To divert the Confederates attention from his march south from Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant called for the help from the cavalry. Late in March, Maj. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, Grant's subordinate in Memphis, framed a proposal for a raid on the Southern Railroad. Coincidentally, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans was readying a mounted column to strike the Western & Atlantic Railroad in northwest Georgia. Learning of each other's plans, Hurlbut and Rosecrans hammered out a scheme to keep the northern Mississippi and Alabama Confederates busy, thus freeing their mounted columns to penetrate deep into the Southern heartland.
On April 15th, the joint operations began when a Union column struck eastward from Corinth and drove the Confederates back into the Tennessee Valley. Tuscumbia was captured on the 24th. Meanwhile, infantry columns had marched from Memphis and LaGrange, and between them engrossed the attention of the Confederate cavalry posted in northwest Mississippi.
Covered by these thrusts, 2 great cavalry raids started. Col. Abel D. Streight's mule-mounted soldiers left Tuscumbia on the 26th heading for the Western & Atlantic Railroad. This sweep failed when Gen. Nathan B. Forrest compelled Streight's men to lay down their arms on May 3rd near Cedar Bluff, Alabama.
The 2nd column, 1,700 strong, led by Col. Benjamin H. Grierson, had ridden out of LaGrange on the 17th. Near West Point on the 21st, when hard-pressed by pursuing Confederate cavalry, Grierson detached Col. Edward Hatch with a third of the command. Hatch, after threatening the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, returned to LaGrange. The Confederate forces in northeast Mississippi trailed Hatch, allowing Grierson to proceed south unopposed.
On the 24th, Grierson's men struck the vital Southern Railroad at Newport Station. After breaking up the railroad and cutting telegraph lines, his primary mission, Grierson determined to take advantage of his discretionary orders and strike for the Mississippi River.
Apprised of the raid on Newton Station, Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton focused his efforts on hunting down and destroying Grierson's cavalry. Grierson's column, however, slipped through the net Pemberton spread. After cutting the New Orleans, Jackson, & Great Northern Railroad, Grierson's troopers enterded the Union lines at Baton Rouge on May 2nd. Since leaving LaGrange, Grierson had ridden through the heart of Mississippi, wreaking havoc on communications. More important, he had diverted Pemberton's attention from Grant's march south. In futile efforts to destroy Grierson's command, Pemberton had worn down and scattered his strategic reserve.