war the maxim--"That they should take who have the power, and they should keep who can."
To fit them for such service, a new system of drill was instituted; haft cavalry and half infantry, fighting on foot, in open rank; the charge on infantry on horseback was to become practically obsolete. They were, if occasion demanded, to be dismounted, fight in entrenchments alongside infantry, and charge batteries and abattis, the same as the infantry. With boundless energy, unlimited enthusiasm and a measureless love of adventure, the horseman was to meet these new requirements and frequently do all that infantry could do and, in addition, do what cavalry had never done before. In the West, this combined and new call for cavalry obtained its birth and hold and received its first and most successful development. It is urged that to General John H. Morgan and his followers ought to be accredited the application and successful demonstration of these new methods, which were to add such immense value to cavalry work. No commander ever before undertook to commit such tasks to horsemen. But the Southern soldier, who first developed all these qualities and performed these varying tasks, was to open for the Southern cavalry service an unlimited field for harassing, delaying, starving and, even destroying opposing armies.
The marvelous endurance of the men who followed Forrest and Stuart and Morgan and Wheeler and Hampton and Shelby and Green and McCullough and Price has never been equalled. Storms and floods had no terror for these. No enemy was safe from their avenging hand and no vigilance could defy their enterprise. There were no alarms in any work for these brave and tireless riders. Single riders and even small troops of cavalry had made marches of a hundred miles in a day, but it remained for generals like Wheeler and Morgan and Forrest and Stuart and Hampton and Shelby and Marmaduke and Green to demonstrate the potency and tremendous value of cavalry in war, and lengthen the possibility of a day's march.
For the first two years of the conflict, the Confederate cavalry were practically supreme. Their enemies were slow to absorb these new methods and to apprehend the advantages of this new system. Stuart's Chickahominy raid, his march from Chambersburg; Morgan's two marches of a thousand miles each; Forrest's pursuit of Streight and his raid into Kentucky and Tennessee, under the most adverse physical difficulties, in midwinter or early spring, and his ride into Memphis, read more like fairy stories than the performance of men composed of flesh and blood. Wheeler's raid in Rosecrans' rear, his expedition into East Tennessee and the endurance of his men are almost incredible. These do not read like the performance of real soldiers, but more like the make-up of a military dreamer. One may call over the names of the great battles of the war, either east or west of the Mississippi River, and while the account of these engagements lose none of their brilliancy in comparison with those of any war, yet they cannot surpass, nor in some respects equal, the work performed by the cavalry. Fleetwood Hill (Brandy Station), Trevilian Station, Hanging Fork, Chambersburg, Hartsville, Cynthiana, Shiloh, Mr. Sterling, Bryce's Cross-roads, Parker's Cross Roads and Dug Creek Gap. Marmaduke's and Shelby's Missouri raids and the pursuit of Stoneman, Garrard and McCook, during the Atlanta siege, are stories of valor, endurance and sacrifice that lose nothing in comparison with the deeds of any other organization of the armies of the Confederate States. In exposure, in daring, in physical privations, in patience, in cheerfulness under defeat, in willingness to do and dare, the horsemen of the Confederacy must always command the admiration of those who study military records.
An unusual proportion of the Confederate cavalry came from eight states,--Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. When we call the cavalry roll, its names awaken memories of some of the most heroic deeds known among men. Every Confederate state furnished a full quota of horsemen, and none of them failed to make good when the crucial test came.
Alabama sent into this branch of service Generals William Wirt Alien, James Hogan, Moses W. Hannon, John Herbert Kelley, Evander M. Law, John T. Morgan and P.D. Roddy.
Kentucky furnished Generals Abram Buford, George B. Cosby, Basil W. Duke, Charles W. Field, James N. Hawes, Ben Hardin Helm, George B. Hodge, Joseph H. Lewis, Hylan B. Lyon, John H. Morgan, John S. Williams, W.C.P. Breckenridge and R.M. Gano.
Missouri brought as part of her offering Generals John S. Marmaduke, Joseph O. Shelby and John G. Walker.
Tennessee gave Frank C. Armstrong, Tyree H. Bell, Alexander W. Campbell, Henry B. Davidson, George G. Dibrell, Benjamin J. Hill, W.Y.C. Humes, W.H. Jackson, John C. Vaughn, Lucius M. Walker and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Mississippi sent Generals Wirt Adams, James H. Chalmers, Samuel G. Gohlson, W.T. Martin, Peter B. Stark and Earl Van Dorn.
Georgia, Generals Robert H. Anderson, Charles C. Crews, Alfred Iverson, P.M.B. Young. Florida, General G.M. Davis and Colonel J.J. Dickinson. South Carolina, M.C. Butler, Thomas F. Drayton, John Dunnovant, Samuel W. Ferguson, Martin W. Geary, Thomas M. Logan, Wade Hampton.
North Carolina gave Lawrence S. Baker, Rufus Barriger, James B. Gordon, Robert Ransom, William Paul Roberts.
Maryland, Bradley T. Johnson and Joseph Lancaster Brent (the latter only an acting brigadier).
West Virginia, William L. Jackson, Albert Gallatin Jenkins, John McCausland.
Virginia, Turner Ashby, Richard L.T. Beale, John Randolph Chambliss, James Dearing, John D. Imboden, William E. Jones, Fitz Hugh Lee, W.H.F. Lee, Lumsford L. Lomax, Thomas Taylor Munfod, William Henry Fitzhugh Payne, Beverly H. Robertson, Thomas L. Rosser, J.E.B. Stuart, William C. Wickham.
Louisiana, Daniel W. Adams, Franklin Gardner, Thomas M. Scott.
Arkansas, William N.R. Beall, William L. Cabell, James F. Fagan, James McQueen McIntosh.
Texas, Arthur Pendleton Bagby, Hamilton P. Bee, Xavier Blanchard De Bray, Thomas Green, W.P. Hardemen, Thomas Hamson, Ben MeCulloeh, James P. Major, Samuel-Bell Maxey, Horace Randal, Felix H. Robertson, Lawrence Sullivan Ross, W.R. Scurry, William Steele, Richard Waterhouse, John A. Wharton, John W. Whirfield.
This one book must, in the very nature of things, be limited to a few hundred pages.
It does not and cannot undertake to tell all that was glorious and courageous in the service of the men who led and composed the Confederate cavalry. There will doubtless be some who will ask why certain battles and experiences were omitted. The author may have selected, in some instances, what would appear to many critics and readers not the most notable events in the Confederate cavalry work.
He may have inadvertently left out names that ought to have been mentioned, campaigns that were of vast importance, and battles that were full of sublime sacrifice and marked by the superbest skiIi.
The book is written with the bias of a cavalry man. It is written by a man who knows, by personal experienee only, some of the things that happened where Forrest, Wheeler and Morgan fought. He only knew personally three of the men whose leadership and skill are detailed in the book. He never saw Stuart but once, and Forrest a few times, but he loves the fame of all these splendid men and has endeavored to do each the fullest justice.
There were one hundred and four Confederate generals, from brigadier up, who at various times led the horsemen of the South. A volume could be written of the services of each. A majority of them were equally brave and valiant, but fate decreed some should pass under the fiercest light, and win from fame its most generous awards. It may be that hereafter other volumes will be written to tell, if not who, what the Confederate horsemen were. One of the chiefest aims of this volume is to give Confederate cavalry leaders and their followers their just place in the history of the great war. There is neither purpose nor desire to take aught from any other branch of the service. The Confederate infantry, artillery and navy have each a distinct place in the struggle of the South for its national life. Every Confederate loves every other Confederate and glories in all that he did to win the immortality of the Confederate armies. The cavalryman asks that his work may be recognized and that his proper place shall be assigned him in the phalanxes of the brave who stood for Southern independence. He covets none of the fame that justly belongs to his comrades in other lines. He only seeks that what he did may be honestly told, and his achievements be truly recorded. He feels that he did the best that he could and that he is entitled to a complete narrative of that which he did and endeavored to do for his country. He does not claim that he was braver or more patriotic than his comrades who fought in other departments. He only asks that the world may know the dangers he had faced, the difficulties he overcame, the sacrifices he made, the sufferings he endured and the results his work accomplished. A true account is his only demand, and all the world will feel that this is his right.
