Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

Grant was under the impression that the next campaign would be up

the valley of East Tennessee, in the direction of Virginia; and as

it was likely to be the last and most important campaign of the

war, it became necessary to set free as many of the old troops

serving along the Mississippi River as possible. This was the real

object and purpose of the Meridian campaign, and of Banks's

expedition up Red River to Shreveport during that winter.

CHAPTER XV.

MERIDIAN CAMPAIGN.

JANUARY AND FEBRUARY, 1864.

The winter of 1863-'64 opened very cold and severe; and it was

manifest after the battle of Chattanooga, November 25, 1863, and

the raising of the siege of Knoxville, December 5th, that military

operations in that quarter must in a measure cease, or be limited

to Burnside's force beyond Knoxville. On the 21st of December

General Grant had removed his headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee,

leaving General George H. Thomas at Chattanooga, in command of the

Department of the Cumberland, and of the army round about that

place; and I was at Bridgeport, with orders to distribute my troops

along the railroad from Stevenson to Decatur, Alabama, and from

Decatur up toward Nashville.

General G. M. Dodge, who was in command of the detachment of the

Sixteenth Corps, numbering about eight thousand men, had not

participated with us in the battle of Chattanooga, but had remained

at and near Pulaski, Tennessee, engaged in repairing that railroad,

as auxiliary to the main line which led from Nashville to

Stevenson, and Chattanooga. General John A. Logan had succeeded to

the command of the Fifteenth Corps, by regular appointment of the

President of the United States, and had relieved General Frank P.

Blair, who had been temporarily in command of that corps during the

Chattanooga and Knoxville movement.

At that time I was in command of the Department of the Tennessee,

which embraced substantially the territory on the east bank of the

Mississippi River, from Natchez up to the Ohio River, and thence

along the Tennessee River as high as Decatur and Bellefonte,

Alabama. General McPherson was at Vicksburg and General Hurlbut at

Memphis, and from them I had the regular reports of affairs in that

quarter of my command. The rebels still maintained a considerable

force of infantry and cavalry in the State of Mississippi,

threatening the river, whose navigation had become to us so

delicate and important a matter. Satisfied that I could check this

by one or two quick moves inland, and thereby set free a

considerable body of men held as local garrisons, I went up to

Nashville and represented the case to General Grant, who consented

that I might go down the Mississippi River, where the bulk of my

command lay, and strike a blow on the east of the river, while

General Banks from New Orleans should in like manner strike another

to the west; thus preventing any further molestation of the boats

navigating the main river, and thereby widening the gap in the

Southern Confederacy.

After having given all the necessary orders for the distribution,

during the winter months, of that part of my command which was in

Southern and Middle Tennessee, I went to Cincinnati and Lancaster,

Ohio, to spend Christmas with my family; and on my return I took

Minnie with me down to a convent at Reading, near Cincinnati, where

I left her, and took the cars for Cairo, Illinois, which I reached

January 3d, a very cold and bitter day. The ice was forming fast,

and there was great danger that the Mississippi River, would become

closed to navigation. Admiral Porter, who was at Cairo, gave me a

small gunboat (the Juliet), with which I went up to Paducah, to

inspect that place, garrisoned by a small force; commanded by

Colonel S. G. Hicks, Fortieth Illinois, who had been with me and

was severely wounded at Shiloh. Returning to Cairo, we started

down the Mississippi River, which was full of floating ice. With

the utmost difficulty we made our way through it, for hours

floating in the midst of immense cakes, that chafed and ground our

boat so that at times we were in danger of sinking. But about the

10th of January we reached Memphis, where I found General Hurlbut,

and explained to him my purpose to collect from his garrisons and

those of McPherson about twenty thousand men, with which in

February to march out from Vicksburg as far as Meridian, break up

the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and also the one leading from Vicksburg

