Posts Tagged ‘Grierson’s Raid’

Ben Grierson, a forgotten hero

May 25, 2015

Originally Memorial Day was a holiday to honor the fallen soldiers in the Civil War.

The war was fought by the South to preserve slavery and by the North to preserve the Union.  But although the North had the better cause, the South to this day has more glamor.

Benjamin Grierson

Benjamin Grierson

So on this Memorial Day, I remember a Northern hero—Ben Grierson—who conducted the most impressive raid of the Civil War, who never turned his back on black freedman afterwards and who, in the words of Gary Brecher, did not have a weak or a mean bone in his body.

I didn’t know anything about Grierson, except for an old movie starring John Wayne I saw years ago, and brief accounts in Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, until I read Brecher’s article about him.  Brecher is the pen name of the author of PandoDaily’s War Nerd column, and he is not easily impressed.

Grierson was scarred by being kicked in the face by a horse as a boy, and grew up with an aversion to horses.  But when circumstances put him in command of a cavalry regiment, he adapted.

Grierson’s first assignment was chasing guerrillas in Tennessee, where his kin came from, under Gen. Lew Wallace. The one thing everybody knows about him is he wrote Ben Hur, which I had to watch as a child because it was supposedly “Christian,” but Wallace was a pretty good officer, and he set Grierson to work hunting fellow Tennesseans.

Here again Grierson is like this ridiculously perfect officer-and-gentleman type; he crushed the local bushwhackers but the Tennessee ladies loved him for his perfect manners. You don’t get that a lot from ladies you meet while hunting down their kin, but that was Grierson, Mister Ridiculously Perfect.

What he was famous for was Grierson’s Raid.

Grierson left Tennessee in mid-April 1863 with a brigade of about 1700 men from two Illinois and one Iowa regiments. From the beginning he was in enemy territory, which like MacPherson says, is one handicap Forrest never had to face.

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