The writer may not always be literally accurate in the things he undertakes to recount in this book about Southern cavalry. He may here and there have made slight mistakes in the description of the marches and battles he has essayed to describe. Relying upon books and participants, he could not always get the things just as they occurred. Eye witnesses often differ in discussing the same occurrence. There are hundreds of dates and names recorded in these pages. Error must have crept in, but in the main the history is what really happened, and these happenings alone will give Confederate cavalry fame and renown in all ages and amongst all nations.
They make up a great history of great leaders and valiant soldiers, and they must surely add something to the store of human heroism.
There is no desire to depreciate what men on the other side did. In the later years of the war, the Federal cavalry apprehended the tactics and the methods of Confederate horsemen, and they became foemen worthy of any steel. The third year of the struggle, the mounts of the Southern cavalry became less efficient and the disparity in arms and supplies more and more depressing amongst the Confederates. The Federal generals undertook then to cut Confederate lines of communication, and to destroy their commissary depots and to disrupt railway transportation. In such work, in 1864 and 1865, they laid heaviest burdens on the Confederate cavalry; and in many instances the jaded and starving horses, the illy-fed men, their scanty supply of ammunition put them at great disadvantage, but they were, in face of all these difficulties, game, vigilant, aggressive, enterprising and defiant to the end; and from April, 1864, to April, 1865, there was nothing more brilliant nor historic than the work of the Confederate horsemen, performed under the most unfavorable conditions, to stay the tide of Federal advance and success an
If the sketches these pages contain shall add one leaf to the Confederate Laurel Wreath, or bring to Confederate fame fuller recognition, the author will be many times' repaid for the labor, expense and time expended in their preparation.
BENNETT H. YOUNG.
FORREST AT BRYCE'S CROSS ROADS
JUNE 10th, 1864
The spring and summer of 1864 in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and in the Trans-Mississippi Department proved one of the most sanguinary periods of the war.
During this time, Joseph E. Johnston made his superb retreat from Dalton to Atlanta, regarded by military historians as one of the ablest strategic movements of the campaigns from '61 to '65, and General Robert E . Lee, in his famous defensive campaign culminating in the decimation of Grant's armies at Cold Harbor, had killed or wounded more than eighty thousand of General Grant's followers, twenty thousand more effective men than Lee's whole army numbered!
In the Trans-Mississippi, between April and August, '64, General Dick Taylor at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill gained glorious victories in attempting to stay the advance of General Banks into the heart of Louisiana; and Kirby Smith, Price, Shelby and Marmaduke in Arkansas still maintained a courageous front to the foe. After three years of constant fighting, their soldiers were more thoroughly inured to the hardships of war, better trained to face its dangers, and men on both sides exhibited a recklessness in facing death which marked the highest tide of courage.
Early in the war the cavalry became one of the most effective arms of the agencies of the Confederates. With the vast territory in the West defended by the Confederacy, with a frontier line twenty-five hundred miles in extent, the marching speed of which mounted men are capable, the cavalry of the South, at this period, enabled them to do more, man for man, than any arm of the South's defenders. They proved not only the best allies of the Confederate cause, but later developed some of the most renowned cavalry leaders of the world.
There were many cavalry battles during the fifteen hundred and twenty days of the war -- Trevilian Station, Fleetwood Hill, sometimes called "Brandy Station," Harrisburg, Hartsville, Okolona, Murfreesboro, Shiloh, Parkers Cross Roads, Reams Station, all of which gave resplendence to the fame of the Confederate horsemen. Over and above these cavalry battles, there was Byrce's Cross Roads, designated by the Federals as the Battle of Tishomingo Creek. Measured by losses, it stands pre-eminent; along strategic lines it is amongst the first, and counted by results to the defeated foe, it has no counterpart in any engagement fought entirely on one side by cavalry.
On the Federal side, two thousand officers and men, including the wounded, were made prisoners, and more than twelve hundred dead were left on the battlefield or in close proximity thereto, if Forrest's contemporary reports be correct. The Confederates lost a hundred and forty killed and three hundred wounded. General Forrest held the battlefield. His forces buried the dead, and his count was based upon the fullest knowledge of the tremendous mortality of this sanguinary engaged to maintain to the end their nation's hope and their nation's life. There were differing statements concerning the casualties. The numbers here given are from men who saw the havoc on the field.
At Fleetwood Hill, the Confederates lost five hundred and twenty-three killed and wounded, and the Federals nine hundred and thirty-six killed and wounded. At Trevilian Station, a purely cavalry engagement, June 11th, 1864, Hampton carried into battle four thousand seven hundred men against nine thousand Federals. After the battle and in ten days' subsequent fighting, his losses in killed, wounded and prisoners were less than seven hundred. He captured six hundred and ninety-five Federals, including one hundred and twenty-five wounded. Hampton's killed numbered less than seventy-five. In the Trevilian campaign, continuing fifteen days, Hampton's losses did not exceed seven hundred and fifty killed, wounded and missing, while the Federals report a loss of one thousand five hundred and twelve, more than twice that of the Confederates. At Hartsville, the Confederates lost a hundred and twenty-five killed and wounded, and the Federals four hundred and thirty, with eighteen hundred captured. At Harrisburg, Mississippi, one thousand two hundred and eighty-seven Confederates were killed and wounded. At Bull Run the Federals lost in killed and wounded one thousand four hundred and ninety-two, with one thousand four hundred and sixty missing. The Confederates lost one thousand eight hundred and seven. On both sides approximately fifty-six thousand men were engaged. At Shiloh, April 6th and 7th, 1862, the Federal death roll was seventeen hundred and that of the Confederates seventeen hundred and twenty-eight, and yet on both sides ninety thousand men were engaged in the struggle. At Wilson's Creek, the Federal loss was one thousand three hundred and seventeen, the Confederate loss one thousand two hundred and eighteen. There the forces were nearly evenly matched, and there were about ten thousand in the struggle. Accepting General Forrest's report to be true that more than twelve hundred men were killed and wounded in the six hours of fighting at Byrce's Cross Roads, then more men were killed and captured on that day than in any two other purely cavalry engagements of the war.
By June, 1864, Forrest had reached the full tide of his fame. He had improved every opportunity to develop his genius, and he never failed to make use of all the fighting opportunities that came his way. He did not always get the best the quartermaster had, and he had been hampered by interference from headquarters. He had long since ceased to rely upon his government for his mounts, clothing, arms and food. He had months before learned from actual experience that the Federals had better supplies than it was possible for the Confederacy to distribute, and that capture from his enemies was a quicker and surer way of getting what he wanted than to risk the red tape and poverty of Confederate quartermaster regulations.
Beginning as a private, Forrest had reached most distinguished rank. Both friends and enemies awarded him a high place among the great commanders of the war, whether in infantry or cavalry. Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Nashville, Murfreesboro, his raid into West Tennessee, his capture of Streight, and conflicts at Brentwood, Harper's Bridge, Chickamauga, his raid into middle Tennessee, West Point, Mississippi and the capture of Fort Pillow, had woven about him and his work a crown of romance and glory, and had justly, on his absolute merits, made him one of the most renowned leaders of the Confederacy.
His enemies feared and hated him as they did no other general of the South. War with Forrest was not only "hell," but savagest hell. His idea of war was to fight and kill and destroy with fiercest energy. It has been said that he considered the raising of the black flag as the most economical and merciful way of ending the war. His methods were not calculated to impress his foes with admiration. The many reverses they had suffered at his hands, the wholesome fear of his presence, his desperate courage, boundless resources, rapidity of movement, rapidity of onslaught, recklessness in facing death, and insensibility to fatigue made failure practically unknown in his campaigns, and he became a terror to his foes and a tower of strength to his comrades.
