Battle of Okolona History

From Vicksburg, Mississippi, Maj. Gen. William Sherman launched a campaign to take the railroad center at Meridian, Miss. and possibly to push on to Selma, Alabama, and threaten Mobile. Sherman ordered Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith to lead a cavalry force of 7,000 from Memphis, Tennessee, on February 1, 1864, south through Okolona, along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and to meet the rest of the Union force at Meridian, on February 10. With the main force of app. 20,000 men, Sherman set out on the 3rd for Meridian, but made feints on various other locations.

Against orders, Smith delayed ten days, while waiting for reinforcements, and did not start out until February 11. Destroying crops and railroad track along the way, Smith’s force met almost no opposition, and 1,000 former slaves joined them. Smith was supposed to meet with Sherman at Meridian on the 10th, but he never arrived. Sherman left Meridian on the 20th, due in part to concern over Smith’s whereabouts. Smith neared West Point, 90 miles north of Meridian, on the 20th, and fought with Confederate cavalry units at Prairie Station and Aberdeen. Smith—knowing that Maj. Gen. 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 this was a trap, and since he was greatly outnumbered, ordered a retreat. The rearguard held off the Confederates for about two hours before withdrawing. 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 eleven miles, with both sides attacking and counterattacking. Col. Forrest was killed during one Rebel charge. The Yankees finally broke off and headed for Pontotoc. Nathan Bedford Forrest realized that his men were nearly out of ammunition and did not order a pursuit.

Re-Enactor Registration

Sutler Fee: $25

$35 after Feb. 3

Reenactor Fee: $5

Make all Checks/Money Orders payable to:

Battle of Okolona Reenactment
P.O. Box 126
Okolona, MS 38860

For more information please contact:
Okolona Chamber of Commerce: (662) 447-5913
Okolona Carnegie Library (662) 447-2401
Joanna Carter (662) 891-6432



(150th Anniversary of the Battle)

February 21-23, 2014

Friday, February 21

7:30 a.m. Grounds Open-Registration Begins
9:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. School Days Historic Tours, Lectures, & Period Music

Saturday, February 22

7:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Grounds open for breakfast
10:00 a.m. Opening Ceremony
10:15 a.m. Period Music (Activities Tent)
11:30 Ladies Tea and Social under Activities Tent
12:30 p.m. Battle of Okolona Reenactment
3:30 p.m. Dwight Stevens Civil War Memorabilia Auction (at the National Guard Armory)
10:00 p.m. Camps closed for Quiet Time

Sunday, February 23

9:00 a.m. Church Service at Headquarters
10:00 a.m. Memorial Service in memory of Jeffery Forrest Followed by Placing of Wreath
12:30 p.m. Troops at Headquarters to march to position
12:30 p.m. Period Music (Activities Tent)
2:00 p.m. Battle of Okolona Reenactment
3:00 p.m. Conclusion of the Battle of Okolona Reenactment

Mayor Dale Fortenberry (Farmington, MS) has been a valuable resource person and is serving as an advisor to the Battle of Okolona Reenactment Committee.


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