Following the Union victory at Vicksburg and the burning of the Mississippi state capital, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman turned his forces east toward Meridian, Mississippi. Meridian was home to a Confederate arsenal, prison of war camp, hospital and a railroad center. The Union plan was to take Meridian and then move onto Selma and Mobile, Alabama.
About 20,000 Union troops under Sherman moved out from Vicksburg on February 3rd 1864 and another 7,000 cavalry under Brigadier General William Sooy Smith left from Memphis, Tennessee traveling along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The two forces were supposed to meet at Meridian.
Confederate Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk merged his troops near Morton, Mississippi. Sherman made some feints to keep Polk guessing about his real target. Confederate Calvary under Major General Stephen D Lee skirmished with the Union troops as they moved toward Meridian. When Polk realized that Sherman was moving on Meridian he evacuated on February 14th 1864 falling back to Demopolis, Alabama, to launch an attack into the Union rear.
Smith didn’t make it to Meridian as he ran into Confederate troops led by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest at West Point, Mississippi, and was forced to retreat into Tennessee. Sherman’s army in Meridian didn’t know about Smith’s retreat and he waited in Meridian until February 20th 1864. Deciding at that point to move back to Vicksburg, Sherman ordered that Meridian be destroyed. The Union troops burned and tore up 115 miles of track, 61 bridges, 20 trains, and 3 sawmills. The Union troops left the city without any food, Sherman said that “Meridian with its depots, store-houses, arsenal, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments no longer exists.”