Roughshod Through Dixie: Grierson’s Raid, 1863
by Mark Lardas, Osprey, 2010, $18.95
THE UNION CAVALRY IN THE Eastern Theater spent most of the war trying to overcome the shadow cast by such vaunted Confederate cavaliers as J.E.B. Stuart, Wade Hampton and John Mosby. In Roughshod Through Dixie, part of Osprey Publishing’s “Raids” series, Mark Lardas argues that the war’s most important cavalry raid actually took place in the West and was led, ironically, by a man who distrusted horses: Union Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who had been kicked in the face by one as a child.
In 16 days, Grierson’s force of 1,750 troopers rode some 600 miles through Mississippi, destroying 50 to 60 miles of railroad tracks, cutting telegraph lines and liberating 1,000 slaves. By the time Grierson reached Baton Rouge, La., he had 800 more horses than he started with. The raid also drew the attention of thousands of Confederate troops away from Ulysses Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, which was maneuvering to approach the port from the southeast. Lardas suggests that Grierson’s raid may well have contributed to Grant’s risky but ultimately successful gambit.
Following that raid, which Lardas dissects in fine detail, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks would not let Grierson rejoin Grant for the duration of the Vicksburg Campaign, instead keeping him with the Army of the Gulf until Port Hudson fell in July 1863. Arguably the war’s most successful cavalry raider, Grierson is less well remembered than a fellow Union officer with a rather spottier record: George Armstrong Custer.
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.