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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Twenty-Six

The Illinois horsemen broke camp at about 6:00am, Sunday, 26 April, 1863. They paused long enough in Raleigh, Mississippi to capture the local sheriff and seize $3,000 in Confederate currency. It began to rain heavily in the afternoon, but Colonel Grierson drove his men on until they had reached the Strong River, outside of Westville, 40 road miles from their starting point that day.
As the rest of the command tried to find a dry spot to make camp, 4 companies were mounted on the freshest horses available and sent off into the wet dark. The man leading this group might have led the Grierson raid if Grierson had not made it back in time - 31 year old lawyer Colonel Edward Prince. His orders were to capture and hold the ferry across the Pearl River.  But for Colonel Grierson, the question,  now that the Vicksburg Jackson railroad had been hit hard, was where to go next.
It seems obvious to me that it was obvious to Colonel Benjamin Harrison Grierson that Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was intending to launch a major assault against Vicksburg before the end of April. If not now, why the rush? Grierson was urgently recalled from leave in Illinois to lead the raid, arriving less then 24 hours before it was launched. And why send Grierson down the rebel right flank, unless Grant was intending on attacking the rebel left flank, probably in the region of Grand Gulf? So,  although no explicit orders had been issued, it seems obvious to me that Grierson was riding to meet Grant somewhere in the vicinity of Grand Gulf.
After a few hours sleep, Grierson got his weary men and horses moving again about midnight, Monday, 27 April. They crossed the Strong River bridge, which they burned behind them. Just about dawn, they arrived at the Pearl River. Although crossing the captured ferry took several hours, once again Grierson sent Colonel Prince ahead, this time to Hazelhurst. As they approached that village, on the north/south New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern railroad, Prince decided on new bit of chicanery. He wrote out a dispatch addressed to General Pemberton in Jackson, 40 miles to the north. In it he claimed that the Pearl River ferry had been destroyed before the Yankees had arrived, and that they were last seen heading northeast, as if intending on hitting the Southern Railroad again, before joining with the Yankees out of Greenville.
The message was delivered by two "scouts" dressed in stolen uniforms, and they watched as it was telegraphed to Pemberton. Shortly there after, Colonel Prince's tiny command captured the station, and almost took another train as well. However the engineer spotted a blue clad trooper and was able to reverse his engine back toward Jackson. And as it left the station, so did Colonel Prince's clever deception plan. 
He was forced to satisfy himself with burning a box car filled with artillery shells. And once again the sound of exploding shells forced the rest of Grierson's command to race into town, only to discover there was no battle. So the Yankees spent the rest of the day, tearing up track, burning the cross ties to heat the rails and bend them until they were useless.
Having finally received confirmation of Grierson's location from the observant engineer, Pemberton ordered the 6,500 infantrymen of General William Wing Loring's division now the rail line to Edward's Station to defend the all important Southern Railroad, and moved to encircle the Yankees with what little cavalry he had. The regiment under 49 year old lawyer and state representative Colonel William Wirt Adams (above)  from Grand Gulf and instructed to close in from the west. 
They were joined by 2 irregular units - Porter's Partisans' marching from Jackson under Captain W.W. Porter, and coming in from the south was the First Tennessee Rangers under 42 year old Memphis lawyer, Colonel Robert Vinkler Richardson. And 28 year old Ohio native Colonel Clark Russell Barteau was ordered to slam the back door on Grierson by moving his 22nd Tennessee regiment of cavalry to Hazelhurst.
Colonel Grierson (above, center) did not know the trap was closing, but did not wait to find out. At 6:00am, Tuesday, 28 April his men and their weary mounts hit the roads again. Thankfully the roads were now dry, and the units made good time. 
About four hours later the Colonel dispatched 4 more companies of the 7th Illinois south to strike the New Orleans, Jackson railroad again, again burning rail cars, the depot and a bridge in the lumber town of Bahala, known locally "for the number and size of its saloons".  Meanwhile Grierson's command continued south west, to the village of Union Church - so named because when the village was founded around 1805, the few Methodists had to worship in union with the majority Presbyterians.
Grierson and his 950 troopers were now within 60 miles of Grand Gulf. The Colonel could expect to hear of Grant's crossing the Mississippi somewhere close to that landing, today or tomorrow, or maybe the day after. But Grierson's union with Grant was not to be. About 1:00am, on the morning of Wednesday, 29 April, two "scouts" screening the 4 companies of the 7th returning from their raid stumbled into pickets for Wirt Adam's 400 troopers and militia,with artillery support, marching out from Grand Gulf. Thinking they were speaking with fellow rebels, the pickets revealed they were expecting to ambush the damn Yankees come morning, outside of Union Church.
At 6:00am that morning, Grierson rode out of Union Church headed west, as expected. But less than a mile later the majority of the command suddenly took a side road eastward, while leaving 4 companies at the cross roads, skirmishing with any curious rebels who got too close. It was hours before Wirt Adams pressed the skirmishes hard enough that they melted away into the Mississippi haze. Realizing at last that the Yankees had dodged his trap, an infuriated Adams gathered his men and set off in pursuit.
The morning was infuriating for both sides. As Grierson's men road east toward Brookhaven, Mississippi, they could hear behind them the thundering of Admiral Porter's ironclad's pounding the forts at Grand Gulf. The junction, and security, seemed so close. And the twisting back roads of Mississippi confused the troopers so much that Corporal Sudby would later write, " I do not think we missed traveling toward any point of the compass."
That afternoon Grierson's men galloped into a surprised railroad town of Brookhaven, destroying another dozen freight cars filled with arms and ammunition, tearing up more track, burning another bridge and capturing and paroling another 200 soldiers, either wounded home on leave, or on recruiting duty. But there was a surprise here as well - hundreds of able bodied men seeking a parole of their own, which would exempt them from being drafted in the Confederate army until exchanged for civilians in northern states. In fact the people of Brookhaven were so friendly, Grierson camped there for the night, completing another 40 mile day.
Two miles south down the New Orleans, Jackson rail line was the little town of Bogue Chitto, which Colonel Grierson's raiders captured early on the Thursday morning of 30 April. They burned 25 more box cars and destroyed more track. And here once again, deep in Mississippi, they found strong pro union sentiment. By nightfall the exhausted troopers had reached Summit, Mississippi.
Nine hours behind the Yankees were the First Tennessee Rangers under Colonel Richardson. Sensing they were gaining, Richardson pushed his men to march through the night. Much closer that evening, just 5 miles to the west of Grierson, were the 400 troopers under Colonel Wirt Adams. Both Richardson and Adams planned to attack the Yankees 22 miles further south, the next stop on the New Orleans rail line - a little village of 400 just north of the Louisiana border, Osyka, Mississippi.
The Louisiana Legion under 50 year old lawyer, Colonel William R. Miles, marching northeast out of Port Hudson, was heading for the same location. And 39 year old Lieutenant Colonel George Gnatt, leading the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion, was also converging to the same spot. Like a magnet the 950 troopers of the 6th and 7th Volunteer Cavalry Regiments were drawing every rebel cavalry unit in Mississippi toward the little railroad town of Osyka.
When they stopped for the night of Thursday, 30 April, 1863, 15 miles south of Summit Mississippi, and 7 miles north of Osyka, Colonel Grierson (above) decided that since he had not yet heard of Grant's army crossing the river, come morning - Friday, 1 May, 1863, he would head for the Federal lines outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 100 miles to the southwest.
Of course, by that time,  Grant was already on the Vicksburg side of the Mississippi River.
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