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Doc. 144.-Colonel Grierson's expedition

From La Grange, Tenn., to Baton Rouge, La.

headquarters First cavalry brigade, Baton Rouge, La., May 5, 1863.
Colonel: In accordance with instructions from Major-General S. A. Hurlbut, received through Brigadier-General W. S. Smith, at La Grange, Tenn., I left that place at daylight on the morning of the seventeenth of April, with the effective force of my command, one thousand seven hundred strong. We moved southward without material interruption, crossing the Tallahatchie River on the afternoon of the eighteenth at three different points. One battalion of the Seventh Illinois, under Major Graham, crossing at New-Albany, found the bridge partially torn up, and an attempt was made to fire it. As they approached the bridge they were fired upon, but drove the enemy from their position, repaired the bridge, and crossed. The balance of the Seventh Illinois and the whole of the Sixth crossed at a ford two miles above, and the Second Iowa crossed about four miles still further up. After crossing, the Sixth and Seventh Illinois moved south on the Pontotoc road, and encamped for the night on the plantation of Mr. Sloan; the Second Iowa also moved south from their point of crossing, and encamped about four miles south of the river. The rain fell in torrents all night. The next morning, April nineteenth, I sent a detachment eastward to communicate with Colonel Hatch, and make a demonstration toward Chesterville, where a regiment of cavalry was organizing. I also sent an expedition to New-Albany, and another north-west toward King's Bridge, to attack and destroy a portion of a regiment of cavalry organizing there, under Major Chalmers. I thus sought to create the impression that the object of our advance was to break up these parties. The expedition eastward communicated with Colonel Hatch, who was still moving south parallel to us. The one to New-Albany came upon two hundred rebels near the town and engaged them, killing and wounding several. The one north-west found that Major Chalmers's command, hearing of our close proximity, had suddenly left in the night, going west. After the return of these expeditions, I moved with the whole force to Pontotoc. Colonel Hatch joined us about noon, reporting having skirmished with about two hundred rebels the afternoon before and that morning, killing, wounding, and capturing a number. We reached Pontotoc about five o'clock P. M. The advance dashed into the town, came upon some guerrillas, killed one, and wounded and captured several more. Here we also captured a large mail, about four hundred bushels of salt, and the campequipage, books, papers, etc., of Captain Weatherall's command, all of which were destroyed. After slight delay, we moved out and encamped for the night on the plantation of Mr. Daggett, five miles south of Pontotoc, on the road toward Houston.

At three o'clock the next morning, April twentieth, I detached one hundred and seventy-five of the least effective portion of the command, with one gun of the battery, and all the prisoners, led horses, and captured property, under the command of Major Love, of the Second Iowa, to proceed back to La Grange, marching in column of fours, before daylight, through Pontotoc, and thus leaving the impression that the whole command had returned. Major Love had orders also to send off a single scout to cut the telegraph wires south of Oxford. At five o'clock A. M. I proceeded southward with the main force, on the Houston road, passing around Houston about four o'clock P. M., and halting at dark on the [462] plantation of Benjamin Kilgore, eleven and a half miles south-east of the latter place, on the road toward Starkville. The following morning, at six o'clock, I resumed the march southward, and about eight o'clock came to the road leading south-east to Columbus, Miss. Here I detached Colonel Hatch, with the Second Iowa cavalry and one gun of the battery, with orders to proceed to the Ohio and Mobile Railroad in the vicinity of West-Point, destroy the road and wires, thence move south, destroying the railroad and all public property as far south, if possible, as Macon; thence cross the railroad, making a circuit northward, if practicable take Columbus and destroy all government works in that place, and again strike Oklaona, and destroying it, return to La Grange by the most practicable route. Of this expedition and the one previously sent back I have since heard nothing except vague and uncertain rumors through secession sources. These detachments were intended as diversions, and even should the commanders not have been able to carry out their instructions, yet, by attracting the attention of the enemy in other directions, they assisted us much in the accomplishment of the main object of the expedition.

