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A. J. Smith's defeat of Forrest at Tupelo (July 14th, 1864).

by W. S. Burns, Captain, 4TH Missouri cavalry, U. S. V.
On the 9th of June, 1864, General A. J. Smith arrived at Memphis with his command from the “Red River expedition.” His men were scarcely settled in camp when the vanguard of Sturgis's retreating army made its appearance, having just been thoroughly defeated by Forrest at Brice's Cross-roads.

General C. C. Washburn, then nominally in command of the large Union department of which Forrest had the real control (excepting the headquarters at Memphis), immediately ordered General Smith to make preparations for an expedition into “Forrest's country.”

On July 1st we had assembled at La Grange, fifty miles east of Memphis. Our forces consisted of the First and Third divisions of the right wing of the Sixteenth Army Corps, commanded respectively by General J. A. Mower and Colonel David Moore, with a division of cavalry, commanded by General B. H. Grierson, and a brigade of colored troops, commanded by Colonel Edward Bouton--in all about 14,000 men with twenty guns.

On July 5th the command started on its march southward, pushing on day after day, with Forrest hovering on our front and flanks. On the 11th, after a sharp skirmish, we entered Pontotoc (Mississippi), driving Forrest through and beyond the village. Having now arrived within striking distance of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, early in the morning of the 13th, we moved out of Pontotoc eastward, as if to strike the railroad at Tupelo, 19 miles distant, thereby “flanking” Forrest, who, with his army numbering about 12,000 men, was in a good fighting position 10 miles south awaiting Smith. Forrest soon discovered this move, and started to intercept us before we could reach the railroad, which he did six miles from Tupelo, attacking Mower's division in the rear. He was soon repulsed. An hour later he made another attack upon the same division and met the same fate, [422] Mower's men charging, and capturing some prisoners and a battle-flag. About dark we encamped at Harrisburg, a small hamlet, one mile from Tupelo. Smith was now in position to compel an attack from Forrest.

Next morning (14th), at a very early hour, Grierson was sent to Tupelo with orders to destroy the railroad north and south, while Smith placed his troops for the impending battle. They occupied a knoll almost clear of trees for a mile or more to the south, west, and north-west, beyond which was a growth of timber. The road over which the troops had marched led to the center of the position. Mower was stationed on the right or north of this (Pontotoc) road, looking west, and Moore on the left or south. Bouton's colored brigade was on the extreme left.

About 6 o'clock Forrest made his attack, the brunt falling upon Moore's division and the left wing of Mower's. The onset was made with Forrest's characteristic impetuosity, but it was impossible for his men to reach our lines. Smith's command was in the open, without any protection, excepting part of Moore's division, in front of which was a “worm fence,” and beyond this a wide gully. Here the attacking force was rallied. Four times they attacked, each time without success. Between the assaults Forrest's artillery was very active, one battery being handled with great accuracy, throwing its shot and shell into the 21st Missouri, 58th Illinois, and 89th Indiana, until an Illinois and an Indiana battery engaged their attention. These batteries so annoyed the enemy that Colonel W. W. Faulkner charged upon them for their capture but he was met by an enfilading fire from the 119th Illinois, and a direct fire and a charge from the 21st Missouri, 58th Illinois, and 89th Indiana, the 122d Illinois charging to the right. Faulkner's line broke and fled, leaving many of their wounded and dead upon the field, among them the leader, Colonel Faulkner.

For an hour and a half the struggle continued, until the enemy were driven from the front of Moore, leaving the ground covered with their dead and dying. Instead of retiring to the woods (where their horses were held in reserve, for Forrest's army was always “mounted infantry” ) they moved in what at first appeared a confused mass to their left, crossed to the north of the Pontotoe road, turned, and, in good line of battle, swept down upon Mower, whose men (under orders) reserved their fire until the enemy were quite near, when they opened upon them with musketry and canister-shot. Human beings could not stand such a storm, and the attacking line fell back, but only to return to some seemingly exposed part of Mower's line. For two hours and a half the battle raged on this part of the field, the enemy attacking and our men keeping their positions and repelling all attacks. At last Mower ordered his division to advance, which they did, capturing many prisoners and driving the enemy into the woods, where they mounted their horses and moved off. It was useless to pursue them farther.

The afternoon was spent bringing in and caring for the wounded of both armies, and burying the dead of our own. Our loss was about 650, of which number 82 were killed. That of Forrest could only be estimated.1 Of his dead alone there were left on the field about 350.

Smith had defeated Forrest as he had never been defeated before. But our rations and ammunition were low, and Grierson's cavalry having destroyed the railroad, Smith could, from a military point of view, do no more, so he decided to return to Memphis.

About 9 o'clock in the evening Forrest attacked our extreme left, including Bouton's colored brigade, and the 14th, 27th, and 32d Iowa, and 24th Missouri, but it was rather a feeble attempt and was soon repulsed. At an early hour next morning the enemy again made their appearance, advancing from the cover of the woods, but as they did not approach with much energy Mower charged upon them, when they fled to their horses. In the meantime troops were seen advancing upon the scene of last night's attempt, where the colored brigade was still in position. Smith hurried to the spot, and for two hours there was artillery firing. Forrest, under cover of his guns, then advanced, determined to have a parting blow at the colored troops. These, by command of General Smith, held their fire until he gave the word, after which he personally led them in a charge, which was made with spirit and in excellent order, the enemy breaking and fleeing in confusion.

Believing that this was the last of the foe, General Smith moved slowly northward five miles, and went into camp at “Old town Creek.” The men were just settling themselves for the rest they needed when the sound of artillery was heard in our rear and a few shells fell and burst among them. Mower quickly repelled this attack, made by a few horsemen and one piece of artillery, and no more was seen of them. We continued our march, and by easy stages reached Memphis July 23d.

1 Forrest's loss was officially reported as 153 killed, 794 wounded, and 49 missing,--total, 996.--editors.

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