On this day in 1862, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest narrowly escapes capture during a raid at Parker’s Crossroads in western Tennessee. Despite the close call, the raid was instrumental in forcing Union General Ulysses S. Grant to abandon his first attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Forrest set out from Columbus, Tennessee, on December 11 to raid Union supply lines. He defeated a Union force at Lexington, Tennessee, on December 18 and spent the week of Christmas destroying Federal rail lines north of Jackson, Tennessee. By the end of December, several Union forces were bearing down on Forrest’s cavalry. As the Confederates approached Parker’s Crossroads, they detected a Yankee force ahead and Forrest decided to attack.
Forrest approached the Union troops and sent part of his force around their flank. His dismounted cavalry were enjoying great success when firing suddenly sounded behind Forrest’s troops. Another Yankee detachment had surprised the Confederates. The men assigned to hold the horses of the attacking Confederates were now fleeing in panic right past Forrest. At one point, Forrest himself came upon Union troops, who demanded that he surrender. He agreed and rode off to gather his force. The Rebel commander thensurveyed the situation and reportedly said, “Charge them both ways.” He diverted some of his men from the initial attack to turn against the Federals coming from behind.
Though around 300 of Forrest’s men were captured, the bulk of his forces escaped. The close call only served to enhance Forrest’s reputation as a brilliant battlefield commander. Despite the loses, the raid–combined with Confederate General Earl Van Dorn’s raid on Union supply lines further to the west–convinced Grant to abort his attempt on Vicksburg.