The Real Horse Soldiers: Grierson's Raid
featuring Timothy B. Smith, Ph.D.
"Make way for the screen's two top stars in their most outstanding roles! John Wayne and William Holden riding hell-bent for glory in the most daring adventure. Make way for the Horse Soldiers!"
So claimed the trailer for John Ford's epic 1959 filled with drama and a high stakes gamble based upon the daring real-life raid by Benjamin Grierson and his hand-picked cavalrymen as part of the larger Vicksburg Campaign during the spring and summer of 1863.
Ford's "major motion picture" used cinematic license to chip away at historical accuracy (while adding the obligatory romantic interest of Constance Tower), but Timothy B. Smith's deeply researched and full-length study presents the REAL horse soldiers.
For a little more than two weeks, Grierson's raiders led Confederate pursuers through the entire state of Mississippi from Tennessee to Louisiana tearing up railroad tracks, burning bridges, freeing slaves and generally doing as much damage and creating chaos is possible. The raid diverted the attention of the Confederate high command while Ulysses S. Grant moved his entire Army of the Tennessee across the "Father of Waters" into the Mississippi heartland on his way to the eventual capture of Vicksburg.
John Ford's film promised daring adventure, but Doctor Smith's research has shown the real daring and adventure occurred nearly 100 years before Wayne and Holden faced off on the screen.
Timothy B. Smith is a faculty lecturer at the University of Tennessee-Martin and a former member of the National Park Service staff at Shiloh NMP. He holds a doctorate in history from Mississippi State University, and is the author of more than 15 books. Dr. Smith's volumes on Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg and The Real Horse Soldiers: Benjamin Grierson’s Epic 1863 Raid through Civil War Mississippi are considered the definitive modern studies of these key components of the Vicksburg Campaign.
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