Here is a look at what was happening in the Civil War in mid-April 1863. But first, let’s look at how clothing gives us insight into the differences between eastern and western US commanders this year.
Clothes Make The . . . Spy
Benedict Arnold was a traitor because he attempted to hand over West Point (which was a very important fort back then, not a military academy) to the British. Did you know that during this episode the Americans hanged a British general, shocking the Western world?
General John André was the go-between between Arnold, who was the new US commander of West Point, and the British commander-in-chief General Henry Clinton. Circumstances forced André to change into civilian clothes as he headed back to British lines with the plans to West Point, and he was caught.
Back then, just as during the Civil War, captured officers were treated differently from those in the ranks. When it became clear that he was to be executed, André requested a firing squad. Instead, because he had gone behind enemy lines in civilian clothes, he received the less honorable punishment and was hung as a spy.
The British never forgot, and in 1821, his body was exhumed, taken to Britain and buried in the Heroes Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Forty-one years later, in 1862, a band of civilians and volunteer US soldiers raided Georgia in what has become known as the Great Locomotive Chase.
They did a lot of damage but were caught and some of the soldiers were tried as spies because they wore civilian clothes during the raid. Six of the soldiers were hung (as was Andrews, who was a civilian) – those six men later became the first US soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor.
The fates of both General André and the military participants in Andrews Raid must have been on the minds of US Colonel Abel Streight’s superiors when they turned down his request for his men to wear civilian clothes during their raid across northern Alabama and into Georgia.
However, another US raider, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, approved the formation of an 8-man volunteer squad of scouts, informally known as the “Butternut Guerrillas.” They dressed as civilians, carried local firearms and were key to the success of Grierson’s Mississippi raid. (14)
Grierson wasn’t a Westerner but his commander, General Grant, was. I wonder if Grierson approved the “Butternut Guerrillas,” not so much because he didn’t know US decision-makers in the eastern theater had turned down such a request, but because he knew General Grant would have no problem with it.
This close to the frontier, perhaps, it was more a matter of doing what worked rather than moving through approved organizational channels.
Military events: Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: General Dodge and Colonel Streight are proceeding on foot from Bear Creek, Mississippi, to Tuscumbia, Alabama, harassed along the way by Confederate cavalry under Colonel Roddey. (19)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: Six steamboats and 12 barges, all loaded with supplies for General Grant’s army near New Carthage, run the Vicksburg batteries. One steamboat is sunk, one disabled and another heavily damaged but the rest get through. (8)
Grierson’s Raid: Grierson’s main force is in a swamp near Starksville. The “Butternut Guerrillas” set out to gather intelligence locally. Grierson sends sends a battalion to Starkville on a diversionary raid overnight to capture a leather factory filled with boots, hats, saddles and tack ready to ship to Vicksburg. Meanwhile, US Col. Hatch and his regiment are far away by now, still providing their useful diversion, racing across northern Mississippi towards US lines in Tennessee and followed by CS Col. Barteau’s cavalry and a growing number of Confederate forces. Hatch and his men burn bridges and take horses along the way, all the while being joined by escaping slaves. (14)
The Starkville raiders return and Grierson’s main force starts out again for Louisville, Mississippi, after a company is sent out to Macon, Mississippi, to cut the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and telegraph. Two more volunteers are sent ahead to Louisville to take the town and keep people there from spreading word of the approach of US troops.
Most of the day’s first 28 miles of travel is through the Noxubee River swamplands, with the artillery broken down and carried by horseback. Grierson rides through Louisville at dusk and continues on another 10 miles before camping for the night on dry ground at Estes Plantation. They have traveled 50 miles today and are only 40 miles from their goal: the railroad at Newton Station.
By now, General Pemberton in Vicksburg is aware that a raid is ongoing but still doesn’t know its objective. Pemberton mobilizes cavalry along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the vicinity, and sends reserve troops to Meridian. This order clears the railroad of Confederate troops from Jackson to Meridian.
Military events: Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: At Spring Hill, Tennessee, CS General Bragg orders General Nathan Bedford Forrest to take his brigade to Decatur, Alabama, to help Colonel Roddey deal with General Dodge and Colonel Streight’s roughly 12,200-man force (some 10,000 mostly infantry and artillery under Dodge and 2200 cavalry under Streight). Forrest immediate sends 600 men to meet Roddey four miles east of Tuscumbia. They will serve as skirmishers while the bulk of Forrest’s brigade mobilizes. (4, 22)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: Grierson’s Raid: At 8 a.m., the two US troopers sent to Louisville reach Macon where they are stopped by a picket. They fool the picket but learn that there are three Confederate regiments in Macon and so are unable to cut the telegraph there. The company Grierson sent has also made the same discovery and turns around.