to Selma, Alabama. I instructed him to select two good divisions,

and to be ready with them to go along. At Memphis I found

Brigadier-General W. Sooy Smith, with a force of about twentyfive

hundred cavalry, which he had by General Grant's orders brought

across from Middle Tennessee, to assist in our general purpose, as

well as to punish the rebel General Forrest, who had been most

active in harassing our garrisons in West Tennessee and

Mississippi. After staying a couple of days at Memphis, we

continued on in the gunboat Silver Cloud to Vicksburg, where I

found General McPherson, and, giving him similar orders, instructed

him to send out spies to ascertain and bring back timely

information of the strength and location of the enemy. The winter

continued so severe that the river at Vicksburg was full of

floating ice, but in the Silver Cloud we breasted it manfully, and

got back to Memphis by the 20th. A chief part of the enterprise

was to destroy the rebel cavalry commanded by General Forrest, who

were a constant threat to our railway communications in Middle

Tennessee, and I committed this task to Brigadier-General W. Sooy

Smith. General Hurlbut had in his command about seven thousand

five hundred cavalry, scattered from Columbus, Kentucky, to

Corinth, Mississippi, and we proposed to make up an aggregate

cavalry force of about seven thousand "effective," out of these and

the twenty-five hundred which General Smith had brought with him

from Middle Tennessee. With this force General Smith was ordered

to move from Memphis straight for Meridian, Mississippi, and to

start by February 1st. I explained to him personally the nature of

Forrest as a man, and of his peculiar force; told him that in his

route he was sure to encounter Forrest, who always attacked with a

vehemence for which he must be prepared, and that, after he had

repelled the first attack, he must in turn assume the most

determined offensive, overwhelm him and utterly destroy his whole

force. I knew that Forrest could not have more than four thousand

cavalry, and my own movement would give employment to every other

man of the rebel army not immediately present with him, so that he

(General Smith) might safely act on the hypothesis I have stated.

Having completed all these preparations in Memphis, being satisfied

that the cavalry force would be ready to start by the 1st of

February, and having seen General Hurlbut with his two divisions

embark in steamers for Vicksburg, I also reembarked for the same

destination on the 27th of January.

On the 1st of February we rendezvoused in Vicksburg, where I found

a spy who had been sent out two weeks before, had been to Meridian,

and brought back correct information of the state of facts in the

interior of Mississippi. Lieutenant-General (Bishop) Polk was in

chief command, with headquarters at Meridian, and had two divisions

of infantry, one of which (General Loring's) was posted at Canton,

Mississippi, the other (General French's) at Brandon. He had also

two divisions of cavalry--Armstrong's, composed of the three

brigades of Ross, Stark, and Wirt Adams, which were scattered from

the neighborhood of Yazoo City to Jackson and below; and Forrest's,

which was united, toward Memphis, with headquarters at Como.

General Polk seemed to have no suspicion of our intentions to

disturb his serenity.

Accordingly, on the morning of February 3d, we started in two

columns, each of two divisions, preceded by a light force of

cavalry, commanded by Colonel E. F. Winslow. General McPheraon

commanded the right column, and General Hurlbut the left. The

former crossed the Big Black at the railroad-bridge, and the latter

seven miles above, at Messinger's. We were lightly equipped as to

wagons, and marched without deployment straight for Meridian,

distant one hundred and fifty miles. We struck the rebel cavalry

beyond the Big Black, and pushed them pell-mell into and beyond

Jackson during the 6th. The next day we reached Brandon, and on

the 9th Morton, where we perceived signs of an infantry

concentration, but the enemy did not give us battle, and retreated

before us. The rebel cavalry were all around us, so we kept our

columns compact and offered few or no chances for their dashes. As

far as Morton we had occupied two roads, but there we were forced

into one. Toward evening of the 12th, Hurlbut's column passed

through Decatur, with orders to go into camp four miles beyond at a

creek. McPherson's head of column was some four miles behind, and

I personally detached one of Hurlbut's regiments to guard the

cross-roads at Decatur till the head of McPherson's column should

come in sight. Intending to spend the night in Decatur, I went to

a double log-house, and arranged with the lady for some supper. We

unsaddled our horses, tied them to the fence inside the yard, and,

being tired, I lay down on a bed and fell asleep. Presently I

heard shouts and hallooing, and then heard pistol-shots close to

the house. My aide, Major Audenried, called me and said we were

attacked by rebel cavalry, who were all around us. I jumped up and

inquired where was the regiment of infantry I had myself posted at

the cross-roads. He said a few moments before it had marched past

the house, following the road by which General Hurlbut had gone,

and I told him to run, overtake it, and bring it back. Meantime, I

went out into the back-yard, saw wagons passing at a run down the

road, and horsemen dashing about in a cloud of dust, firing their

pistols, their shots reaching the house in which we were.

