Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mississippi, 1864

Dates: 3 February to 6 March, 1864


Union: Major General William Sherman, commanding the Army of the Tennessee and Brigadier General William Sooey Smith, commanding the Cavalry Division of the Department of the Mississippi.

Confederate: Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana and Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, command the cavalry corps in the same department.

Prelude: Sherman had devised a plan to destroy railroads and property in the Deep South, hampering an already dwindling capacity for the Confederacy to ship supplies and troops between the Western and Eastern theatres. It was also a goal of the Federals to seize Mobile, AL, one of the few remaining active ports available to the Confederacy. Another goal would have been to concentrate Federal striking power in order to advance deeper into the South, with Georgia as the target.

The Confederates, on the other hand, would like to delay, or even stop further Union advances into the region.

Sherman’s plan was to advance to Meridian, MS, and cut the Mobile and Ohio rail line. In the process, the Federals would capture and destroy as much material that could be of any use to the enemy. Meridian could also be used as a springboard to attack mobile. To that end, Sherman ordered Smith to meet him at Meridian.

3 February, 1864: Sherman and 20,000 soldiers leave Vicksburg, MS and head east to the state capital of Jackson.

Polk has about 20,000 available to him, but they are dispersed. It would take time to concentrate them. There is some fighting along the road to Jackson, but the Confederate defense does dot hold the Federals for very long.

5 February, 1864: Sherman enters Jackson and occupies the city for the third time in nine months.

Polk orders reinforcements from Mobile and then orders a defensive line built at Morton, on the rail line between Jackson and Meridian.

7 February, 1864: Sherman’s troops depart Jackson and head east for Meridian.

Meanwhile, Smith, who should have been raiding into Mississippi, has not even left Tennessee yet, due to floods that hampered him from concentrating his cavalry. This would put a damper in Sherman’s plans, although Sherman had no way of knowing yet.

8 February, 1864: As Sherman’s army continues their advance, Polk decides to withdraw to Meridian itself. The Union forces reach Morton.

However, the Confederates were not retreating without a fight, there is skirmishing alone the route of advance, especially at Decatur, hoping to slow Sherman down.

11 February, 1864: Smith finally leaves Memphis and heads south into Mississippi, a week later than planned.

14 February, 1864: Polk sees that he can not hold back Sherman and orders his troops to withdraw. They head into Alabama, not stopping until reaching Demopolis.

Polk is effectively out of the fight.

Later that day, Sherman’s forces arrive at Meridian. He orders the destruction of the rail station as well as hotels, hospitals, warehouses and all other property that the Confederates could still use. Then he orders his army to make camp while he waits for Smith to arrive.

16 February, 1864: Smith’s cavalry crosses the Tallahatchie River, heading southeast for Okolona. There is some skirmishing, but no serious Confederate resistance. Smith turns south on the road that would take him to Meridian.

Meanwhile, in Meridian, Sherman had deployed 10,000 as a blocking force in case Polk decides to do anything, while the rest of his army tore up some railroads. Still there is no sign of Smith and the cavalry.

20 February, 1864: Sherman decides that he can no longer wait for Smith to arrive and orders his army to march back to Vicksburg. Any further advance east would have to wait for now.

21 February, 1864: Smith’s cavalry reaches West Point, where they find Forrest’s cavalry dug in. Smith orders an assault, which drives the Confederates through the town itself, then something extraordinary happened. Smith loses his nerve, thinking that the Confederates were there in overwhelming numbers. Actually, he was facing part of one regiment and Forrest’s escort. Smith orders a withdrawal back to Okolona. Forrest orders his troopers to join him and begin a pursuit of the Federals.

22 February, 1864: As Sherman’s army march to the west, he orders his small detachment of cavalry, under Colonel Edward Winslow, to ride north and find out where Smith was.

At the same time, Smith was fighting a rearguard action against Forrest, who has all of his cavalry, about 2500, in hot pursuit. Despite valiant action be units such as the 4th MO Cavalry, Forrest could not be held back and Smith begins a retreat back to Memphis, losing some of his cannon in the process.

25 February, 1864: Winslow rejoins Sherman at Canton, near Vicksburg, and reports that he failed to locate Smith.

26 February, 1864: Sherman’s army arrives back at Vicksburg.

27 February, 1864: Smith’s cavalry arrives back at Memphis.

Smith would resign his commission on 15 July, 1864, citing ill health and returned to his pre-war occupation of engineering.

Sherman would have to go back to the drawing board.

During this time there was another operation worth mentioning.

1 February, 1864: An expedition under the command of Colonel J.H. Coates departs Vicksburg and heads north up the Yazoo River to Yazoo City.

5 March, 1864: Confederate troops, under the command of Brigadier General Lawrence Ross engage Coates’ forces near Yazoo Coty.

6 March, 1864: Coates orders hit troops back to Vicksburg.

The Federals are held for now, but that is only a temporary situation.

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