There was no Federal commander that did not count Forrest as a power to be considered, or a potent factor against which it was wise to calculate. General Grant and other Federal commanders did not hesitate to declare that Forrest had the Federal forces in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi hacked. They called him "scoundrel" and "devil," and put a price on his head, but this did not drive fear out of their hearts, or prevent some degree of tremor when they knew of his presence in the places where they were going, or where they thought he might happen to come.
Prior to and shortly after the battle of Bryce's Cross Roads, all the Federal generals were devising ways and means for the destruction of Forrest. On June 24th, 1864, General Sherman sent President Lincoln the following despatch:
"I have ordered General A.J. Smith and General Mower to pursue and kill Forrest, promising the latter, in case of success, my influence to promote him to Major General. He is one of the gamest men in our service. Should accident befall me, I ask you to favor him, if he succeeds in killing Forrest." Signed, William T. Sherman, Major General.
This was the highest price put on any Confederate officer's life during the war, and there is no other instance in American military history where one general found it necessary, in order to destroy an opposing major general, to offer a premium for his life and to openly declare that his death was the highest aim to be sought.
It will be observed that the offer was not for dispersing Forrest's forces; it was not for his capture; but "to pursue and kill." General Sherman did not want Forrest alive, else he would have framed his murderous suggestion in a different form. The idea of a possible surrender was ignored. Sherman seems to have proceeded upon the idea that dead men cease to fight or destroy communications. He told Mower to take no chances, but to "kill." This is the only instance among the Confederate or Federal commanders where a superior incited a subordinate to murder. He said once before in speaking of Forrest, "That devil Forrest must be eliminated, if it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the treasury." See despatch. Twice, in his telegram to President Lincoln, he lays stress upon the word "kill." First he says, "if he pursues and kills I promised him a major generalship;" second, "if he succeeds in killing Forrest, and aught happens to me so that I cannot make good, I ask you to favor him and give him the promotion which is the price of Forrest's death. "
How transcendent Forrest's success must have been in his operations along the Federal lines to have produced this degree of fear in General Sherman's mind! Sherman was a brave and skillful general, but he seemed to consider that General Forrest's ability to injure the Federal armies was greater than that of any other living man, and with malignant hate, extreme fear, and almost barbarous cruelty, he offered a major generalship to an ambitious young brigadier general, if he would pursue and kill the Confederate leader. War amongst civilized nations is carried on against commands or organized bodies, not individuals. General Sherman reversed this well-recognized principle and declared war on an individual and offered a price for his destruction. He asserted that he had better sacrifice ten thousand of his countrymen and expend all its treasury contained than to let one man live to fight. The pressing exigencies invoked by Forrest's campaigns silenced the traditions and usages of war, and made his destruction, in Sherman's mind, justifiable by any means, foul or fair, and at any cost, however extravagant or hurtful, to rid his department of a brave and aggressive foe.
This proposition to reward General Mower was not to General Sherman's credit. He declared "war was hell," but at no period of the war's history and by no other Federal general was the death of any one man made a patriotic duty, or recommended and encouraged in the service of the Federal army. The South never had any reason to love General Sherman. He and Sheridan never respected as did other Union generals the rights of non-combatants. His subsequent burning of Columbia created in Southern breasts the harshest memories, but the incitement to killing Forrest, as the surest means of promotion and success for his subordinate added much to the grounds of the South for the bitterest hate. With half a century to calm passion, to still prejudice and restore reason, it is difficult to realize what a frenzy of fear and hate Forrest had aroused in the hearts of his enemies.
After failures, not necessary to recount, one last effort was made to run Forrest down and to annihilate or cripple his command. Forrest had been transferred to the Mississippi and West Tennessee Department. It was known as Forrest's Department. General C.C. Washburn, in command at Memphis, was ordered to send six thousand men in a final effort to rout General Forrest. Instead, he says he sent eight thousand, but he really sent ten thousand five hundred. Colonel George E. Waring, who commanded one of the Federal brigades, says, "We were a force of nine thousand infantry and artillery sent as a tub to the Forrest Whale." Captain Tyler, who operated in Sturgis' rear, captured the returns made out for the day. These showed ten thousand five hundred present for duty. Other Federal generals had been tried out and found wanting, and in this last effort General Sherman called an experienced soldier, General Samuel Davis Sturgis, who had won great reputation in other departments. He had seen service under Lyon in Missouri, and after the death of that general, succeeded to command at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Assigned to the Army of the Tennessee, later he was ordered to the command of the Department of Kansas. In 1862 he was summoned to Washington and given charge of the defense around the city, and he commanded a part of the 9th Army Corps at the Battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg. For nearly a year he was chief of the cavalry in the Department of Ohio, and there he did most effective work for his country's cause. He was counted as "dead game," a man of great force and energy and of extended experience. He was born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, on the 11th of June, 1822, and was forty-two years old at the time of the Battle of Bryce's Cross Roads. With him was assigned General B.H. Grierson, who was just thirty-seven years of age. As early as 1862 he had been placed in the command of a cavalry brigade, and had been conspicuous in skirmishes and raids in North Mississippi and West Tennessee. Under General Grant's eye he had made what was considered a particularly fortunate raid from La Grange to Baton Rouge. In June, '63, he was brevetted a brigadier general of Volunteers, and was regarded as a most stubborn fighter.
To these brigadier generals was added Colonel George E. Waring. At twenty-eight he became major of the 39th New York Volunteers. In August he was sent West as a major of cavalry, and shortly afterwards he became colonel of the 4th Missouri Cavalry. In 1863 he was in command of the cavalry brigade in South Missouri and North Arkansas. In 1863 he had command of sixty-five hundred men, mainly cavalry. He had gone with Smith and Grierson, and was now to go with Sturgis. His experience was wide and his courage of the very highest order. He was a gallant, good-natured and fierce fighter, and was not ashamed to admit the truth when he was fairly defeated. It was said by General Forrest of Colonel Waring, that his cavalry charge at Okolona, Mississippi, some time previous to this date, was the most brilliant cavalry exploit he had ever witnessed.
It was unfortunate for the Confederates that General S.A. Hurlburt was not added to this trio. In one of his reports, found in the Official Reports, Volume 31, Part 1, Page 697, after failing to capture General Forrest, he said, "I regret very much that I could not have the pleasure of bringing you his hair, but he is too great a coward to fight anything like an equal force, and we will have to be satisfied with driving him from the State." General Hurlburt studied the results of Bryce's Cross Roads and learned that, after all the abuse heaped upon him by his enemies, Forrest occasionally enjoyed a fight even though he was compelled to try out conclusions with his foes with an odds against him of more than two to one.
This boastful soldier, more bloodthirsty even than his associates, not only proposed to kill Forrest, but after death to scalp his fallen foe and lay at the feet of his superior a savage trophy like the Indians of old, in the pioneer days of Kentucky and Tennessee.
In addition to this array of distinguished and experienced officers, the most careful provision was made in arming of the troops that were to undertake the expedition. They were given Colt's five-chambered, repeating rifles or breech-loading carbines, and were also supplied with six-shooters.
Two cavalry brigades and three brigades of infantry made up the force which was deemed capable of coping with Forrest under all conditions. Curiously enough, there was added a brigade of colored infantry. The events at Fort Pillow, on the 12th day of April, 1864, sixty days before, had been used to arouse the animosity and fiercest hate of the colored troops. It was claimed that General Forrest had refused to allow the colored forces quarter and had shot them down after they had surrendered. While this was amply disproved by overwhelming testimony, it served a good purpose to make the colored troops desperate in any fighting which should fail to their lot, and to make them unwilling to surrender to Forrest's men under any possible circumstances..
