April 17, 1863: Grierson’s Raid Begins

Grierson's Raid


Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavalry raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher from Illinois who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion for his crossing of the Missippi which occured on April 29-30.  Total Union casualties for the raid were minimal indeed:  three killed, seven wounded, and nine missing, with five sick left behind on the route.  Here is the report of  Colonel Grierson on the raid:





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 April 17, with the effective force of my command, 1,700 strong. We moved southward without material interruption, crossing the Tallahatchee River on the afternoon of the 18th at three different points. One battalion of the Seventh Illinois, under Major Graham, crossing at New Albany, found the brigade 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 2 miles above, and the SECOND Iowa crossed about 4 miles still farther 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 4 miles south of the river. The rain fell in torrents all night.

The next morning, April 19, 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 northwest toward King’s Bridge, to attack and destroy a portion of a regiment of cavalry organizing there under Major [A. H.] 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 200 rebels near the town, and engaged them, killing and wounding several. The one northwest found that Major Chalmer’s command, hearing of our close proximity, had suddenly left in the night, going WEST.

After the expeditions, I moved with the whole force to Pontotoc. Colonel Hatch joined us about noon, reporting having skirmished with about 200 rebels the afternoon before and that morning, killing, wounding, and capturing a number.

We reached Pontotoc about 5 p. m. The advance dashed into the town, came upon some guerrillas, killed 1, and wounded and captured several more. Here we also captured a large mill, about 400 bushels of salt, and camp equipage, books, papers, &c., 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, 5 miles south of Pontotoc, on the road toward Houston.

At 3 o’clock the next morning, April 20, I detached 175 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 5 a. m. I proceeded southward with the main force on the Houston road, passing around Houston about 4 p. m., and halting at dark on the plantation of Benjamin Kilgore, 11 1/2 miles southeast of the latter place, on the road toward Starkville.

The following morning at 6 o’clock I resumed the march southward, and about 8 o’clock came to the road leading southeast 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 Mobile and Ohio Railroad in the vicinity of WEST Point, and destroy the road and wires; thence move south, destroying the railroad and all public property as far south, if possible, as Macon; thence across the railroad, making a circuit northward; e Columbus and destroy all Government works in that place, and again strike the railroad south of Okolona, 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 950 strong, I continued on my journey southward, still keeping the Starkville road. Arriving at Starkville about 4 p. m., we captured a mail and a quantity of Government property, which we destroyed. From this point we took the direct road to Louisville. We moved out on this road about 4 miles, through a dismal swamp nearly 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 4 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 $ 50,000, 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, distant 28 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 anything 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 relived 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. Estes, about 10 miles south of Louisville.

The next morning, April 23, at daylight we took the road for Philadelphia, crossing Pearl River on a bridge about 6 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 3 p. m. without interruption, and halted to feed about 5 miles southeast, on the Enterprise road. Here we rested until 10 o’clock at night, when I sent two battalions of the Seventh, 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 6 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, 25 cars, was loaded with ties and machinery, and the other 13 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, &c., 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 4 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 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 8 to 10 miles east of Newton Station.

After resting about three hours, we moved south to Garlandville. At this point we found the citizens, many of them venerable with age, armed with shot-guns 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 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 Garlandville, we moved southwest about 10 miles, and camped at night on the plantation of Mr. Bender, 2 miles WEST of Montrose. Our men and horses having become gradually exhausted, I determined on making a very easy march the next day, looking more to the recruiting of my weary little command than to the accomplishment of any important object; consequently I marched at 8 o’clock the next morning, taking a WEST, and varying slightly to a northwest, course. We marched about 5 miles, and halted to feed on the plantation of Elias Nichols.

