Last Updated on June 20, 2016 by ACGS Webmaster
Brigadier General Benjamin Henry Grierson
Born July 8, 1826
Died August 31, 1911
The MacGregor Connection:
Grierson is a well accepted and recognized Sept of Gregor
Benjamin was a music teacher, then a career officer in the United States Army. He was a cavalry general in the volunteer Union Army during the Civil War and later led troops in the American Old West. He is most noted for an 1863 expedition through Confederate-held territory that severed enemy communication lines between Vicksburg, Mississippi and Confederate commanders in the Eastern Theater. After the war he organized and led the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment from 1866 to 1890.
Grierson was born in the borough of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, today a section of Pittsburgh. He was the youngest of five siblings. Grierson became afraid of horses when at age eight he was kicked and nearly killed by a horse, after which he hated horses – ironically, he would become a great cavalry commander.
Grierson (seated with hand resting on chin) and staff
24, 1861, he joined the 6th Illinois Cavalry and was promoted to colonel of that regiment on April 13, 1862. His regiment was engaged in a number of small skirmishes and raids on railroads and facilities in Tennessee and Mississippi that spring and summer. In November, he became a brigade commander in the Cavalry Division of the Army of the Tennessee. In December, he participated in the pursuit of Confederate Earl Van Dorn after his Holly Springs raid against the supply lines of General Ulysses S. Grant.
In the spring of 1863, he led Grierson’s Raid, a major diversionary thrust deep into the Confederacy, ordered by Grant as part of his Vicksburg Campaign. Grierson departed from La Grange, Tennessee, on April 17, in command of 1,700 men of the 6th and 7th Illinois and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry regiments. Over 17 days, his command marched 800 miles, repeatedly engaged the Confederates, disabled two railroads, captured many prisoners and horses, and destroyed vast amounts of property, finally ending in Baton Rouge on May 2.Historian John D. Winters in The Civil War in Louisiana (1963) reports that Grierson’s raid “struck fear in the hearts of the citizens and somewhat demoralized the Confederate forces who failed to stop the move.”
More importantly, Grierson diverted the attention of the Confederate defenders of Vicksburg away from General Grant’s main thrust. Gen. Sherman considered Grierson’s raid “the most brilliant expedition of the war.” He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in June. While ending his raid in Louisiana he was able to take part in Nathaniel P. Banks‘ siege of Port Hudson as commander of the XIX Corps cavalry.
In June 1864 Grierson returned to command a cavalry division in the Army of the Tennessee during William T. Sherman‘s Meridian Campaign. He was still in division command during Samuel D. Sturgis‘ ill-fated encounter with Nathan B. Forrest at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. Shortly after that battle Grierson was transferred to command the Cavalry in the District of West Tennessee. He was attached to Andrew J. Smith‘s XVI Corps and fared much better against Forrest at the Battle of Tupelo.
Between December 21, 1864, and January 5, 1865, Grierson led an expedition of two brigades of the Cavalry Division against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. On Christmas Day he surprised and captured Forrest’s dismounted camp at Verona, Mississippi, and on December 28 engaged a train carrying an ad hoc Confederate force of approximately 1,200 men at Egypt Station, Mississippi, south of Aberdeen, capturing more than 500 troops, including 253 former Union prisoners who had enlisted as “Galvanized Yankees” in the 10th Tennessee Regiment. For this expedition Grierson received a brevet promotion to the rank of major general.
Grierson decided to remain in the Regular Army after the war and received the rank of colonel. His lack of West Point credentials made him suspect to many fellow officers. He organized the 10th U.S. Cavalry, one of two mounted regiments composed of black enlisted men and white officers, called the Buffalo Soldiers. This assignment also made him unpopular with other officers, including his superior, General Philip Henry Sheridan, because of his support for and trust in his troops. His sympathy and courtesy to Native American tribes also led to questions about his judgment.
“The only White officer who supports the unit is Regimental Commanding Officer Colonel Benjamin Grierson. Ostracized by other officers for his enthusiastic command of the African-American troops, Grierson believes in the abilities, dedication, and record of performance of the Buffalo Soldiers and declines offers to lead at any other post. General Pike offers to relieve Grierson ‘of this self-imposed exile and have him commanding a real cavalry regiment within a month,’ but Grierson refuses” — Turner Network Television’s documentary, “Buffalo Soldiers” in which John Wayne plays Grierson.