The Maine connections with Grierson’s Raid, part 2

Two army officers affiliated with Bangor bookended Grierson’s Raid. You can read part 1 here.

Leaving La Grange on a splendid April 17, 1863, Col. Benjamin H. Grierson rode south with 1,700 troopers unsure as to where they were going. The colonel intended to conduct the raid with his 6th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, the 7th Illinois Cavalry, and Battery K, 1st Illinois Artillery.

Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson commanded the epic cavalry expedition known as Grierson’s Raid. (Library of Congress)

Commanded by Col. Edward Hatch (a Bangor native), the 2nd Iowa Cavalry started out with Grierson. While he and the Illinois units would plunge south into central Mississippi, Hatch and his Iowans would mess with Confederate minds elsewhere.

Hatch and his troopers left Grierson on April 18 “and moved through Ripley and Molino,” skirmished “with Smith’s regiment of Partisan Rangers,” and rejoined the main column “five miles below Pontotoc” on April 19, said Sgt. Lyman B. Pierce, 2nd Iowa Cavalry.

One Iowa detachment turned north for La Grange with sick soldiers and lamed horses, and Grierson headed south. At “the junction of the roads leading to Louisville, West Point and Columbus,” Hatch and his remaining troopers left the column (this time for good).

After Benjamin H. Grierson completed his raid, Harper’s Weekly published a map showing the route taken through Mississippi by the Union cavalrymen. (Harper’s Weekly)

He planned to ride to West Point, destroy “the railroad bridge over the Oktibbeha River,” then “move rapidly southward to Macon” and destroy “the railroad and Government stores” there. Hatch would “then … find my way north to La Grange by the most practicable route.”

The Iowans repulsed pursuing Confederate cavalrymen at Palo Alto. Upon learning that “an Alabama regiment … with artillery” was between him and West Point, Hatch “moved slowly northward” and drew the Southerners away from Grierson.

At 4 p.m. on April 22, the Iowans charged into Okolona and “burned thirty barracks filled with Confederate British stamped cotton,” Pierce said; Hatch remembered “burning the barracks for 5,000 men.” After riding hither and yon to confuse the enemy, he and the 2nd Iowa returned to La Grange on April 26. Pierce reported only one trooper killed and none wounded.

Grierson’s Raid,” as history dubbed the expedition, proved incredibly successful. Hatch’s gyrations and multiple Union incursions elsewhere in Alabama and Mississippi confused senior Confederate officers as to where the real danger lay, and Grierson wreaked havoc through Mississippi. Ultimately he decided to head for Union-held Baton Rouge.

Col. Benjamin H. Grierson and his exhausted troopers ride triumphantly into Baton Rouge in this woodcut. (Harper’s Weekly)

Sunrise on Saturday, May 2 found Frank Godfrey resting in his tent. Suddenly “I was surprised by a young man appearing at my tent, and saying that he belonged to the 7th Illinois Cavalry, and that he had come all the way through the Confederacy from Legrange (sic), Tenn. and that about eight hundred of the 6th and 7th Illinois Cavalry were about seven miles off,” Godfrey told his parents in a May 4 letter. “I immediately saddled up and went out to meet them.”

The young man possibly was a Grierson orderly asleep in the saddle when the colonel “halted to feed with 4 miles of the town.” The sleeping trooper rode up to wide-awake Union pickets who doubted his story about Grierson being nearby. Baton Rouge’s commander, Maj. Gen. Christopher C. Augur, “sent two companies of cavalry, under Captain [J. Franklin] Godfrey, to meet us,” Grierson said.

Warned that enemy cavalry approached from Baton Rouge, he doubted their identity and “rode out alone to meet the troops, without waking my command.” Seeing a solitary cavalryman approach, Godfrey ordered his men to dismount and take firing positions. Concealed behind a fence, he spoke with Grierson, but doubted “we were really and truly ‘bona fide’ Illinois troops from Tennessee,” the colonel recalled. He finally convinced Godfrey as to the truth, and Grierson’s men “marched into the town about 3 p.m., and we were most heartily welcomed by the United States forces at this point.”

I saw the commanding officer Col. Grearson (sic), and Col. Prince, the Col. of one of the Regts. He was acquainted with Eugene Godfrey [a relative} and came from the same place,” Godfrey wrote. “This little command have marched over five hundred miles through the heart of the enemy’s country, and have outwitted every thing that has been sent to capture them.

It was one of the most brilliant exploits of history, and all honor should be accorded to the heroes who accomplished it,” Godfrey wrote. “The officers are as modest as they are brave. Col. Grearson said when I spoke to him about it, that he had been very fortunate, he had the good fortune to be the commander of some brave men, and had done some service [with the raid], and his soul was in the cause, and he was glad for his country’s sake that he had been so successful.

You will probably hear all the particulars of this great raid in the newspapers and all you may read will be no exaggeration,” Godfrey told his parents.

Sources: “Gen. Grierson’s Great Raid,” New York Times, Aug. 30, 1863; Lyman B. Pierce, History of the Second Iowa Cavalry (Burlington, IA, 1865); Col. Edward Hatch, Official Records, Series 1, vol. 24, pt. 1, pp. 530-531; Candace Sawyer and Laura Orcutt, The Civil Letters of Capt. John Franklin Godfrey (Portland, ME, 1993); Timothy B. Smith, The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Civil War Raid Through Mississippi, Savas Beatie, El Dorado Hills, CA, 2020; Col. Benjamin H. Grierson, OR, Vol. 24, pt. 1, p. 528


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Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at