Meanwhile, the main column of US raiders nears the Pearl River, which is too deep to ford. The “Butternut Guerrillas” chase off a group of men who are preparing to destroy the bridge. Some of those men head for Philadelphia, Mississippi, Grierson’s next target, and when the raiders approach that town, they’re met with snipers along the way and militia blocking the road, organized by the county judge. This is dispersed and Philadelphia is occupied. Grierson tells the citizens they are only going to destroy Confederate government property, and he leaves a rear guard to keep word from spreading. The raiders camp a few miles from Philadelphia but leave at 10 p.m. and ride through the night. Scouts are sent ahead to take Decatur and see how things are in Newton Station. (14)
Virginia operations/Army of the Potomac: General Lee’s army is entrenched in a 25-mile line south of Fredericksburg, and General Hooker has come up with an intricate strategy to force the Confederates out of position and onto favorable ground. Weather has been delaying the operation, but now three US Army corps are secretly to march up the north bank of the Rappahannock, cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers and attack the Confederate rear in the next week. Two other Union Corps will cross the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg, drawing Lee’s attention. US cavalry will raid supply and communication lines to the south. (17)
Military events: Missouri operations/Marmaduke’s Second Raid: As CS General John Marmaduke masses his 5,000-man cavalry division in the area, US General John McNeil leads his troops from Bloomfield to well-fortified Cape Girardeau to take a defensive position. (15)
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: General Dodge and Colonel Streight reach Tuscumbia. The plan is for Dodge to head north, screening Streight’s men from Forrest’s and Roddey’s cavalry, with the two forces meeting again at Moulton, Alabama. Meanwhile, the rest of Forrest’s brigade leaves Tennessee, Alabama bound. (19)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: General Grant reconnoiters Grand Gulf, Mississippi. (8)
Grierson’s Raid: The raiders capture Newton Station, destroying two trains (one loaded with ammunition), a warehouse, the railroad depot and facilities and telegraph equipment. They rip up and bend rails in Newton, as well as destroying three bridges and several hundred feet of trestle and track east and west of Newton. In the afternoon, the Federals start their escape, heading south (knowing that the Confederates will be looking for them to the north). From now until the end of their mission, escaped slaves will join them along the way. Grierson camps for the night 12 miles from Newton Station, at the Bender Plantation. (14)
Battles: Fighting reported “in Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory; Greenland Gap, West Virginia, and Webber’s Falls, Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma).” (16, including quote)
Military events: Missouri operations/Marmaduke’s Raid: Two Confederate brigades arrive and demand the surrender of Cape Girardeau, but US General McNeil refuses and deploys his men for battle. (15)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: Grierson’s Raid: Grierson and his men take it easy today, traveling “only” 17 miles. Meanwhile, General Pemberton finally hears of the raid on Starksville, the siting of Yankee cavalry at Macon and elsewhere, and worst of all, the destruction of Newton Station. Barteau also has realized that he was chasing a decoy force. Pemberton changes his focus from Grant to Grierson and deploys forces to try to catch the raiders. (14)
Battles: Missouri operations/Marmaduke’s Second Raid: The battle of Cape Girardeau. (Source 15 below has the most detailed information I could find.)
Off the coast of the Brazilian state of Natal, the CSS Alabama captures and burns the steamer Dorcas Prince and its cargo of coal. (23)
Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: Streight leaves Tuscumbia for Moulton, but a heavy rainstorm forces him instead to stop at Mount Hope, where he is told that there is no need for them to meet up again. Dodge has driven Forrest north and Streight and his raiders may now continue on. (19) Dodge is mistaken. Forrest’s main force hasn’t even reached the area yet, but soon will. (4)
Military events: Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: Grierson’s Raid: Hearing reports that Grant is preparing to assault Grand Gulf, Mississippi, Grierson heads west after breaking camp at 6 a.m., reaching (appropriately) Westville after dark, and continuing on for two more miles to spend the night at the Williams Plantation. Mr. Williams, a Confederate soldier on leave and at home, is captured and paroled.