After having started Colonel Hatch on his way, with the remaining portion of the command, consisting of the Sixth and Seventh Illinois cavalry, about nine hundred and fifty strong, I continued on my journey southward, still keeping the Starkville road, arriving at Starkville about four o'clock P. M.; we captured a mail and a quantity of government property, which was destroyed. From this point we took the direct road to Louisville. We moved out on this road about four miles, through a dismal swamp near belly-deep in mud, and sometimes swimming our horses to cross streams, when we encamped for the night in the midst of a violent rain. From this point I detached a battalion of the Seventh Illinois cavalry, under---, to proceed about four miles, and destroy a large tannery and shoe manufactory in the service of the rebels. They returned safely, having accomplished the work most effectually. They destroyed a large number of boots and shoes, and a large quantity of leather and machinery, in all amounting probably to fifty thousand dollars, and captured a rebel quartermaster from Port Hudson, who was there laying in a supply for his command. We now immediately resumed the march toward Louisville — distance twenty-eight miles--mostly through a dense swamp — the Noxubee River bottom. This was for miles belly-deep in water, so that no road was discernible. The inhabitants through this part of the country, generally, did not know of our coming, and would not believe us to be any thing but confederates. We arrived at Louisville soon after dark. I sent a battalion of the Sixth Illinois, under Major Starr, in advance, to picket the town and remain until the column had passed, when they were relieved by a battalion of the Seventh Illinois, under Major Graham, who was ordered to remain until we should have been gone an hour, to prevent persons leaving with information of the course we were taking, to drive out stragglers, preserve order, and quiet the fears of the people. They had heard of our coming a short time before we arrived, and many had left, taking only what they could hurriedly move. The column moved quietly through the town without halting, and not a thing was disturbed. Those who remained at home acknowledged that they were surprised. They had expected to be robbed, outraged, and have their houses burned. On the contrary, they were protected in their persons and property. After leaving the town we struck another swamp, in which, crossing it, as we were obliged to, in the dark, we lost several animals drowned and the men narrowly escaped the same fate. Marching until midnight, we halted until daylight at the plantation of Mr. Estus, about ten miles south of Louisville.

The next morning, April twenty-third, at day-light, we took the road for Philadelphia, crossing Pearl River at a bridge about six miles north of the town. This bridge we were fearful would be destroyed by the citizens to prevent our crossing and upon arriving at Philadelphia, we found that they had met and organized for that purpose, but hearing of our near approach, their hearts failed, and they fled to the woods. We moved through Philadelphia about three P. M., without interruption, and halted to feed about five miles south-east on the Enterprise road. Here we rested until ten o'clock at night, when I sent two battalions of the Seventh Illinois cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Blackburn, to proceed immediately to Decatur, thence to the railroad at Newton Station. With the main force I followed about an hour later. The advance passed through Decatur about daylight, and struck the railroad about six o'clock A. M. I arrived about an hour afterward with the column. Lieutenant-Colonel Blackburn dashed into the town, took possession of the railroad and telegraph, and succeeded in capturing two trains in less than half an hour after his arrival. One of these, twenty-five cars, was loaded with ties and machinery, and the other thirteen cars were loaded with commissary stores and ammunition, among the latter several thousand loaded shells. These, together with a large quantity of commissary and quartermaster's stores, and about five hundred stand of arms stored in the town, were destroyed. Seventy-five prisoners captured at this point were paroled. The locomotives were exploded and otherwise rendered completely unserviceable. Here the track was torn up, and a bridge half a mile west of the station destroyed. I detached a battalion of the Sixth Illinois cavalry, under Major Starr, to proceed eastward, and destroy such bridges, etc., as he might find over Chunkey River. Having damaged as much as possible the railroad and telegraph, and destroyed all government property in the vicinity of Newton, I moved about four miles south of the road and fed men and horses. The forced marches which I was compelled to make in order to reach this point successfully necessarily very much [463] fatigued and exhausted my command, and rest and food were absolutely necessary for its safety.

