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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Meridian, Expedition to

MERIDIAN (Miss.), Expedition to. In January 1864 General Sherman concentrated two divisions of 10,000 each at Vicksburg under Generals McPherson and Hurlbut, and 3 February marched eastward with the purpose of destroying Meridian, 150 miles distant, as a railroad centre, and possibly penetrating to Selma, Ala., or, if the opposing forces did not seem too strong at Mobile, to turn southward from Meridian and attempt the capture of that city. Gen. Sooy Smith was to co-operate with a cavalry force from Memphis; General Dodge, in command at Pulaski, Tenn., was to hold Logan at Bellefonte, Ala., for a diversion toward Rome, Ga.; and General Thomas was to demonstrate toward Dalton to prevent troops being sent by General Johnston to Sherman's front. Sherman entered Jackson on the 6th, after heavy skirmishing with cavalry. Decatur was reached on the 12th. Meridian was taken the 14th, the Confederate force, under Gen. Leonidas Polk, being much less than Sherman's, withdrawing toward Demopolis. The arsenal, extensive storehouses and cantonments were burned. The work of destroying the railroads centring at Meridian began on the 16th, ? miles being rendered utterly useless to the north and east and 55 miles toward Mobile. This destruction was of the most systematic and thorough character; 10,000 men worked at it for five days; 61 bridges and culverts and more than a mile of trestles over swamps were burned; all rails were renderd useless. This object of the expedition was fully gained as Meridian was not wholly restored as a railroad centre during the war. Thereafter, the transporting of supplies eastward from the State of Mississippi was seriously interrupted for a long time and was greatly impeded up to the close of the war, while all military operations which required railroad facilities were rendered extremely difficult.

The expedition, however, was not as successful as had been hoped. The Confederates by the exercise of great energy in the face of many difficulties, so strengthened Mobile as to forbid an advance in that direction. Sherman, not receiving the cavalry support under Gen. Sooy Smith which he had reason to expect from Memphis, was unable to push on to Selma, Ala., one of the great manufacturing cities and storehouses for military supplies of the Confederacy. Smith, in turn, had been unavoidably detained, and Sherman returned to Vicksburg, reaching its vicinity 26 February. His command had marched between 300 and 400 miles, had crossed Mississippi and inflicted well-nigh irreparable military damage; but had been prevented from carrying out his full program by Confederate activity in assembling forces in his extreme front.