Meanwhile, what with Grierson’s main and diversionary forces, it seems to General Pemberton that much of Mississippi is alive with US cavalry. He sends out troops to watch the rail lines and a cavalry unit to cover Claiborne and Jefferson counties in case the Yankees are headed for the Mississippi. Pemberton also sends a telegraph to commander-in-chief General Johnston, at Jackson, requesting Van Dorn’s cavalry, but none are available: they’re raiding in Tennessee or chasing Colonel Streight and his men in Alabama. (14)
Military events: Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: Streight reaches Mount Hope, Alabama. (Wikipedia) General Forrest and his brigade arrive at Browns Ferry. Leaving two regiments and a section of artillery near Florence to stop any US troop movement across the river, crossing the Tennessee on two steamboats. They ride to Courtland, some 12 miles from the river and 20 miles west of Decatur, where they are told that Streight’s force is at the Town Creek, and Colonel Roddey’s force is resisting them. Forrest races on and establishes his headquarters on the Tuscumbia Road closer to Roddey, who soon joins him. They make plans through the night, and Forrest sends word to the troops he left near Florence to head west as far as Bainbridge and then start firing artillery and pretending they’re going to cross the river and attack the Union rear. (4)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: General Grant asks General Sherman to make a diversion north of Vicksburg by attacking Haynes Bluff on the Yazoo River. (8, 20)
Grierson’s Raid: The US troops seize a ferry on the Pearl River and start crossing – they can only take 24 horses over at a time. Meanwhile, Grierson sends two Butternut Guerrillas ahead to Hazelhurst. The two men ride into town with the news that the Yankees are trapped east of the Pearl River. Once this news is telegraphed to Pemberton, and after leaving town, they cut the telegraph line so no updates can be sent. Once Grierson reaches Hazelhurst, he attacks the railroad depot there, capturing a trainload of ammunition, but misses another train when the engineer, sensing something wrong, backs out of the station faster than the cavalry can pursue him. That engineer sends word to Pemberton that Hazelhurst is in US hands.
Pemberton, knowing that if Big Black Bridge is burned, they can’t hold Vicksburg, orders reinforcements there. He also orders Col. Barteau’s cavalry to Hazelhurst and tells General Franklin Gardner at Port Hudson to intercept Grierson. Those US troops, in the meantime, head west to Gallatin and then southwest after that, camping 4 miles southwest of Gallatin at Thompson’s Plantation. (14)
Virginia operations/Army of the Potomac: US President Lincoln sends General Hooker a brief telegram at 3:30 p.m.: “How does it look now?” Hooker replies at 5 p.m.: “I am not sufficiently advanced to give an opinion. We are busy. Will tell you all as soon as I can, and have it satisfactory.” (5)
Military events: Chattanooga/Alabama/Georgia operations: Streight’s Raid: Streight reaches Moulton, Alabama. (Wikipedia) It’s difficult to easily find online sources for this raid, but according to this source, US troops this day set fire to multiple structures in LaGrange, Alabama. The route through northern Alabama was chosen because it had a fair number of Union supporters, but there probably were also many incidents like that in LaGrange, at least in Confederate strongholds.
Meanwhile, though it’s also a little difficult to follow the precise days during this period when events took place, somewhere around this time General Forrest engages General Dodge’s forces. Then around dark on the 28th, Forrest is told of Streight’s presence in Mount Hope and Moulton. Forrest orders some of his men to keep Dodge busy both at Town Creek and (for real now) in the Union rear, using artillery there in such a way as to give the Yankees the impression of a very large Confederate force nearby. Forrest stays between Dodge’s line and Decatur to await developments. Dodge eventually turns back toward Mississippi, leaving Forrest free to go after Streight. (4, 21, 22)
Mississippi/Vicksburg operations: Grierson’s Raid: Soon after breaking camp at 6 a.m., Grierson sends out a battalion to strike the New Orleans railroad at Byhalia, south of Hazelhurst, as a diversion, while the main force heads for Union Church.
While stopped for lunch two miles north of town, they are fired on by advance elements of Confederate cavalry that has been searching for them. It turns into a running skirmish. Grierson and his men counterattack, push the cavalry through Union Church and bivouac that night in the town. Meanwhile, on their way back from destroying the railroad at Byhalia, the US battalion gets good intelligence on the number of cavalry facing Grierson – about 500 troopers and six artillery pieces – and their plan to ambush Grierson on the route he has planned to travel the next day.
Pemberton has learned that Grierson is heading west and warns General John Bowen in Grand Gulf to be on the lookout for the Yankee cavalry.
Bowen, however, has other things on his mind: General Grant is loading up troops at Hard Times, Louisiana, for a river crossing, and he’s coming Bowen’s way. (14)
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(7) Grierson’s Raid. (Wikipedia)
(8) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(9)”The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (Vol. II), Jefferson Davis.
(10) The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: The Story of America’s Most Reviled President, Larry Tagg.
(12) Conquest of the Lower Mississippi. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(13) Under Siege: Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg, Andrea Warren (2009)
(14) Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson’s Raid 1863. Mark Lardas (2010).
(17) Inside the Army of the Potomac, the Civil War Experience of Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, edited by J. Gregory Acken (1998).
(18) Mosby Heritage Area Association: Chronology of Mosby’s Life.
(19) Streight’s Raid, Encylopedia of Alabama.
(20) Battle of Vicksburg. Civil War Home.
(22) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(23) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.
(24) A. Lincoln, A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr. (2009)
(25) The Siege of Suffolk. Wikipedia.
(26) Grierson’s Raid. Newton County, Mississippi, Historical and Geneological Society.
Categories: American Civil War