From captured mails and information obtained by my scouts, I knew that large forces had been sent out to intercept our return, and having instructions from Major-General Hurlbut and Brigadier-General Smith to move in any direction from this point which, in my judgment, would be best for the safety of my command and the success of the expedition, I at once decided to move south, in order to secure the necessary rest and food for men and horses, and then return to La Grange through Alabama, or make for Baton Rouge, as I might hereafter deem best. Major Starr in the mean time rejoined us, having destroyed most effectually three bridges and several hundred feet of trestle-work, and the telegraph, from eight to ten miles east of Newton Station. After resting about three hours, we moved south to Garlands-ville. At this point we found the citizens, many of them venerable with age, armed-with shotguns, and organized to resist our approach. As the advance entered the town, these citizens fired upon them, and wounded one of our men. We charged upon them, and captured several. After disarming them we showed them the folly of their actions, and released them. Without an exception they acknowledged their mistake, and declared that they had been grossly deceived as to our real character. One volunteered his services as guide, and upon leaving us declared that hereafter his prayers should be for the Union army. I mention this as a sample of the feeling which exists, and of the good effect which our presence produced among the people in the country through which. we passed. Hundreds who are skulking and hiding out to avoid conscription, only await the presence of our arms to sustain them, when they will rise up and declare their principles; and thousands who have been deceived, upon the vindication of our cause, would immediately return to loyalty. After slight delay at Garlandsville, we moved south-west about ten miles, and camped at night on the plantation of Mr. Bender, two miles west of Montrose. Our men and horses having become gradually exhausted, I determined on making a very easy march the next day, and looking more to the recruiting of my weary little command than to the accomplishment of any important object; consequently I marched at eight o'clock the next morning, taking a west and varying slightly to a northwest course. We marched about five miles, and halted to feed on the plantation of Mr. Nichols. After resting until about two o'clock P. M., during which time I sent detachments north to threaten the line of the railroad at Lake Station and other points, we moved south-west toward Raleigh, making about twelve miles during the afternoon, and halting at dark on the plantation of Dr. Mackadora. From this point I sent a single scout, disguised as a citizen, to proceed northward to the line of the Southern Railroad, cut the telegraph, and, if possible, fire a bridge or trestlework. He started on his journey about midnight, and when within seven miles of the railroad he came upon a regiment of Southern cavalry from Brandon, Miss., in search of us. He succeeded in misdirecting them as to the place where he had last seen us, and having seen them well on the wrong road, he immediately retraced his steps to the camp with the news. When he first met them they were on the direct road to our camp, and had they not been turned from their course would have come up with us before daylight. From information received through my scouts and other sources, I found that Jackson and the stations east, as far as Lake Station, had been reenforced by infantry and artillery, and hearing that a fight was momentarily expected at Grand Gulf, I decided to make a rapid march, cross Pearl River, and strike the New-Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad at Hazlehurst, and after destroying as much of the road as possible, endeavor to get upon the flank of the enemy, and cooperate with our forces, should they be successful in the attack upon Grand Gulf and Port Gibson. Having obtained, during this day, plenty of forage and provisions, and having had one good night's rest, we now again left, ready for any emergency. Accordingly, at six o'clock on the morning of the twenty-sixth, we crossed Leaf River, burning the bridge behind us, to prevent any enemy who might be in pursuit from following; thence through Raleigh, capturing the sheriff of that county with about three thousand dollars in Government funds; thence to Westville, reaching this place soon after dark. Passing on about two miles we halted to feed, in the midst of a heavy rain, on the plantation of Mr. Williams. After feeding, Colonel Prince, of the Seventh Illinois cavalry, with two battalions, was sent immediately forward to Pearl River to secure the ferry and landing. He arrived in time, to capture a courier, who had come to bring intelligence of the approach of the Yankees, and orders for the destruction of the ferry. With the main column I followed in about two hours. We ferried and swam our horses, and succeeded in crossing the whole command by two o'clock P. M. As soon as Colonel Prince had crossed his two battalions, he was ordered to proceed immediately to the New-Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad, striking it at Hazlehurst. Here he found a number of cars containing about six hundred loaded shells and a large quantity of commissary and quartermaster's stores, intended for Grand Gulf and Port Gibson. These were destroyed, and as much of the railroad and telegraph as possible. Here, again, we found the citizens armed to resist us, but they fled precipitately upon our approach.

