Explanation: Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman planned to march from Vicksburg to Meridian. Once there, he would take Meridian, the state's largest remaining Confederate railroad center, and secure a broad corrider along the Mississippi River. If successful, he would cripple Western Confederate rail transport, eliminate an area supplying Confederate troops, restrict Confederate operations south of Memphis, Tennessee, and reduce the number of Union troops needed to secure Union navigation of the Mississippi River.
Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman planned to march 120 miles east from Vicksburg, Mississippi, take Meridian, the state's largest remaining Confederate railroad center, and secure a broad corridor along the Mississippi River. If successful, he would cripple Western Confederate rail transport, eliminate an area supplying Confederate troops with staples, restrict Confederate operations south of Memphis, Tennessee, and reduce the number of Union troops needed to secure Federal navigation of the Mississippi River.
He ordered Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith to take 7,000 cavalry from the Memphis area on February 1, raid south through Okolona, down the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and meet the main force at Meridian on February 10. Sherman left Vicksburg on February 3, with 20,000 men traveling in 2 columns: XVI Corps troops under Maj. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut departing north of the city, XVII Corps troops under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson taking the direct easterly route on the Jackson road. To disperse Confederates from Sherman's front, diversions and feints were ordered on Mobile, Alabama, and Rome, Georgia, along the Yazoo River; and on Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, had Meridian defended by 3,000 men under Maj. Gen. Samuel G. French, 2,500 cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, 6,000 infantry under Maj. Gen. William Wing Loring northeast of Vicksburg at Canton, and 2,000 cavalry under Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee in Sherman's path west of Jackson. Forrest's and Lee's cavalry were the only Confederates seriously engaged in the campaign.
Lee's cavalry skirmished with Sherman's infantry on February 3-5. French, marching his men west to Jackson, arrived on the 4th, linked with Lee, abandoned plans for a battle northwest of Jackson at Clinton, and retreated east on the 5th. Union elements occupied Jackson late that day. On the 8th, Loring and French met at Morton, west of Meridian, skirmished with Federals on the 9th, then retreated to Meridian. Other Southern departments, worried by Sherman's ordered diversions, sent Polk no reinforcements. Polk ordered Meridian abandoned on the 14th, and removed his infantry and railroad rolling stock to Demopolis, Alabama. Sherman's men entered Meridian the same day andthrough the 19th destroyed 115 miles of railroad track surrounding the town.
Smith's cavalry never arrived at Meridian. Concerned, Sherman headed west on the 20th, marching in a northerly arc through small towns and sending mounted scouts farther north to look for the lost force. The Federals assembled in Canton on the 26th, waited 5 days for word of Smith, then hiked back to Vicksburg, arriving there on March 4. Sherman's official report of March 7 recorded Union losses in the brief campaign as just 170 killed, wounded, and missing, and claimed that the army lived chiefly off Confederate civilians, took 400 prisoners, seized 3,000 draft animals, destroyed untotaled amounts of Confederate cotton, and escorted 5,000 slaves and 1,000 white refugees into Union lines. The general praised McPherson and Hurlbut, saying that their handling of the campaign.
In Vicksburg, Sherman received word that Smith had not launched his cavalry strike until February 11, a day after he was expected at Meridian. He skirmished with Confederate militia, burned property, and tore up approximately 55 miles of railroad track until hitting Forrest's cavalry near West Point on February 20. Halting there because he was concerned about the topography, an extensive baggage train, and the safety of 1,000 slaves following his command, Smith turned back, skirmished north, fought and lost the engagement at Okolona on February 22, then retired to Memphis with a loss of about 700 men killed, wounded, and captured. Sherman called his late start "Unpardonable," and his performance "unsatisfactory".