Gathering the few orderlies and clerks that were about, I was

preparing to get into a corn-crib at the back side of the lot,

wherein to defend ourselves, when I saw Audenried coming back with

the regiment, on a run, deploying forward as they came. This

regiment soon cleared the place and drove the rebel cavalry back

toward the south, whence they had come.

It transpired that the colonel of this infantry regiment, whose

name I do not recall, had seen some officers of McPherson's staff

(among them Inspector-General Strong) coming up the road at a

gallop, raising a cloud of duet; supposing them to be the head of

McPherson's column, and being anxious to get into camp before dark,

he had called in his pickets and started down the road, leaving me

perfectly exposed. Some straggling wagons, escorted by a New

Jersey regiment, were passing at the time, and composed the rear of

Hurlbut's train. The rebel cavalry, seeing the road clear of

troops, and these wagons passing, struck them in flank, shot down

the mules of three or four wagons, broke the column, and began a

general skirmish. The escort defended their wagons as well as they

could, and thus diverted their attention; otherwise I would surely

have been captured. In a short time the head of McPherson's column

came up, went into camp, and we spent the night in Decatur.

The next day we pushed on, and on the 14th entered Meridian, the

enemy retreating before us toward Demopolis, Alabama. We at once

set to work to destroy an arsenal, immense storehouses, and the

railroad in every direction. We staid in Meridian five days,

expecting every hour to hear of General Sooy Smith, but could get

no tidings of him whatever. A large force of infantry was kept at

work all the time in breaking up the Mobile & Ohio Railroad south

and north; also the Jackson & Selma Railroad, east and west. I was

determined to damage these roads so that they could not be used

again for hostile purposes during the rest of the war. I never had

the remotest idea of going to Mobile, but had purposely given out

that idea to the people of the country, so as to deceive the enemy

and to divert their attention. Many persons still insist that,

because we did not go to Mobile on this occasion, I had failed; but

in the following letter to General Banks, of January 31st, written

from Vicksburg before starting for Meridian, it will be seen

clearly that I indicated my intention to keep up the delusion of an

attack on Mobile by land, whereas I promised him to be back to

Vicksburg by the 1st of March, so as to cooperate with him in his

contemplated attack on Shreveport:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE

VICKSBURG, January 31, 1864

Major-General N. P. BANKS, commanding Department of the Gulf, New

Orleans.

GENERAL: I received yesterday, at the hands of Captain Durham,

aide-de-camp, your letter of the 25th inst., and hasten to reply.

Captain Durham has gone to the mouth of White River, en route for

Little Rock, and the other officers who accompanied him have gone

up to Cairo, as I understand, to charter twenty-five steamboats for

the Red River trip. The Mississippi River, though low for the

season, is free of ice and in good boating order; but I understand

that Red River is still low. I had a man in from Alexandria

yesterday, who reported the falls or rapids at that place

impassable save by the smallest boats. My inland expedition is now

moving, and I will be off for Jackson and Meridian to-morrow. The

only fear I have is in the weather. All the other combinations are

good. I want to keep up the delusion of an attack on Mobile and

the Alabama River, and therefore would be obliged if you would keep

up an irritating foraging or other expedition in that direction.

My orders from General Grant will not, as yet, justify me in

embarking for Red River, though I am very anxious to move in that

direction. The moment I learned that you were preparing for it, I

sent a communication to Admiral Porter, and dispatched to General

Grant at Chattanooga, asking if he wanted me and Steele to

cooperate with you against Shreveport; and I will have his answer

in time, for you cannot do any thing till Red River has twelve feet

of water on the rapids at Alexandria. That will be from March to

June. I have lived on Red River, and know somewhat of the phases

of that stream. The expedition on Shreveport should be made

rapidly, with simultaneous movements from Little Rock on

Shreveport, from Opelousas on Alexandria, and a combined force of

gunboats and transports directly up Red River. Admiral Porter will

be able to have a splendid fleet by March 1st. I think Steele

could move with ten thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry. I

could take about ten thousand, and you could, I suppose, have the

same. Your movement from Opelousas, simultaneous with mine up the

river, would compel Dick Taylor to leave Fort De Russy (near

Marksville), and the whole combined force could appear at

Shreveport about a day appointed beforehand.

I doubt if the enemy will risk a siege at Shreveport, although I am

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