Correspondence between General Washburn and General Forrest brought out mention of no quarter, and it was claimed that General Washburn, in dispatching these troops, had suggested to this colored contingent to refuse quarter to Forrest's command. If not actually advising, he certainly acquiesced in their wearing some badges pinned upon their lapels, upon which had been printed these fateful words: "No quarter to Forrest's men." To a man of Forrest's successes and with his wonderful record in the capture of Federal prisoners, this was a most unfortunate declaration for those who were to pursue him, considering the uncertainty that attended those who might engage him in battle.
The object of this expedition was to drive Forrest from Western Tennessee and fully restore communication from Memphis down the Mississippi River.
The Federal commander did not take into account the heat of a Mississippi summer nor the torrential rains that so frequently inundate that portion of the South in June and July. On the day of the battle, the thermometer rose to one hundred and seven degrees; not a ripple stirred the air; the leaves were as still as death itself; men panted for breath.
The thicket was so dense that no eye could penetrate its recesses for twenty feet, and vision was so circumscribed that foes were almost invisible. In its impenetrable and pathless precincts, black jack and small oak trees had grown up into a jungle, and the men. entering this gloomy and perplexing battlefield were unable to even conjecture what a minute would bring forth. Every nerve was strained; every muscle tense. No one cared for a second to avert his gaze from the front. At any instant a foe might spring up and fire in the face of the man who was advancing. A single step might reveal a line of battle, and the flash of gun or crack of a rifle was momentarily expected. A movement of the branches and rustling of the leaves might draw fatal volleys from carbines, rifles or revolvers, and here and there the crash of shells and the roar of cannon added to the fearfulness of the situation. The dangers and dread of every step were accentuated by the harassing uncertainty of the surroundings.
The western Confederate cavalry at short range always found the revolver the most. effective weapon. Enfield rifles were good enough up to three hundred feet, but closer than that Forrest's and Morgan's and Wheeler's men relied upon their six-shooters. The men under Stuart and Hampton loved "the white arm," the knightly sabre; they found that it helped at Fleetwood Hill and Trevilian Station. Mosby's greatest reliance was on "Colt's Navies," and there were but few swords ever found with the cavalry of the Army of Tennessee. To the western Confederate horsemen, their heavy revolver was a great equalizer. The Federal soldier, when it came to short range, had no better weapon. At close quarters, with a firm grip on a six-shooter, a Confederate soldier felt he was the equal of any foe from any place, and thus armed when it came where he could see the color of the other soldier's eyes, he considered the Navy revolver the choicest weapon man could make. It was a destructive weapon in the hands of brave, calm soldiers. The bayonet lost all terrors to those who possessed this effective pistol. No advancing antagonist could hope to safely reach a man of nerve with a pistol, amidst this black jack and heavy foliage. There, ears sharpened by battle's dangers, and eyes made brighter by hidden foes, gave great zest to the game of war.
Leaving Memphis on the 1st of June, the approach of Sturgis and his command was slow and careful, surrounded with every possible precaution against surprise. The leaders knew the character of the enemy they must face, and they resolved to leave nothing undone which should prepare them for his furious onslaughts.
Bryce's Cross Roads, or Gun town, was seventy-six miles from Memphis. Nine days were consumed in the march. On the night of the 9th, Sturgis and his forces encamped on the Stubbs farm, about six miles from Bryce's Cross Roads. At this point was a blacksmith's shop and a store, and two roads crossed each other, one running southeast and the other almost directly south. A mile and a half away was Tisho-mingo Creek, a slimy and almost currentless stream at this period, although it had been replenished by the rains two days before. The soil of the road was the friable bottom land of Mississippi, which churns quickly into slush and then soon dries out.
About the time that Sturgis left Memphis, Forrest had started on a raid in middle Tennessee to break up the railroad connection south of Nashville. At the same time General Sherman was trying to fight his way to Atlanta, and it was deemed important to destroy the railroads between Chattanooga and Nashville.
Forrest had only gone a short distance when he was notified by General Stephen D. Lee to give up his raid and return to face Sturgis and his command, which had left Memphis a few days before.
There has been a good deal of discussion as to whether General Lee was willing for Forrest to fight at Bryce's Cross Roads. Certainly General Lee hoped that Sturgis would be permitted to march farther down into Mississippi before the contact should be forced. It seems, however, from what General Forrest told General Buford that he had made up his mind to bring on the engagement just where it occurred. And yet his troops were not in position to justify his engaging in a great battle.
Lyon, with his eight hundred men from Kentucky, Johnson, with a small brigade of Alabamians, were six miles away from the scene of battle at Baldwin; the artillery was at Booneville, eighteen miles away. It rained heavily on the 8th and 9th. General Forrest had said to General Buford, "They outnumber me, but I can whip them; the cavalry will be in advance, and we can defeat the cavalry before the infantry can march to their relief. It is going to be as hot as hell. The infantry will come on the run into the battle, and with the muddy roads and hot weather, they will be tired out, then we can ride over them. I will go ahead with Lyon and my escort and open up the fight." The wily Confederate general knew that soldiers never do their best when they enter battle after great physical punishment'.
Sturgis knew that Forrest was around, and he felt sure that if he did not find Forrest, Forrest would find him. The night before the battle, Sturgis had intuition of disaster. Caution warned him to go back, and the temptation was very strong, but he had promised General Washburn and General Sherman much before he had started. He had boasted what he could do, or would do, and the instinct of courage prevailed over his instinct of fear and bade him go on.
At break of day Forrest's forces were all moving. They were converging to Byrce's Cross Roads. Grierson, in command of the Federal column, had left Stubb's farm to march toward Bryce's Cross Roads. The Federal infantry cooked their breakfast in a leisurely way, and were not ready to march until seven-thirty. Experienced and faithful scouts were bringing to Lyon, who was in the Confederate front, the accurate information of the movements of General Waring, who led the Federal advance with his brigade.
On the road, a mile and a half away from Tishomingo Creek, General Lyon had placed a strong picket. Two videttes were at the bridge that spanned Tishomingo Creek. These were not particular upon the order of their going. They fled southward, pursued by Waring's advance guard, which was followed by his entire command, and also by the other brigade of Federal cavalry. Lyon needed no commander to tell him what to do. To him belongs the credit of having opened the greatest of all cavalry battles, and to have done more than any one Confederate officer, other than Forrest, to win the crushing defeat of the Union forces on that historic field.
Forrest, with his men all counted, had only forty-seven hundred cavalry. This was the most he could rely on when more than half of them should gallop eighteen miles. Deducting horseholders, one in four, and the men who could not keep up in the mad pace necessary to get into position, Forrest could not have more than thirty-two hundred fighters in any period of the battle. Against these were Sturgis' cavalry and infantry and twenty-six pieces of artillery -- all told, over ten thousand effectives. At the opening of the engagement, Forrest had eight hundred men with Lyon, eighty-five men as escort, and fifty men in Gartrell's company, making a total of nine hundred and thirty-five.
Forrest resolved to have what he called "a bulge" on the enemy. In his plain, untutored way he had said "bulging would beat. tactics." Forrest had with him leaders who knew their business, and who understood his methods. They had been apt scholars in his school of war, and they were now going to put their teaching into practical effect, and under his eye and leadership win applause and glory for centuries to come.
One of Forrest's favorite maxims was, "Keep your men a-going." With a fierce feint, he undertook to deceive General Grierson, the Federal cavalry leader, as to his real strength. He had two-thirds less men than Grierson, and he was afraid that Grierson would attack him and rush his line, which he could have done, and scattered his forces.
With his limited numbers, he made the greatest possible show. Lyon had entrenched his men behind brush heaps, rail fences and logs. This was very warm, but it was much safer than out in the open. Finally Forrest ordered his soldiers to cross the open ground, and doubling his skirmish line, boldly marched out. They were widely overlapped by Waring and Winslow with their brigades, and for an hour Lyon bravely and fiercely kept up his feint, and then retired behind his entrenchments. A great burden was on Lyon's mind, but when it was most oppressive, the glad sound of the rebel yell fell upon his ears and then appeared horses flecked with foam, with their mouths open, breathing with stentorious sounds, panting as if ready to fail. Rucker and his tired troops, after a ride of fourteen miles, were on the ground, and quickly dismounting they went into line. Haste was the order of the hour. Lyon, to be saved, must be strengthened. Alone he had faced the thirty-two hundred Federal cavalry, and while he maintained his ground, no idea of running away had ever come into his mind. Three and one-half to one man had no terrors for Forrest with these Kentucky men. They were mostly mounted infantry, who had often heard the storm of battle.
Forrest parted Lyon on the back, and commended him for the splendid stand which he had made. Rucker, brave, gallant, chivalrous, had heard the roar of cannon, and although his tired horses were supposed to have reached their limit, he pleaded with his men to force them to still greater effort. He could hear through the cannon's roars the voices of comrades calling. He knew they were outnumbered nearly four to one and were being hardly pressed, and that he was their only hope of rescue.
The scene changes! They are now only two to one, and Forrest again advances and presses his lines close up to the Federal position. Before, he was afraid his enemies might realize his inferior numbers and rush him; now, with Johnson and Rucker, he had one to two. Before, nine hundred men had constituted his fighting force; now, sixteen hundred were hurried to the front. The lines of anxiety disappeared from Forrest's face; he never doubted when he could count one to two. At eleven, the fighting had been going on an hour and a quarter. Time was precious. The Federal infantry, struggling through the heavy mire and panting under that awful heat, were pressing on as fast as human strength and endurance would permit. General Bell was not yet in reach; he had to ride twenty-one miles to get on the ground and join in the fray. If Waring and Winslow could be swept out of the way, Forrest felt sure he could take care of the infantry when Bell came. Prudence might have dictated delay until Bell was on the scene, but the exigencies of the moment called for instant and decisive action. Morton, with his invincible artillery, was slashing his horses and with almost superhuman energy was urging his beasts to the highest tension to join in saving the day, but the longing eyes of Forrest, Lyon, Johnson and Rucker could not detect his coming, and no sign of Bell's shouting riders came through the murky air to tell them that succor was nigh at hand.
The time for feinting was past. Forrest understood that the crisis was upon him, and he always grasped the crucial moment. Riding swiftly in front of his forces through the jungles, he told his men that the time had come to win, that when the bugle sounded every man must leave cover, cross the open space, where it was open, and charge through the thickets where they prevailed, and rush their enemies. He rode like a centaur, giving his orders along the line. The comforting, encouraging word, the hardly pressed soldiers speaking bravely together, was ended now. Action, sharp and decisive, was the watchword. The clear, sharp tones of the bugle cut the murky air; the sound waves drove its inspiring notes across the battle front and, like a crouching beast springing upon its prey, every Confederate bounded forward. The sharp rebel yell filled the surrounding space and fell ominously upon the expectant ears of their foes.
The men of Waring and Winston braced themselves for the coming assault. Their fire was reserved to the last moment, and then the repeating rifles with their unbroken volleys, increasing in volume every moment, created a din that was appalling. The Confederates had only one fire, and that they reserved to the end. Their enthusiasm was at fever heat, and rushing on to close with their foes, fear was east aside. The enemy was in front; tiger-like, the men in gray sprang forward. The keen, sharp whistle of the carbine balls and the buzz of the bullets filled the air in their passage, and cut the leaves and branches from the trees so that they fell like showers of dew upon the rushing Confederates. The Federals hurled their deep-toned battle-cry across the narrow space. They had come so close that they could now see face to face, and each line shouted defiance at the other. The blue and gray rushed upon each other with the ferocity of uncaged lions. The single shots from the Confederate Enfields, so long held, were now by pre-arranged command fired, and then the Confederates were ordered to draw their six-shooters and rush upon their foes. And quick as thought, the sharper sound of the six-shooters filled the air.
The Confederates had momentarily recoiled before the first terrific fire so unexpectedly poured into their ranks, but the' Federals, in the face of the six-shooters, began to waver. One or the other must yield. The Confederates were pushing the conflict. Waring ordered up two new regiments to halt the advancing tide. The contest was short, but it was vehement. At close range, nothing could equal the six-shooter. The sword and carbine could not stay its murderous effect in the hands of the brave and determined Confederates.
Hand to hand, the conflict went on, but flesh and blood could not withstand such an assault. The Federal line began to yield. Lyon, Rucker, Johnson and Forrest urged their brave men to supreme effort. The tide was still for an instant, but only an instant. The reinforcements of Waring were brushed away, his lines broken. The apparent yielding of the Union cavalry encouraged and emboldened the men of the South, and now they drove forward with increasing energy and ferocity to the death grapple. Ammunition failing, the men used the empty rifles and carbines as clubs. A hand to hand fight cannot last long. Decimation of numbers soon weakens its intensity, but the proximity of men, looking each other in the eye, shouting defiance into the very faces of their foes, proves a tremendous strain upon any soldiers, and such fearful tension weakens enthusiasm and one side or the other begins to consider yielding. Rucker, Lyon, Hail and Johnson of Alabama were terrific fighters; they had caught Forrest's spirit and they advanced with such vehemence that it was almost impossible for any line to withstand them. The moment Waring's men began to give way, victory deserted the Federal standards. The piercing of the Union lines, the loss of its initial position, gave the Confederates added impetuosity and intensity in their advance. Nature was adding renewed difficulties to the conflict. The fierce summer sun was almost scalding. Perspiration burst from every pore. Men, under the intense heat, panted for breath. Forrest's men knew they must win at once or fail in the struggle. Not waiting even to be called, they pressed forward over the bodies of their fallen comrades and enemies. The Southern troopers seemed imbued with an insatiate thirst for the blood of their opponents. They remembered what Forrest had told them to do when the bugle blast brought them out from cover, and bade them press the fighting, and drive the Federals back. Thus, impelled by the necessity of immediate victory, answering the summons of their well-beloved commander, and thrilled by the memory of their past glorious achievements, they became almost a line of demons. They cared nothing for wounds or death; they were bent only on the defeat and destruction of their foes, and for the accomplishment of this were ready to win or fail, as fate should cast the die.
Forrest, within fifteen minutes of the time when the first shot was fired, had sent one of his most trusted staff officers to meet General Tyree H. Bell and bid him "move up fast and fetch all he's got," and to this he added a word to his beloved boy artillery man, Captain Morton, to stay not his coming but to bring up his horses at a gallop. Forrest's keen eye was watching with deepest anxiety to catch some sight of the coming ones, his ears attuned to catch the echo of the cheers of Bell's men or the rushing tramp of the tired steeds; but nothing was heard of his allies, needed so badly at this crucial moment.
He knew that Sturgis with his infantry would soon be on the ground, and that his tired and powder-grimed men could not withstand this new ordeal, when four thousand fresh infantry would change the alignments and render resistance of their impact impossible. A thousand conflicting emotions filled Forrest's heart, but Forrest was not to be stayed. "Forward, forward!" he cried to his men. Slowly, then quickly, the Federal cavalry yielded, and then Forrest pressed them back in disorder.
The spirit of resistance was broken. Waring and Winston could not, With all their courage and skill, stay the work of Forrest's battalions. They rushed from the front, giving to the men in gray complete possession of the coveted battlefield.
General Sturgis, in advance of his panting infantry, had arrived at the scene of the struggle. Message after message of emergency had come to him by swift-riding couriers. His infantry were forced all that nature would allow. These Federal soldiers were weighted down with their accoutrements, and suffering the almost resistless heat of the burning rays of a fierce summer sun and an atmosphere so sultry and humid that human lungs inhaling it were weakened rather than refreshed.
