Gobbled Up on Streight's Raid

    In April 1863, two separate but supporting cavalry raids departed from Union lines in Tennessee with the aim of raising havoc throughout the South. In western Tennessee, Colonel Benjamin Grierson led his troopers on a successful campaign through Mississippi and Louisiana before arriving back within Federal lines near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Grierson's 600-mile raid was a success in that it diverted an entire division of Confederate troops away from the Vicksburg defenses at the time that General U.S. Grant was making his landing on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.

    In central Tennessee, the Army of the Cumberland was not yet ready to embark on its campaign, but a hastily organized raid of mounted infantry set out on April 27, 1863 from Tuscumbia, Alabama tasked with cutting the Western & Atlantic Railroad between Atlanta and Chattanooga. This vital railroad had already been unsuccessfully raided once during Andrews' Raid in April 1862, but Colonel Abel D. Streight of the 51st Indiana convinced General James A. Garfield (Rosecrans' chief of staff) that with a large enough mounted force, he could break Bragg's supply line. 

    "This was the most senseless thing I saw done during the war to waste men and material," complained the army's cavalry chief General David S. Stanley. "Streight had no military ability, nor could he learn anything, yet he persuaded Rosecrans that with four regiments of mounted infantry, one could ride through the Confederacy, burn all their bridges, destroy their foundries, and then surrender- the immense damage done compensating for the loss of four regiments, horses, and equipment. Never had such a fool's plan been approved by a general commanding an army, but through Garfield, it was approved, and Streight set out. Indeed, Streight's raid was a contemptible fizzle from beginning to end." 

    Streight received permission to give it a go, but was quickly disappointed when he learned that his men would be mounted on mules instead of horses. Streight's force consisted of four infantry regiments (51st and 73rd Indiana, 3rd Ohio, and 80th Illinois) along with two companies of the 1st Alabama [Union] Cavalry. Unlike Grierson's raid, Streight's raid would end in disaster as the entire command was surrendered to General Nathan Bedford Forrest at Cedar Bluff, Alabama on May 3, 1863. Forrest used a clever "bluff" to trick Colonel Streight into surrendering his superior force of 1,500 men to Forrest's command of roughly 500 men. Streight was incensed once he learned the truth, but the deed was done and Streight went off to Libby Prison where after a ten-month sojourn at the "Libby Hotel," he escaped on February 9, 1864 and made it back to Federal lines. 

   General Forrest paroled the enlisted men of Streight's command and by the end of May, the enlisted men had arrived at Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio to await exchange. Color sergeant Perry C. Hagerty of Co. D of the 73rd Indiana shared his private journal with a reporter from the Hancock Democrat of Greenfield, Indiana who published Hagerty's reminiscences of the raid in their May 28, 1863 issue. 

Streight's Raid historical marker in northern Alabama. Sergeant Frank Maxwell of the 80th Illinois recalled that during the eleven day raid "we drew about 17 small crackers per man and about three pounds of meat for 200 men. We were robbed of everything we had except just what we had on our backs. They took watches and money from some of the men and even pocket knives and combs. We were surrendered on the condition that we would keep all private property but after Forrest turned us over to Colonel Caldwell, provost marshal of Rome, they stripped us of everything." 

    The expedition did not number over 1,590 men among which were two companies of cavalry. At one o'clock on the morning of April 27th, Colonel Streight and his force left Tuscumbia in a southeasterly direction. The road was very bad and it was only with great difficulty that they were able to proceed. The mules being none of the best, were very troublesome, often throwing their riders which was certainly a serious annoyance if nothing more. On the way they saw a few Rebels who they captured without much trouble and among the number was a major. 

    At Mount Hope, a small place near the western border of Lawrence County and about 35 miles from Tuscumbia, they confiscated a large number of horses and mules together with a large quantity of meat belonging to the Rebels which lasted our men several days. At this place, they encamped for the night much to the discomfiture of a Rebel woman who endeavored to give the boys the skedaddling fever by blowing a horn to call Van Dorn's forces for stealing her chickens. The old woman finding that her labor did not produce the effect she desired, she soon quieted down and behaved herself in a becoming manner. During the night, our pickets captured several Rebels who were well-mounted and armed. 

    On the morning of the 28th, Colonel Streight detailed three companies from the 73rd Indiana to proceed on a scouting expedition which they did with successful results. They were only gone during the forenoon but they obtained a large number of superior horses and mules, and also destroyed an army train of twelve wagons which was loaded with meat. When these companies returned to the main command, the line of march was taken up but only an advance of ten miles was accomplished without any event to relieve the monotony of the country through which they were passing. The next day at 2 a.m. they resumed their course which continued in a southeasterly direction and before camping at night they had taken quite a number of teams loaded with corn and meat which were being conveyed into the mountains.

