The only fight of any consequences occurring in Ripley is denominated as above, although strictly speaking it was not a battle but a skirmish. It occurred in June 1864.
The defeated army of Gen. Sturgis overwhelmed and routed at Cross Roads by Gen. Forrest’s gallant troops, passed through Ripley on their hurried retreat, closely pursued by Forrest's men.
At the ford of King’s Creek, about one mile south of Ripley and near the present residence of A. M. Gaillard, the rear guard of Sturgis was overhauled and the attack opened at once. The firing was very rapid, but the shooting was mostly done by the pursuing Confederates as the attention of the Federals was largely taken up in getting out of the way. Forrest pressed them without mercy, and just west of the public square, overhauled and captured the last piece of their artillery, the remnant of a fine battery with which they had started on the ill fated expedition.
There were 13 Federals killed, nearly all of whom were colored, and the number of wounded is not known. Not a single Confederate was slain but three or four were wounded, including a Col. Wilson, of Tennessee. Col. Wilson was carried to the residence of R. J. Thurmond, then standing west and opposite the present site of the Baptist Church. Here he was waited upon by Dr. J. Y. Murry and remained until restored to health. Mrs. Thurmond nursed the wounded man very faithfully.
Col. Alex Chalmers, a brother of Gen. J. R. Chalmers, of Memphis, commanded a regiment of Forrest's men that day. At Town Creek, one-half mile west of Ripley, the horse he was riding was shot from under him. Turning to a pale-faced, powder-smoked boy of his command, he told the boy to dismount, give up the horse for the Colonel's use and return to town. The boy did so, while Col. Chalmers mounted the horse and followed on in pursuit. He afterwards stated that his object was to save the boy's life who was thoroughly exhausted by the hard service through which he had gone, but whose valiant spirit was still undaunted.
Another incident of the fight was told by a citizen. A negro soldier had hidden under a house, first pitching his gun in the cedars in the yard. He was discovered and ran, but a bullet from a gun of one of Forrest's troopers out-traveled him, bringing him down at the distance of 100 yards, mortally wounded.
Twenty-five Federals were captured in the town and this number was largely added to during the day as the pursuit kept up, until not less then 200 prisoners were taken. These were all brought back to Ripley.
Another citizen, J. V. Shepherd, was in Col. Hovis' residence in time of the fight. A troop of Federal cavalry formed between this residence and the jail, which is the same building now used for jail purposes, and very near Col. Hovis' residence.
This troop of cavalry sent a volley or two in the direction of the Confederate line and then retreated up the street north. As soon as they started off, Mr. Shepherd, accompanied by Col. Hovis' little daughter, now Mrs. H. P. Tigret, came out on the brick pavement in front of the residence. The Yankee troopers were trotting up the street and were about the spot directly between where the residences of Capt. Spight and Dr. Carter now stand. Mr. Shepherd, looking south saw a dismounted Confederate leap the fence into Mrs. C. E. Hines' yard and run behind a stubby cedar. Almost immediately a puff of smoke issued from this cedar and looking at the retreating Federals he saw one of their men reel and fall from his saddle. The Federal troopers soon reformed and sent a volley at Mr. Shepherd and his little companion, covering them with brick dust, when they retreated in the house.
After the fight Mr. Shepherd examined the body of the
dead soldier just referred to. He said the bullet of the sharpshooter
had entered the seam of his coat, directly between the shoulders. He
was a fine looking young man, this soldier whose life was thus suddenly cut
This engagement occurred on the 7 day of July, 1864, 3 ½ miles west of Ripley on the Ashland road.
Gen. A. J. Smith with a strong column of Federals had come out from Memphis, via Holly Springs, on their march toward Tupelo.
The 7th. Miss. Cavalry, commanded by Col. Hiams formed his men along the brow of the hill with the center resting on the Ashland road.
On the night preceding, Lieut. V. A. Grace with seven men had been left on vidette at or near the residence of James McDonald, 15 miles west of Whitten Branch where Ashland, the county seat of Benton county, is now located. These videttes had sat their horses the entire night in hearing of the enemy, who camped near by. Next morning they fell back before the Federal column and reached the regiment a short time in advance of the Federal advance guard, bringing information as to the great strength of the enemy.
Any one who has traveled this road will remember this high and somewhat precipitous hill. It was a fine position, but, of course, the small force stationed there could not hope to hold it long against the overwhelming numbers of Smith's command.
