Archive for September, 2013

The Diversion That Turned The Tide at Vicksburg

by Andy Mateja

Over the years Hollywood has presented their renditions of events that happened during the Civil War. Some have been more factual than others with most being loosely based on events and characters of that period in history.
In 1959, United Artists released their version of the Grierson Raid and called it “The Horse Soldiers” starring John Wayne. While the storyline was pretty much based on the facts, the characters and select events were somewhat altered or embellished by the producers.
In reality , the Grierson Raid, which took place during April and early May of 1863 was planned as a diversion for Maj Gen Ulysses S Grant’s planned crossing of the Mississippi River to attack Vicksburg from an unexpected direction.
Grant has also wanted to cut the rail supply lines for Vicksburg from the east and assigned Col Benjamin Grierson to lead a cavalry raid to accomplish both objectives. Grierson was to head out from LaGrange Tennessee on April 17th with three Illinois and Iowa cavalry regiments, coinciding with Grant’s advance on Vicksburg. His cavalry columns , totaling about 1700 men, averaged 35 miles per day and advanced for three days before meeting some resistance. The Confederates believed Grierson expedition was to capture supplies in Mississippi and they moved to intercept him
Grierson, a former teacher, employed the first of his psychological “tricks” against his Confederate opponent … who also a former teacher. He ordered that his sick and otherwise unfit troopers form a column or fours, turn around and ride back to LaGrange. This was to make it appear that at least a full regiment with artillery was turning back. It took several hours before the Confederates figured out they had been tricked and that the main Union column was still advancing southward ….almost a full days ride ahead of them.
Grierson continued his diversionary tactics and detached the Iowa regiment from his column which the Confederate pursuers expectedly followed while the Grierson and his other two Illinois regiments continued onward unmolested.
The next day, true to form Grierson split off a company of cavalry and had them head east while he and the main headed west. He had a delicate mission to perform by getting his men over a wooden bridge before the local Southerners got there and burned it. He had found out only a handful of men guarded it and threatened their leader that his own house would be burned and his son killed if the bridge was destroyed. The threat worked and the bridge remained intact for Grierson’s men to cross and move to his objective of Newton’s Station, where the railroad supply line to Vicksburg was to be cut.
Before destroying the railroad connection to Vicksburg, the Union cavalrymen, through deceptive means, captured a 25 car freight train loaded with rail supplies. They wrecked long sections of railroad track while awaiting the return of the company of cavalry detached as a diversion the day before. The diversion was indeed effective as Confederate leaders thought Grierson’s troopers were actually 200 miles north of where they actually were at that moment.
With the Confederates in central and southern Mississippi now alerted to Grierson’s presence, no one was paying attention to Grant’s army crossing over the Mississippi River. The primary and secondary objectives of the Grierson Raid were accomplished almost at the same time!!
The moment of decision was at hand for Grierson. Since both objectives were now accomplished, does he return the way he came or continue southwardly deeper into enemy territory ? He chose the latter and moved in an attempt to connect with Grant’s forces which were now on the Mississippi side of the river. However Confederate leaders, alarmed by Grierson’s amazing success, ordered cavalry from deeper south along the Mississippi River to advance on the Union troopers. They now were between Grant and Grierson. The Union commander decided instead to continue south toward Baton Rouge while destroying additional railroad tracks and trestles along with burning military supplies.
At Wall’s Bridge, Grierson fell into a Confederate ambush and a spirited fight ensued. Ultimately the Union troopers outmaneuvered the ambushers who promptly retreated, allowing Grierson to continue onward toward Baton Rouge.
When 30 miles from his destination, Grierson decided he could not risk letting his men rest and eat with literally thousands of pursuers converging on him. He had them ride all night until they were only a few miles from the Union lines at Baton Rouge where he finally let them rest.
Shortly thereafter a cavalry patrol from Baton Rouge came across them and at first assumed they were Confederates until Grierson identified himself , prompting a cheer from the Union patrol. Afterward they received a hero’s welcome in Baton Rouge.
Grierson’s Raid had been an unqualified success, unequaled by any other cavalry raid during the Civil War. It also provided the diversion Grant needed to ultimately succeed in capturing Vicksburg after seven previous unsuccessful attempts. As Grant himself later commented “It (the raid) will be handed down in history as an example to be imitated …..Grierson attracted the attention of the enemy from the main movement against Vicksburg”

Morgan’s Raid of Desperation

by Andy Mateja

During the Civil War, Confederate military had made several excursions into Northern territory. In addition to the Border States that remained loyal to the Union and the more notable invasion of Pennsylvania during the summer of 1863, there was an ill-fated raid into Southern Indiana and Ohio undertaken by Brig General John Hunt Morgan.

On July 8th, just days after the Confederacy’s twin defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Morgan led his cavalry division across the Ohio River into Southern Indiana. His ruse was to make it appear he was going to attack Indianapolis while instead gathering badly needed horses and supplies from the region for several days. When local militia began to advance toward him, Morgan rapidly moved into Southern Ohio, bypassing Cincinnati, which was a bastion of Union troops. He continued moving eastward through Southern Ohio and temporarily divided his forces to fool his pursuers.

When he reunited is cavalry, they continued collecting horses and supplies while seeking a safe place to re-cross the Ohio River back into Kentucky. Ohio militia began to gather in pursuit while the Union military and gunboats were dispatched to capture or defeat Morgan before he crossed the river.

Morgan believed he found a reliable place to cross back into Kentucky at Bluffington Island in the southeast corner of Ohio. However Union troops and gunboats intercepted him and a battle was fought where a large portion of Morgan’s command was captured. Morgan and the remainder of his cavalry retreated westward and then moved northeastward through Southeast Ohio seeking an alternate place to cross the river.

When they reached the town of New Lisbon on July 25th, Morgan intended to burn the town as a diversion. But the local residents were determined to defend their town by any and all means possible. When local militia began to concentrate at nearby East Liverpool which was right on the river, Morgan offered to spare New Lisbon and East Liverpool if he was allowed to re-cross the Ohio River into West Virginia unmolested. 400 Federal cavalrymen from nearby Salineville joined in the pursuit. Sensing he was truly trapped, Morgan offered to surrender if allowed to be immediately paroled and returned to Kentucky where his raid had originated.

While the local militia captain was willing to accept the surrender under those terms, the commander of the approaching Union cavalry was not. They took Morgan and his men prisoner and sent them by train to Columbus and Cincinnati. While his enlisted men were confined at Camp Chase outside Columbus Ohio, Morgan was incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Instead of being prisoners of war, Morgan and his officers were charged with horse stealing and had their hair and beards shaved off like common civilian convicts.

Morgan later escaped from the penitentiary back to Kentucky in November 1863 and was mortally wounded ten months later by Union cavalry which surrounded him in Greenville Tenn.

Morgan’s Raid resulted in negligible results for the Confederacy other than scaring the wits out of the residents of Southern Indiana and Ohio. It did however incent these civilians, some of whom had been somewhat sympathetic to the Confederate cause, to fight even harder to defeat them.