The Battle of Meridian was a campaign of destruction carried out against the town of Meridian, Mississippi by Union troops under the command of Major General William T. Sherman from February 14–20, 1864.
Summary of the Battle of Meridian
Sherman Returns to Mississippi
Following the Federal breakout from Chattanooga in November 1863, Major General William T. Sherman returned to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sherman intended to destroy Southern infrastructure in the area, freeing up troops to move east and to take part in his upcoming Atlanta Campaign.
Sherman Strikes Out for Meridian
Sherman left Vicksburg on February 3, 1864, with 20,000 soldiers headed for Meridian, Mississippi, an important Confederate rail center and military outpost. To augment his force, Sherman ordered Brigadier General William Sooy Smith to lead a cavalry force of 7,000 troopers from Memphis, Tennessee, and to join him at Meridian.
Polk Abandons Meridian
As Sherman’s main force of 20,000 soldiers moved toward Meridian, the Confederate commander in the area, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, began concentrating troops for the city’s defense. Ultimately, however, Polk decided that he could not hold off a federal assault, so he evacuated Meridian on February 14. Sherman entered the city on the same day and settled in to await Smith’s cavalry.
Smith Fails to Show
As events unfolded, Smith never reached Meridian. After delaying the start of his advance ten days beyond Sherman’s ordered date of departure, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry defeated Smith and his force at the Battle of Okolona on February 22. Forrest forced Smith to retreat into Tennessee, preventing his merger with Sherman.
Wipe the Appointed Meeting Place Off the Map
Unaware of Smith’s troubles, Sherman waited at Meridian for his arrival from February 14 through February 20. During that period, Sherman ordered his troops “to wipe the appointed meeting place off the map.” His soldiers responded by destroying over 100 miles of railroad and burning anything that might be of value to the Southern cause. When Sherman left Meridian to return to Vicksburg, he reportedly stated that “Meridian, with its depots, storehouses, arsenal, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments no longer exists.”
Outcome of the Battle of Meridian
The outcome of the Battle of Meridian was a Union victory that had no recorded casualties. The casualties are either unknown or nonexistent, because there was no real combat. Sherman succeeded in temporarily destroying some significant Southern transportation facilities, but in less than one month, the Confederates restored railroad traffic.
Significance of the Battle of Meridian
The Battle of Meridian — or the Meridian Campaign — was significant because it presented Sherman with the opportunity to implement and perfect the concept of “total war,” which he would later use in Georgia and the Carolinas in the Atlanta Campaign, his “March to the Sea”, and the Carolinas Campaign.