The Federal cavalry were glad to ride away, and, hurrying from such scenes of carnage and woe, disorganized and beaten, they tried to reform behind the upcoming infantry. It was with a profound sense of relief that they gave over the field to the footmen and let them face, in the bushes and jungle, the Confederate cavalrymen, who with such devilish fury had worsted them in the fighting of the past three hours and thinned their ranks by killing and wounding a large percentage of their number.
The Federal cavalry, in this brief struggle, had pushed their magazine guns and carbines to the highest pressure. Their ammunition was gone, and without bayonets they could not halt the Confederate assailants, who behind their six-shooters let no obstacle, even for an instant, stay their progress.
Forrest's prediction that he would whip the Federal cavalry before the infantry could get up was verified, but unless Bell with his reserves and Morton with his artillery were quickly at hand, his success would avail nothing.
The Federal infantry was quickly put in line, and even Forrest felt for an instant a sense of doubt, as he surveyed his tired followers, and scanned their faces, worn and sharply drawn by the harrowing experiences of the past three hours.
However resourceful, he could not immediately reach a conclusion as to what was best. His soul abhorred yielding now that he had won glorious victory, and the thought of abandoning it all at last and leaving his dead and wounded followers on the field and the triumph of his hated foes, filled his soul with keenest anguish. For himself, he would rather die a thousand deaths than to do this hateful thing. At his command, by superhuman courage, his boys (as he called them) had discomfitted and driven away their foe, and as he looked down into the pale faces of the dead, who lay amidst the bushes and debris of the torrid forest, as he heard the groans of his gallant wounded and dying, burning with thirst and fever, as they pleaded for water, he dared not forsake them. The whistle of the rifle bails, the screech of the shrapnel again beginning to play upon his position urged him to speediest decision.
At this critical moment, while the firing on his side was spasmodic and occasional, he heard cheers and shouts. A moment later, from the woody recesses of the thicket, he caught sight of the face of Tyree H. Bell. The message he had sent two hours before had been heard. Bell had "moved fast and fetched all he's got" and Morton had "brought on his artillery at a gallop." True, many of the artillery horses had dropped dead by the wayside, overcome by the terrific punishment they had received in hastening to the scene of action, but as the dropping beast breathed his last, the harness was snatched from his dead body and flung upon another beast who had galloped or trotted behind the guns. These brutes had seen their fellows belabored with whips to increase their speed to the utmost, and if they reasoned at all they reluctantly assumed the burdens of their dead brothers and regretfully and sullenly took their places in front of the guns, made so heavy and so oppressive by the heat and by mud of the slushy roads.
When the supply of horses, in this mad rush of nineteen miles, gave out, cavalry men were dismounted and despite their protest, their horses were harnessed to the guns and caissons, which now at the highest possible speed were being dragged and hauled to the front, where Forrest was holding his foes at bay, or driving them in confusion from the field.
The first act of the grim drama had come out as Forrest had expected, and now the second was begun. He had vanquished the Federal cavalry and now he must destroy the Federal infantry. Bell had brought him two thousand men who, although wearied by a twenty mile ride during the past seven hours, had fired no guns and faced no foes. He had tried these new-comers in the past, and he did not fear to trust them in this supreme moment.
The Confederate chieftain did not long hesitate. He knew whatever was done must be done quickly. The Federal cavalry would soon be reorganized; the clash with the infantry (if they withstood the onslaught from the Confederates) would give the defeated horsemen new courage, and they would come back into the struggle far fiercer than before, for as brave men they would long to wipe out the memories and avenge their humiliating defeat with final victory.
The Federal infantry did not reach the battlefield until 1 p.m. They came under the most trying circumstances; the roads and the weather together were against them. The human body has its limitations. The Federal infantry did all men could have done; a majority of them were unaccustomed to the dreadful heat of the Mississippi thickets and swamps; they had been forced to the very highest efforts on the way; the sounds of battle were ringing in the ears of their leaders -- the sultry air did not conduct the sound waves distinctly, but they heard enough to know that a desperate struggle was already on, and they were soon to participate in its dangers and its experiences. Aides came riding in hot haste from where the noise of strife was heard; the messages were delivered to 'the advance guard, but the hard-riding couriers were hastily escorted to the Federal leaders, and the solemnity of their faces and the seriousness of their visage unmistakably proclaimed that sternest business was being enacted at the place from which they had in such haste so furiously ridden.
The Federal cavalry, in squads and disorganized masses, was retreating from the front. No shout of victory or cheers had come from the horsemen to urge the infantry forward to the conflict, which had gone sorely against those who rode. Here and there an ambulance bearing wounded officers and privates told in unmistakable terms what losses were awaiting those who were pressing toward the conflict, and bandaged heads and bloody faces, and wounded arms and legs told the story of carnage where these sufferers had been.
Regimental and company officers were commanding more rapid marching. These men in blue had suffered, on the way, dreadful punishment from the sultry heat, still they were bidden with loud and vociferous orders to press forward. They were now beginning to catch sight of the wreckage, an overturned ambulance, a dead horse, streams of disabled men, broken wagons, fleeing teamsters, riding detached animals with the harness swinging about their legs, all made a depressing scene.
The Federal infantry were of good stuff. When within half a mile of the Confederate lines, they vigorously responded to the command "double quick march" and ran forward to meet a foe of which they could see but little. The buzz of the rifle balls they heard on every side, and the defiant yells, which came from the bushes and recesses of the thickets, into which the men in blue were being hurried to find somebody to fight, were no pleasant sounds.
As the Federal infantry swung into line, yells and cheers from the Confederate forces came across the short space between them. Something important was happening. Some relief and mitigation was at hand. The shouts were of gladness and not those of grief or even of battle. The Confederate artillery was swinging out to the front. The Confederate cavalry always had good artillerists, Pelham, Chew, Cobb, Rice, Morton, Thrall and Freeman were men whom any commander might covet and in whose services they might glory.
Forrest had two wonderful qualities. He made all his associates recklessly brave. They absorbed the touch of strange and ever-masterful courage that came oozing from his every pore. He was, besides, a wonderful judge of men; all his staff were men not only of intrepid spirit but of quick intelligence and infinite patriotism. They knew Forrest's limitations, but they understood his marvelous greatness. That Forrest was sometimes harsh, even cruel and bitter in his judgment and in his words and acts, none knew better than the superb men on his staff; but his transcendent genius, his matchless courage and his immeasurable loyalty overshadowed his faults, so that the light which came from his greatness so magnified his presence and power as to dwarf and blot out that which in many men would have been hateful deformities.
The battle line was not an extended one. Well for the Confederates that this was so. With no reserves and outnumbered two to one, the shorter the range of action the better, for the smaller force.
Three thousand six hundred fresh infantry were now thrown into the whirlpool of battle. The Federal cavalry cowered behind their allies, who had walked and then ran in that dreadful summer heat to help them in their extremity, The heavy fire of the infantry, the constant peal and boom of the artillery notified Forrest that the best reliance of the Federal general was at hand. It looked gloomy for the Confederate commander, but while the character of men and the fire on the Federal side had changed, General Forrest also had a present help in this trouble. Brave, gallant Tyree H. Bell had come. True, his troopers with jaded steeds had trotted or galloped for nineteen miles under the blaze of the torrid sun, but the poor beasts who had carried the men could calmly rest while the fighting part of the outfit were now ready to take their place in the freshening fray.
