The Battle of Brice's Crossroads was fought on June 10, 1864, near Baldwyn in Lee County, Mississippi, during the American Civil War. It pitted a 4,787-man contingent led by Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest against an 7,900-strong Union force led by Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis. The battle ended in a rout of the Union forces and cemented Forrest's reputation as one of the great cavalrymen.
The battle remains a textbook example of an outnumbered force prevailing through better tactics, terrain mastery, and aggressive offensive action. Despite this, the Confederates gained little through the victory other than temporarily keeping the Union out of Alabama and Mississippi.
Forrest soon surmised, correctly, that the Union had actually targeted Tupelo, Mississippi, located in Lee County, about south of Brice's Crossroads. Although badly outnumbered, he decided to repulse Sturgis instead of waiting for Lee, and selected an area to attack ahead on Sturgis's projected path. He chose Brice's Crossroads, in what is now Lee County, which featured four muddy roads, heavily wooded areas, and the natural boundary of Tishomingo Creek, which had only one bridge going east to west. Forrest, seeing that the Union cavalry moved three hours ahead of its own infantry, devised a plan that called for an attack on the Union cavalry first, with the idea of forcing the enemy infantry to hurry to assist them. Their infantry would be too tired to offer real help and the Confederates planned to push the entire Union force against the creek to the west. Forrest dispatched most of his men to two nearby towns to wait.
At 9:45 a.m. on June 10, a brigade of Benjamin H. Grierson's Union cavalry division reached Brice's Crossroads and the battle started at 10:30 a.m. when the Confederates performed a stalling operation with a brigade of their own. Forrest then ordered the rest of his cavalry to converge around the crossroads. The remainder of the Union cavalry arrived in support, but a strong Confederate assault soon pushed them back at 11:30 a.m., when the balance of Forrest's cavalry arrived on the scene. Grierson called for infantry support and Sturgis obliged. The line held until 1:30 p.m. when the first regiments of Federal infantry arrived.
The Union line, initially bolstered by the infantry, briefly seized the momentum and attacked the Confederate left flank, but Forrest launched an attack from his extreme right and left wings, before the rest of the federal infantry could take to the field. In this phase of the battle, Forrest commanded his artillery to unlimber, unprotected, only yards from the Federal position, and to shell the Union line with grapeshot. The massive damage caused Sturgis to re-order the line in a tighter semi-circle around the crossroads, facing east.
At 3:30, the Confederates in the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry assaulted the bridge across the Tishomingo. Although the attack failed, it caused severe confusion among the Federal troops and Sturgis ordered a general retreat. With the Tennesseans still pressing, the retreat bottlenecked at the bridge and a panicked rout developed instead. The ensuing wild flight and pursuit back to Memphis carried across six counties before the exhausted Confederates retired.
In 1994 concerned local citizens formed the Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield Commission, Inc., to protect and preserve additional battlefield land. With assistance from the Civil War Preservation Trust (formerly the APCWS and the Civil War Trust), and the support of Federal, State, and local governments, the BCNBC, Inc. has purchased for preservation over of the original battlefield. Much of the land purchased came from the Agnew Family in Tupelo who still own some of the battlefield property.
The modern Bethany Presbyterian Church sits on the southeast side of the crossroads. At the time of the battle this congregation's meeting house was located further south along the Baldwyn Road. However, the Bethany Cemetery adjacent to the Park Service monument site predates the Civil War. Many of the area's earliest settlers are buried here. The graves of more than 90 Confederate soldiers killed in the battle are also located in this cemetery. Union dead from the battle were buried in common graves on the battlefield, but were later reinterred in the National Cemetery at Memphis, Tennessee.
The roads that form Brice's Crossroads lead to Baldwyn, Tupelo, Ripley, and Pontotoc, Mississippi. Tupelo is the county seat for historic Lee County, Mississippi. The roads, paved today, are still a major route into Lee, Prentiss, and Union counties, with thousands of cars traveling through the national battlefield to reach other destinations.