Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Most decisive Confederate victories.

   There was one goal for army commanders: to obliterate the opponent. While this was their objective, it seldom happened. The enemy often escaped to fight again another day. The American Battlefield Trust has 10,000 battles and engagements fought between 1861 and 1865. Which ones were the most decisive Confederate victories is a hard list to determine. Here are five on my list.[1]

Brice’s Crossroads, Tennessee

   Fought in June 1864, this battle pitted Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, with 3,500 men, against 8,122 Federal soldiers under Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis. The Federals were moving from Memphis toward Northern Mississippi in an effort to keep Forrest preoccupied and away from the major supply line stretching from Nashville into North Georgia. Federal forces were able to slowly push back Confederate cavalry. With Confederate reinforcements arriving, the Federals called for infantry support. Confederate attacks forced the Federals into a tighter defensive line. A Confederate attack across a bridge spanning the Tishomingo River failed but caused panic in the Federal lines. Federal soldiers fled in disorder, and many were captured by the pursuing Confederate cavalry. The Federals lost sixteen of their eighteen artillery pieces, and 2,249 men, a loss of about 27%. Sturgis finished the war “awaiting orders.” Brice’s Crossroads is considered one of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s greatest victories.[2]  

Olustee, Florida

   The often-overlooked February 1864 battle of Olustee, Florida, could have been another Richmond, Kentucky, had Confederates cavalry been a little more active in securing the fleeing Federal army. Once again, the two sides were almost evenly matched. Federal general Thuman Seymour, with a force of 5,500 men, faced off against general Joseph Finegan, with 5,000 men (all estimates). The Federals had disembarked at Jacksonville and were moving toward Lake City. The Confederates were waiting for them at Ocean Pond/Olustee, and the Federals attacked in piecemeal fashion. Federal losses were 1,861, about 34%, including six artillery pieces. The Civil War Book of Lists, due to the ratio of troops involved, places Olustee as the second bloodiest battle of the war for the Union. The Federals retreated back to Jacksonville. [3]

(Historical Marker Database.)

Richmond, Kentucky

   Fought at the same time as Second Manassas, the August 1862 battle of Richmond, Kentucky, often gets overshadowed. Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith tangled with Federal forces under Brig. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson. The forces were about even: 6,580 US v. 6,500 CS. Often described as a “running fight,” the Federals took up at three defensive positions, the last being in and around the cemetery in Richmond. In the end, the Federals lost an estimated 5,353, killed, wounded, and captured, including Bull Nelson, who was wounded, but escaped. Smith wrote that the Federals lost “some twenty pieces of artillery,” or, all that the Federals brought to the field. “Indeed, everything indicates the almost entire annihilation of this force of the enemy,” Smith wrote. Confederate forces were able to capture the capital of Kentucky a few days later. Federal losses were 81% of those engaged.[4]  

Plymouth, North Carolina

   Combined Confederate army and navy operations during the war were rare, and the April 1864 battle of Plymouth might be the pinnacle of Confederate success. The Federal garrison at Plymouth was commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry W. Wessells, with about 3,000 men, excluding the US Navy, which included four ships. Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Robert F. Hoke commanded around 4,500 men, excluding two Confederate naval vessels. At the end of the three-day siege, two Federal vessels were sunk, while Wessells listed his losses in killed, wounded, and captured at 2,843. A handful of members of the 2nd North Carolina Volunteer Infantry (US) and Black recruits for various United States colored Troop regiments escaped. Losses were around 97%, including some twenty cannons, mostly heavy seacoast guns.

Munfordville, Kentucky

   Located south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Munfordville just might just vie with Plymouth as one of the most complete victories of the war. Munfordville was garrisoned by a Federal force just over 4,000 men under the command of Col. John T. Wilder. Braxton Bragg, commanding 16,000 Confederate soldiers, launched his campaign to wrest control of Kentucky from the Federals in September 1862. Initial Confederate attacks were repulsed with losses. Bragg brought up the rest of his command, encircling the Federal garrison. All 4,133 Federal soldiers were surrendered by Wilder. Federal loss was 100%.[5]

   So, how doe these battles stack up? Federal losses at Gettysburg were 24%; Chickamauga 26%; Chancellorsville, 17%; Sharpsburg, 14%; Perryville, 7%; Pea Ridge, 12%; Murfreesboro, 31%; Cedar Mountain, 29%; Port Republic, 28%.[6]

[2] Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary, 85.

[3] The Civil War Book of List, 97.

[4] Lambert, When the Ripe Pears Fell, 234; OR, Vol. 16, pt. 1, 932-33.

[5] Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary, 575.

[6] Aall American Battlefield Trust numbers.