Okolona, MS

Date(s): February 22, 1864

Location: Please click on link below for map.

Okolona, Chickasaw, Mississippi, United States

Campaign(s): Meridian and Yazoo River Expeditions [February 1864]

Battles in Campaign:

Situation:

  • From Vicksburg, Mississippi, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman began a campaign to take the important railroad center at Meridian, Mississippi, and, if possible, to proceed to Selma, Alabama and Mobile, Alabama.

  • Sherman ordered Brig. Gen. William S. Smith to lead his cavalry force of 7,000 from Memphis, Tennessee, on February 1, 1864.

  • Smith was to move south through Okolona, along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and to meet the rest of the Union force at Meridian, MS on February 10th.

  • On February 3rd, Sherman left for Meridian with the main force of 20,000 men.

Commanders:

  • Union: Brig. Gen. William S. Smith 

  • Confederate: Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

Principal Forces:

  • Union: Cavalry force (7,000)

  • Confederate: Forrest's Cavalry Corp

Description:

  • Instead of leaving on February 1st as ordered, Smith waited for reinforcements and did not leave Memphis until February 11th.

  • Smith’s force met almost no opposition, destroyed crops and railroad track along the way, and was joined by 1,000 former slaves.

  • Smith was supposed to rendezvous with Sherman at Meridian on the 10th, but he never arrived there.

  • Sherman left Meridian on the 20th, due in part to apprehension over Smith’s whereabouts.

  • Smith neared West Point, 90 miles north of Meridian, on the 20th, and he fought with Confederate cavalry units at Prairie Station and Aberdeen.

  • Smith—knowing that Nathan Bedford Forrest commanded the troops he was fighting, concerned about the fate of the former slaves with him, and not knowing how many of the enemy he faced—decided to concentrate at Prairie Station, and, on the morning of the 21st, he set out for West Point. 

  • Shortly after dawn on the 21st, Col. Jeffrey Forrest’s Confederate cavalry brigade engaged Smith.

  • Withdrawing at times, Forrest drew Smith into a swamp west of the Tombigbee River.

  • Other Rebel troops arrived and the fighting intensified.

  • Smith was sure that this was a trap set for him, and, discerning that he was greatly outnumbered, he ordered a retreat, leaving a rearguard.

  • The rearguard held off the Confederates for about two hours before withdrawing in good order.

  • About the same time, Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived and ordered a pursuit. Skirmishing occurred the rest of the day.

  • At sunup on the 22nd, the Rebels attacked Smith just south of Okolona on the prairie.

  • More Confederate troops arrived, causing breaks in the Union battle line, precipitating a retreat.

  • For most of the rest of the day, they engaged in a running battle for a distance of eleven miles, with both sides attacking and counterattacking.

  • Col. Forrest was killed during one Rebel charge. The Yankees finally broke off the fighting and headed for Pontotoc.

  • Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the commander on the field, realized that his men were nearly out of ammunition and did not order a pursuit. Mississippi militia harassed Smith to the state line.

  • Smith arrived in Collierville, Tennessee, near Memphis, on the 26th.

  • Although Smith had caused much destruction during his expedition, Okolona forced him to retire before he could do more. Smith’s actions against Sherman’s orders jeopardized the Meridian Expedition.

Slide Presentation: None

Classification2: B

Casualties3:

  • Union: 100

  • Confederate: 50

Results: Confederate Victory

Battlefield Websites:

Lodging and Restaurants: Mississippi Tourism

Recommended Resources:


1 National Park Service summary.

2 Classification:

  • A - having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war

  • B - having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign

  • C - having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign

  • D - having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives

3 Casualties are someone killed, injured, wounded, captured or missing.

Revised 03/08/2013