From this point we took a north-west course to Gallatin, four miles, thence south-west three and a half miles to the plantation of Mr. Thompson, where we halted until the next morning. Directly after leaving Gallatin we captured a sixty-four pound gun and a heavy wagon-load of ammunition, and machinery for mounting the gun, on the road to Port Gibson. The gun was spiked and the carriages and ammunition destroyed. During the afternoon it rained in torrents, and the men were completely drenched. At six [464] o'clock the next morning, April twenty-eighth, we moved westward; after proceeding a short distance, I detached a battalion of the Seventh Illinois cavalry, under Captain Trafton, to proceed back to the railroad at Bahala, and destroy the road, telegraph, and all government property he might find. With the rest of the command, I moved south-west toward Union Church. We halted to feed at two o'clock P. M., on the plantation of Mr. Snyder, about two miles northeast of the church. While feeding, our pickets were fired upon by a considerable force. I immediately moved out upon them, skirmished with and drove them through the town, wounding and capturing a number. It proved to be a part of Wirt Adams's Alabama cavalry. After driving them off we held the town, and bivouacked for the night. After accomplishing the object of his expedition, Captain Trafton returned to us about three o'clock in the morning, of the twenty-ninth, having come upon the rear of the main body of Adams's command. The enemy having a battery of artillery, it was his intention to attack us in front and rear at Union Church, about daylight in the morning, but the appearance of Captain Trafton with a force in his rear, changed his purpose, and turning to the right he took the direct road toward Port Gibson. From this point I made a strong demonstration toward Fayette, with a view of creating the impression that we were going toward Port Gibson or Natchez, while I quietly took the opposite direction, taking the road leading southeast to Brookhaven, on the railroad. Before arriving at this place, we ascertained that about five hundred citizens and conscripts were organized to resist us. We charged into the town, when they fled, making but little resistance. We captured over two hundred prisoners, a large and beautiful camp of instruction, comprising several hundred tents and a large quantity of quartermaster's and commissary stores, arms, ammunition, etc. After paroling.the prisoners and destroying the railroad, telegraph, and all government property, about dark we moved southward, and encamped at Mr. Gill's plantation, about eight miles south of Brookhaven.

The following morning we moved directly south along the railroad, destroying all bridges and trestle-work to Bogue Chitto Station, where we burned the depot and fifteen freight-cars, and captured a very large secession flag. From thence we still moved along the railroad, destroying every bridge, water-tank, etc., as we passed, to Summit, which place we reached soon after noon. Here we destroyed twenty-five freight-cars and a large quantity of government sugar. We found much Union sentiment in this town, and were kindly welcomed and fed by many of the citizens. Hearing nothing more of our forces at Grand Gulf, I concluded to make for Baton Rouge, to recruit my command, after which I could return to La Grange through Southern Mississippi and West-Alabama; or, crossing the Mississippi River, move through Louisiana and Arkansas. Accordingly, after resting about two hours, we started south-west on the Liberty road, marched about fifteen miles, and halted until daylight on the plantation of Dr. Spurlark. The next morning we left the road and threatened Magnolia and Osyka, where large forces were concentrated to meet us; but instead of attacking those points, took a course due south, marching through woods, lanes, and byroads, and striking the road leading from Clinton to Osyka. Scarcely had we touched this read when we came upon the Ninth Tennessee cavalry, posted in a strong defile, guarding the bridges over Tickfaw River. We captured their pickets, and attacking, drove them before us, killing, wounding, and capturing a number. Our loss in this engagement was one man killed, and Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Blackburn and four men wounded. I cannot speak too highly of the bravery of the men upon this occasion, and particularly of Lieutenant-Colonel Blackburn, who, at the head of his men, charged upon the bridge, dashed over, and by undaunted courage dislodged the enemy from his strong position. After disposing of the dead and wounded, we immediately moved south on the Greensburgh road, recrossing the Tickfaw River at Edward's bridge. At this point, we met Garland's rebel cavalry, and with one battalion of the Sixth Illinois and two guns of the battery, engaged and drove them off without halting the column.

The enemy were now on our track in earnest. We were in the vicinity of their strongholds, and from couriers and dispatches which we captured,. it was evident they were sending forces in all directions to intercept us. The Amite River — a wide and rapid stream — was to be crossed, and there was but one bridge by which it could be crossed, and this was in exceeding close proximity to Port Hudson. This I determined upon securing before I halted. We crossed it at midnight, about two hours in advance of a heavy column of infantry and artillery, which had been sent there to intercept us. I moved on to Sandy Creek, where Hughes's cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wilburn, were encamped, and where there was another main road leading to Port Hudson.

