On April 17, 1863, 1,700 union cavalry troopers — three regiments — commanded by Col. Benjamin Grierson, rode out of LaGrange, Tenn. on an historic raid through the heart of Mississippi.
The troopers tore up railroads, destroyed locomotives, freed slaves, burned storehouses, burned bridges and generally disrupted activities along their entire 600-mile route.
They suffered very few casualties: Three killed, seven wounded and nine missing. Five men, wounded or too sick to continue, had to be left behind.
The true benefit of the raid, though, was not the damage they inflicted, but the confusion they caused in the Confederate high command. The rebel commander in the state, Gen. John C. Pemberton, had too few cavalry to both try to run down Grierson and to keep an eye on what Grant was doing along the Mississippi as he moved against Vicksburg.
Theater commander Gen. Joseph Johnston had pulled much of Pemberton’s cavalry up to Tennessee, or to Alabama, where Nathan Bedford Forrest had stopped a Union expedition by Col. Abel Streight.
Between Grierson’s raid and a feint by Gen. William T. Sherman up the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, the Confederates were unable to respond effectively and Grant crossed the Mississippi River unmolested at Bruinsburg and begin his move into central Mississippi, from where he could threaten Vicksburg from the east.
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