Colonel Abel D. Streight, 51st Indiana
Streight was working as a map maker and book publisher in Indianapolis when the war broke out. A freethinker, Colonel Streight's wife and young son accompanied him to the front. The Richmond Enquirer described him as a "tall, raw-boned, broad-chested, sandy haired, big-whiskered uncouth looking man with arms swinging like the wings of a windmill in the doldrums. He has acquired a considerable quantity of disjointed information on a variety of topics...knowing a little of everything and not much of anything. He does not, it is said, believe in a God or a Devil which is not at all wonderful considering the locality from which he hails." His wife Lovina became a beloved figure with the 51st Indiana, but questions were raised later in life as to her sanity such as the instance of her burying her husband in the front yard of their mansion after his death in 1892. Stephen Taylor's insightful blog post delves into this fascinating if odd couple. 

    Up to this time, the enemy had not appeared in sight of our forces with any considerable strength. In truth, our men had taken about all the Rebels who came within reaching distance and they were not numerous. But the next day, April 30th, demonstrated to the men the hazardousness of the expedition in which they were engaged, for the Rebels succeeded in gathering together a force sufficient to justify them in making an attack on the raiders.

    Colonel Streight had encamped during the night at a place not far from Dug's Gap. Our forces had just completed breakfast and were about to resume their march, it then being 7 o'clock, when their rear pickets were attacked by a force of Rebels numbering at least 1,000 under the command of Colonel Roddey. At the spot where our forces were situated two roads met, and in so doing formed an acute angle. It was anticipated by Colonel Roddey that when he reached this place he would find General Forrest in its vicinity with his command of cavalry and thus make a combined attack upon Colonel Streight, but in this case he was sorely disappointed for Forrest still had many miles to make before reaching the point of rendezvous.

Adjutant James C. Jones, 80th Illinois
Killed in action April 29, 1863 at Sand Mountain, Ala.

    Colonel Streight soon saw that he could have matters his own way so without hesitation, he gave the command "forward march" and thus gave the appearance of retiring before the enemy. When he had proceeded about a mile and a half he found an advantageous piece of ground and he immediately drew up his men in line of battle with the 3rd Ohio on the right, the 80th Illinois in the right center, the 51st Indiana at left center, and the 73rd Indiana on the extreme left. By a bold move, the enemy endeavored to turn our left flank but made a most disastrous failure. The 73rd Indiana drive him back with great loss. Colonel Roddey had planted on our right a battery which was successfully charged by the 3rd Ohio [Lt. A. Willis Gould's guns]. The fight lasted about two hours but the Rebels were defeated and made a hasty retreat. According to their own acknowledgement, their loss was 70 killed and wounded while ours was not quite half that number. Captain Sheets, commanding the 51st Indiana, was mortally wounded while fighting bravely at the head of his men. Colonel Streight had a horse shot from under him.

    The Union forces resumed their line of march which they continued unmolested until 4 p.m. as they were passing through Day's Gap. General Forrest with six regiments of cavalry and several pieces of artillery had reinforced Colonel Roddey and assumed the command. With his 4,000 men, General Forrest without delay started after our forces and at Day's Gap he came up with the rear guard which was composed of the 3rd Ohio. An attack was immediately made and our advance, which was a mile and a half in front, lost no time in coming to the assistance of their comrades. The fight was severe and lasted until dark when the Rebels ceased firing and fell back a considerable distance. The loss of the Rebels is not known. Our loss was 25 killed and wounded which includes the adjutant of the 80th Illinois who died the next day from the effects of a mortal wound.

    The cannon captured in the morning from Colonel Roddey proved too cumbersome for our men to carry along with them, so they were spiked and the wheels were sawn in several places so as to render them useless and in this manner they were left behind. Colonel Streight resumed his line of march after having detailed the 73rd Indiana as rear guard with instructions to harass the enemy as much as possible should he follow.

Colonel Gilbert Hathaway, 73rd Indiana
Killed in action May 2, 1863 

    It was not long before General Forrest was again on our rear but he was compelled to received some pretty severe treatment at the hands of the Indiana boys who had allowed our main force to march a distance of some two miles between them which thus gave them sufficient opportunity to give the enemy trouble without interfering or impeding the march of the advance. The Indiana boys would dismount, discharge their pieces at the foe, and remount to make ready for another fire. This process was repeated until they reached a considerable bend in the road of which they took advantage by marching across the fields and firing a volley into General Forrest's flank. This volley was fired near Bear's Creek which is about five miles from Day's Gao and it resulted in the loss of 15 killed and wounded of the enemy, while not one of the Indiana boys was hurt. The rear guard now joined the main body of the Union forces and Colonel Streight laid a trap for the Rebels which would have proved disastrous to them had they deemed it advisable to continue the pursuit. After waiting some time for their appearance, Colonel Streight proceeded on his course until the next day at 10 o'clock when he halted for breakfast. During the day, the expedition continued to advance and although the enemy again appeared in our rear, there was no serious fighting.

