Review of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, by Stewart L. Bennett

12 Jul

William T. Sherman’s greatest fear as he undertook his campaign to capture Atlanta was not the Confederate Army of Tennessee, but famed horseman Nathan Bedford Forrest attacking his tenuous supply lines.  Therefore, Sherman ordered Union authorities to launch a foray into Mississippi to keep Forrest pinned down, thereby preventing him from being a threat to Sherman’s more important operations. Blue Mountain College Professor Stewart Bennett describes the subsequent campaign in North Mississippi with The Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. 

Part of The History Press’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Series, The Battle of Brice’s Crossroads is a compact volume of less than 130 pages of text that describes the military situation in North Mississippi in the early summer of 1864. Confederate leaders knew Atlanta was the next target for Union forces and had sent Forrest and his command to attempt to damage Sherman’s supply line emanating from Nashville and Chattanooga. When Union forces started stirring in Memphis, Forrest was called back to deal with the threat. Union General Samuel Sturgis commanded a force of over 10,000 cavalrymen and infantry soldiers to put the pressure on Forrest, who could muster only around 3,500 men. The forces clashed at Brice’s Crossroads, an intersection of roads near Baldwin, Mississippi on June 10, 1864.

Both units maneuvered in extreme temperatures as their leaders hurriedly marshaled their forces in a race to the Crossroads. Whoever could get the most men there the quickest would have the advantage. In the beginning, both calvary forces slugged it out as the Union force set up a defensive position at the Crossroads as Forrest kept pushing the attack and moved his forces into place. The Union force was strung out over the roads and arrived on the verge of exhaustion due to the long forced marches they endured. Forrest characteristically kept up the pressure and Confederate forces eventually overwhelmed the defenders and chased the Union force from the battlefield and miles up the road, capturing scores of prisoners and supplies. As Bennett states, Brice’s Crossroads made Forrest a legend as he defeated a numerically superior force.

In regards to the larger picture, the Confederate victory at Brice’s Crossroads meant very little.  Sherman was disgusted when he heard about the results of the battle, and quickly ordered another foray into the Magnolia State, bur privately he was surely pleased that Forrest had been kept busy and prevented from becoming a threat to his operations in Georgia. Sherman eventually captured Atlanta in September and historians and amateur history buffs have wondered ever since if things might have been different had Forrest had the opportunity to wreak havoc on his long and somewhat fragile supply line across the hills of north Georgia.

To his credit, Bennett provides a thorough and detailed description of the action at Brice’s Crossroads. However, his narrative is tedious and a struggle to read. He seems to favor extremely long paragraphs that tire the reader expecting a series of succinct points to be made in a progressive narrative. Plus, he provides such extreme detail with information on regiments and their movements and locations that no reader can possibly follow the action as there are nowhere near enough maps. Bennett is obviously an expert on the battle and the battlefield itself as proved by the plethora of photos showcasing important spots on the battlefield as they appear today. Unfortunately, however, these do little to assist in a reader’s understanding of the battle. The book would have benefited from more careful editing to clarify and simplify the narrative to make it easier to read and understand. Anyone not having some familiarity with the battle will be overwhelmed with the way Bennett attempts to relate the story in an avalanche of details that sometimes conceal the way the larger battle unfolded. Bennett also did not delve in a significant way into the major decision to pull Forrest back from attempting to move into Tennessee. Only a few sentences were given to the decision that proved vitally important to the overall scope of the war. Bennett’s book will surely stand as a landmark in the historiography of the battle he chronicles if for no other reason than that so relatively little has been written about it, and anyone interested in the crossroads clash that hot June day will be interested in it. Still, readers seeking a well-written narrative that clearly places one of the Confederacy’s most unexpected victories within with context of the larger war will need to look elsewhere.

CPW/JMB

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: