Welcome to West Point, Mississippi where General Nathan B. Forrest stopped the forward movement of Union General William "Sooy" Smith's 7000 cavalry into the heart of Mississippi in order to link up with General William T. Sherman in Meridian. This is the story of the engagements between Union and Confederate Cavalry that began at Muldon Junction near present day Highway 25. Fighting between the two armies continued south to West Point. Skirmishes were fought East, West and North of town.
"The expedition is one of celerity, and all things must tend to that."
(Memoirs of Gen. W.T. Sherman, Special Field Orders, No. 11)
War for the Southern Cause took a turn for the worse in 1863. Confederate armies both in the east and west suffered defeats. The Army of Northern Virginia was devastated in Gettysburg, Pa. on July 1-3. Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863 ending Confederate control of the Mississippi River. And, General Stonewall Jackson died as a result of wounds he received from friendly fire earlier at Chancellorsville, Virginia.
General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army slammed into Union General W.S. Rosecran's Federal Army positioned along a creek in Northern Georgia known as Chickamauga, south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. After intense and bloody warfare, Bragg defeated the Union Army with the help of General Longstreet's army from the East. They pushed the Federals backward into Chattanooga. What appeared to be a Rebel victory ended as a defeat when the Confederate Army was pushed off Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. Confederates lost their last hope of controlling the Tennessee River and the railroad network in Tennessee and the Deep South. Forced to retreat from Tennessee into North Georgia, the outlook for the future of the Confederacy toward the end of 1863 looked dismal .
With the dawn of 1864, Generals Grant and Sherman mapped out plans early in January to further subdivide the Eastern half of the South by a movement of the army under Sherman from Mississippi and west Tennessee into Alabama for the capture of Selma and ultimately Mobile.
John Allen Wyeth, in his book on Forrest, described Grant and Sherman as the "DAMON" and "PYTHIAS" of the Union hosts. He said these two Union Generals met in early January 1864 to lay out a master plan of attack to accomplish their goal.
Sherman was in Memphis on January 10th, 1864. While in Memphis he assembled an army that was transferred by Riverboats to Vicksburg. Once in Vicksburg, Sherman linked up with General James McPherson. There they organized all their troops into a 20,000 man army equipped to move against Meridian.
According to information received by scouts, Sherman knew Confederate General Polk was occupying Meridian with two divisions of infantry. Besides the infantry, Polk had a large force of cavalry scattered west of Meridian. Because of this large Confederate army in Meridian, Sherman was determined to move against the "Railroad City" of Meridian with the hopes of capturing General Polk and his army.
General Grant had already transferred 2500 cavalry commanded by General William "Sooy" Smith to Sherman's Department before Sherman arrived in Memphis. General Hurlbut was ordered to reinforce Smith with his 7,000 cavalry. This combined force was to move out against Forrest in Mississippi around February 1st, 1864. Brigadier General William Sooy Smith's column was made up of the following units:
1st Cavalry Brigade--Colonel George E. Waring
5 Companies, 2nd Illinois Cavalry
7th Indiana Cavalry Regiment
4th Missouri Cavalry Regiment
2nd New Jersey Cavalry Regiment
19th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment
2nd Cavalry Brigade--Lieut. Colonel W.P. Hepburn
6th Illinois Cavalry Regiment
7th Illinois Cavalry Regiment
9th Illinois Cavalry Regiment
2nd Iowa Cavalry Regiment
Battery K, 1st Illinois Light Artillery
3rd Cavalry Brigade--Col. LaFayette McCrillis
5 Companies, 3rd Illinois Cavalry
72nd Indiana Mounted Infantry Regiment
5th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment
2nd Tennessee (U.S.) Cavalry Regiment
3rd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment
4th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment
4th United States Infantry Regiment (Unassigned)
Sherman's orders to General Smith on January 27, 1864 were:
Dear General: By an order issued this day I have place all the cavalry of this department subject to your command. I estimate you can make a force of full seven thousand men, which I believe to be superior and better in all respects than the combined cavalry which the enemy has in all the State of Mississippi....I want you with your cavalry to move from Collierville on Pontotoc and Okolona; thence sweeping down near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, disable that road as much as possible, consume or destroy the resources of the enemy along that road, break up the connection with Columbus, Mississippi, and finally reach me at or near Meridian as near the date I have mentioned as possible....General Grierson is with you, and is familiar with the whole country....Do not let the enemy draw you into minor affairs, but look solely to the greater object to destroy his communications from Okolona to Meridian, and thence eastward to Selma....If convenient, send into Columbus, Mississippi, and destroy all machinery there, and the bridge across the Tombigbee, which enables the enemy to draw the resources of the east side of the valley, but this is not of sufficient importance to delay your movement...."