    On the forenoon of May 2nd, the Union forces entered Gadsden, a place on the Alabama River in Cherokee County. Here a large number of men, horses, guns, and some ammunition was taken. On leaving this place, a northeasterly direction was taken and at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon while our men were eating their dinners, General Forrest again came up and attacked them with much spirit. After a fight of two hours, the enemy was compelled to retire without succeeding in doing much damage. In this battle, Colonel [Gilbert] Hathaway of the 73rd Indiana was killed along with Private Stafford of the 80th Illinois and McWilliams of the 51st Indiana. The Rebel who killed Colonel Hathaway did not live to tell of the deed he had done for almost instantly after its commission he fell pierced by 16 bullets.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest

    It now became all important for the success of the expedition that a force should enter Rome, Georgia before the news of the approach of Colonel Streight could reach there. Accordingly, 200 men (50 from each regiment) were selected to compose this force which was placed under the command of Captain Russell of the 51st Indiana. A rapid march all night succeeded in bringing them in sight of Rome by 8 o'clock in the morning, but most unfortunately a courier sent by General Forrest had reached there two hours earlier and as a consequence, Captain Russell found a superior force of about 800 men ready to dispute his entrance into the city. He we will leave him until we state the operations of the main body of Colonel Streight's command which had resumed the line of march, destroying on the way a large amount of forage belonging to the Rebels. 

    About 1 o'clock in the morning of May 3rd, the Round Mountain Iron Works, situated about 35 miles from Rome, was reached and destroyed. It was the most important establishment of the kind in Alabama; about 200 men were employed night and day making cannon and shells for the Confederate authorities. A large bridge near Cedar Bluff was also destroyed. On the morning of the 3rd, Cedar Bluff was entered but there was no delay other than was necessary to destroy several artillery wagons found there.

    At 7 a.m., while our men were taking breakfast outside of the town, the pickets were attacked by a heavy force of the enemy who was now prepared to wage a decisive battle. Two howitzers in possession of our men were ordered to throw a few shells into his midst. Colonel Streight had formed his men in line of battle when a flag of truce was received with a demand for a complete surrender from General Forrest, who had been largely reinforced, they having no less than seven pieces of artillery in addition to his infantry and cavalry. Colonel Streight at first refused to comply, but when he was informed that what little ammunition he had left was considerably damaged, he recalled his refusal and convened a council of war, consisting of the commanding officers of the regiments. The officers unanimously came to the conclusion that it would be useless to oppose the enemy so advantageously situated. Streight then offered to surrender on conditions that all private property should be respected, regimental colors retained, and the entire command was to be paroled and sent across the lines within ten days. These conditions were accepted and the surrender took place in Cherokee County, Alabama two miles from the Georgia line and about 24 miles from Rome for which place the two armies were soon en route. When ten miles from there, Captain Russell and his command were met returning without having accomplished anything, and on being informed of the fate of their comrades, they also gave themselves up, making a total surrendering force of 1,374 privates and non-commissioned officers.

Streight's Raid waymarker along the march route of the raiders. Private William Wallace of the 80th Illinois stated that during the march "we pressed all the horses and mules we could find. We were sent out for the purpose of burning bridges, destroying corn, hay, etc., and doing what damage we could. Among the rest we destroyed three shot and shell foundries and burned several mills. We found lots of commissary stores hidden in the mountains and burned 30 wagons loaded with bacon. The orders were to do all the damage we could and not fight, but we had to fight to keep them back."

    On the 4th of May, they reached Rome where they had something to eat for the first time since being taken prisoners and this consisted only of a small piece of corn bread and meat. The Rebel soldiers were, as a general thing, very gentlemanly in their treatment of the prisoners. The citizens were directly the contrary- very insulting. While here, the Rebel authorities violated the terms of the surrender in robbing the men of their private property, even going so far as to deprive many of daguerrotypes of those at home. The cord, tassel, and spear of the 51st Indiana were taken away. The men were paroled and taken to Atlanta on the 5th. At Kingston, the secesh women announced themselves by spitting in the faces of our officers. At Atlanta, the privates and non-commissioned officers were conveyed to Richmond.

    At Knoxville, the 54th Virginia divided equally their rations with our men who were nearly starved. On the 15th they were sent to City Point where they were received by the U.S. authorities and ordered to report at Camp Chase which most of them have done. The commissioned officers were detained at Atlanta for some unexplained reason. Thus ended an expedition which had it been successful, would have been one of the most important of the war. 

Colonel Streight's sword surrendered to General Forrest on May 3, 1863.
(Alabama Department of Archives and History)



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