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5. Federal raids and expeditions in the West

Charles D. Rhodes, Captain, General Staff, United States Army

A blockhouse on the Tennessee


Six hundred miles in sixteen days Seventeen hundred men who marched 600 miles in sixteen days, from Vicksburg to Baton Rouge. On April 17, 1863, Grant despatched Grierson on a raid from LaGrange, Tennessee, southward as a means of diverting attention from his own movements against Vicksburg, and to disturb the Confederate line of supplies from the East. Grierson destroyed sixty miles of tracks and telegraph, numberless stores and munitions of war, and brought his command safely through to Baton Rouge. These two pictures by Lytle, the Confederate Secret Service agent at Baton Rouge, form one of the most remarkable feats of wet-plate photography. The action continued as he moved his camera a trifle to the right, and the result is a veritable “moving picture.” In the photograph on the left-hand page, only the first troop is dismounted and unsaddled. In the photograph on the right-hand page two troops are already on foot. Note the officers in front of their troops. The photograph was evidently a long time exposure, as is shown by the progress of the covered wagon which has driven into the picture on the left-hand page. It was at the conclusion of this remarkable raid that Grierson reported that “the Confederacy was a hollow shell.” All of its population able to carry arms was on the line of defense. Captain John A. Wyeth, the veteran Confederate cavalryman who contributes to other pages of this volume, wrote when he saw these photographs: “I knew General Grierson personally, and have always had the highest regard for his skill and courage as shown more particularly in this raid than in anything else that he did, although he was always doing well.”


How Grierson's raiders looked to the Confederate Secret service camera


The military operations of the Union armies in the South and West were not lacking in famous raids, having for their main objects the destruction of the supply centers of the Confederacy, the cutting of railroads and lines of communication between these centers and the Southern troops, and the drawing away from important strategic operations of large bodies of the foe. One of the most famous of these raids was that made by Colonel B. H. Grierson in the spring of 1863.

Starting from La Grange, Tennessee, on April 17th, with three cavalry regiments of about seventeen hundred men, Grierson made a wonderful march through the State of Mississippi, and finally reached the Union lines at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 2d.

On April 21st, Grierson had detached a regiment under Colonel Hatch, Second Iowa Cavalry, to destroy the railroad bridge between Columbus and Macon, and then return to La Grange. At Palo Alto, Hatch had a sharp fight with Confederate troops under General Gholson, defeating them without the loss of a man. Much of Hatch's success during his entire raid was due to the fact that his regiment was armed with Colt's revolving rifles. Hatch then retreated along the railroad, destroying it at Okolona and Tupelo, and arriving at La Grange on April 26th, with the loss of but ten troopers. The principal object of his movement — to decoy the Confederate troops to the east, and thus give Grierson ample opportunity to get well under way, was fully attained. [133]

Grierson — the raider who puzzled Pemberton To the enterprise of Lytle, the Confederate Secret Service photographer, we owe this portrait of Colonel B. H. Grierson, at rest after his famous raid. He sits chin in hand among his officers, justly proud of having executed one of the most thoroughly successful feats in the entire war. It was highly important, if Grant was to carry out his maneuver of crossing the Mississippi at Grand Gulf and advance upon Vicksburg from the south, that Pemberton's attention should be distracted in other directions. The morning after Admiral Porter ran the batteries, Grierson left La Grange, Tennessee, to penetrate the heart of the Confederacy, sweeping entirely through Mississippi from north to south, and reaching Baton Rouge on May 2d. Exaggerated reports flowed in on Pemberton as to Grierson's numbers and whereabouts. The Confederate defender of Vicksburg was obliged to send out expeditions in all directions to try to intercept him. This was one of the numerous instances where a small body of cavalry interfered with the movements of a much larger force. It was Van Dorn, the Confederate cavalryman, who had upset Grant's calculations four months before.


Meanwhile Grierson had continued his raid with less than one thousand horsemen, breaking the Southern Mississippi, and the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern railroads. Near Newton the raiders burned several bridges, and destroyed engines and cars loaded with commissary stores, guns, and ammunition; at Hazelhurst, cars and ammunition; and at Brookhaven, the railroad depot and cars.

Having no cavalry available to watch Grierson's movements, the Confederates were kept in a state of excitement and alarm. Rumors exaggerated his numbers, and he was reported in many different places at the same time. Several brigades of Confederate infantry were detached to intercept him, but he evaded them all.

In sixteen days, Grierson marched six hundred miles--nearly thirty-eight miles a day — destroying miles of railroad, telegraph, and other property; but most of all, he distracted the Confederates' attention from Grant's operations against Vicksburg at the critical time when the latter was preparing to cross the Mississippi River near Grand Gulf. In its entirety, the Grierson raid was probably the most successful operation of its kind during the Civil War.

The appearance of Morgan's men on the north bank of the Ohio River (July, 1863) created great consternation in Indiana and Ohio. The Governor of Indiana called out the Home guards to the number of fifty thousand, and as Morgan's advance turned toward Ohio, the Governor of the Buckeye State called out fifty thousand Home guards from his State. At Corydon, Indiana, the Home guards gave the invaders a brisk little battle, and delayed their advance for a brief time.

On July 1, 1864, General A. J. Smith assembled a large force at La Grange, Tennessee, for a raid on Tupelo, Mississippi, in which a cavalry division under General Grierson took a prominent part in defeating the formidable General Forrest as he had probably never been defeated before. The raid [135]

Federal cavalry camp.

This photograph of an Illinois regiment's Camp at Baton Rouge was taken in 1863, just before the Port Hudson campaign upon which Grierson and his men accompanied General Banks. The troopers have found fairly comfortable quarters. The smoke rising from their camp-fires lends a peaceful touch to the scene. A cavalry Camp occupied more space than an infantry camp. The horses are tethered in long lines between the tents, about the width of a street-way. They are plainly visible in this photograph, tethered in this fashion, a few of them grazing about the plain. In the foreground by the officers' quarters, a charger stands saddled, ready for his master. This is an excellent illustration of a Camp laid out according to Federal army regulations.

A Federal cavalry Camp at Baton Rouge

A Federal cavalry Camp at Baton Rouge.

[136] resulted in the burning of all bridges and trestles north and south of Tupelo, and the destruction of the railroad.

During the raid, a portion of the cavalry division was newly armed with seven-shot Spencer carbines, capable of firing fourteen shots per minute. The Confederates were astonished and dismayed by the tremendous amount of lead poured into their ranks, and after the Tupelo fight one of the Confederate prisoners wonderingly asked a cavalryman, “Say, do you all load those guns you all fight with on Sunday, and then fire 'em all the week?”

In the spring of the following year, 1865, General James H. Wilson, who had commanded a division in Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah, began, under the direction of General Thomas, an important demonstration against Selma and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in favor of General Canby's operations against Mobile and central Alabama. This great raid, which severed the main arteries supplying life-blood to the Confederacy, was destined to be the culminating blow by the Federal cavalry inflicted on the already tottering military structure of the Southern Confederacy.

Starting on March 22, 1865, and marching in three separate columns on a wide front, because of the devastated condition of the country, Wilson began his movement by keeping the Confederate leaders completely in ignorance as to whether Columbus, Selma, or Tuscaloosa, was his real objective. At Selma, April 2d, a division of Wilson's dismounted cavalry, facing odds in position, gallantly carried the Confederate semipermanent works surrounding the city, in an assault which swept all before it.

General Wilson's report says:

The fortifications assaulted and carried consisted of a bastioned line, on a radius of nearly three miles, extending from the Alabama River below to the same above the city. The part west of the city is covered by a miry, deep, and almost impassable creek; that on the east side by a swamp, extending from the river almost to the Summerfield [137]

Cavalry raids in Mississippi.

The burning of all bridges and trestles north and south of Tupelo and the destruction of the railroad was the result of General A. J. Smith's raid on that point in 1864. General Smith started from Lagrange, Tenn., on July 1st, accompanied by a cavalry division under General Grierson, who took a prominent part in defeating the formidable General Forrest as he had probably never been defeated before. The Union cavalry raids in the West were more uniformly successful than the raids of the cavalry with the Army of the Potomac. The greater part of the Confederate cavalry was busy attacking the supply-trains of the armies in the North or striking at the long lines of communication. The story of the campaigns in the West, where there were fewer photographers and communication was slower is not so well-known as that of the more immediate East, but the deeds performed there were of quite equal dash and daring and importance to the result.

