The war is not going well for the Union army. In the east, the Army of the Potomac is dealt one humiliating loss after another at the hands of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In the west, Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s push down the Mississippi valley has stalled at the port city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Citizens in the North are growing weary of war and believe that victory is no longer possible. What the country needs is a morale boost. In April, 1863, they get it through one of the most daring feats ever devised.
According to President Abraham Lincoln, “Vicksburg is the key…The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” Grant’s mission is to capture the fortified city. However, Confederate troops in Mississippi, led by General John Pemberton, are making this nearly impossible to accomplish. A diversion is needed; enter Colonel Benjamin Grierson and the cavalry regiments of the 6th and 7th Illinois, and the 2nd Iowa. Their secret mission is to ride straight through the heart of Mississippi, tearing up railroads, cutting telegraph wires, and generally making themselves a nuisance to the Rebel military. For the next sixteen days, Grierson and his men do just that. Through good fortune and a number of clever, misleading tricks, Grierson manages to wreak havoc up and down the state while avoiding capture by Confederate troops.
The diversion is going well…maybe a little too well. General Pemberton soon forgets about Grant and Vicksburg, and instead focuses on catching the illusive cavalry troops. Will Grierson and his raiders be able to outwit the growing number of Rebels hunting them down? Will his bag of tricks hold out until they cross into Union-occupied Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Does the raid buy Grant enough time to prepare his troops for the march on Vicksburg? You could look up the answer in a dusty old textbook or on the internet, or you can read the exciting and entertaining Grierson’s Raid: a Daring Cavalry Strike through the Heart of the Confederacy by Tom Lalicki.