W. M. Horton who was a member of Lieut. Crook's company of the Seventh Cavalry, stated to the writer that this company was detached to watch the Holly Springs road, which joins the Ashland road just in rear of where the skirmish was had. Mr. Horton said his company was in a position where he could watch the approach of the Federal column as the advance guard of cavalry came marching down the hill on the opposite side of the branch. Col. Haims' men reserved their fire until the front of the column began crossing the branch, pouring in a volley then that sent the skirmish line forward when a hot skirmish ensued, lasting two hours or more. During a lull in the firing, Col. Hiams withdrew his regiment, with the loss of one killed and two wounded, leaving a strong picket, and formed a line near the south corporation line of Ripley. Here they remained all night.
There is a sad story connected with the death of the gallant young Confederate who fell at Whitten Branch.
He was a Virginia soldier at home on wounded furlough. His wound had nearly healed when Smith's raid came in the vicinity of Holly Springs, where lived his father, who was a member of the 7th Miss. Cavalry and the young soldier, apprehending that hot work was ahead, induced his father to allow him to take his place. His father agreed and his noble young life went out in the first fight.
He was buried on the spot where fell, near the Ashland road, and his rude grave is still to be seen on the roadside, where the earth was sprinkled with the life blood welling forth from his brave heart.
The remains should be removed to the cemetery and a suitable slab erected to commemorate the heroism of one who laid down his life for his father.
The Federals evidently thought they had come in contact with Gen. Forrest's command for they also went into camp and waited for the entire command to come up.
Next morning they advanced in strong force. They brought the bodies of two of their soldiers killed in the preceding day's fight, and buried them in C. P. Miller's yard, now a vacant lot just north of Dr. Murry's residence.
The Federals then began a work of vandalism by applying the torch to nearly every unoccupied building in town.
The courthouse, first and then the Methodist church, Masonic Hall, Odd-Fellow's Hall, Dr. Murry's drug store, the Cumberland Presbyterian church, the residence of Dr. Carter, Col. Falkner, Richard Prince and R. F. Ford, besides many smaller buildings, became a prey to the devouring element. It was a brutal and useless destruction of property for which no excuse can be offered.
Having completed the work of destruction, they took up the line of march down the New Albany road. Col. Hiam's regiment had taken position on the Cotton Gin road expecting to skirmish with them during the day and retard their march, but were thus flanked and forced to make a night march in order to get in front. Soon after followed the bloody battle of Harrisburg.
Mr. I. H. Smith, who was a member of Co. C of the 7th
Cavalry, participated in these skirmishes and also in the bloody unfortunate
battle of Harrisburg which occurred near Tupelo a few days later. In
this battle the 7th lost 10 men killed and 30 wounded. Mr. Smith was
in a few steps of Lieut. Crook when the latter was killed. His body
was picked up Sam Jumper, a member of Co. C. who at first thought it was
his brother. W. M. Cox, another citizen of Tippah and a member of Lt.
Crook's company was also slain in the same engagement.
Ten miles north of Ripley there stood before the war a village on the Pocahontas road called Ruckersville. Nothing now remains but one residence and dilapidated storehouse, the latter long unoccupied.
The place looks quite and sleepy enough now -- the birds sing their melodies in the old plum thicket and the rabbits hop fearlessly along the fence rows.
But on the morning of the 6th of October, 1862, things wore a different aspect. On that day the embattled hosts of Price and Rosencrans met there in a brief conflict and those peaceful hills and vales resounded to the deep tones of artillery and the rattle of small arms.
In order to get a correct idea of this fight we must go back a little.
On the 3d. and 4th. of October, 1862, the combined armies of Price and Van Dorn made their desperate attack on the entrenchments of Corinth, mantled by thousands of blue coats under the command of Gen Rosencrans. How the Confederates swept line after line of entrenchments ---how Gen. Villepigue's brigade entered the streets of Corinth--and how at last they were forced to retire, leaving the ground strewn with friend and foe, "in one red burial blent," these are matters of history with which the reading public are tolerably familiar.
Then ensted (sic) the retreat westward of Price's army, down the south side of the Memphis & Charleston railroad. It was the intention of "Old Pap," as his men familiarly termed the gallant old Missourian, to cross his army over Hatchie at Davis Bridge, near Old Matamoras, but when he neared this place he found the army of Federal Gen. Hurlbut, from Bolivar Tenn., already in position with a strong force and ready to dispute his passage. A heavy artillery battle at once began, lasting several hours on Sunday, but it was evident that a crossing at this point was impossible.
