Two Illinois cavalrymen, Benjamin Grierson, a music teacher from Jacksonville, and Edward Prince, an attorney from Quincy, led what Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman described as “the most brilliant expedition of the war.” Even today, Grierson’s Mississippi Raid is considered a success and the boldest campaign conducted by Federal cavalrymen. Grierson’s Raid was part of larger event — Grant’s campaign to capture Vicksburg, Miss.
Soon after hostilities broke out, Confederate troops blocked the Mississippi River, making the reopening of the waterway a primary objective of the Union army. By October 1862, all that prevented river travel between St. Louis and New Orleans were the Rebel fortresses at Vicksburg, Miss., and Port Hudson, La.
Grant tried to take Vicksburg in November 1862 and failed. In December, Sherman attacked the city’s defenses along Chickasaw Bayou and was repulsed. Four more failed attempts were made between February and April.
Grant put together another more intricate plan to capture the Gibraltar of the South. He would come at Vicksburg from the below. But Grant’s problem was that the army was above the city and on the west side of the river. To ferry his troops across, Grant needed boats and barges below Vicksburg. On the night of April 16th, the navy ran eleven boats past Vicksburg’s batteries. Six nights later, the navy ran more transports and barges by the batteries. Grant now had the means to cross the river and move on Vicksburg. But to confuse the Rebels, Grant ordered a cavalry raid through Mississippi’s interior, while setting in motion an elaborate feint on Vicksburg itself to keep the Rebels from focusing on his army crossing the river.
The raid was assigned to Grierson’s brigade made up of the 2nd Iowa, the 6th and 7th Illinois Cavalry regiments, and six light field pieces of Co. K, 1st Illinois battery. The cannons were Woodruff’s manufactured in Quincy. Col. Grierson commanded the 6th Illinois Cavalry. Col. Prince, the second in command, led the 7th Illinois Cavalry.
Edward Prince, born in New York in 1832, moved with his family in 1835 to Payson where his father farmed. Edward graduated from Illinois College in 1852. That fall he came to Quincy and read law in the office of Archibald Williams. In 1853, he was admitted to the bar, first associated with Abraham Jonas and later with Gen. James W. Singleton.
When war came, he offered his services to his country, and Gov. Richard Yates appointed Prince the cavalry drill master at Camp Butler in Springfield. On Sept. 8, 1861, Yates commissioned Prince a lieutenant colonel with the 7th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry. He advanced to colonel of the regiment on June 1, 1862. Prince quickly developed an aptitude for cavalry tactics and maneuver.
The day after the navy ran Vicksburg’s batteries, Grant unleashed Grierson’s horsemen. At sunrise on April 17, 1863, 1,700 Union cavalrymen moved south from La Grange, Tenn. Grant’s plan to divert attention from the troops crossing the Mississippi was set in motion. Grierson’s primary objective was to strike the Southern Railroad, tearing up track, destroying rolling stock, and cutting the telegraph. The railroad was Vicksburg’s remaining communication link and source of supplies and men.
The raiders struck the Southern Railroad on April 24 at Newton Station, Miss., Prince’s cavalrymen found two trains carrying several hundred loaded artillery shells, moved them, and set them ablaze. Soon the ammunition was exploding. Men were sent to destroy bridges and trestlework; to take down telegraph poles and lines; and to warp rails in the burning ties.
As hoped, the Confederate commander, Gen. John C. Pemberton, set out to hunt down and destroy the raiders, and seemingly forgot about Grant. He failed to catch the raiders, and Grant’s army easily crossed the river.
The Yankee cavalry slipped through the pursuers’ net and arrived safely at Baton Rouge, La., on May 3. In 17 days, they had traveled over 600 miles. Col. Prince was in the forefront of the expedition, leaving no doubt that the raid owed much of its success to his energy and quick mind.
However, tension developed between Grierson and Prince. Grierson explained: “Colonel Edward Prince … apparently became envious of the reputation gained by myself and command and acted in an unwarranted and unsoldierly manner.”
Articles like the one in the Quincy Daily Herald probably added to the growing animosity: “[Col. Prince’s] abilities as an officer were particularly made manifest during the famous “Grierson raid,” in which . . . he was second in command; and we know that we are speaking within the record when we claim that the success of that world-renowned raid is very greatly attributable to his foresight, vigilance and energy. Much more, in fact, than is generally known of the credit of that remarkable expedition is justly his due, as he originated the idea of a raid through the enemy’s country and explained its feasibility to Gen. Grant some two months before the actual attempt was made.”
Sgt. Richard W. Surby wrote in 1865 that Col. Grierson planned the expedition and submitted it to Gen. Hurlbut, who forwarded it to Gen. Grant. Grant “readily approved it and sent suitable instructions how Colonel Grierson was to proceed.”
Regarding the expedition, Grierson said: “Colonel Prince, commanding the Seventh Illinois, and Lieutenant Colonel Loomis, commanding the Sixth Illinois, were untiring in their efforts to further the success of the expedition, and I cannot speak too highly of the coolness, bravery, and, above all, of the untiring perseverance of the officers and men of the command during the entire journey.”
The rift between Grierson and Prince remained, and it was probably a factor in Prince’s leaving the army when his term of service was up in October 1864. Benjamin Grierson remained in the army, retiring in 1890. After the war he organized, enlisted, and commanded the African American men of the 10th U. S. Cavalry — the Buffalo Soldiers.
This 2016 article was revisited in recognition of Col. Prince who is featured on the October Woodland Cemetery tours.
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