Paper from CW history class taken under Dr. Susannah Ural, 2004. My first "look" at the guy and what he accomplished! The Reluctant Cavalryman: The Mississippi Raids of Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson A man who disliked horses led one of the most important and successful raids carried out by Union cavalry in the Civil War. By moving almost at will through the heart of the Confederacy, Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson was able to distract troops from the defense of Vicksburg, disrupt communications and transportation networks behind enemy lines, as well as destroy food and supplies desperately needed by the South. Most importantly, he created a sense of vulnerability within the Confederacy and raised the morale of the Union. Grierson, who James Johnson and Alfred Bill characterized as “an amateur soldier,” was both uniquely qualified to conduct the raids and a most unusual choice. D. Alexander Brown reports after a horse kicked Grierson as a child, he went into a coma, was temporarily blinded, and scarred for life. Afterward, he studiously avoided horses. Unfortunately for Grierson, when he volunteered for service in 1861, the horse-hater was placed in the cavalry and refused transfer to the infantry by General Henry Halleck. “General Halleck jocularly remarked that I looked active,” Grierson wrote, “and wiry enough to make a good cavalryman.”[ii] He was a natural musician who, claims Stephen Starr, taught himself to play seven instruments. Grierson tried to support his family by teaching music and leading community bands around his hometown of Jackonville, Illinois, but music paid poorly—even though he wrote popular songs for Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign.[iii] His skills as a businessman were questionable; however, the future Brigadier General was a natural leader of men. William and Shirley Leckie note his “strong tendency to be temperate and fair in his judgement of others,”[iv] which must have been appealing to the men serving under him. Grierson was appointed a major of the Sixth Illinois regiment over more experienced military men, says Starr, and was soon promoted to the colonelcy after the first colonel was “compelled to resign.”[v] He was stationed in the west, where fellow Illinois native Ulysses S. Grant was gaining recognition. Bruce Dinges declares when Grierson and his men distinguished themselves in a number of smaller actions in Tennessee in 1862,[vi] Grant noticed his aggression and diligence. Sherman characterized Grierson as “the best cavalry commander I have yet had,” according to Dinges, [vii] an din 1863, when Grant needed someone for a dangerous mission deep in Mississippi, he asked for Grierson. Grant was bogged down in the siege of Vicksburg, a campaign initiated by Lincoln’s earlier comment, Brown says, to Admiral David D. Porter. “Let us get Vicksburg and all that country is ours.”[viii] As Johnson and Bill note in a contemporary comment about Grant’s tenaciousness, “The old fool has tried this….five times already, but he’s got thirty-seven more plans.”[ix] Grant, contends Archer Jones, previously made “two unsuccessful efforts to float an army in bayous…and two efforts to find or dig a water route around Vicksburg.”[x] Unable to overcome Pemberton’s defenses from the Mississippi River side, Grant realized his troops would have to travel down the western shore, away from the Vicksburg batteries, “ferry troops across,” then sweep northeast to attack from the rear.[xi] Herman Hattaway emphasizes there were 32,000 troops under Pemberton’s command in Mississippi, plus a still-intact system of rail lines to move men and supplies. Pemberton also had General Joseph E. Johnston to defend his eastern perimeter. Moreover, one of the South’s most effective weapons, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was under Bragg in Tennessee, too close for Grant’s comfort.[xii] However, Brown notes Grant’s advantage: he served with Pemberton in the Mexican War and understood the Confederate general could be easily distracted by too many details, such as a cavalry unit or two loose behind enemy lines in Mississippi and Alabama.[xiii] Grant decided upon a multi-pronged diversionary attack, sending Steele’s division over water to Greenville and using Sherman to feint from Tennessee. As Dinges notes, “Colonel Abel Streight and 1,000 mounted infantrymen were sent to disrupt Confederate communications in northern Alabama.”[xiv] Finally, Hattaway observes, Grierson was to be unleashed from La Grange, Tennessee, to attack Newton Station and return to safety as best he could.[xv] In February, according to Lalicki, Grant wrote, “It seems to me that Grierson, with about 500 picked men, might succeed…..The undertaking would be a hazardous one, but it would pay well if carried out. I do not direct that this shall be done, but leave it for a volunteer enterprise.”[xvi] Brown reports in a letter written to General Hurlbut on March 9th that Grant specifically eliminated two other commanders from consideration while again suggesting Grierson.[xvii] Johnson and Bill say Grierson’s men were primarily charged with cutting rail and telegraph communications. In addition, they were to destroy Confederate supplies and arms.[xviii] Grant was implementing the strategy of total war to demoralize and physically weaken the South. The heart of the Confederacy, Grierson concluded by the end of the raid, “was but a hollow shell, strong on the surface by reason of organized armies, but hollow within, and destitute.”[xix] Another benefit of this raid was its status as a rare Union cavalry success at that point in the war. Until then, as Christopher Dwyer points out: Confederate cavalry…possessed the potential for decisive impact on the war. Slashing deep behind enemy lines, the superb western cavalry….provided successful counterattacks against Union invasions, boosted Southern morale, allowed Confederate commanders to take the initiative, and decided several campaigns as decisively as if a great battle had been won.[xx] Shelby Foote suggests, “Stuart and Morgan and Forrest had literally ridden rings around the awkward blue squadrons and the armies in their charge. Now, perhaps, the time had come for them to emulate the example set by the exuberant gray riders.”[xxi] Grant, says Dwyer, “brought the use of cavalry to a logical conclusion—a large, independent invasion force that utilized mobility for strategic surprise, dismounted fighting, and superior firepower for powerful lightning attacks against the rear areas of the enemy.[xxii] D. Alexander Brown, Grierson’s Raid (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1954), 25. [ii]Stephen Z. Starr, The Union Cavalry in the Civil War, vol. 3 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 145. [iii] William H. Leckie and Shirley A. Leckie, Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin Grierson and His Family (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984), 11. [iv] Starr, “Union Cavalry,” 145 [v] Bruce J. Dinges, “Running Down Rebels,” Civil War Times Illustrated 19, (1980), 14. [vi] Bruce J. Dinges, “Grierson’s Raid,” Civil War Times Illustrated 34, no. 6 (1996), 50. [vii]Brown, Grierson’s Raid, 7. [viii] Johnson and Bill, Horsemen, 85. [ix] Archer Jones, Civil War Command and Strategy: The Process of Victory and Defeat (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 159. [x] Ibid., 160. [xi] Ibid., 160 [xii] Herman Hattaway, Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 131. [xiii] Brown, Grierson’s Raid, 106. [xiv] Dinges, “Raid,” 50. [xv] Hattaway, Shades of Blue and Gray, 131. [xvi]Tom Lalicki, Grierson’s Raid (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004), 8-9. [xvii] Brown, Grierson’s Raid, 8. [xviii] Johnson and Bill, Horsemen, 86. [xix] Ibid., 87. [xx] Christopher S. Dwyer, “Raiding Strategy: As applied by the Western Confederate Cavalry in the American Civil War,” The Journal of Military History 63, no. 2 (1999): 263. [xxi] Shelby Foote, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 334. [xxii] Dwyer, “Raiding Strategy,” 276.