Bell had a noble record. He had been from the first captain of the 12th Tennessee Infantry. He had acted as colonel at Belmont, and on the bloody field of Shiloh again commanded this splendid regiment. Made its colonel, he had won fresh laurels at Richmond, Kentucky, in the great victory there under Kirby Smith, and still later he had become commander of a cavalry regiment, and at Murfreesboro and Chickamauga had furiously hammered the Federal flanks. In January, 1864, Forrest, who knew good fighters by instinct, gave Bell a brigade with five regiments. The most of these on this glorious day at Byrce's Cross Roads were to give another good account of themselves. At Fort Pillow, Bell with the rifle and revolver had assailed and won a very strong position, and now again in this conflict, and in many afterwards, he was to win his great commander's admiration and trust.
The pace set by the Federal infantry was fierce, but Bell's men made it fiercer. General Buford had come to join in the battle. Forrest trusted this Kentucky general as probably he trusted no other man under him. With an immense body, weighing three hundred pounds, he had a sharp, quick, active mind, a fearless soul and splendid military instincts. A West Point graduate, he won a brevet at Buena Vista and was in the Santa Fe expedition in 1848. He gave up a captaincy in the First United States Dragoons in 1854, and settled on a splendid blue-grass farm in Woodford County, Kentucky, the asparagus bed, as Tom Marshall called it, of the blue-grass. Made a brigadier in 1862, he led a few hundred Kentucky boys from the State with Bragg, and with General Joe Wheeler had thoroughly demonstrated his great ability as a cavalryman.
Those who kept pace with Wheeler and Forrest must not only be great fighters, but they must be great cavalrymen. He placed great store by three Kentucky regiments of infantry, whose longing to ride was at last gratified by the War Department at Richmond, and on mules and broken down artillery horses, they had come to fight with Forrest. These men with Buford had passed through the roughest military training as infantry, and when the romance and glamour of cavalry service came their way, with abounding gratitude for being allowed to become cavalrymen, they had the manliness and appreciation to show their government that they fully deserved the great favor that had been bestowed upon them.
The Federal men were sturdy Westerners. They were as brave as the bravest. They had trotted three miles, double-quicked another mile and marched four miles; and they had borne this severe punishment without a murmur. They longed for victory. To defeat Forrest would give them the approval of their government and the applause of their comrades; and they were very anxious to crown the conflict with one crushing blow at the hated Confederate chieftain who, with his followers, had not only evaded the Federal forces sent for his capture, but very often had dashed their hopes of victory and driven them discomfitted from many fields of strife. These men in blue trusted that fate would now deliver him into their hands, and though they feared, they hoped, and this gave firmer tone to their onslaught.
There was no cleared space for maneuvering. Men who fought in this battle must go into thickets and through underbrush to find the foe they sought.
Forrest was too wary a general to allow the Federals to rest sufficiently long to recover from the depressing effects of their heated and wearying march. He well knew that in immediate and decisive attack lay his only hope of defeating his assailants, who so greatly outnumbered him. He had genius for finding the places where the fiercest fray would take place. Grierson's cavalry had, like worsted gladiators, sought refuge behind the men whom they jocularly called "web feet." They had borne the brunt of the battle from ten to two, had been worsted, and were glad enough to let the walking men test the mettle of the foes they had failed to defeat.
Lyon, Johnson and Rucker had fought with the men under them, with vigor, against Waring and Winston, and they had longed for a breathing spell, but as Bell's brigade, after their twenty-one mile ride, swung into line, tired though they were, they were yet indisposed to unload on the newcomers, and so gathering themselves together, they resolved not to be outdone by their comrades who had on that dreadful morning not felt battle's grievous touch nor hunted through the heated thickets for those who sought their undoing.
Buford was ordered to slowly press the Federal right. Fronting Forrest and Bell the Federals were massing, and here Forrest realized must come the "tug of war."
Cautiously, but quickly, Bell's men sought the newly aligned Federal infantry under Colonel Hoge. As Bell's men advanced, with acute vision, born of expected danger, they could not even see the men in blue as they stood with their guns cocked, waiting for a sight of those who so fearlessly were seeking them in the recesses of the jungle. They heard the silent, stealthy approach of the Confederates. The rustle of the leaves, the pushing aside of the bushes told them the Southern soldiers were coming. In an instant, without a single note of warning, the murderous, blazing fire of a thousand rifles flashed in their faces. Many brave men fell before this terrible discharge. The dead sank without noise to the earth and the unrepressed groans of the wounded for an instant terrorized the Confederate line. The instinct of safety, for a brief moment, led them to recoil from this gate of death, and a portion of Bell's brave men gave way. The Federal officers quickly took advantage of the situation and made a strong and valiant rush upon the broken line. With a shout of victory upon their lips, they fixed their bayonets and rapidly pushed through the thicket to disorganize those who, under the dreadful shock of an unexpected fire, had momentarily yielded to fear. This was Forrest's time to act. The expected had come. Tying his own horse to a tree, he bade his escort do likewise, and he and Bell, calling upon their men to follow, revolvers in hand, rushed upon the vanguard of the Federal line. Quick almost as thought itself, the Tennesseeans came back to the front. Wisdom, with two hundred and fifty of Newsom's regiment, leaped also to the rescue, and those who for a brief space recoiled now turned with fury upon the line that had dealt them so sudden and so grievous a blow. Rucker, hard pressed, bade his men kneel, draw their trusty revolvers and stand firm. It was now brave infantry with bayonets against brave cavalry with revolvers. No charge could break such a line, and the men of the bayonet drew back from impact with this wail of revolver fire. Hesitating for a brief space, they recoiled before the charge of the gallant Confederates. Hoge's men crumbled away in the face of the short range and effective aim of the Southern cavalry. A fierce dash of Forrest, Bell and Rucker completed their demoralization, and the men with the bayonets, vanquished, pulled away from further conflict with these revolver-firing cavalrymen.
At this moment, war's sweetest music fell upon the ears of General Forrest. Away north he heard the sound of conflict. Miles away from the scene of battle, Forrest had ordered Barteau's regiment to proceed west and strike the rear of the Federal forces. The Federal commanders deemed it wise to hold the colored brigade in reserve. They were about the wagon train. Forrest was again to astonish his enemies by a flank and rear attack. This was unexpected, but it was none the less decisive. No Federal cavalry could be spared to reach the front. Whipped in the morning, they were not even now, in the middle of the afternoon, ready for a second tussle with those who had vanquished them. Barteau had been well trained by his chieftain, for whom he had aforetime made daring assault under similar circumstances. The wagon train guard sought safety in flight, and the colored troopers began to tear from their breasts the badges printed with those fateful words, "Remember Fort Pillow. No quarter to Forrest's men." These boastful exhibits were good enough at Memphis on June 1st, but they became most unsatisfying declarations at Bryce's Cross Roads on June 10th. It made a great difference where they were shown.
A stampede began among these black-skinned warriors. Vigorously they pulled the badges from their stricken breasts and trampled them in the dust, ere Barteau and his furious horsemen could reach their broken phalanxes. The Federal front was still stubborn and sullenly refused to yield further ground. To win it was necessary that this front be broken. With startling rapidity, Forrest again mounted his horse, rode the entire length of his line, declaring that the enemy was breaking, and that the hour of victory was at hand. Two hours of carnage and conflict had passed since Bell came. Finding his boy artillerist, Morton, he ordered him, at a signal, to hitch his horses to four guns, double shot the pieces with grape and canister, rush them down close to the enemy's line, and deliver his fire. There were no reserves to protect the artillery, and Morton and Buford spoke a word of caution as to this extraordinary movement, but Forrest was firm in his resolve to test out the movement, if it cost him one-third of his artillery.
Tyler, with his two companies of the brave 12th Kentucky, Forrest's escort and Gartrell's company of Georgians, were to go west and charge around the Federal right, forcing their way to the Federal rear, on Tishomingo Creek, and engage with pistols any Federal force that might resist their progress.
