‘The Real Horse Soldiers’

Published 7:44 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When you work for a newspaper, something you tend to receive every now and then is a book.

I probably should say books, because there are times the postman has been known to deliver a virtual library of publications sporting various titles and addressing many subjects.

Of course, when publishers send these books, they’re hoping an editor will assign the precious publication to a reporter who will read it and write a glowing review of the book that will encourage the reading public to go out and buy a copy and be blessed by the words hidden under the cover.

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I remember doing a report when I was working in Alabama. The assigned book was “Eye of the Tiger,” a book on LSU football by New Orleans Times-Picayune sports reporter Marty Mule’. I received it because being an LSU grad I was intimately familiar with the purple and gold. I even got to keep the book, which unfortunately was a victim of Katrina’s tidal surge, just like my autographed copy of “Fighting Tigers,” by Pete Finney, a gift from my parents on my 17th birthday.

When I was in Pascagoula as the paper’s military reporter, I received several books, both fiction and non-fiction, on the military. Some were very good and several still grace my bookshelves. Some were real stinkers, and were cast into no-book’s land.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to take advantage of books on the Civil War and about Vicksburg after the siege. One recent acquisition surprised me.

“The Real Horse Soldiers” is about Col. Benjamin Grierson’s raid through Mississippi as a diversion while Gen. Ulysses Grant made his plans to cross the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf. What made me glad to get the book was that my interest in Grierson’s Raid was peaked years ago by a John Wayne movie.

The 1959 movie, “The Horse Soldiers,” was based on a novel that was loosely based on Col. Grierson’s raid. I have the DVD of the film at home and watch it from time to time. I’m presently reading “The Real Horse Soldiers,” and like most situations when you read the book after seeing a movie on the event, you realize that Hollywood’s attempt at re-telling history usually — but not always — doesn’t quite jibe with the actual events.

One thing I have found interesting as I read the book, was how confused the Confederate command structure was, and how strapped Confederate Gen. John Pemberton in Vicksburg was for troops to help him protect Vicksburg from Grant and at the same time pursue Grierson, who was making his way south to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Whether Grierson made it to Baton Rouge and whether he encountered any resistance along the way, are questions I’ll have to have answered in the next few days. From what I can tell, Grierson didn’t have a female hostage he fell in love with like John Wayne’s Col. Marlowe. Mrs. Grierson wouldn’t have approved.

So much for life imitating art.

John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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