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Rousseau's Alabama Raid

  • Time Period: July 10-22, 1864
  • Area: Alabama

In the summer of 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to discuss the plan that would "pierce the South's heart". A smaller part of that plan included a swift raid. It would be led by Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau into Central Alabama to destroy the railroad from Montgomery to Atlanta to cut off all supplies and food. "Rousseau's Raid", which occurred just 9 months before the Battle of West Point and the end of the Civil War, was fought in the heat of July 1864. Rousseau was ordered to avoid battle if at all possible and to destroy as much of the railroad as he could.

At the time, Rousseau was commanding the District of Tennessee when he received the orders from Sherman to organize the cavalry exepedition to Alabama. The main target would be the Montgomery & West Point Railroad, which they were to destroy, "doing all the mischief possible" on the way. By July 22, Rousseau's raid had become one of the most successful Union cavalry operations in the Civil War.

Even though he was no horseman, he volunteered in June for the job of leading the raid, which Sherman authorized after modifying Rousseau's master plan. It would concentrate between Montgomery and Opelika, but if successful, Rousseau was ordered to meet Sherman in Georgia. The cavalrymen were to destroy the railroad by heating and bending the rails over open fires, severing "the channels of trade and travel between Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi." Pursuing Rousseau was the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen E. Lee, but the Confederate never quite caught up.

Rousseau's raid cost him only 12 killed, 30 wounded, and 1 piece of artillery. The amount of wares and supplies destroyed by his raiders was impossible to calculate; however, in Opelika alone, they destroyed or confiscated approximately 42,000 pounds of bacon, flour, and sugar. Six railroad freight cars filled with leather also fell into Union hands. But in the 400 miles Rousseau covered, his major accomplishments was the destruction of the railroad. The defiant raid into the South also had a more far-reaching effect. Rousseau had shown the confused state of the Confederate command and put a scare into the people of Alabama. They were no longer safe.

Campaign Battles

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  • Opelika
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