We reached this point at first dawn of day, completely surprised and captured the camp with a number of prisoners. Having destroyed the camp, consisting of about one hundred and fifty tents, a large quantity of ammunition, guns, public and private stores, books, papers, and public documents, I immediately took the road from Baton Rouge. Arriving at the Commite River, we utterly surprised Stuart's cavalry, who were picketing at this point, capturing forty of them, with their horses, arms, and entire camp. Fording the river, we halted to feed within four miles of the town. Major-General Augur, in command at Baton Rouge, having now, for the first, heard of our approach, sent two companies of cavalry, under Captain Godfrey, to meet us. We marched into the town about three o'clock P. M., and were most heartily welcomed by the United States forces at this point. [465]

Before our arrival in Louisville, company B, of the Seventh Illinois cavalry, under Captain Forbes, was detached to proceed to Macon, on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, if possible to take the town, destroy the railroad and telegraph, and rejoin us. Upon approaching the place, he found it had been reenforced, and the bridge over the Oka Noxubee River destroyed, so that the railroad and telegraph could not be reached. He came back to our trail, crossed the Southern Railroad at Newton, took a south-east course to Enterprise, where, although his force numbered only thirty-five men, he entered with a flag of truce, and demanded the surrender of the place. The commanding officer at that point asked an hour to consider the matter, which Captain Forbes (having ascertained that a large force occupied the place) granted and improved in getting away. He immediately followed us, and succeeded in joining the column while it was crossing Pearl River at Georgetown. In order to catch us, he was obliged to march sixty miles per day for several consecutive days. Much honor is due to Captain Forbes for the manner in which he conducted this expedition.

At Louisville I sent Captain Lynch, of company E, Sixth Illinois cavalry, and one man of his company, disguised as citizens, who had gallantly volunteered to proceed to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and cut the wings, which it was necessary should be done to prevent the information of our presence from flying along the railroad from Jackson and other points. Captain Lynch and his comrade proceeded toward Macon, but meeting with the same barrier which had stopped Captain Forbes, could not reach the road. He went to the pickets at the edge of the town, ascertained the whole disposition of their forces and much other valuable information, and returning joined us above Decatur, having ridden without interruption for two days and nights without a moment's rest. All honor to the gallant Captain, whose intrepid coolness and daring characterize him on every occasion.

During the expedition we killed and wounded about one hundred of the enemy, captured and paroled over five hundred prisoners, many of them officers, destroyed between fifty and sixty miles of railroad and telegraph, captured and destroyed over three thousand stand of arms, and other army stores and Government property to an immense amount; we also captured one thousand horses and mules.

Our loss during the entire journey was three killed, seven wounded; five left on the route sick, the Sergeant, Major, and Surgeon of the Seventh Illinois left, with Lieutenant-Colonel Blackburn, and nine men missing, supposed to have straggled. We marched over six hundred miles in less than sixteen days. The last twenty-eight hours we marched seventy-six miles, had four engagements with the enemy, and forded the Comite River, which was deep enough to swim many of the horses. During this time the men and horses were without food or rest.

Much of the country through which we passed was almost entirely destitute of forage and provisions, and it was but seldom that we obtained over one meal per day. Many of the inhabitants must undoubtedly suffer for want of the necessaries of life, which have reached most fabulous prices.

Two thousand cavalry and mounted infantry were sent from the vicinity of Greenwood and Grenada north-east to intercept us; one thousand three hundred cavalry and several regiments of infantry with artillery were sent from Mobile to Macon, Meridian, and other points on the Mobile and Ohio Road. A force was sent from Canton north-east to prevent our crossing Pearl River, and another force of infantry and cavalry was sent from Brookhaven to Monticello, thinking we would cross Pearl River at that point instead of Georgetown. Expeditions were also sent from Vicksburgh, Port Gibson, and Port Hudson, to intercept us. Many detachments were sent out from my command at various places to mislead the enemy, all of which rejoined us in safety. Colton's pocket map of the Mississippi, which, though small, is very correct, was all I had to guide me, but by the capture of their couriers, despatches, and mails, and the invaluable aid of my scouts, we were always able by rapid marches to evade the enemy when they were too strong, and whip them when not too large.

Colonel Prince, commanding the Seventh Illinois, and Lieutenant-Colonel Loomis, commanding the Sixth Illinois, were untiring in their efforts to further the success of the expedition, and I cannot speak too highly of the coolness, bravery, and above all of the untiring perseverance of the officers and men of the command during the entire journey. Without their hearty cooperation, which was freely given under the most trying circumstances, we could not have accomplished so much with such signal success.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

B. H. Grierson,1 Colonel Commanding Brigade. Lieut.-Col. John A. Rawlings, Assistant Adjutant-General.

1 See page 548 Docs. Rebellion record, Vol. VI.

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