When it came to fighting in the Mississippi Hills, the Confederate Army may have been outgunned, but it was the Union Army that got outfoxed, repeatedly, as the Confederates stayed in the game by staying on their toes: their tiptoes, that is. P.G.T. Beauregard sneaked his men out of Corinth in the dark of night to evade capture; in the light of early morning, Earl Van Dorn and his men sneaked up on Grant’s forces at Holly Springs to devastate Union supplies. The Confederate fires at Holly Springs were breathtaking in every sense, but the business of battle was fairly chivalrous. Still, there was plenty of hard fighting and more than a little high drama at the “Crossroads of the Western Confederacy,” where two vital railroads converged and two armies clashed in almost record numbers, with the period between the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth in 1862 seeing the largest-ever amassing of troops in the Western Hemisphere.
Nathan Bedford Forrest helped make his reputation in the Mississippi Hills, in a decisive late-war victory at Brice’s Crossroads, while U.S. Grant made a blunder nearly fatal to his command when he stretched his army from Holly Springs to Oxford and beyond, a line so taut it snapped at a surprise Confederate assault—another wily maneuver.
After the debacle at Holly Springs, Grant and his men had to march home foraging as they went. However, on your march through these fascinating Civil War sites, following in the footsteps of giants, you’ll be well-fed and well-received in towns and communities ready to win you over with a charm offensive second to none.
The Tupelo/Baldwyn area saw a lot of late-war action with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s determined but ultimately unsuccessful bid to take down Sherman’s rail supplies. It was a rare failure for these parts. Generally speaking, this area is known for its notable successes—even the Confederate general himself enjoyed a legend-cementing upset victory here at Brice’s Crossroads.
Other brilliant careers that began here included that of the King of Rock and Roll, and more recently the city scored its own successful comeback, with the rejuvenated downtown Fairpark District, a great place to shop and dine-so great you may very well want to stage your own comeback after you’ve stopped at these history-rich sites:
Highly prized as a junction for the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads, Corinth, the “Crossroads of the Western Confederacy,” was besieged and seized, but only after the battle of Shiloh was fought over it. Today, the city is still a crossroads, where past and present converge in a beguiling blend of Southern culture and history. It’s the sort of town where a jewelry store shows its wares in a gem of a restored Italianate building, and where you can still order a cherry soda from an authentic soda fountain at the oldest family-owned pharmacy in the state.
Tradition here runs as deep as the nation’s largest and best-preserved example of military earthworks, which still line the landscape.
If you’d rather head south than north, make your way to Columbus. While no battles were fought in here, the reverberations of war echoed throughout the mansion-lined streets of this city, particularly when it was conscripted into service to treat the wounded after Shiloh. Columbus was home to Confederate General Stephen D. Lee, who ordered the first shot at Fort Sumter—the man who, in effect, started the Civil War. Yet it was also the women of Columbus who, in their way, brought an end the war, showing a grace in their treatment of the graves of war dead that set a new standard, and eventually led to new holiday for the entire nation.
In a charm-filled city where many of those mansions remain, you’ll find those dramatic beginnings and gracious endings.
HOLLY SPRINGS It was the invitation to a ball that helped do in Grant’s troops here—the previous evening’s festivities left them slumbering happily, so that when Van Dorn’s raiders galloped in, 1500 Union troops were captured in no time at all. Today, this historic town is still just as captivating, with an ingratiating charm that will win you over as quickly as those Union soldiers. OXFORD “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863,” Faulkner wrote of Pickett’s Charge, the Confederate’s doomed assault during Gettysburg, a battle that had special resonance for Faulkner’s home town. Shiloh proved crucial, too, for it turned the University into a hospital, and later the site of a graveyard, for soldiers on both sides. A town steeped in history, Oxford is also a great place to soak up Southern culture at its finest, and, surprisingly, at its most forward-thinking. Which means you can dine at any of a number of excellent restaurants, devour world-class literature at one of the nation’s preeminent independent bookstores, and take in connoisseur-worthy musical stylings at one of the area’s clubs.