Meridian, Mississippi, near the Alabama border 130 miles east of Vicksburg, was an important Confederate railroad center and military facility. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman set out for the town from Vicksburg in early February, 1864, with 20,000 men. Hoping to augment his force with cavalry, Sherman ordered the 7,000 troopers of Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith to move from south from Memphis February 1st and meet him at Meridian. Smith inexplicably delayed his march for ten days. When he eventually left, he encountered Confederate cavalry outposts on February 18th, 20th and 21st, and on February 22nd became engaged in a running battle with Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry in and around the village of Okolona, halfway to Meridian. Dismounted and behind barricades, the Union cavalrymen were hit hard in front and on the flanks by Forrest's men. Withdrawing to high ground, Smith reformed his troopers. During the fighting there, Forrest's younger brother Jeffrey was killed. With Confederate reinforcements, Forrest routed Smith and chased the fleeing Yankees eleven miles, eventually running out of ammunition. Smith continued his retreat and limped back over the state line to Tennessee on February 26th. Sherman burned much of Meridian to the ground, and criticized Smith for putting the expedition in danger.