GRIERSON, (GEN.) BENJAMIN H., distinguished military commander in the Civil War, was born at Pittsburg, Pa., July 8, 1826, the son of Robert and Mary (Shepard) Grierson, natives of the city of Dublin, Ireland, who emigrated to this country in 1819, arrived in New York and proceeded to Pittsburgh, Pa., subsequently removing to Youngstown, Ohio, and thence to Jacksonville, Ill. Benjamin H. pursued a course of study in the high school and an academy at Youngstown, Ohio, and passed an examination which would have entitled him to admission to West Point Military Academy, but declined the appointment on account of opposition thereto by his mother. In early manhood he was engaged in teaching music in Ohio, but in 1851, the family having removed to Jacksonville, Ill., he continued in that place his profession as a teacher of music. He possessed musical talent of high order and in early life conducted a noted band and orchestra. Later he spent some five years in the grain and mercantile business at Meredosia, Ill., until about the beginning of the Civil War, when he returned to Jacksonville.
Under the first call for troops issued by President Lincoln he assisted in recruiting Company I of the Tenth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and on May 8, 1861, joined the army at Cairo, serving for three months without pay as aid on the staff of Gen. B. M. Prentiss, with the nominal rank of Lieutenant. He was on duty for a time at Ironton, Mo., and later accompanied General Prentiss on the expedition to Cape Girardeau. October 24, 1861, he was commissioned Major of the Sixth Illinois Cavalry, taking rank from August 28th preceding, but remained on detached service with General Prentiss in Northern and Central Missouri until November following, when he joined his regiment at Shawneetown, Ill. After having been mustered in with his regiment January 9, 1862, he started on February 10th with his battalion, under orders from General Sherman, to Smithland, Ky., and on March 25th received orders to proceed to Pittsburg Landing, but was detained at Paducah by order of Colonel Noble, the Post Commander. On March 28th, he was promoted by choice of the regiment to the colonelcy as successor to Colonel Cavanaugh, resigned. In June following he was ordered to Memphis, Tenn., and on the 19th of that month, by a swift dash with 250 men of his regiment and 50 of the Eleventh Cavalry, routed a force of Confederates under Gen. Jeff. Thompson, at Hernando, Miss., killing and wounding a number of the enemy and capturing 15, besides destroying a large amount of commissary and quartermaster stores, without the loss of a single man. A week later, under order of General Grant, with a part of his regiment and the Fifty-eighth Ohio Infantry, he moved to Germantown, Tenn., where he was soon joined by the Fifty-second Indiana and a section of artillery, from which point important expeditions were made which led to securing a large number of colored men to work upon the fortifications at Memphis. Returning to Memphis, July 18th, he was soon transferred to General Sherman's command, under whose instructions he was actively employed for several months scouting in different directions with uniform success. Mules were obtained, furnishing General Sherman with transportation facilities, enabling him to join Grant's Mississippi expedition. November 26th Colonel Grierson left Memphis in advance of General Sherman's corps, and for the next fifty days was almost constantly in the saddle, successively under command of Sherman, Grant and McPherson. During this time he made a rapid march from Oxford, Miss., to Helena, Ark., destroying rebel camp equipages, wagons, arms and ammunition, also pursuing General VanDorn's forces from near Water Valley, Miss., north into Tennessee, and, after repulsing that General's attack at Bolivar, drove him south of the Tallahatchie.
The cavalry force having been reorganized, Colonel Grierson was assigned to command of the First Brigade consisting of the Sixth and Seventh Illinois and Second Iowa Cavalry, and by order of General Grant reported to General McPherson, then commanding the Seventeenth Army Corps, of which the cavalry brigade formed the rear-guard on the march to LaGrange, Tenn., where it arrived January 14, 1863. Until April following the cavalry force was employed in guarding the line of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and scouring the surrounding country. Leaving LaGrange March 8, with 900 men of the Sixth and Seventh Illinois Cavalry, after a forced march of 50 miles, Colonel Grierson attacked the rebel forces under Colonel Richardson near Covington, Tenn., effecting a complete surprise, routing the enemy with a loss of 22 killed and 70 captured, besides the destruction of commissary and quartermaster stores, train, ammunition and military records. Colonel Grierson's loss in this expedition was only four men missing.
Then, having volunteered for the hazardous undertaking, Colonel Grierson entered upon one of the most memorable and brilliant expeditions of the war. On April 17, 1863, under orders received from General Grant, through Generals Hurlburt and Smith, he left LaGrange, Tenn., with 1,700 men, with but three days' rations in their haversacks, and marching south through the entire State of Mississippi, a distance of over 600 miles, sixteen days later arrived at Baton Rouge, La. During the last twenty-eight hours of this raid, Colonel Grierson's force marched 76 miles, had four engagements, destroyed two rebel camps, captured nearly 100 prisoners, and crossed the Tickfaw, Amite and Comite Rivers. This famous expedition resulted in the destruction of 60 miles of railroad and telegraph lines, several locomotives, with over 100 cars-many of them loaded with shell and other ordinance or quartermaster stores; 3,000 stand of arms and the capture of 1,000 horses and mules. The loss to the Confederates amounted to millions of dollars in property, besides 100 soldiers killed or wounded and 500 captured and paroled. A large number of colored men accompanied Grierson's force to Baton Rouge and immediately mustered into Union regiments. Colonel Grierson's entire loss amounted to one officer, one non-commissioned officer and three privates wounded, five left sick on the march and nine missing. The expedition proved the Confederacy "a mere shell," disconcerted the enemy's plans, scattered and drew their forces from vulnerable points, and threw them into such confusion as to render them unserviceable and unable to concentrate against General Grant's forces in the movement against Vicksburg. As a consequence over 20,000 rebel troops were ordered to distant points by Generals Pemberton and Gardner, depleting the strength of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg in the vain attempt to capture and destroy Colonel Grierson and his gallant band of audacious raiders from Illinois, and proving an important factor in the capture of that rebel stronghold three months later. On May 12th following, Grierson's command destroyed the railroad and telegraph between Clinton and Port Hudson, La., took part in a number of engagements and patrolled the region in the vicinity of Port Hudson until its surrender.
