With the 2nd Iowa Cavalry on Grierson’s Raid

 Corporal Lyman Beecher Pierce served in Co. K of the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, rising in the ranks from a private to a sergeant by the time he mustered out at Selma, Alabama in September 1865. The Kossuth, Iowa resident enlisted on August 24, 1861 and saw extensive service during the war throughout the western theater, but perhaps his most notable service was participating in Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry raid in April 1863.

          In one of the opening gambits of the Vicksburg campaign, Grierson led a brigade of 1,700 Federal cavalry on a sweeping raid deep into the state of Mississippi with the intention of cutting railroad lines that supported the stronghold of Vicksburg, and causing general havoc in the Confederate rear. Grierson’s force left La Grange, Tennessee on April 17th and marched about a hundred miles into Mississippi where Grierson detached Colonel Edward Hatch with a diversionary force that was tasked with feinting towards Columbus, then hightailing it back to Lagrange, Tennessee. Grierson continued south and eventually reached safety by riding into Union lines at Baton Rouge, Louisiana in one of the most successful Federal cavalry raids of the war. Riding over 600 miles through Confederate territory and suffering negligible losses, Grierson’s efforts eventually tied up a division of Confederate infantry that were out of position when General U.S. Grant conducted his offensive against Vicksburg in early May.

Corporal Pierce was part of Hatch’s detachment and left the following account of his regiment’s role in Grierson’s raid which was published on page 6 of the May 16, 1863 issue of the Burlington Hawk-eye newspaper. He later wrote the regimental history of the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry which was published in 1865.

 

The regimental colors of the 2nd Iowa Veteran Volunteer Cavalry include battle honors for Farmington, Boonville, Iuka, Corinth, and Nashville. Under Colonel Edward Hatch, the 2nd Iowa saw extensive service in the western theater during the Civil War. 

Camp of 2nd Iowa Cavalry

La Grange, Tennessee, May 6, 1863

          Having noticed in the different papers of the day many incorrect accounts of the doings of our cavalry brigade in the late raid made under the command of Colonel Grierson of the 6th Illinois Cavalry, I thought a brief account of it from a participant might be of interest to your readers.

          The Cavalry Brigade of the 16th Army Corps, consisting of the 6th and 7th Illinois Cavalry regiments, the 2nd Iowa Cavalry, and five two-pound cannon (mountain howitzers) commanded by Colonel Grierson left camp at LaGrange on the morning of the 19th ultimo and moved to the south. The planning of the raid had been kept so secret that none knew, and few even guessed, the object of the move. We took with us ten days’ rations of coffee and crackers, trusting to Southern hospitality for meats and forage. Our regiment was almost destitute of serviceable horses, and all the old broke-down horses and train mules were employed in mounting the men- everything that could carry a man a half-day’s ride was saddled so that when we moved out, we presented a very picturesque if not a very grand appearance. Every horse or mule we passed on the way was taken along to supply the places of the falling ones.

          Nothing worth mentioned occurred on our march until the morning of the 21st when we were 100 miles south of camp and 38 miles northwest of Columbus [Mississippi] where the road forked; the left leading to Columbus and the right leading directly south. Here the brigade separated: Grierson with the 6th and 7th Illinois and four of the cannon took the right while Colonel Hatch with the 2nd Iowa and one cannon took the left. The object of this movement was to draw the Rebel force, which was following after us, to follow Colonel Hatch and thus leave Colonel Grierson to move on unmolested to the railroad between Vicksburg and the east. [Southern Railroad]

General Edward Hatch

          In order to make the foe believe that all the force has taken to the left, a part of our regiment followed Grierson a short distance and then returned in column of fours, thus obliterating the outward-bound tracks. The ruse succeeded to a charm. Colonel Hatch pushed on until he reached Palo Alto, a small place 15 miles from Columbus, when we were attacked in the rear by Colonel’s Bartow and Smith with a force twice our number. A brisk little fight ensued, in which the Rebels, to escape the effect of our long-range rifles, fled in every direction, having lost 20 of their number in killed and wounded along with five prisoners. No blood was drawn from our regiment or from our horses.

          At the time of the attack, a part of Colonel Grierson’s command was off in an adjoining swamp after horses, and were cut off and surrounded, but by dint of hard fighting, they all made their way back to the regiment but four who were captured. Two of those boys who were separated from the squad, having captured some fine horses, started for the column but on entering the road they found to their dismay that they were in the midst of Rebel soldiers drawn up in line of battle as a reserve for the advance which was attacking us. Their case was anything but a pleasant one as retreat was impossible. One of them, Private Canata of Colonel Grierson’s command preferred death to capture and possessed the true metal of a soldier, drew his revolver, and dashed up to the Rebels crying ‘Fall in boys, the Yankees are in our rear!’ In this way he rode among them when he cried ‘Forward boys, charge them! So completely were the Rebels fooled by this trick that although dressed in full Federal uniform, he did not receive a shot until so far from them that their balls took no effect, and he reached our lines in safety.