Scouts had in the meantime been dispatched up Hatchie for another crossing and soon returned with information that it was possible for the army to cross Hatchie at Crum's Mill, so thither by forced march the Confederates directed their course. The bridge had been fired, at one time and Gen. Price's scouts had arrived just in time to extinguish the fire and save it from complete destruction. Had this not been done, all the artillery and baggage of the Confederates must have been captured. But the force of trained workmen soon put the bridge in good condition and the crossing began.
Meantime the army of Gen. Rosencrans, following in pursuit, began to press the rear of the Confederates but the crossing was effected with comparatively small loss of men and material.
With the view of checking this too ardent pursuit, the cavalry brigade of Gen. McCullough was formed along the brow of the hill about one fourth of a mile from the village of Ruckersville on the Ripley Pocahontas Road, where Jas. Holcombe now lives. McCullough's brigade consisted at the time, according to the statement of H. Whollenben, now of Oxford, and a participant in the skirmish, of the 1st. 3d. 6th and 9th Missouri and 1st Miss.
The enemy approached with a strong skirmish line but in a careless manner as though expecting a small force, but they found out their mistake when McCullough's veterans opened on them at short range and drove the hill in disorder and with considerable loss. They returned a feeble and scattering fire after reaching the valley and a desultory skirmish continued for some time until McCullough withdrew his troops, having accomplished the purpose for which the stand was made.
Mr. Wohlleben related an amusing incident of the fight to the writer. He was on vidette in company with Eli Miller, both members of the 1st Miss. Cavalry, when a lone Yankee, who had evidently lost his reckoning came suddenly upon them.
They ordered him to throw down his gun and approach but he hesitated, looking over his shoulder at his comrades who were slowly approaching from the rear. Finally Wohlleben told him if he did not march promptly up he would blow out his brains, and then he came forward and was forced to mount behind one of the troopers and be carried back to the main column and into capability.
Having held the enemy in check for two hours, Gen. McCullough withdrew his brigade and followed on down the Salem road after the retreating Confederates.
The following incident is related by Mr. W. M. Horton whose father lived near the scene of the skirmish just narrated: The Federal army followed on after McCullough's brigade. Soon the latter retired from their position on the hill. Mr. Horton, then a boy of 16 and too young for the service, was sent by his father to see after the horses that had been hidden in the woods to prevent them falling into the hands of the Federal troops. He had gone about one fourth mile, or about half way to the place where the horses were concealed, when he saw a company of Yankee scouts coming into the old field. The scouts saw him about the same time and started in his direction.
Young Horton dashed into a brier thicket and, jumping into the branch run, crawled up under a shelving bank. The Yankees beat the brier thicket and then rode down the branch, passing directly over the spot where the boy lay crouched with beating heart. A hoof of one horse penetrated the overhanging bank and sent the dirt rattling on the fugitive's head. He felt sure he would now be discovered, but not so; the scouts passed on, but it was quite a good while before young Horton felt safe in crawling out from his hiding place.
The Federals returned from the pursuit of Price's men in about ten days. On their return they indulged in thieving and robbery of citizens to a large extent. They stole horses, killed cattle and hogs and robbed residences of bedding and wearing apparel.
Among other places visited was that of Reuben Ray. Mr. Ray had an old negro named Jerry. Jerry had a lot of nice quilts and blankets in his cabin. Some of the Yankees spied these and started to carry them away, but Old Jerry clutched his precious bed-clothes and held them with a death grip. In vain did the Yankees draw their sabers and threatened to cut off the old negro's arm -- nothing could induce Jerry to release his hold so they finally left him and his quilts behind.
Frank Ray was a son of Reuben Ray and at that time was
a lad of 14. When he saw the Yankees coming he was sitting in the front
gallery. He fled through the back door and took leg-bail for a mile
through the field to a neighbor's, falling there exhausted. His heart
beat so loudly that he imagined its thumps were the hoof beats of the approaching
Yankee Cavalry. As he expressed it, he "was scared enough to last till
the war was over."
Thanks to Tommy Covington, librarian at the Ripley Public Library, Ripley,
Tippah County, Mississippi who transcribed these articles and allowed me to put
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