Deep Cut Into Dixie: Inside the Union Raid That Tore the Heart Out of Mississippi


The arrival of Colonel Benjamin Grierson and his saddle-sore troopers in Union-occupied Baton Rouge, La., on Could 2, 1863, concurrently induced each reduction and pleasure all through the area. Grierson’s cavalry had barely slipped by way of the grasp of the pursuing Confederates on a number of events, managing to succeed in protected haven after a protracted and treacherous expedition originating in LaGrange, Tenn. Brigadier Normal Halbert E. Paine of Wisconsin, third Division commander within the Military of the Gulf, later described the incoming horse troopers as “tough and prepared Illinois cavalrymen embrowned by their raid by way of the Confederacy unkempt and frowsy.” The weary males arrange what they known as “Camp Magnolia Grove” and eventually had an opportunity to relaxation uninterrupted.

Stationed exterior New Orleans when he heard the information, Corporal George W. Southwick of the first Vermont Mild Artillery on Could 6 elatedly wrote—albeit with a couple of misspellings—“900 cavalry made a superb sweep down by way of from Tennessee to Baton Rouge. They made a superb sweep tareing up railroads burning bridges cuting telegraph wires and elevating the divil normally. It’s the best factor that has ever transpired since this warfare broke out.”

For the Northern public, this was not mere hyperbole. Cavalry raids in late 1862 and early 1863 by Accomplice Generals Earl Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest had disrupted Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s provide traces in Mississippi and Tennessee, significantly irritating Grant’s advance on the vital Mississippi River port metropolis of Vicksburg. A Union response of some scale was wanted, resulting in Grierson’s daring raid behind enemy traces.

Cheers greeted Grierson’s arrival within the Louisiana capital. “To make use of the expression of my informant,” Ulysses Grant wrote, “Grierson has knocked the guts out of [Mississippi].” (Harper’s Weekly)

Within the wake of the raid, Captain Henry Clinton Forbes, who commanded Firm B of the seventh Illinois Cavalry, took time to put in writing his spouse an in depth account of the function he and his males had performed within the enterprise, planting himself on a hill in entrance of the Louisiana State Home to take action. Though Forbes—labeled “a dashing sagacious captain of 30” by one relative—later compiled an official report, these preliminary ideas, nonetheless contemporary in his thoughts, offered invaluable perception. Parts of the letter to his spouse, now in a non-public assortment, are printed right here for the primary time.

The brainchild of this “expedition southward into Mississippi” on horseback was Union Maj. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, commander of the Sixteenth Corps, headquartered in Memphis, Tenn. Acquiring fast approval from Grant, Hurlbut known as Grierson to his headquarters for an in depth description of his concept. Grant had deliberate a collection of diversions to throw the Southern forces off stability. Northern Mississippi was to be rife with Federal advances, definitely drawing sufficient consideration away from Grant’s river operations and Grierson’s maneuvers.

Forbes’ personal description of the raid’s begin was somewhat matter of truth: “Properly, I used to be in my blankets, on my explicit 5 toes 9 of mom earth at ten o’clock P.M. Sixteenth-April at LaGrange the place we had been so lengthy and so quietly doing obligation at Headquarters of the first Div., Sixteenth Military Corps, when an orderly introduced me a dispatch from the overall commanding, ordering me to report back to the Commanding Officer of my regiment, for ‘obligation on this expedition.’ Reporting instantly, I realized that three regiments comprising our brigade [6th Illinois, 7th Illinois, and 2nd Iowa] have been ordered to march at daylight the following morning with 5 days rations.”

Captain Henry Clinton Forbes (College of Arizona Assortment)

“By particular favor,” Forbes recalled, “I learnt that we have been to make a deep minimize into ‘Dixie’ and on the daybreak we have been in our saddles.” Of their departure, Forbes famous, “42 males and each my lieutenants McCausland and O’Kane, offered every man with a [Cosmopolitan] carbine and fifty rounds of ammunition, a saber and a homosexual coronary heart. We have been throughout the enemy’s traces; forward, a wilderness of secession and enmity…”

The troopers had an inkling it was to be a protracted raid, however, as Grierson elaborated, “No individual aside from myself and Lieutenant S.L. Woodward, a.a.a. [acting assistant adjutant] normal of the brigade knew the possible extent of the expedition on which we had began.”

Wanting his spouse to know the precise route they took, Forbes really helpful: “Now take one of the best map of the State of Miss. you may get and also you shall march with us. You observe Tippah County subsequent to the N.W. of Ripley its county seat, having marched 35 miles. There we discovered loads of Com. [Commissary] Fodder and meat, which we appropriated with a liberal understanding of our personal desires. The soonest of objections solely enlisted the sweetest of smiles, however the inexorable ‘can’t assist it’ of the nice ‘Feds’ solely left the grief of the impoverished secesh the deadlier and the deeper.”

