The good folks at Osprey Press have released their latest Civil War book, this one nicely outlining Benjamin Grierson‘s lengthy cavalry raid in April and early May 1863. Grierson, commanding a force of about 1,700 cavalrymen, departed Union lines in LaGrange, Tennessee, and headed south. Six hundred miles later, they arrived at Union-held Baton Rouge, to the astonishment of the troops there who had no clue such a daring raid was in progress. Along the way, the Yankees destroyed 50 to 60 miles of railroad track (at a time Confederate resources to repair them was declining). Grierson’s raiders also burned several railroad bridges and culverts, and wrecked the telegraph system along their path. At times traveling as much as 36 hours straight without significant sleep, the weary command completed one of the most daring raids in U.S. military history after 17 days in the saddle. They triumphantly paraded through the streets of Baton Rouge to the cheers of the local garrison and pro-Union civilians.
The raid formed the background to the old John Wayne classic film, The Horse Soldiers, which was a staple for me growing up. I loved the movie, perhaps more than any other Civil War movie of my youth. I used to recreate the raid in my sandbox using my 54mm toy soldiers.
Now, Osprey has produced a slick, colorful book that adequately describes the basics of this mounted incursion into the Cotton States. The text, written by Texan Mark Lardas, flows easily and is well written. He believes Grierson’s Raid demonstrated that by then the Confederacy was a “hollow shell,” incapable of adequately protecting its citizens or significantly impairing Union movements. Grierson forced the Rebels to reposition thousands of troops away from the front lines at Vicksburg in a futile effort to stop him. The Pittsburgh native would repeat his success a year later with another long raid, and Union armies would follow up with strikes into the Deep South that essentially ended the war in the Western Theater for all practical purposes.
Available from amazon.com and many leading military and hobby retailers, Roughshod Through Dixie should be on your summer reading list. The twelfth in Osprey’s RAID series, this book is perhaps their best effort to date. The digitally produced artwork is at their normal high standards, and the narrative is crisp and informative.