At Memphis, Tennessee, General Sherman finds General Hurlbut busy carrying out instructions he had sent him to prepare two divisions for the trip down the Mississippi and the long march that will follow. While there, Sherman also confers with W. Sooy Smith, stressing the need for promptness and a vigorous celerity if his cavalry, with nearly twice the distance to cover from their starting point at nearby Collierville, are to reach Meridian, Alabama, at the same time as the infantry, who will set out simultaneously from Vicksburg. Smith’s cavalry are to ride southeast to Okolona, visiting such destruction upon the inhabitants of this 100-mile swath across north Mississippi as his schedule permits, then turn south along the Mobile & Ohio, scourging the heart of the Black Prairie region with fire and sword, all the way to his projected link-up with the infantry at Meridian, another 130 miles below, for the combined march eastward across the Tombigbee. Something else Sherman stresses as well, which if neglected could bring on a far worse result than being thrown off schedule. This is what Sherman refers to as “the nature of Forrest as a man, and of his peculiar force,” a factor he first learned to take into account at Fallen Timbers, after the Battle of Shiloh, where his attempt at pursuit was brought to a sudden, unceremonious halt by one of Forrest’s headlong charges, delivered in defiance not only of the odds, but also of the tactical manuals he had never read. Sherman explains to Smith “that in his route he was sure to encounter Forrest, who always attacked with a vehemence for which he must be prepared, and that, after he had repelled the first attack, he must in turn assume the more determined offensive, overwhelm him and utterly destroy his whole force.” Without scoffing at the danger, Smith exhibits a confidence in the numerical advantage his superior’s foresight as assured him for the impending confrontation with the so-called Wizard of the Saddle, declaring that the best procedure will be “to pitch into Forrest wherever I find him.”
Neither a greenhorn nor a braggart, Smith is a West Pointer like his commander and fellow Ohioan, who is ten years his senior, and has risen on ability in the army to which he returned on the outbreak of the war, interrupting what had promised to be (and later will be) a distinguished career as a civil engineer. Graduating with Sheridan and McPherson, he commanded a brigade at Shiloh while these other two Ohioans were still low-ranking staffers, and he led a division with such proficiency throughout the Vicksburg Campaign that Grant soon afterwards made him his chief of cavalry. What is more, in the case of this present assignment, his confidence in his combat-tested ability as a leader is greatly strengthened by a look at the composition of the force he will be leading. In addition to the five regiments he brought with him from middle Tennessee, he will have at his disposal a Memphis-based division under Ben Grierson, who rode to fame over nearly the same route nine months ago, and a veteran brigade already ordered to join him from Union City, up near the Kentucky line. Out of this total of better than 12,000 cavalry, he will select the 7,000 he is to have in his hard-riding column, armed to a man with breechloading carbines and accompanied by twenty pieces of artillery, double-teamed for speed. This will give him not only twice as many troopers as are with Forrest, whose newly recruited division is all that stands between Smith and his objective, but also the largest and best-equipped body of Federal horsemen ever assembled in the western theater. It is small wonder that he expresses no doubt that he can accomplish all that is asked of him.
Action includes a skirmish at Mossy Creek and a two-day Federal scout from near Dandridge to Clark’s Ferry, Tennessee; a skirmish at Loudoun Heights and a Federal scout to Sperryville, Virginia; plus skirmishing at Petersburg, West Virginia; and King’s River, Arkansas.
Off the south Atlantic coast the blockade is tighter than ever, with numerous blockade runners captured by the Federals. But blockader USS Iron Age is lost off Lockwood’s Folly Inlet, South Carolina, after it goes aground and is bombarded from land.