Forbes would additionally boast: “Via the northern fringe of Pontotoc Co. you’ll observe the Tallahatchie river working in a southwestern course. This stream the Rebs had vaunted no Yank ought to ever cross alive once more. Accordingly, we handed it, the central Column a few miles above New Albany. One battalion at Kingsford [King’s] Bridge, beneath, and the 2nd Iowa above. About twenty secesh males discovered by the advance guard endeavoring to fireplace [King’s] Bridge, however have been readily dispersed and the crossing effected.” These, Forbes famous, have been a part of a cavalry pressure dispatched by Main A.H. Chalmers, however when phrase {that a} bigger pressure of Yankees was headed their means, “they’d abruptly left within the night time, going west.” The conflict, although, had served to warn Grierson of a doable assault from the rear.

The following morning, Forbes’ Firm B took the lead and had “a number of full of life chases after little squads of the enemy”—a singular “insurgent scout…shot on the sting of city” being the one notable interplay. Commissary shops have been destroyed, together with “quite a few barrels of salt [which were] poured on the street, not that it had misplaced its savor, however that it could be trodden underneath foot by our horses.”

Captain Henry Forbes sat down on the hill in entrance of the Louisiana State Home to put in writing his spouse of his exploits. In late December 1862, Union troops had began a fireplace that gutted the constructing’s inside. (© Corbis through Getty Photographs)

The malicious act despatched the civilians scrambling for the dear commodity. As Forbes wrote, “You need to have seen the unsalted poor jubilant with their pails to scratch the valuable condiment out of the filth! One poor girl I bear in mind with peculiar zest, who, as she got here in sight of the lengthy white line of salt spilled throughout the road turned to our column then in full movement and together with her bonnet unexpectedly snatched from her head in a single hand and her pail in one other powerless to precise her pleasure in Language jumped up and down in her place and truly screamed in delight.”

Forbes’ baleful tendencies have been additional uncovered when he recalled: “One other amusing incident occurred close to the rear of the column the place my firm was stationed….I heard a dire knocking behind some superb premises in opposition to whose fence our horses have been turned, and handed by way of to see what was doing when I discovered our boys within the act of very generously distributing some 5 or 6 hundred weight tobacco which they’d found. The person of the home having run away, his woman very affectingly besought me to set a guard for his property, which I very magnanimously proceeded to do. Some delays, accountable to the uninitiated, having been skilled, after I lastly went to set my guard, behold the tobacco, the boys and the obligation, which, as a gallant Knight owed to a good one in misery, I used to be in no way sorry to search out had all vanished collectively!”

On April 20, Grierson’s command was “roused by the shrill reveille bugles at 2 o’clock within the morning.” By then, Grierson had already “despatched again all of the sick and disabled males”—an ensemble to be dubbed the “Quinine Brigade”—by way of Pontotoc in an effort to additional confuse the Confederates of his true intentions. Forbes and his males “drew a deeper breath and set out once more for Dixie, which like ‘away down east’ chances are you’ll uncover is tough to succeed in.”

Lytle took this beforehand unpublished picture of Grierson, a piano trainer prewar, after the colonel reached Baton Rouge. Grierson wears no insignia and a plain uniform jacket. (Courtesy of Glen Cangelosi)

“We marched south east by byroads and encamped at Clear Spring,” Forbes wrote. “No occasion occurred worthy of word, save that being beneath the advance of our troops upon any former event, we started to understand probably the most ludicrous panic in possession of the minds of the folks. No language can provide an sufficient concept of the prepossession of the favored thoughts in Central Mississippi, in opposition to the Yankee soldiery, all chimerical, all whimsical, the work of false witnesses in the one journals which come to their hand, part of the good system of atrocious fabrication upon which the rise up was based mostly on the first, and by which it’s diligently sought to be perpetrated.”

Grierson continued his efforts at subterfuge on April 21, when he indifferent Colonel Hatch and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. They have been, Forbes famous, “hanging eastward together with his command for the Cell and Ohio R.R. to work it no matter mischief lay in his energy and diverting the eye of the enemy from our progress halfway between the 2 roads to return at his comfort to our traces.” Grierson’s primary command crossed an area creek and, based on Forbes, “[Upon entering] Starkville, a neat and nice village, we discovered nearly totally abandoned of its inhabitants, they newly fled in terror of the Yankee invasion. The place was tenderly handled, not a home being damaged, not an individual molested, although afterwards the secesh papers printed that we burned the city and hung one of many physicians.”

Grierson’s males have been issued new .52-caliber Cosmopolitan carbines that used breech-loaded paper cartridges. Regardless of a 1,000-yard vary, they proved unpopular with the troopers. (Cowan’s Auctions)

“We camped 8 miles past [Starkville],” Forbes continued, “having marched 45 miles via interminable swamps, and captured quite a few prisoners, amongst which was a quartermaster from Port Hudson.” About two miles out after daybreak, Colonel Prince requested Forbes if he was prepared to take his command of 39 males to Macon and if doable destroy the [rail]highway at that place. They have been instructed to then rejoin the primary column by pressured marches.

Forbes readily accepted the project and began out towards Macon “as quickly because the slippery roads would allow.” One soldier, nevertheless, rapidly recommended: “The detachment to be thrown in opposition to this [railroad] was used as a forlorn hope and was anticipated to be thrown away.”