          We now took the backtrack and the Rebels, supposing Grierson’s entire force with us, spent all their energies towards setting traps for us at the bridges and fords in our homeward course. But Colonel Hatch sprung none of these traps. He would move directly towards some defended bridge or ford until within a few miles of it, when he would take across some field and then by a blind plantation road ride down into a vast swamp. These swamps are full of splendid horses and mules which had been run there by the planters to hide them from the Yankees. These animals were in charge of the trustiest slaves the planters had, but these blacks have long since learned not to believe the horrible stories told them by the whites to prevent them from seeking our lines. We found little difficulty in finding them with the stock they had in charge. All were taken away, the blacks being only too joyful at being allowed to go with us and lead the extra horses. The boys, of course, selected the best beasts in charge for themselves and soon all who left camp mounted on old pegs of horses and mules had succeeded in getting well-mounted.

Major Datus Coon, 2nd Iowa Cavalry

          Having scouted through the swamps in this way, Colonel Hatch would either swim the river he wished to cross (crossing the cannon on a raft) or by a rapid movement, strike at some bridge or ford where the Rebels were not looking for him. In this way we pursued our homeward course unmolested, all the while adding to our list of prisoners, Negroes, horses, and mules. About sundown on the 23rd, we charged into the town of Colona. Six pieces if artillery and a regiment of infantry had left this place the day before for fear of being captured by our brigade. Our force was less than 500 men. In Colona, we burned a long row of soldiers’ barracks containing 500 bales of Confederate cotton.

          About noon of the 24th we reached a little place called Birmingham some 25 miles from Ripley. Major Datus Coon with six companies had been sent by another road to Verona so that Colonel Hatch had but four companies with him and they had in their charge 31 prisoners and 100 Negroes: the latter leading from one to three extra horses and mules each. Colonels Barton and Smith, who had been reinforced by the 2nd Alabama, thought this was their chance to wipe us out, hence they attacked us in the rear with far greater boldness and impetuosity than is their wont. So determined were they to possess our little cannon that they charged it three times, but were as often repulsed by the grape from this little piece and the balls from our revolving rifles, nor had they yet drawn one drop of Yankee blood. Disheartened at their oft repeated reverses, they took for Dixie on the double quick when Colonel Hatch resumed his homeward march. The Rebels still being upon our flank watching us from high places, apparently with something of the same awe with which the ancient Mexicans regarded Cortez and his band.

          We reached camp on the 26th, having been absent ten days during which time we marched 400 miles, subsisting off of our Rebel friends. When within 20 miles of camp and while feeding at noon, a guerilla, bolder and more successful than the rest, run out of the brush at the roadside and shot one of the colonel’s orderlies, Charles Elithorpe of Co. L, while he was separated from the column bearing a dispatch. The cowardly dog did not even dare to take the pistol from his victim but fled. We immediately scouted the timber, but the wretch eluded our search. The orderly died before we reached camp. This was all the loss we sustained on the trip.

Milton Sweet was serving as regimental commissary sergeant at the time of Grierson's Raid. 

The Rebel papers acknowledge one man killed and 20 wounded in the last fight, and claim that they killed 15 of our regiment, including Colonel Hatch. While we were thus employed, Colonel Grierson made his way through the entire length of the state of Mississippi and joined Banks at Baton Rouge, unmolested, the Rebels having fooled their time away trying to trap Colonel Hatch.

Source:

Letter from Corporal Lyman Beecher Pierce, Co. K, 2nd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, Burlington Hawkeye (Iowa), May 16, 1863, pg. 6

Comments

  1. My great grandfather Pvt Franklin Foley joined the 2nd Iowa Cavalry in Feb 1864 (he was 16 years old) buried in Evergreen Cemtery - Everett, Washington

    ReplyDelete
  2. Corporal Lyman Beecher Pierce was my Great-Great Grandfather. His daughter, Mary Louise, married Gilbert Van Zile and was Dean of Women at KSU for many years. Their son, Loren Vanzile, was my mother's father.

    ReplyDelete
  3. How would someone go about getting a 2nd Iowa Cav Rgt Flag??? FYI - I have my great grandfather's saber - had to have been carried at Nashville.

    ReplyDelete

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