Expedition from Helena to Grenada, Mississippi (November 27 to December 6, 1862)

Union troops left Helena (Phillips County) on November 27, 1862, on an expedition to hinder operation of the Mississippi Central Railroad and cut Confederate lines of communication in support of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s operations against Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey, who had six days earlier been recalled from an expedition against Arkansas Post to participate in the Mississippi offensive, led the operation as 7,000 Union troops boarded sixteen transport vessels at Helena and steamed across the Mississippi River, disembarking at Delta, Mississippi. Once there, Brigadier General Cadwallader C. Washburn and his 1,900 Union cavalrymen rushed to the junction of the Tallahatchie and Coldwater rivers, where they scattered a battalion of Mississippi State Troops after a brief skirmish on November 28.

Washburn’s men cobbled together a bridge across the Tallahatchie on November 29, completing it as Hovey’s infantrymen marched into sight. With two regiments of Indiana foot soldiers guarding the bridgehead, Washburn and his cavalry rode on toward Grenada, pausing at Hardy Station to destroy hundreds of yards of telegraph wire and a bridge while burning eleven railroad cars. Fearing reports of a strong rebel force at Grenada, Washburn elected to spend the night of November 30 near Charleston. The two regiments of Indiana infantry, supported by a battery of Iowa artillery, advanced to Mitchell’s Crossroads to fend off any attempts to cut Washburn’s line of retreat.

A patrol of the Twenty-Eighth Mississippi Cavalry attacked two companies of Hoosier infantry guarding a crossing of the Yocona River on the morning of December 1 but were soon run off by Federal artillery fire. Major General Earl Van Dorn had meanwhile ordered three brigades of Texas cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel John S. Griffith to confront Washburn’s Yankees. A fierce engagement near Oakland on December 3, in which the Texans briefly captured a pair of Union howitzers, ended with the Confederates being forced to retreat.

The next day, they learned that Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the District of Eastern Arkansas, had determined that “the expedition had accomplished its objective” and ordered Hovey to break off the offensive. The Federals, accompanied by around 500 African Americans who had left plantations in the area to seek protection and freedom with the Union column, took until December 7 to march through deep mud caused by torrential rains to reach the Mississippi River, where they boarded the transport steamships and returned to Helena.

Writing of the expedition, historians William L. Shea and Terrence J. Winschel noted that while “Hovey’s unheralded raid was not a success…it demonstrated the importance of Grant’s authority to make use of Union forces stationed across the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Missouri.” Confederate lieutenant general John Pemberton, leading efforts to defend Vicksburg, however, “could not issue orders to Confederates along the west bank of the Mississippi, which would cost him dearly in the months to come.”

For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. The Vicksburg Campaign, vol. 1: Vicksburg Is the Key. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1985.

Shea, William L., and Terrence J. Winschel. Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, vol. 17. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1886/1887, pp. 528–541.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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