Forrest’s little army of 9,220 (3,804 unarmed) at Tupelo and Verona, Mississippi were soon dispatched to other points. Covington’s own, Colonel John Uriah Green, and his 12th Tennessee Regiment (approximately 600 soldiers’) were stationed at Tupelo where on the 22nd they received arms and ammunition for his Regiment (including Captain John L. Payne and more than one hundred men from Tipton). Among the military stores they received were 102 69 caliber percussion muskets, 204 army pistols 44 caliber and 450 navy pistols 36 caliber, 4,000 buck and ball cartridges for the 69 caliber muskets; 3,000 rifle cartridges 58 caliber, 2,000 54 caliber rifle cartridges, 940 Sharp’s 52 caliber cartridges.
The 12th Tennessee remained part of Colonel James Neely’s Brigade, Brigadier General James R. Chalmers’ First Division. One of Neely’s soldiers, John Johnston, recalled their few weeks spent at Tupelo:
“There was…abundant supplies for ourselves and horses. These periods between campaigns were the soldier’s idle times. Our camp duties were…very light and we spent the time lounging about the camps or in excursions into the neighborhood hunting good dinners or in visiting or serenading any young ladies whose acquaintance we might chance to make. Officers and private soldiers mingled freely with one another and many warm friendships and sincere attachments were formed.”
On the 23rd Chalmers’ Division and S. J. Gholson’s Brigade, 4,300 strong (including Tipton’s men in the 12th Tennessee) were sent to defend the heartland of Alabama. The remaining cavalrymen from Tipton serving in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry at Tupelo were then attached to former Fort Wright-Randolph officer Colonel Edmund W. Rucker, now commanding the 6th Brigade of Chalmers’ Division. Subsequently Colonel W. L. Duckworth commanding the 7th Tennessee and the 19th Mississippi were sent to Department Commanding General Stephen D. Lee at Grenada. The deductions left Forrest with 5,000 effective men spread out across from Panola to Corinth, Miss.
Also on the 23rd, Union General William T. Sherman sent orders to his subordinates to organize a column to advance southeast from Memphis toward Columbus, Miss. “to prevent Forrest and (Gen. S. D.) Lee from swinging over against my communications.” His commanders at Memphis were receiving various erroneous reports that Forrest commanded upwards of 30,000 men in Mississippi.
From spies and Captain Thomas Henderson’s scouts, Forrest learned that approximately 10,000 Federals from Memphis were planning a move upon him. On the 26th, Forrest wrote Gen. S. D. Lee asking for permission to stage a raid on Memphis. If Forrest found the city too strongly guarded, he proposed an alternate plan. Having served at Fort Wright as a private, Forrest wrote in part: “I can move to Randolph with my command and batteries and it would take 10,000 men to drive me off. A few hours work would enable me to fight successfully all the so-called gunboats they (Union navy) have.” Shortly thereafter Forrest learned the Tennessee River was low and fordable for horses; also that Sherman’s railroads were “all guarded by Negro troops.” On the 29th Forrest again wrote Lee:
“The time has arrived and If, I can be spared…2,000 picked men from Buford’s Division and a battery of artillery, will attempt to cut the enemy’s communication in Middle Tennessee.”
Two days later Lee authorized Forrest to move on Sherman’s supply lines. On the 31st Forrest responded that he would leave Tupelo with 2,200 men, six cannon and 10 day’s rations, marching toward Russellville, Ala. and the Tennessee River. Left behind in North Mississippi were Colonel E. W. Rucker’s Brigade of 1,500 at Oxford (including Tipton’s troopers in the 7th Tennessee); Colonel R. M. Russell’s Brigade was dispersed between Corinth and Tupelo.
Continued next week.