Interview of Starke Miller by Steve Vassallo
Starke, let’s turn the clock back to December, 1862 (155 years ago). What was transpiring in Oxford at that time?
Starke Miller: The Battles of Shiloh and Corinth had been lost, and Memphis had fallen. The Union was looking to take Vicksburg, the last Confederate choke hold on the Mississippi River.
The Union forces arrived in Oxford for what primary reason? I cannot envision such a small town in the mid 1800’s being of any strategic value.
Starke Miller: Union General Grant was looking for a way to Vicksburg. Grant had decided to go East on the Memphis- Charleston Rail Road, then turn South at Grand Junction Tennessee and to then to go South to Jackson, Mississippi on the Mississippi Central Rail Road. From there he would go west to Vicksburg on the Jackson- Vicksburg Rail Road, supplying his Army the whole way on the Rail Roads.
Are the numbers of Union troops that reportedly came here actually correct, numbering some 60,000?
Starke Miller: Grant came to Oxford about December 2, 1862 with 50,000 men and another 30,000 at College Hill, about 6 miles North of Oxford
How long did the occupation of Oxford last by the Yankee invaders?
Starke Miller: Grant was in Oxford from December 2 to about December 23.
Do we have any historical accounts as to how Oxford’s residents were treated by the invading and occupying force?
Starke Miller: One little Black boy on South Lamar was shot dead. The yankee troops stole from nearly every house and store. The entered houses with force of weapons and what they did not steal, they destroyed. That included ripping up carpet, clothing and paintings. They broke up pianos and scattered personal papers and libraries in the mud. They also robbed individuals both Black and white.
It has been rumored/believed all of my life that US Grant spent the night on the Oxford square in a tent. Fact or fiction?
Starke Miller: Several accounts say Grant stayed in Colonel Brown’s fine mansion near the train depot, so he could be near the telegraph office there. This is about where the Marriott sits today on Jackson Avenue.
What direction were the Yankees heading upon leaving Oxford and why?
Starke Miller: Confederate General Earl Van Dorn raided Grants supply depot at Holly Springs on December 21. He burned most everything he could not carry off. Grant then had to abandon his southward movement because he realized he could never fully protect the Rail Road behind him. He retreated to Memphis.
Nathan Bedford Forrest was in and out of here a lot in the 1862-64 period. What was attracting his Calvary here?
Starke Miller: Oxford was on a rail line and sat behind the defensible Tallahatchie River crossing at Abbeville. This location put Forrest and his Cavalry within striking distance of the Union supply routes in Middle and West Tennessee, as well as the important river city of Memphis.
The Union troops would eventually burn the town as a parting present. When did this actually occur?
Starke Miller: On August 22 1864, Union General Andrew J. Smith came into Oxford looking to catch General Forrest. As Smith sat on his horse on the Northern side of the Court House, a courier rode up to him with the message that Forrest had slipped around him and had raided Memphis the night before. This was a huge failure and embarrassment to General Smith. Smith burned Oxford out of anger, for no real military advantage.
Starke Miller is a local historian with emphasis on the Civil War and University Greys. Starke conducts regular historical tours and seminars on the Ole Miss campus, Oxford, Shiloh, and other Civil War battlefields. Currently, he is engaged in an in-depth research project involving the Confederate Cemetery on campus. Steve Vassallo is an Oxford resident, Ole Miss alum and one of the leading journalists with HottyToddy.com. He has previously written opinion pieces for the Oxford Eagle. In 2016, Steve was the Lafayette County Chairman for the Trump campaign.