Civil War Wednesday: Rome, Georgia

Forrest

Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest

 

In April 1863, the Federal forces set their sights on destroying the main line of supply for Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army – the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Colonel Abel Streight developed a raiding plan, whereby his troopers, mounted on mules, would traverse the rugged terrain from their launch point near Eastport, Alabama. Once on the trail, the Federals would head toward Dalton, Georgia, where they planned to sever Bragg’s rail supply out of Atlanta. Brigadier General Grenville Dodge received orders to cooperate with Streight; his role consisting of a feint toward Tuscumbia, Alabama in an effort to attract the attention of Confederate forces in the region. Unfortunately, for these soldiers, they attracted the attention of Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Streight and company corralled their 1,250 mounts, mostly mules, near Eastport, Alabama. As the blue-clad soldiers slept soundly in their tents, Southern soldiers approached the camp, opened the gates to the stockade, and released the Federal’s hooved transportation. Two days later, Streight’s men had collected most of the strays and resumed their trek eastward. On April 29, Forrest turned his sights from Dodge and began his pursuit of Streight. The quick riding Confederate horsemen closed the Federal lead, and on April 30, Forrest struck the rear of Streight’s force at Day’s Gap. Forrest’s command suffered 65 casualties, the general’s brother William among the wounded, but perhaps the biggest blow to the Southern effort occurred when the Federals captured two of Forrest’s artillery pieces. The rather incensed chieftain issued direct orders to his force. “Whenever you see anything blue, shoot at it, and do all you can to keep up the scare.”[1]

Colonel Abel Streight

Colonel Abel Streight

 

Riding vigorously, the Southern troopers continued the chase, and made rapid progress until encountering the Black Creek, where they found the lone bridge spanning the stream destroyed. Thanks to the efforts of a local resident, young Ema Samsom, who saddled up behind Forrest and took him to a nearby crossing, the chase quickly resumed. As the Northern troops neared the confines of Rome, they began to tire. Miles of bone jarring time in the mule-saddles, having missed several meals, and the constant harassment received from Forrest and company began to take a toll. Skirmishing outside Gadsden, Alabama resulted in the mortal wounding of Colonel Gilbert Hathaway, further dampening the spirits of Streight’s raiders. The blue-clad troopers continued to close the gap on Rome, since Forrest’s screening of their right flank had diverted their path away from the original target of Dalton. John Wisdom, a mail carrier and former Rome resident, spotted the Yankee troopers, and rode for several hours to alert the citizens of his hometown of the approaching Federal force.

The citizens of Rome rallied into action, rushed to guard the bridge providing access to the city, and started constructing barricades along the main road. Streight’s men had had enough, and they pleaded with their colonel to surrender, an action Streight refused until afforded the opportunity to ascertain the actual strength of the Southern force. Forrest complied, and in yet another of his many brilliant ruses of the war, successfully fooled his Northern opponent into thinking his numbers far superior than the 600 or so soldiers remaining.[2] Forrest orchestrated a creative parading of the same troops and the deployment and redeployment of the same artillery pieces, until finally, Streight, in an exasperated manner exclaimed, “Name of God! How many guns have you got? There’s fifteen I’ve counted already.” [3] After Streight surrendered his army on May 3, he learned the actual numbers Forrest fielded against him and proceeded to demand a retraction of his surrender and the resumption of fighting. Forrest responded, as only the “Wizard of the Saddle” could, “Ah, Colonel, all is fair in love and war you know.”[4]

In a post-war account of the raid, a member of Streight’s party commented on the actions of Forrest during the campaign. He praised the Southern cavalryman when noting, “His movements were timed as if he knew the object of Streight’s expedition, and he could not have moved more certainly to thwart it if he had seen a copy of General Rosecrans’ order.”[5] The Rome Courier editors captured the thoughts of many in the city in penning a headline for an article recounting the raid and capture – “Great Victory! Great Joy! The Yankees in Rome at Last.”[6]



[1] Brian Steel Wills, The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman: Nathan Bedford Forrest (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992), 113.

[2] Brian Steel Wills.

[3] Ibid., 119.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gilbert C. Kniffin, “Streight’s Raid Through Tennessee and Northern Georgia in 1863,” in Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States War Papers, District of Columbia, reprint 1887-1915 ed. (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing, 1998).

[6] Rome Courier, “Great Victory! Great Joy!,” Confederate Union, May 12, 1863. http://milledgeville.galileo.usg.edu/milledgeville/view?docId=news/fuw1863/fuw1863-0074.xml&query=Streight&brand=milledgeville-brand (accessed March 12, 2013).

ms2Michael K. Shaffer is the Assistant Director and Lecturer for Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center. He is a Civil War historian, author, and newspaper columnist, and a member of the Society of Civil War Historians. He serves on the boards of the Civil War Round Table of Cobb County and the River Line Historic Area, and assists the Friends of Camp McDonald as a Civil War consultant.

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