W.T. Sherman, Major-General
(Memoirs of W.T. Sherman)
While Union preparations were carefully made and carried out, Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest was not idle. Forrest was in west Tennessee gathering recruits to rebuild his army after General Bragg had taken much of his army from him in Chattanooga after Forrest and Bragg had a tete a tete on Missionary Ridge. Forrest was stripped of all his command save only his famed Escort Company and much of his original command.
After recruiting troops in Tennessee, Forrest broke out of Tennessee escaping back to Mississippi. Somewhere near Como, Miss. he reorganized his command by forming four skeleton brigades.
||Size of Brigade
|Brig. General R.V. Richardson
|Colonel Robert McCullock
|General Tyree H. Bell
|Colonel Jeffrey E. Forrest
Jeffrey Forrest's and McCulloch's Brigades were combined to form a Division. Their Division was placed under General James R. Chalmers Command. The following units were in Forrest's command at West Point during the Meridian Campaign
|12th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment
||3rd Mississippi Cavalry Regiment
|5th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment
||19th Mississippi Cavalry Battalion
|2nd Missouri Cavalry Battalion
||2nd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment
|7th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment
||Forrest's Cavalry Regiment
|McDonald's Cavalry Regiment
||Russell's Cavalry Regiment
|Willis' Cavalry Battalion
||Wilson's Cavalry Regiment
||Red's Mississippi Cavalry Company
General N.B. Forrest knew about the Federal plans on February 6th, 1864. He had learned the Federals were making plans to descend on Meridian from the west and the North. Information had reached Forrest that Smith was about to march out of Collierville south to Meridian. To keep a close watch on Smith's movements, Forrest directed Chalmers to place twenty (20) reliable men out in front of the Division as scouts or skirmishers. General Gholson of the State Partisan Rangers was ordered by Forrest to watch and counter any movements of Federal General McMillan's infantry. Forrest informed Gholson McMillen "will move in two columns, one by Panola to Grenada, the other by New Albany and Pontotoc, towards Okolona." Forrest's intuition on these movements were proven correct.
A dispatch was sent by General Forrest to Lieutenant-General Polk on February 11th that said: "My scouts report a large force of cavalry and mounted infantry crossing Coldwater and moving toward Holly Springs from Byhalia". Due to these scouting reports, Forrest moved his forces as quickly as possible south in order to place himself between Smith and Sherman. On February 14th Forrest sent a dispatch to Polk intimating he knew where the Federal troops were heading.
"I am to-day falling back from Oxford and the line of the Tallahatchie River to this place. I have skirmished with the enemy from Panola to mouth of Tippah river. Their forces are moving to my right, crossing Tippah today 10 miles above its mouth on the road to New Albany. I am of opinion the large portion of their forces will move via Pontotoc to Houston or Okolona and thence southward...."
Forrest moved quickly across country arriving in Starkville on February 18th. He sent Colonel Jeffrey Forrest, his brother, northeast to oppose Smith if he should pass through Okolona and try to cross the Tombigbee at Aberdeen or Columbus. If Smith was to attempt a crossing of the Sakatonchee near West Point in order to move on to Meridian by taking a circuitous route around West Point and the Tibbee bottom, Jeffrey Forrest would be positioned to stop him.
Colonel Tyree Bell was sent by Forrest to the Tombigbee at Waverley Landing to protect the crossing there. General Gholson with his First Mississippi Partisan Rangers were standing between the Federals and Houston north of the town in the Houlka Creek bottom. Smith did not want to get bogged down in the swamp fighting Gholson's partisan rangers while trying to execute a crossing of the Houlka Creek so he chose to turn east toward Okolona and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.
Smith, upon reaching Okolona, turned south. He sent Grierson with his cavalry toward Aberdeen to find a crossing there. Smith proceeded south toward Loohatten (Muldon Junction). At Loohatten he met up with Grierson and turned south. (Note: Loohatten or Muldon Junction is now close to where Highway 25 intersects with U.S. Highway 45 Alternate)
All the players now are in position for a few days of fighting which would ultimately decide the fate of the Meridian Campaign. What takes place next further infuriates the North against Forrest and makes Sherman more determined to bring about Forrest's demise.
Prepared by : John W. McBryde
Last Revised 13 February 2007
Send all comments or suggestions to: