Expedition from Helena to Grenada: Part 3

General Alvin P. Hovey’s expedition toward Grenada, Mississippi in late 1862 was part of the overall strategy to take Vicksburg by Ulysses Simpson Grant. It consisted of two wings. One section under General Cadwallader C. Washburn consisted of two brigades of cavalry. Their job was to push ahead of the main force, burn railroad bridges and take Grenada if possible. The other section under General Alvin Hovey himself consisted of infantry and artillery. Their role was to back the cavalry and do what damage they could to the countryside. In fact the entire operation was part of Grant’s plan to confuse Pemberton so he would fall back or panic.

By November 29, 1862 the cavalry had established a bridgehead over the Tallahatchie River. By nightfall Washburn was across with his cavalry. Two regiments of infantry were also in possession of the newly constructed bridge. Soon the Yankee horsemen pushed eastward to the Yacona River where they crossed a ferry. This brought them to the Panola and Charleston Road where they once again skirmished with pickets from the 28th Mississippi Cavalry. After howitzers were brought up and opened fire, the Confederates retreated north toward Panola.

As this took place, General Alvin Hovey and the remainder of his men encamped at the Tallahatchie River just below the mouth of the Coldwater. He ordered Colonel Spicely with the 11th and the 24th Indiana infantry regiments to advance on Mitchell’s Crossroads to protect the cavalry’s rear. Hovey also ordered Captain Owens with a section of the 1st Indiana Cavalry to go down the Tallahatchie River and burn the steamer New Moon.

By daylight of November 30th, Washburn had reached Preston, a little town about sixteen miles from Grenada. Here he divided his command. Washburn ordered Captain A.M. Sherman with the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry to Garner’s Station on the Mississippi & Tennessee Railroad. There he would burn a bridge and capture any rail traffic. With the remainder of his column Washburn would push toward Grenada. At 11 a.m. the union horsemen arrived at Hardy Station where they burned a bridge and destroyed several hundred yards of telegraph wire. Twelve railway cars were destroyed as well. Major Burgh of the 9th Illinois Cavalry was ordered to strike the Central Railroad where he burned one bridge and tore up track. As night approached General Washburn decided to fall back toward Mitchell’s Crossroads and the infantry.

By the morning of December 1st, the 28th Mississippi had decided to once again advance on the Federals. A brisk skirmish broke out with Colonel Spicely and his infantry at Mitchell’s Crossroads. Just as the fight began to escalate General Washburn and his cavalry arrived on the scene. He advanced six howitzers and the 9th Illinois Cavalry. Outnumbered by three regiments and artillery the 28th beat a hasty retreat. With peace once again restored Washburn sent back for two more days rations from the main train under Hovey. Along with supplies General Hovey also sent two additional infantry regiments up to support the cavalry. General Washburn was fed up with the Mississippians in his rear and decided to take the day December 2nd to end this pesky problem. He ordered the 9th Illinois Cavalry north where he captured the town of Panola. That ended the fight with the 28th Mississippi Cavalry.

On December 3rd, General Washburn marched for Coffeeville via Oakland with his three brigades. The march was slow as the roads were very muddy from recent rains. About a mile before reaching Oakland the advance guard under the 1st Indiana Cavalry began to exchange fire with rebel pickets forcing the confederates back. The 1st followed, but were stopped at the edge of town by a Confederate line of battle which opened fire. Who were these Confederates? They were a cavalry brigade of Texans under Lieutenant Colonel John S. Griffith. These three regiments were the First Texas Legion, Third Texas, and Sixth Texas along with Captain McNally’s battery. He had been ordered to protect the railroads leading toward Grenada. Griffith ordered a charge and the Indiana cavalry retreated back to Washburn’s main force.

Halted by the appearance of Griffith, General Washburn organized his command and slowly advanced. His second brigade under the command of Colonel Stephens were first to encounter the rebels. Heavily outnumbered, the Confederates put up a brief fight but were soon pushed out of town leaving a number of wounded. It lasted about fifty minutes as the two sides banged away at each other before the Confederates pulled back.

General Washburn summed up the battle with the following notes:

I have to report no loss of men during the engagement, but about ten men wounded, only 1 of them seriously. The First Indiana lost 8 or 10 horses, which were killed during the engagement, and my body guard had six horses killed, and Lieutenant Meyers, commanding the body guard, had his horse shot under him and a bullet shot through his coat. I regret to have to report that during the confusion that ensued when the enemy charged on the head of our column, and before the 1st Indiana could get their guns in position, one of them, which had been too far advanced to the front, was captured and borne off by the enemy.

His adversary Colonel Griffith provided this summary of the Battle of Oakland:

My loss was only 8 wounded, 2 of whom were taken to a private house and left in charge of one of my surgeons and a nurse. The enemy lost several killed and , I have learned since 18 wounded. Some of the horses belonging to the Yankee battery having been killed, I could bring away but one of the pieces of artillery and 4 prisoners. Six shooters, coats, blankets, hats etc were dropped in such rich profusion by General Washburn’s body guard, were picked up and borne away in triumph by my boys.

Although both sides claimed victory at Oakland it was General Washburn’s command who decided to fall back leaving the Confederate wounded in town. Griffith would enter and retake Oakland the next day. His men wouldn’t follow the withdrawing Federals though.

With the fight at Oakland ending, Hovey’s expedition toward Grenada also came to a close. Although he had not captured Grenada his expedition had caused alarm among the Confederates facing off against Grant in North Mississippi. Worried about his rear General Pemberton withdrew southward. Although no major battles had been fought, this expedition had taught Grant the importance of cavalry and diversions. He would use this lesson again by sending General Benjamin Grierson on his famous raid through Mississippi in 1863. That act would take away the cavalry of General Pemberton and take up much of his attention as Grant was landing south of Vicksburg in what would become his great victory in capturing that citadel.

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