Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:00 AM
One hundred and fifty years ago on April 17, 1863, Federal Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson began what General William Tecumseh Sherman called after the end of hostilities, "the most brilliant expedition of the Civil War."
At daybreak, Colonel Grierson led his 1,700 cavalrymen in columns of two, south from LaGrange, Tennessee, embarking on a trek covering over 600 miles, encompassing 16 days and finishing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The goals for this journey, established by General Ulysses S. Grant, were to divert Confederate General John C. Pemberton's attention from Grant's planned crossing of the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and to deter Confederate cavalrymen from harassing Sherman's assaulting forces outside of Vicksburg.
The cavalry force, comprised of the Sixth Illinois, Seventh Illinois and Second Iowa Regiments, operating at about half normal numbers, moved through the north Mississippi forests at the standard cavalry pace of about three miles an hour, stopping only for a short respite of about ten minutes.
After passing through Ripley, New Albany and Pontotoc, Grierson ordered his regimental commanders to inspect their troops and horses to determine if any were disabled or not capable of further "hard marching."
On April 20, about 175 unfit men, along with a dozen captured Rebels and several horses, under the command of Major Hiram Love, Second Iowa, dubbed the "Quinine Brigade," marched northward, after being instructed to deceive the enemy into believing that Grierson's entire command was withdrawing back through Pontotoc.
Grierson then proceeded south with his remaining 1,500 horse soldiers, marching first through Houston and moving rapidly into Starkville. On the next day, Wednesday, April 22, Captain Henry Forbes with his Company B of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, left the main column a few miles south of Starkville and moved south-east to raid Macon, destroy rail tracks and cut telegraph lines. Grierson's mounted force proceeded to Louisville, finding the terrain "a great splashing of mud."
After marching another six miles from Louisville in the darkness, they found dry ground around the Estes Plantation, a few miles north of Noxapater.
On the seventh day of the campaign, April 23, 1863, the men of the Sixth and Seventh Illinois rode south, then south-west toward Plattsburg in Winston County and Old Pearl Valley in Neshoba County with the intention of crossing of the rain-swollen Pearl River before local partisans could burn the strategic crossing.
Nearing the river, Grierson ordered Lieutenant-Colonel William Blackburn to send scouts forward on the double with instructions to use extra caution approaching the bridge.
Sergeant Richard Surby and seven of his scouts, known as the "Butternut Guerillas," neared the area, when they saw an old man approaching on a mule.
A few questions to the 50-year-old George Pegram Woodward* provided the information that "a picket was stationed at the bridge, composed of citizens, numbering five in all, his son being one of the party; all were armed with shot guns."
In an attempt to scare the old man, Surby demanded unconditional surrender of the span. Woodward told them he could save the bridge if he could ride in advance.
With permission granted, the old man managed to tip off the pickets that he was a captive. Forewarned, John Woodward and John Ross and two others raced to their horses and fled into the woods.
Grierson's main body then moved to within about three hundred yards of the town before discovering a line of about 30 men formed across and around the road.
A charge from a dozen or so Federal horsemen, and a few pistol shots scattered the defenders and within a few minutes, Grierson had "full possession of the town; resulting in the capture of six prisoners, nine horses and equipments." That night, after traveling south about twelve miles near the Newton County line, the Yankees released Woodward, who walked back to his home in the northern part of Neshoba County.
Neshoba County had not seen the last of Grierson's marauders, as Captain Henry Forbes and thirty-five men of Company B, Seventh Illinois, raced through the little country village on the following day, April 24, 1863, after completing their Macon diversionary expedition.
Forbes halted his riders near the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Pecan Avenue**, and sent three of his men, clad in Confederate grey and butternut, ahead to the home of a wealthy citizen, Dr. James Lewis Backstrom.
At Dr. Backstrom's home, were three Confederate soldiers, Alexander H. Franklin, his younger brother, L.Q.C. Franklin, former members of Company D of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, and a younger brother of both.
The Rebel soldiers immediately determined that the men were imposters and a firefight ensued. Yankee cavalryman William L. Buffington died in the shootout, Corporal Charles Martin received a wound, and Capt. Forbes left after extracting a promise from Dr. Backstrom to properly inter Buffington.
In all, Grierson's troops ravished the countryside, killing or wounding nearly 100 Confederates, while capturing about five hundred, losing only about twenty-five of their own. During this reign of terror, dozens of freight cars and depots were torched, miles of track torn apart, as Grierson force eluded a Confederate cavalry division, before ending this destructive foray in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Note: * After the war ended, George P. Woodward moved his family into Philadelphia, becoming a successful merchant/hotelier. In the early 1880s, Woodward built his family a new home on the western slopes of "Depot Hill," a few hundred yards south of West Main Street. The building now houses the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Museum. Note: ** A historical monument has recently been erected at this location. Local Civil War historian M. Don Perry, contributed to this article and was responsible for the historical marker mentioned above being erected.
Civil War Veterans
Barrier, William A. - Private; enlisted March 1, 1862 at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; hospitalized with "malingering" at Chimborazo Hospital # 4 at Richmond, Virginia, May 30 to June 3, 1862; severely wounded at Second Manassas, August 29, 1862; hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the head at the General Hospital at Charlottesville, Virginia, September 3 to October 9, 1862.
Received $69.00 in pay and clothing, September 9, 1862; hospitalized with secondary syphilis at the General Hospital at Charlottesville, April 15, 1864 to May 3, 1864; slightly wounded in the hand at the Weldon Railroad, August 18, 1864; Muster Roll, November-December 1864: "Present;" probably died in 1865.
World War II Veterans
Rush, James Roy - Flying Cadet to First Lieutenant; enlisted on October 12, 1940, at Jackson, Mississippi, in the United States Army; age twenty-four; college student; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations with the Aviation Cadet Detachment of the Army Air Corps; discharged as a flying cadet at Lakeland, Florida, December 6, 1940, flying deficiency.
Re-enlisted on September 16, 1941 at Jackson, Mississippi; assigned to Bombardier Training at Maxwell Field, Alabama; attended Bombardier School and Advanced Flying School at Kirtland Field, New Mexico, January 1942.
Discharged as a flying cadet at Kirtland Field, March 20, 1942, to accept a commission as a second lieutenant; re-enlisted on March 21, 1942 at Kirtland Field; served again in the American Theatre of Operations at the Central Instructors School at Midland, Texas, March 1942 to July 1942; served also in the European Theatre of Operations as a bombardier, August 1942 to June 1943; participated in Air Offensive Europe and the campaigns in Northern Africa, Sicily, Italy and Northern France,
Completed his 50th mission (with 243 combat flying hours) and furloughed home, June 1943; served a second time in the American Theatre as a bombardier instructor at the 2619th Base Unit (Carlsbad, New Mexico); stationed again at Kirtland Field, September 1944, and at the Army Air Field at Carlsbad, December 1944; awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with three bronze service stars), Air Medal (with nine oak leaf clusters) and the Distinguish Flying Cross.
Discharged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, August 29, 1945, demobilization; described as five feet six and one-half inches tall, weighing 124 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday