Book Review: Outwitting Forrest: The Tupelo Campaign in Mississippi, June 22 - July 23, 1864


by Edwin C. Bearss, edited by David Powell

El Dorado Hills, CA.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. x, 192. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1611216702

Getting the Better of Bedford Forrest

In 1969 the National Park Service published The Tupelo Campaign, the first ever study of this interesting operation, by the late Ed Bearss, one of the most distinguished Civil War scholars. Bearss’ work was ahead of its time in terms of lucidity, analysis, and parsing of the events. He spent a great many pages detailing what happened, the decision making, and the successes and failures on both sides, which help clarify a rather neglected series of actions in the Mississippi during summer of 1864. But the book did not initially receive much attention, and is now long out of print. This new edition, with additional notes supplementing Bearss own, was prepared by David Powell, himself a noted historian of war, author of Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joe Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign and other works.

Forrest is, of course, one of the most glamorized, disparaged, and mythologized individuals in the Civil War, a prosperous civilian volunteer who fought for the Confederacy in the Western Theater.

On June 10,1864, Forrest defeated a large Union force in the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, thus threatening Union rail links in northern Mississippi. The Union's XVI Army Corps, under Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, moved into the area in early July 1864, to secure it. A series of small actions by Forrest's cavalry slowed Smith's advance, and he entrenched at Harrisburg (now a part of Tupelo). On July 14th and 15th a series of Confederate attacks were beaten off by the Union defenders. Forrest's superior, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, in overall command at Tupelo, has generally borne the blame for the loss. But Lee claimed that Forrest changed the battle plan, attacking the most well-prepared part of the Union line, where there was the greatest concentration of troops. The result, as Bearss put it was that Forrest’s cavalry were “never again able to mount an effective assault on Union positions.”

Bearss stresses that the battle greatly affected the overall course of the war in the West. Forrest never again posed a threat to union supply lines in the region, and was unable to interfere in Sherman's "March to the Sea."

Powell's notes supplementing Bearss' originals, correct some minor errors or add additional information, and in some cases offer short biographies of many commanders, from the topmost levels down to brigade levels. In addition, the book includes six new maps, and has some suggestions on interpreting the Tupelo Campaign, and for changes to the interpretive markers on the battlefield.

Outwitting Forrest is a valuable read for those interested in the war in the West or in Nathan Bedford Forrest



ur Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, and "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2,



Note: Outwitting Forrest is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close