Meridian Campaign "Return To Vicksburg" February 3 - March 4, 1864
Unwilling to meet Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in open combat, Union Gen. William Sooy Smith retreated from West Point, Miss., and soon found that the "Wizard of the Saddle" was most dangerous to those who were trying to get away from him. Though the Rebel force was composed of men untried in battle and was about a third the size of the enemy army, the Confederates mounted a pursuit that was devastating to the retreating Northerners. The Yankees covered the distance back to Colliersville- the origin of the aborted raid to Meridian- in half the time they had spent moving southward. Forrest's troopers captured six Union cannon and inflicted 88 casualties while losing 144 of their own men. The Southerners stopped chasing Smith's command only after exhausting their own ammunition. One Yankee officer reported that "the expedition filled every man connected with it with a burning shame."
Gen. William T. Sherman, who had waited five days for Smith's command to arrive at the scheduled rendezvous at Meridian, Miss., gave up on the planned excursion to Selma, AL, and returned with his 22,000-man force to Vicksburg. ALong the way he sent scouts in search of Smith's lost troopers. He stopped for five days at Canton and again waited for the Union cavalrymen to appear. It was only after arriving at Vicksburg on March 4 that he learned of Smith's defeat and ignominious retreat.
Even without continuing on to Selma, Sherman considered the Meridian campaign a great success. His command suffered just 170 casualties while, as he reported: "We broke absolutely... a full hundred miles of railroad... and made a swath of desolation fifty miles broad across the State of Mississippi which the present generation will not forget." Among his spoils he counted 500 prisoners and "about 10 miles of negroes." A Southern general reported that Sherman had taken "300 more wagons than he had started with, burned 10,000 bales of cotton, 2,000,000 bushels of corn and had carried off 8,000 slaves, many on stolen mules."
Fascinating Fact: After the village of Lake, Miss., was reduced to a pile of ashes, one Union officer joked that he had seen a man searching for someone to make an affidavit that there had indeed been a town there.
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