Rufus Ward: A first-hand account of Grierson's Cavalry Raid of 1863

August 29, 2010 2:52:00 AM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


0One of the most famous calvary exploits of the Civil War was the Union calvary raid through Mississippi by Col. B.H.Grierson in 1863. The raid has been the subject of several books and even a John Wayne movie, "The Horse Soldiers." 


The New York Times apparently had an imbedded reporter with the troops. Their May 18, 1863, edition published a "Detailed Narrative" that provided a daily account of the raid by their correspondent. 


The unnamed correspondent reported that he was with the Seventh Illinois Cavalry under Col. Edward Prince at LaGrange, Tennessee, when at 10 a.m. on April 17, Colonel Grierson ordered them to proceed south on the Ripley Road. The regiment traveled south through Ripley, New Albany and Pontotoc with only minor skirmishing.  


On April 20, the Seventh continued moving south and passed around Houston. They camped that night at Clear Springs. On the morning of the 21st, the Second Iowa Regiment, which had been traveling with the Seventh Illinois, was ordered to "proceed toward Columbus and destroy the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as much as possible." Through a day long rain the Seventh continued traveling south and passed through Starkville, finally making a wet camp eight miles south of town. 


At daylight on the 22nd, Captain Forbes with Company C of the Seventh was detached to proceed to Macon and destroy the Mobile and Ohio Railroad there. The remainder of Grierson''s force before proceeding on to "the little village of Louisville," burned a Confederate shoe manufactory near Starkville. The Times'' correspondent reported that Grierson "succeeded in destroying several thousand pairs of boots and shoes, also hats and a large quantity of leather; besides capturing a Quartermaster from Port Hudson." 


The raid continued on through Mississippi with the Seventh Illinois arriving "triumphantly" in Baton Rouge on May 2nd.  


The full story of the raid and the exploits of all of the different military units involved makes fascinating reading. This is especially true as much of the story takes place in our own back yard. The most readable account is "Grierson''s Raid: A Cavalry Adventure of the Civil War" by Dee Brown.  


Grierson himself was a very interesting figure. He was a former music teacher who did not care for horses. He also treated the local civilians far better than did General Sherman. While he destroyed railroads, telegraph lines, and materials that could be used by the Confederacy, he tried to avoid the destruction of personal property.  


His respect for civilian property is clearly shown by an old Columbus tradition. At the close of the war his troops were said to be occupying Columbus. Some of then-General Grierson''s soldiers stole mules from the Cedars on Military Road. Grierson personally returned the mules to the home, making a most favorable impression on a former foe.

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]