Benjamin Grierson U.S. Army major general Benjamin H. Grierson’s cavalry raid through Alabama in April 1865 was among the last military actions to take place in the state during the Civil War. The campaign’s goal was to destroy Confederate supply points in southeastern Alabama and southwestern Georgia that remained after the fall of Selma on April 2 and Mobile on April 12. It included some of the last fighting between Confederate and federal forces in Alabama and resulted in the capture of the important trading center of Eufaula in Barbour County.
Born on July 8, 1826, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Grierson worked as a music teacher prior to the outbreak of the war and began his service as an aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss after volunteering for the U.S. Army. He rose quickly in the ranks, and by November 1862, he had been promoted to brigade commander of the Cavalry Division of the Army of the Tennessee. In 1863, he launched an 800-mile raid through Mississippi and Louisiana that was a significant factor in the U.S. military’s successes in the Vicksburg Campaign. By mid-1864, Grierson was in command of the Cavalry Division of the District of West Tennessee. He and his men took part in several actions in Mississippi for which he received brevet promotion to the rank of major general. Shortly after his arrival in Mobile from New Orleans on April 13, 1865, Grierson began planning another raid through the Southeast in coordination with Maj. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby. Canby’s men had captured Mobile the day before after defeating Confederate forces at Spanish Fort and Fort Blakeley on April 8 and April 9, respectively. After gathering a force of about 4,000 men at Blakeley, Grierson headed north on April 17 to meet up with another column already in the field under Gen. Andrew Jackson Smith and to then determine his exact targets. Grierson and Smith conferred near Greenville on April 22, after which Smith moved to occupy Montgomery (which had recently surrendered to federal forces under Gen. James H. Wilson). Meanwhile, Grierson divided his command into two forces and moved eastward. He sent a column led by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Lucas towards Union Springs and another, which he accompanied, under Brig. Gen. Joseph Karge, towards Eufaula, a significant river port and shipping center.
Grierson’s Raiders Though Grierson’s forces did not participate in any pitched battles, their forays into the state’s hinterlands during the last days of the Confederacy did result in a few notable events. As his columns advanced through Troy, Louisville, and Clayton towards the Georgia border, some detachments came under fire at least twice from Confederate forces. On April 23, near the village of Manningham in Butler County, Grierson and his men skirmished briefly with a home guard unit, routing them with no reported losses. A few days later, however, Priv. Joseph C. Marlin of the Second New Jersey Cavalry was killed by a sniper outside of Clayton. Marlin was among the last Civil War casualties incurred during active campaigning in Alabama. While occupying the city, Grierson maintained his headquarters at the notable Octagon House, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
A delegation of dignitaries met Grierson upon his arrival at Eufaula on April 29, 1865, to surrender the city peacefully to him. During his brief occupation, Grierson destroyed some supplies held at the local Confederate commissary but did not damage private property. During his stay, he discovered state leaders had made plans for Eufaula to serve as state capital following Montgomery’s capture and had shipped the majority of the state archives there in advance. (These records were later returned to Montgomery.) On May 1, 1865, Lucas arrested Alabama governor Thomas Hill Watts in Union Springs, where he had fled as he attempted to elude federal authorities after the fall of Montgomery. Grierson moved back towards Montgomery in early May after receiving confirmation of the surrender of all Confederate forces east of the Chattahoochee.
Grierson remained in the Army and would go on to lead the 10th U.S. Cavalry, an integrated regiment of black enlisted men and white officers that came to be known as the Buffalo Soldiers in Indian Wars of the American West. He died in Omena, Michigan, on August 31, 1911.
Bunn, Mike. Civil War Eufaula. Charleston: The History Press, 2009.
Dinges, Bruce J., and Shirlie A. Leckie, eds. A Just and Righteous Cause: Benjamin H. Grierson’s Civil War Memoir. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2008.
Horn, Alan T., et al. The Yankees Are Coming! The Union Invasion of South Alabama in 1865. Troy, Ala.: Pike County Historical Society, 2011.
McMillan, Malcolm C. Disintegration of a Confederate State: Three Governors of Alabama’s Wartime Home Front, 1861-1865. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1986.
Walmsley, George Phillip. Experiences of a Civil War Horse-Soldier. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1993.