Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17, 1863: Confederate Catastrophe in Mississippi

Confederate Railroads; click on the map to enlarge it.
Much is made of the exploits of Southern cavalry during the American Civil War. The deeds of Nathan Bedford Forrest and J.E.B. Stuart have become legendary. But neither Forrest or Stuart ever succeeded in inflicting the kind of damage suffered by the Confederacy in Mississippi between August 17 and August 19, 1863.

Earlier in the sumer of 1863, William Tecumseh Sherman had driven Joseph E. Johnston's army out of Jackson, Mississippi and flattened anything of military value in the city. Included in the destruction were key railroad bridges that the Confederates were unable to repair quickly. The break in the railroad left a large amount of Confederate railroad equipment trapped north of Jackson at Grenada, Mississippi.

Early in August 1863, just as the Confederates were starting to think about how to recover the locomotives and rail cars trapped at Grenada, two separate Union cavalry forces set out to capture or destroy them. One force, sent by William T. Sherman from Vicksburg, had instructions to capture the railroad equipment for Union use. The other force, moving from the north, had orders from Stephen A. Hurlbut to destroy the trapped equipment. Hurlbut's men won the race by a few hours and the result was catastrophic for the Confederacy.

The Confederacy began the war with almost 1,200 locomotives and captured a handful from the Union early in the war, but that was it. Locomotives were too bulky to be brought through the blockade in large numbers. The Confederacy had to rely on the 1,200 locomotives it had begun the war with. On this day 150 years ago, almost all of the Confederate rolling stock trapped west of the Pearl River--locomotives and train cars--were destroyed by marauding Union cavalry. Between August 17-19, 1863, the Confederacy lost roughly 5% of its locomotives and a significant portion of its rail cars. That was 5% of all the locomotives in the entire Confederacy, lost in a single day.
LA GRANGE, August 19, 1863.

(Received Headquarters Memphis, August 19, 1863.)

The cavalry force sent from here on the 13th instant, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips, reached Grenada on the 17th instant, drove Slemons, with 2,000 men and three pieces of artillery, from the place, destroying 57 engines, upwards of 400 cars, the depot buildings, machine-shops, several blacksmith-shops, and a quantity of ordnance and commissary stores, capturing about 50 railroad men and a number of prisoners. After Colonel Phillips, with his command, had accomplished his work, Colonel Winslow appeared with a force from below. His brief report will be sent by to-day's train.


Colonel, and Chief of Cavalry.

Major-General HURLBUT.
The Confederacy's rail network had never been strong--and the loss of so many locomotives was a crippling blow. The Confederate transportation network was suffering from the blockade, had lost the inland waterways of the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers, and Union cavalry would increasingly target the Confederacy's railroads for destruction.

1 comment:

Confederate Yankee said...

Thank you for this informative article of events in the Western Theater on this day 150 yrs ago. Excellent!