NORTH MISSISSIPPI 449 Tennessee, following the same route as Grant’s 1862 expedition. Their target was Forrest’s headquarters in Oxford. By August 7, Smith encountered rebel forces along the Tallahatchie crossing above Abbeville. After a two-day skirmish, Union cavalry approached Oxford, cannon fire sending shells whistling into the square and scattering a small unit of rebel cavalry. Yankee troopers entered Oxford pillaging “like a plague of locusts descending on a wheat field” but left the next day, and Forrest’s soldiers reoccupied the town. After a series of brief skirmishes, CSA general James Chalmers, fearing the Yocona River would rise and trap his forces after heavy rains, abandoned Oxford once again. Forrest rode north on a raid against Memphis, leaving Oxford to the tender mercies of Smith. According to local tradition, Smith ordered the destruction of the town in a drunken rage as retaliation against Forrest’s attack on Memphis. Smith ordered the mansions of prominent Confederates to be destroyed, especially the home of Jacob Thompson. Jefferson Davis in May 1864 sent Thompson on a secret mission to Canada to act as the spymaster of Confederate undercover operations in the North, fueling armed resistance against the Lincoln government among angry Midwestern Democrats. Thompson was singled out for personal reprisals by the federal government. Smith ordered everyone out of the Thompson home, including Thompson’s ailing daughter, Kate, and his daughter-in-law, Sallie, who had just delivered a baby. The Union soldier recounted, “The splendid mansion of Jacob Thompson, the rebel Secretary of the Interior, with its gorgeous furniture, went up in crackling flames, a costly burnt offering to the ‘Moloch of treason.’” The Union forces destroyed thirty-four businesses and official buildings, including the courthouse, the Masonic Hall, and two hotels, along with blacksmithing and carpentry shops. A Northern soldier wrote home that they “made free with Oxford, burning all the fine brick blocks fronting the public square, and also the Court House, in one grand conflagration.” No official explanation was ever given by Smith for the sacking of Oxford. There seemed to be no military value in the destruction. Oxford was abandoned by the rebels and possessed no significant Confederate supplies. Historian Howard Dimick argues that the burning resulted from Yankee frustration and bitterness over their failure to eliminate “the abhorrent Forrest as a military factor in Mississippi and Tennessee.” However, there was a larger military rationale. By the second half of the war, it was official Union policy to use systematic destruction of property to demoralize the Southern civilian population. After the war, the Oxford Falcon argued the town “was at the time of the raid inhabited only by a few old men, and helpless women and children quietly laboring to obtain what scantly subsistence the prostrate county afforded.” The Yankee policy of destruction greatly contributed to the suffering of Southern civilians, who increasingly lacked the basic necessities of life. Oxford town leaders begged General James Chalmers for permission to trade with Yankee- occupied Memphis. The petition argued, “It will require one hundred Bales of Cotton to supply the people with absolute necessaries for the winter.” Dire scarcities tempted many Southerners into trading with the enemy, especially since the war-induced shortage of cotton sent prices for smuggled bales skyrocketing. The Civil War left northern Mississippi a devastated region. Campaigning armies and partisan bands on constant raids systematically looted and destroyed property. Prior to the conflict, the northwest counties enjoyed spectacular economic growth and wealth based on land, slave labor, and cotton. For generations afterward, well into the twentieth century, the region suffered stagnation and endemic poverty. In 1860, Marshall County had produced more cotton than any other county in the United States, at 49,348 bales. In 1870 the county produced only 18,379 bales. The other counties tell a similar story. In 1860, Panola County real estate was valued at $6,237,902. In 1870, the value dropped to $3,395,226, and further decreased in 1880 to $2,448,775. The production of cotton dropped from 24,311 bales in 1860 to 15,764 bales in 1870. In Lafayette County, land values went from $5,932,990 in 1860 to $1,477,074 in 1870. Production of cotton dropped from 19,282 bales in 1860 to 9,007 in 1870. The emancipation of slaves and the devastation of the war were not the sole causes of this dramatic economic decline. Reliance on a single crop, cotton, was a major factor. Throughout the late nineteenth century, prices for cotton dropped dramatically due to increased international competition and a leveling off in demand. “King Cotton” became “Tyrant Cotton.” Generations of former slaves were caught in a cycle of poverty and indebtedness as share- croppers, working someone else’s land for a percentage of the shrinking profits. Dire scarcities tempted many Southerners into trading with the enemy, especially since the war-induced shortage of cotton sent prices for smuggled bales skyrocketing.