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The Horse Soldiers’ Raid

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The Horse Soldiers’ Raid
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Author(s): R. W. Surby
Date Published: 2013/01
Page Count: 152
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-019-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-018-5

The greatest Union cavalry raid of the Civil War

During the American Civil War in 1863, Union army commander, General U. S. Grant ordered Colonel Benjamin Grierson, of the 6th Illinois Cavalry, to embark on a raid into and through Confederate held territory to disrupt the enemy’s lines of communication. Grierson departed from La Grange, Tennessee in command of 1,700 men—a brigade of the 6th and 7th Illinois and 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments. In the course of a 17 day, 800 mile march Grierson’s command fought numerous engagements, disabled two railroads, destroyed thousands of dollars-worth of vital war material and took both horses and prisoners before arriving in Baton Rouge. More importantly the raid broke lines of communication between the Confederate command of the eastern theatre and Vicksburg which diverted enemy attention form Grant’s main thrust. Union general, W. T. Sherman declared this achievement, ‘the most brilliant expedition of the war,’ and the following month Grierson was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. Modern readers who are not completely unfamiliar with the history of the raid may recognise that it was upon these actual events that John Ford’s famous film starring John Wayne, ‘The Horse Soldiers,’ is based. This book was written by a soldier who served under Grierson and so benefits from the authenticity of a first hand account. This text was originally published with the unrelated recollections of a Union army scout, these have been removed from this edition (but are published separately by Leonaur) to allow greater focus on these pivotal events.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

All was now ready, and Mr. Mosby made his appearance at the fence, jumped over, and I introduced them. The captain occupying the advance the lawyer had no opportunity of seeing the column. I proceeded to the front, leaving the captain and lawyer riding side by side, on intimate terms. We were now within twelve miles of Union Church, and it was of the utmost importance that Colonel Grierson should be informed, at all hazards, of the designs of the enemy. I had gone about two miles when I met two patrols; unarmed them, turning them out on one side of the road, in order that Mr. Mosby should not see them near enough to recognize their features or dress.<br>
As we continued to move on, tired and hungry, I thought someone might try and reach Colonel Grierson before three o’clock; I dropped back so as to ride in company with Mr. Mosby, and inquired of him, where he thought Colonel Adams would stop to feed and prepare before making the attack, and if it was a possible thing for any person to get around his camp without being discovered, as my design was to reach as near the “Yanks” as possible and find out their position, which would be a great advantage to us. Mr. Mosby thought Colonel Adams would feed near the Fayette road on a plantation; that it was impossible to get around Colonel Adams’ camp and return in time, owing to the rugged state of the country; “But,” continued he, “I am well acquainted with Colonel Adams, and I will go with you, and can pass you through his lines, then you can have a good road to proceed on.”<br>
I then inquired how far it was to where the colonel would camp, Mr. Mosby replied about four miles. It was near one o’clock, p.m. I told Mr. Mosby I would consider his proposition, and if I concluded to go through Colonel Adams’ camp I would return for him. I started ahead, accompanied by Stedman. We had now made up our minds to go ahead and see if we could obtain a view of the rebel camp, and if possible reach Colonel Grierson.<br>
I bid some of my comrades goodbye, telling them that I did not know whether ever I would see them again or not. We started alone; the road was shaded—the overhanging trees on either side, which, together with the darkness of the night, made it very lonely. I began to reflect; what, if we should be detected, our fate was certain death—we would be treated as spies. Then imagination pictured home with all its inducements, and I could see many sad countenances and bitter tears. I thought of all this; what if we should be successful in the attempt, might we not be the instrument of saving the lives of many brave comrades, (we said we would go, and go we must,) and I prayed in my heart that God would guide us safely through.<br>
We had advanced to within one half mile of the supposed camp ground, when I could distinctly hear somebody talking and laughing; we came to a halt, and when near enough I could see the figures of the men mounted upon horses; I allowed them to come within about twenty-five yards, when I cried halt, which sound came rather unexpected to them, and at first they did not know whither to turn and run or not, but raising their guns I could distinctly hear the sharp click of the hammers as they cocked their pieces. Our revolvers were grasped in our right hands ready for instant use. (a precaution we always used after night.) I immediately inquired “who comes there?” One of them answered, “friends,” I then said, “advance one and give the countersign.”<br>
They answered they had no countersign, at the same time one of them advanced, and as he came up, inquired who I was, and if I was alone. By this time I could see my man plain enough to feel satisfied that he was a Confederate soldier. I answered him that I was not alone, that the column would be here in a few minutes, that we had been travelling all day and that night to overtake Colonel Adams and reinforce him; “all right,” says he, “we belong to old Wirt Adams’ cavalry, and tomorrow we intend to give the ‘Yanks’ h—l.” By this time the other two came up and many questions were asked as to the command we belonged to, all of which we answered satisfactorily. They informed me that the “Yanks” had a fight going into Union Church last evening, and that Colonel Adams had gone to Fayette there to be reinforced by troops from the river, and they intended to ambush the “Yanks” in the morning between Fayette and Union Church; that the “Yanks” intended to make Natches but would get where the Fayette road turned off to notify forces coming up where they could join Colonel Adams.<br>
This was just what I wanted to know and I felt really good. I knew the column would soon be along, and telling my friends that I would go back and meet the advance, and tell them of their presence, so that no accident would occur. This looked plausible enough, and without any objections they permitted me to depart. I then procured two men from one of the company’s, proceeded ahead, and without any trouble took my three friends in “out of the wet”—two of them were lieutenants, they had left their post and were going to a plantation about a mile from there to visit an old acquaintance. They were taken a few yards into the timber to prevent Mr. Mosby seeing them, fearing that he would know them. As soon as the head of the column had passed the prisoners were turned over to company M. I started forward and as I passed Mr. Mosby he inquired who those men were that we had taken; I told him they were “Yanks” and had been straggling from their command, probably to plunder, and had lost their way. He allowed it was a capital idea, and hoped we would shoot them, that they should not be permitted to live.