Barteau, further east, was pounding the Federal rear, while Tyler, Jackson and Gartrell with great fury were hammering the Federal right. One-sixth of Forrest's fighting men were now in the Federal rear. Morton, doubtful, but brave, drove his four guns into the very face of the enemy, advancing upon them amidst a storm of fire. His men, leaving their horses behind, as a small measure of safety, pushed the guns along the narrow, muddy road with their hands, firing as they moved. They seemed the very demons of war, courting death or capture in this grapple for mastery. The roar of the guns quickened the hopes of the Confederates, and all along the entire Confederate line a furious rush was made upon the Federal position. So close were the opposing forces to each other that they exchanged words of challenge, and at every point the Confederates forced the fighting and doubled up the Federal advance. The game was too fierce to last long. The brave and daring men in the rear, with Tyler and Barteau, were riding with a vengeance in every direction, and with their revolvers were doing deadly work upon the fleeing foes. This charge was aimed chiefly at the colored troops, who, with visions before their eyes and echoes in their ears of Fort Pillow, were ready to flee away, without standing upon the order of their going.
Of this eventful moment, General Sturgis said, "I now endeavored to get hold of the colored brigade which formed the guard of the wagon train. While traversing the short distance to where the head of the brigade should be formed, the main line gave away at various points, order soon gave way to confusion and confusion to panic. The army drifted toward the rear and was beyond control. The road became crowded and jammed with troops; wagons and artillery sank into the deep mud and became inextricable. No power could cheek the panic-stricken mass as it swept towards the rear. The demoralization was complete." Even General Sturgis proposed to take the 19th Pennsylvania Cavalry as an escort, and through the cross roads of the country, to seek shelter in Memphis. The bridge across Tishomingo Creek became blocked by overturned wagons, the fleeing Federals found climbing over the wagons too slow, and waded or swam the Creek. Impeded in their flight, great numbers were shot down as they attempted to pass the stream. Morton's artillery rushed to the bank, and hundreds of the Federals, still exposed to fire, were cut down at this point. Forrest was as relentless in pursuit as he had been furious in battle.
As the closing scenes of the battle were concluded, the sunset came on. Now was the hour of the greatest triumph. The foe was fleeing, and the horse-holders, mounted upon the rested beasts, were rushed forward to gather up the fruits of the splendid victory. There was to be no let up even in the coming darkness, and the Confederates who were able, cheerfully hurried to the front. The Federals formed line after line, only to see them crushed and broken, while weary fugitives, driven by increasing fear, pushed on with all their remaining strength, to find some place of safety and rest. The Federals dared not stop for an instant during the lengthening hours of the dark, dark night. With sad hearts they kept up their flight, and when the sun dawned they had reached Ripley, twenty-two miles from the dreadful scene which long haunted the memories of the vanquished men in blue.
At 3 a.m., Buford, a few miles from Ripley, came. upon the remnant of the Federal wagon train and the last fourteen pieces of artillery. General Grierson, at earliest dawn had attempted to stay the pursuit until he could reorganize his beaten battalion, but Forrest and his escort, with the 7th Tennessee, closed in upon them, and they dispersed in the by-roads and through the plantations. All semblance of order was gone. No genius could evolve a complete organization that would for one moment resist the foe.
The Confederates seemed as demons, relentless and insatiable. All through the day and night of the 11th of June, the tired Confederates followed, and, with boundless energy, pursued the fleeing foes.
The retreat began at 4 p.m., June 10th. The next morning the Federals were at Ripley, twenty-five miles away, and the night of the same day, they reached Salem, forty-eight miles from Bryce's Cross Roads. Nineteen pieces of their twenty-six cannon had been captured with twenty-one caissons, two thousand men, including the wounded and captured, and twelve hundred lay dead on the field of battle and along the ways by which the Federals had retreated. It took nine days to march from White Station near Memphis to Bryce's Cross Roads. The fleeing Federals had traveled the same road in one day and two nights. No pursuit was ever more vigorous or effective. Forrest gave the fugitives no rest or peace. Changing his pursuing column from time to time, he made every moment count, the Federals scattered through the fields and forests and the Confederates scoured the country to take in those, who, forgetting the first principles of a deserting and defeated army to keep together, fled into the byways and through the wooded country, in their mad effort to hide from Forrest and his avenging huntsmen.
There was no reasonable explanation of the stupendous victory. General Sturgis tried to excuse it by saying the Confederates had twelve thousand men, including two brigades of infantry, but the only infantry there were, were Lyon's troopers, who for more than a year had fought on foot in the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee.
General Sherman frankly said, "Forrest had only his cavalry, and I cannot understand how he could defeat Sturgis with eight thousand men."
Later he said, "I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined, and if he should be at fault, he shall have no mercy at my hands. I cannot but believe he had troops enough, and I know I would have been willing to attempt the same task with that force; but Forrest is the devil and I think he has got some of our troops under cower. I have two officers at Memphis who will fight all the time, A.J. Smith and Mower. The latter is a young brigadier of fine promise, and I commend him to your notice. I will order them to make up a force and go out to follow Forrest to the death, if it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead."
The Kentucky brigade opened the battle, bore its brunt for more than three hours, and this gave to five Kentuckians a prominent and important part in battle on that day. First came General Hylan B. Lyon. Born in Kentucky in 1836, he entered West Point in 1852 and graduated in 1856. He first saw service against the Seminole Indians in 1856 and 1857, and after frontier work in California was engaged in the Spokane Expedition and in the battle of September 5th-7th, 1858. On April 3rd, 1861, he resigned his commission in the United States Army and was appointed First Lieutenant of Artillery in the Confederate Army. He organized and became captain of Cobb's Battery, but in ten months was made lieutenant colonel of the 8th Kentucky Infantry. He led this regiment at Fort Donelson, surrendered and was exchanged; and became colonel of the 5th Kentucky. At Coffeeville, Mississippi, he acquitted himself well, In 1864, he was promoted to be brigadier general and assigned to the corps of General Forrest, his brigade consisting of the 3rd, 7th, 8th and 12th Kentucky Regiments. They were brave, seasoned, fearless soldiers, and were prepared with their distinguished brigadier general on that day to give a good account of themselves.
Edward Crossland, Colonel of the 7th Kentucky Cavalry, did not go to the front in this great battle. Lawyer and legislator, he was one of the first men in Kentucky to organize a company for service in the Confederate Army, and for a year was in the Army of Northern Virginia. A lieutenant colonel for one year, he became colonel of the 1st Kentucky Infantry in May, 1862. He was at Vicksburg and Baton Rouge and Champion's Hill with Breckinridge. He was with Forrest to the end. He had the unfortunate habit to stop the flight of a bullet in almost every conflict in which he was engaged. Wounded again and again, he survived it all, and was with Forrest at the surrender. Upon his return, he was made judge, then congressman, and then judge again.
He had been wounded at Paducah, and if he had been at Bryce's Cross Roads, he would surely have drawn another wound. It always grieved him that he was not present at this greatest triumph of his idolized leader. This day found Colonel Crossland's regiment under command of Henry S. Hale. In the bloodstained thickets, Major Hale won deserved distinction. On one occasion his men hesitated, but he seized the colors and ran forward, flaunting them in the face of the enemy. No soldier could run away after such an exhibition from his commander, and they returned with exceeding fierceness and cheerfully followed their valiant leader.
This and like intrepid conduct on this glorious day added another star to Major Hale's rank, and he became lieutenant colonel of the 7th Kentucky Regiment, a just tribute to a gallant soldier. Kentucky sent none braver or truer to fight for the Southland.
Among the officers who proved themselves heroes on that day, none deserved higher honor than Captain H.A. Tyler, of the 12th Kentucky Cavalry. His assault on the flanks and his charge on the rear of the enemy were noble and superb exhibitions of the highest courage. He played havoc with the colored reserves who were protecting the wagon train. His voice was heard above the din of firearms and at the head of his squadron; he descended upon the black soldiers with such furious war-cries as to chill their blood and set in motion the retreat, which soon developed into an uncontrollable rout.
Forrest at Bryce's Crossroads
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