The service rendered by Colonel Grierson in this campaign was promptly recognized by President Lincoln by his promotion to Brigadier-General of Volunteers, "for gallant and distinguished service" in his great raid through the heart of the so-called Confederacy-his commission bearing date June 3, 1863, one month before the fall of Vicksburg.
General Grierson took an active part in all expeditions from Western Tennessee into Mississippi in 1864, made with a view of attracting the attention of the rebel forces and drawing their cavalry from the front and flank of the main army under command of General Sherman during the operations of the latter in Middle Tennessee, and especially while General Sherman was concentrating his forces for his famous "march through Georgia." By direction of General Halleck, General Grierson led a rapid and successful cavalry expedition from Memphis, Tenn., in mid-winter-December, 1864, and January, 1865-dealing a destructive blow to the enemy's communications with the South, by destroying railroads, capturing and destroying Hood's army supplies, including ordnance, commissary, medical and quartermaster stores at Vernona, Miss., and capturing the rebel fortification and forces at Egypt Station, Miss. Referring to the famous raid of 1863, General Grant stated in writing, now on file in the War Department, "General Grierson was the first officer to set the example of what might be done in the interior of the enemy's country without a base from which to draw supplies," and that the mid-winter raid of 1864-65 "was most important in its results and most successfully executed."
It is impossible within the limits of the sketch to give a detailed account of even the most important of General Grierson's military achievements during the war period. Suffice to say that, up to the hour of the suppression of the Rebellion, he was engaged in a service calling for gallantry, military skill and able leadership, and was not found wanting, as shown in the reputation conceded to him in the history of that dramatic period.
On February 10, 1865, by direction of President Lincoln, he was assigned to duty with the brevet rank of Major-General and ordered to report to General Canby at New Orleans, to take command of a cavalry expedition through Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Returning to New Orleans he organized a cavalry force for service in Texas, and later was in command in Northern Alabama with headquarters at Huntsville, where he remained until January, 1866, soon after being summoned to Washington to testify before the Congressional Committee on Reconstruction. While there he was promoted to Major-General of Volunteers, to rank from May 27, 1865, "for gallant and meritorious service during the War of the Rebellion." At his own request he was honorably mustered out of the volunteer service, April 30, 1866.
On the reorganization of the Regular Army, General Grierson was appointed Colonel of the Tenth Regiment U. S. Cavalry, soon thereafter receiving the Brevets of Brigadier and Major-General U. S. Army. He organized his regiment at Fort Leavenworth, Kans., and for nearly a quarter of a century was actively engaged in scouting and exploring throughout the Western States and Territories, being almost constantly in the field or at some exposed post in the midst of the most savage and warlike Indians of the frontiers. In this way he rendered service to the Government quite as hazardous and important as that rendered during the War of the Rebellion. Besides this valuable service at various military posts, he commanded at different times the Districts of the Indian Territory and Pecos, Texas; the Department of Texas; the District of New Mexico, and the Department of Arizona, with headquarters at Los Angeles, Cal., where he received his appointment as Brigadier-General U. S. Army, to rank from April 3, 1890. He was retired from active service on July 8th of the same year, since when he has resided at Jacksonville, Ill.
On September 24, 1854, General Grierson was united in marriage with Alice Kirk, of Youngstown, Ohio, daughter of John and Susan (Bingham) Kirk. She died August 16, 1888. Seven children were born of this union, of whom two daughters and one son are deceased. The surviving sons are as follows: Major Charles H., U. S. A., a graduate of West Point, now at Fort Robinson, Neb.; Robert K., of Jacksonville,.; Benjamin H., Jr., and George M., who are at Fort Davis, Texas, in the ranch business. On July 28, 1897, he was wedded to Mrs. Lillian King, formerly the wife of Col. John W. King, and a daughter of Moses G. Atwood, of Alton, Ill., who moved west from Concord, N. H., in 1837. Mrs. Grierson has one son, Harold Atwood King, general manager of a ranch belonging to General Grierson at Fort Davis, Texas.
In politics, General Grierson is a Republican. Immediately on the organization of that party he became actively allied with it, earnestly advocating the election of John C. Fremont for the presidency, and in the campaign of 1856 was one of very few supporters of Fremont in Meredosia, Morgan County, Ill.
In view of the grandly patriotic career of Benjamin H. Grierson words of encomium are superfluous. His deeds will speak evermore. They are written in imperishable characters on the scroll of his country's heroes, and form an inseparable part of the nation's history.