Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Grierson's Raid through Mississippi 1863

My first experience of the new Osprey Raid series has been positive. Roughshod Through Dixie about Grierson's raid through Mississippi in April 1863 is well written, well presented and a useful tool for wargamers. I hadn't read anything by the author, Mark Lardas before and so assumed he was new to Osprey, but it turns out he's done lots of naval and Civil War stuff , especially in the duel series. I had just not run into him because I don't focus on those subjects.

The book takes ample time explaining the strategic situation and planning for the raid, showing how the raid was to divert confederate commander Pemberton's mind and resources from Grant's proposed outflanking of Vicksburg and was supported by other diversionary raids. These helped to conceal the real intentions of the raid from the enemy for five days.

Lardas shows also that careful attention was paid to the composition of the force and its equipment so as to balance speed and fighting power. This meant for example that six light guns were added that would have been easily overpowered on a Civil War battlefield but proved their value against local scratch forces encountered on the raid.

The description of the raid itself focuses on the tactical decisions made by Grierson. He successfully kept the confederates of his tail by speed (around 40 miles on a good day), diversions and active disinformation. This for example involved a section of troops disguised as southern soldiers, the detachment of several hundred less mobile troopers (the 'Quinine brigade') early on to suggest he was returning to Tennessee and releasing southern troops on parole after overhearing planted information.

This part also shows how hard it was for confederate troops to catch these highly mobile troops. All the information reaching Pemberton was outdated, and local commanders had to deal with Grierson's methods of disinformation. And yet they almost managed to ensnare the raiding force.

A few other fine points I took away were the great care taken by the Union troops to treat the local civilians well, the importance of rivers as obstacles for movement and the use of parole to deal with confederate prisoners. I have no idea how well parole was observed over time, but in a society with high emphasis on personal honour as in the South, this may have been effective after the campaign.

In the final part Lardas draws up the balance sheet which is almost exclusively positive for the Union force. Great damage had been done to the Mississippi railroads, telegraph and war materials. A significant number of troops had been tied down that could not be used against Grant. Also a number of slaves had been freed and a great moral victory had been scored, showing that Union cavalry could score achievements similar to their southern counterparts.

The illustrations are overall very effective, reinforcing the narrative by mixing contemporary engravings and photographs with new paintings. The high point for me was the photographs taken of the brigade at their arrival in Baton Rouge by a southern spy. That kind of attention to detail sets this book apart.

The conclusion must be that not only was Grierson´s raid a massive success, but also that the quality of this book does it all the credit it deserves.

1 comment:

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