Forbes’ males seen the roads have been tracked with hooves of livestock “pushed in to the swamps to be hidden by negroes” to keep away from seize. A number of ladies, Forbes famous, “burst into tears as we handed with out biting their noses off.” The group additionally encountered wagons loaded with meals and invaluable items hub-deep in mud. Forbes directed a few his males to decorate in captured “secesh” garments and scout forward of their unit. The element would arrest a couple of locals, whereas one man tried to make a break for it earlier than getting “a saber stroke for his temerity.” Firm B lastly halted and bivouacked within the yard of an area plantation. “Simply as I used to be ending my piece of pone and cup of buttermilk,” Forbes wrote, “…picket posts got here in with a prisoner captured.” Forbes realized {that a} Southern infantry regiment had arrived in Macon by rail, bolstered by two artillery items and native militia.

Forbes was not happy to study that the bridge he was suppose to cross “had been ready for instantaneous destruction.” All of them slept restlessly that night time with “23 males out of 39 sustaining varied components of guard obligation for that night time.” Realizing that at the very least 30 miles separated Firm B from Grierson’s primary physique, Forbes impressed a information to cause them to Baugh’s Ford, which they “discovered impassable owing to a[n] exceedingly heavy present.” They ended up crossing a bayou, lastly making their option to the Marshallville highway. They turned and went by way of a menagerie of “swamps, plantations, wildernesses, dens, logs, pens, lakes, pits and caves of demise.” They swam two extra streams and ultimately struck the highway working southwest from Macon to Philadelphia about 4 miles from the previous, “pushing with all velocity.”

As Forbes would later doc: “We handed via Summerville, known as Gholson on Colton’s maps, simply earlier than sunset. It’s a stunning little hamlet, the seat of two fashionable colleges finely located in giant buildings, one for both intercourse. We have been mistaken for secesh cavalry by the boys of the primary college, and amid probably the most exaggerated demonstrations of delight we made in having fun with the glory of being their courageous defenders. The women rushed to their balcony to wave us all hail, the matrons to their larders to obtain us a lunch and invites to the officers to sup right here.” The lads of Firm B handed up these alternatives however lastly stopped at Mr. Nunn’s plantation. Recalled Forbes: “We entered into negotiations for feed and supper all within the pure Secesh vernacular. Out got here the fodder, out got here the corn; the smokehouse disgorged, the ovens glowed, the churn gave up her all (of buttermilk), even the knives and spoons discovered their means on to the desk fabric.”

Forbes’ males have been tasked with destroying enemy railroad tracks and depots, disrupting Accomplice prepare service to Vicksburg. (New York Public Library)

Forbes had a confidential confab together with his host, the place the latter expressed his dire contempt of the Yanks. Nunn started to entertain “misgivings in his thoughts and neuralgia in his abdomen” when he heard the bugles sound and got here exterior to find “one of many boys whose horse had change into means worn had traded him incontinently for an obtainable nag that he discovered neighing patriotically for U.S. Service within the poor patriarch’s stables. The final I heard of our host was an inquiry for the Captain, and upon being advised that he was prematurely, he lifted up his voice, and known as me simply as I used to be engaged in shouting ahead! March! Which in fact, shut off ceaselessly the noise of his complaints and divided the Yankees and truthful Summerville for a season. Poor Nunn! Could he repent and imagine. Although he’s outdated in transgression, and hardened in false doctrines.”

Forbes’ males have been making nice time, resting for 4 hours at Nice Spring after traversing 60 miles. On the twenty fourth, the corporate handed by way of “a poor and barren firm.” The facet journey turned harmful when the 2 scouts Forbes had dispatched forward encountered bushwhackers, with one scout killed and the opposite wounded. The Confederates “had accomplished their bloody work and disappeared earlier than we may canter on to the bottom.” They gathered up the useless man and “laid him on a neighboring porch and unfold a blanket decently over him and left him for the enemy to bury. Our haste would brook no delay. Poor Invoice Buffington! God gave him good sleep underneath the inexperienced bushes of this far land!” Forbes had his revenge, nevertheless, revealing, “I loved the pleasure of burning to the bottom the house of one of many bushwhackers.”

Upon reaching Newton Station, the troopers discovered the prepare depot smoldering. Anticipating to cross the bridge Grierson had used, they found it had been destroyed by their very own forces and headed as a substitute towards Enterprise. There, Forbes came across a “suspicious trying enclosure of excessive plank fence round a faculty home…[that] I speedily found was stuffed with troopers and a sentry to be standing on the gate.”

In the course of his subsequent sentence, nevertheless, the narrative ends. Forbes had spilled espresso on this 14th web page and neither completed his ideas nor the missive itself. He had additionally spilled ink on the primary web page.

Forbes later boasted to his sister about going “48 hours with out meals,” regardless of revealing fairly the other to his spouse. He additionally claimed to have misplaced 22 kilos, regardless of his earlier descriptions of consuming luxurious meals from the arms of Southern civilians or their storehouses.

Forbes turned a farmer after the warfare and printed a big quantity of his personal poetry. He would cross away on January 5, 1903, in Champaign, Ailing. 

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