With mainly his family in mind as the intended audience, General Benjamin Henry Grierson's memoir chronicles his military service from 1861 as a volunteer aide on the staff of General Benjamin M. Prentiss through to Reconstruction duty in Huntsville, Alabama, as a brevet major general of volunteers. Written from the commander's perspective, Grierson's memoir provides considerable depth and detail on the "Great Raid of 1863," executed in conjunction with Ulysses Grant's operations around Vicksburg, the Meridian Expedition of 1864, Brice's Crossroads, and his raid on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad in late 1864.
Ben Grierson was the quintessential American citizen-soldier, North or South. They were men of courage, patriotism, energy, and intelligence who joined the service when war broke out and mastered the new difficult occupation of soldiering. As a staunch Republican and strong supporter of abolition, Grierson was quick to offer his services to the government though he had no military experience. A virtuoso musician and a conscientious, though unsuccessful, businessman before the war, he volunteered for the "just and righteous cause" in May 1861. He served as an unpaid volunteer aide until receiving a commission as lieutenant colonel of the Sixth Illinois Volunteer Calvary, eventually becoming commander of that regiment and then rising to brigade and division commands. Grierson applied his natural qualities to his new military career. That he learned well is evident from the narrative of his cavalry operations where he repeatedly used feint, deception, and maneuver to keep the enemy pursuers off-balance and away from the trail of his main force. Held in esteem by his superiors, especially Grant and Sherman, and despite the rapid demobilization of the national force after the war, Grierson garnered a commission in the regular army. He spent the next twenty-five years as colonel of the black Tenth United States [End Page 420] Cavalry during its campaigns on the western frontier, serving in the Department of Arizona, and the Districts of New Mexico and Indian Territory. Grierson retired from the service in 1890 and passed away on September 1, 1911. He was eighty-five years old.
Grierson's memoir is a solid contribution to Civil War literature and adds to the knowledge of cavalry operations in the Western Theater. His greatest contribution to the northern war effort came in the spring of 1863 with the raid from LaGrange, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For sixteen days and six hundred miles, Grierson's command rode through Mississippi destroying railroads, bridges, and military stores of all kinds, capturing horses and mules, and keeping approximately twenty thousand Confederate pursuers diverted from Grant's operations around Vicksburg. In the words of one of Grant's informants, "Grierson has knocked the heart out of the state" (p. 185). Grierson's assessment was that the raid "demonstrated the fact as to the internal weakness of the Confederacy" (p. 182).
Editors Bruce Dingles and Shirley Leckie exercised a light editorial hand in preparing Grierson's text, intervening only for purposes of clarity. Their introduction, spotlighting Grierson's career and putting it into the context of his day, nicely complements Grierson's own work. The book is further enhanced by well-done, extensive, and useful notes identifying the people, places, and events mentioned in the memoir.
In one respect, however, the book is disappointing—the lack of maps. The two maps provided are simply inadequate to do justice to General Grierson's story. As Grierson's narrative of his operation is primarily a recounting of his movements, the reader needs more help in the way of graphics than what is provided.
This book would most appeal to those readers interested in cavalry operations, specifically in the Mississippi River Valley of west Tennessee and Mississippi. In a very readable narrative, Grierson relates the events where he was the immediate commander or a major participant. Through Grierson, the reader can experience the [End Page 421] lightning-strike movements of the Great Raid, the...