After resting until about 2 p. m., during which time I sent detachments north to threaten the line of railroad at Lake Station and other points, we moved southwest toward Raleigh, making about 12 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 trestle-work. He started on his journey about midnight, and when within 7 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 to 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 re-enforced 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 co-operate 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 felt ready for any emergency. Accordingly, at 6 o’clock on the morning of the 26th, 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 country, with about $ 3,000 in Government funds; thence to Westville, reaching this place soon after dark. Passing on about 2 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 2 p. m.

As soon as Colonel Price 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 500 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 northwest course to Gallatin, 4 miles; thence southwest 3 1/2 miles to the plantation of Mr. Thompson, where we halted until the next morning.

Directly after leaving Gallatin we captured a 64-pounder gun, 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 6 o’clock the next morning, April 28, we moved northward. 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 southwest toward Union Church. We halted to feet at 2 p. m. on the plantation of Mr. Snyder, about 2 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’ (Mississippi) 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 3 o’clock in the morning of the 29th, having come upon the rear of the main body of Adams’ 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 to 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 500 citizens and conscripts were organized to resist us. We charged into the town, when they fled, making but little captured over 200 prisoners, a large and beautiful camp of instruction, comprising several hundred tents, and a large quantity of quartermaster’s and commissary stores, arms, ammunition, &c. 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 8 miles south of Brookhaven.

On 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, &c., 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 Western Alabama; or, crossing the Mississippi River, move through Louisiana and Arkansas. Accordingly, after resting about two hours, we started southwest, on the Liberty road, marched about 15 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 by-roads, and striking the road leading from Clinton to Osyka. Scarcely had we touched this road when we came upon the NINTH Tennessee Cavalry [Battalion], posted in a strong defile, guarding the bridges over Tickfaw River. We captured their pickets, and, attacking them, drove them before us, killing, wounding, and capturing a number. Our loss in this engagement was 1 man killed, and Lieutenant Colonel William D. Blackburn and 4 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 Greensburg road, recrossing the Tickfaw River at Edwards’ Bridge. At this point we met [W. H.] 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 stronghold, 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 exceedingly 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’ cavalry [battalion], under Lieutenant-Colonel [C. C.] Wilbourn, 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 to Baton Rouge. Arriving at the Comite River, we utterly surprised Stuart’s cavalry [Miles’ Legion], who were picketing at this point, capturing 40 of them, with their horses, arms, and entire camp. Fording the river, we halted to feed within 4 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 [J. Franklin] Godfrey, to meet us. We marched into the town about 3 p. m., and we were most heartily welcomed by the United States forces at this point.

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 take the town, destroy the railroad and telegraph, and rejoins us. Upon approaching the place, he found it had been re-enforced, and the bridge over the Okanoxubee 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 southeast course to Enterprise, where, although his force numbered only 35 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 60 miles per day for several consecutive days. Much honor is due 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 wires, which it was necessary should be done to prevent information of our presence from flying along the railroad to 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 characterizes him on every occasion.

During the expedition we killed and wounded about 100 of the enemy, captured and paroled over 500 prisoners, many of them officers, destroyed between 50 and 60 miles of railroad and telegraph, captured and destroyed over 3,000 stand of arms, and other army stores and Government property to an immense amount; we had l0 horses and mules.

Our loss during the entire journey was 3 killed, 7 wounded, 5 left, on the route sick; the sergeant-major and surgeon of the Seventh Illinois left with Lieutenant-Colonel Blackburn, and 9 men MISSING, supposed to have straggled. We marched over 600 miles in less than sixteen days. The last twenty-eight hours we marched 76 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 northeast to intercept us; 1,300 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 northeast 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 Vicksburg, 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 safely. Colton’s pocket map of Mississippi, which, though small, is very correct, was all I had to guide me; but by the capture of their couriers, dispatches, and mails, and the invaluable aid of my scouts, we were always able by rapid marched 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 co-operation, which was freely given under the most trying circumstances, we could not have accomplished so much with such signal success.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,


Colonel, Commanding Brigade.


Published in: on April 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on April 17, 1863: Grierson’s Raid Begins  
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