A destructive raid in Mississippi

General A. J. Smith

[138] road, and entirely impracticable for mounted men at all times. General Upton ascertained by a personal reconnaissance that dismounted men might with great difficulty work through it on the left of the Range Line road. The profile of that part of the line assaulted is as follows: Height of parapet, six to eight feet; thickness, eight feet; depth of ditch, five feet; width, from ten to fifteen feet; height of stockade on the glacis, five feet; sunk into the earth, four feet. . . . The distance which the troops charged, exposed to the fire of artillery and musketry, was six hundred yards. . . . General Long's report states . . . that the number actually engaged in the charge was 1550 officers and men. The portion of the line assaulted was manned by Armstrong's brigade, regarded as the best in Forrest's corps, and reported by him at more than 1500 men. The loss from Long's division was 40 killed, 260 wounded, and 7 missing. . . . The immediate fruits of our victory were 31 field-guns, and one 30-pounder Parrott, which had been used against us; 2700 prisoners, including 150 officers; a number of colors and immense quantities of stores of every kind. . . . I estimate the entire garrison, including the militia of the city and surrounding country, at 7000 men. The entire force under my command, engaged and in supporting distance, was 9000 men and eight guns.

On April 8th and 9th, Wilson's entire cavalry corps, excepting Croxton's brigade, crossed the Alabama River, and having rendered Selma practically valueless to the Confederacy by his thorough destruction of its railroads and supplies, Wilson marched into Georgia by way of Montgomery. On April 12th, the mayor of Montgomery surrendered that city to the cavalry advance guard, and after destroying great quantities of military stores, small arms, and cotton, the cavalry corps moved, on April 14th, with General Upton in advance, and on the 16th captured the cities of Columbus and West Point.

The capture of Columbus lost to the South 1200 prisoners, fifty-two field-guns, the ram Jackson (six 7-inch guns), nearly ready for sea, together with such tremendously valuable aids in prolonging the war as fifteen locomotives and two hundred and fifty cars, one hundred and fifteen thousand bales of cotton, [139]

Fleet steaming up the Alabama river in war-time The sight of the stern-wheelers splashing up the Alabama River into the heart of the threatened Confederacy has been preserved by a curious chance. This photograph was secured by a Scotch visitor to the States on his wedding-trip in 1865. He took it home. A generation later his son came to America, bringing his father's collection of pictures. He settled in New Orleans. An editor of the Photographic history, traveling in search of photographs to round out the collection, perceived this to be unique as a war-time scene on the river where Wilson and Forrest were making history. The Alabama River was not only one of the great arteries of the South along which it conveyed its supplies, but it was also the scene of much of its naval construction which the blockade precluded on the coast. Wilson's raid resulted in the capture at Columbus of the Confederate ram Jackson with six 7-inch guns, when she was nearly ready for the sea. Just a year previous, in April, 1864, the hull of the Confederate iron-clad ram Tennessee was constructed on the Alabama River, just above Selma. Admiral Buchanan sent James M. Johnston, C. S. N., with two steamers to tow her down to Mobile. The work was all done at high pressure for fear of just such a raid as Wilson's. The incident is somewhat similar to the saving of Admiral Porter's Red River fleet in May, 1864.

[140] four cotton factories, a navy yard, arms and ammunition factories, three paper-mills, over one hundred thousand rounds of artillery ammunition, besides immense stores of which no account was taken.

This great and decisive blow to the material resources of the Confederacy, was followed by the surrender of the cities of Macon and Tuscaloosa, and other successes, until, on April 21st, Wilson's victorious progress was ordered suspended by General Sherman, pending the result of peace negotiations between the Federal and Confederate Governments.

This great movement was made in a hostile country which had been stripped of supplies except at railroad centers, and in which no aid or assistance could be expected from the inhabitants of the country. As an evidence of some of the hardships attending the operations of separate columns composing Wilson's corps, General Croxton states in an official report that from Elyton (March 30th) through Trion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Carrollton, Georgia (April 25th), his command marched six hundred and fifty-three miles through a mountainous country so destitute of supplies that the troops could only be subsisted and foraged with the greatest effort. The brigade swam four rivers and destroyed five large iron works (the last remaining in the cotton States), three factories, numerous mills, and quantities of supplies. The losses of the brigade during this important movement, were but four officers and one hundred and sixty-eight men, half of whom were made prisoners by the Confederates while straggling from the command.

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