EGYPT – A simple sign on Highway 45 marks one of the most convoluted and difficult to understand Civil War battles in Northeast Mississippi.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History unveiled a marker for the Battle of Egypt Friday with historians telling the details of this conflict that occurred in the closing days of the War Between the States.
“This was a battle that saw a Union force made up of what was called a Colored regiment, a group of former Confederate soldiers fighting for the north and a Southern spy with roots in Northeast Mississippi,” said Donald Harrison, a historian and Civil War author. “It was also one of the few times cannons were shot off of railroad cars.”
And Harrison said on the Confederate side there former Union soldiers who had been given the opportunity to fight for the South or suffer in the Confederate prisons.
“The end of the war was just months away, but these were men who who fighting for their home and a cause for a lot of different reasons,” said Harrison. “Times were desperate, decisions had to be made and the Battle of Egypt gives us a glimpse of how complex the the Civil War was.”
Historian Brian Chastain said these Confederate-turned-Union soldiers were called “galvanized Confederates. He said turncoat federal were called “galvanized Yankees.”
The Battle of Egypt was fought in December 1864 and was sparked by Grierson's Union Cavalry Raiders racing out of Memphis with the goal of cutting the GM&O railroad. They were intercepted by a Confederate force sent north on the railroad at Egypt.
“There is not a lot of documentation of this battle with all the other events going on at this time,” said Harrison. “But we know it involved about 3,000 Union soldiers and about 1,500 Confederates. This was not just a little skirmish.”
Like most campaigns involving cavalry, this was a rolling conflict with Federals heading east to Houston, then south to a destroy a grain mill in Bankston and then on to Vicksburg.
Jim Woodrick, of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said he hopes the marker will spark research into other sites in the area.
“There are over 1,000 markers across the state noting everything prehistoric to civil rights events,” said Woodrick. “I am so happy for this marker that tells the story of the Battle of Egypt.”
Woodrick said local historian Pat Jones and the Chickasaw County Historical and Genealogical Society played a key roll in pulling together the documents that brought this marker to Egypt.
“I don't think people realize what these markers mean to tourism,” said Woodrick. “There are people from across the South and nation who have relatives who fought in these battles and are glad to come and spend a couple of days researching these events. We need more of your local sites for tourism purposes.”
Lamar Beaty, President of the Chickasaw County Historical and Genealogical Society urged the more than 43 people attended Friday event to come by the Chickasaw County Museum in Houston and learn more about the Battle of Egypt.