The Civil War touched almost every place in Tennessee, and towns like Collierville, located on the historic Memphis-Charleston railroad line in Shelby County, have their own Civil War stories to tell.
Conflict came to the doorsteps of Collierville residents once the Confederate cavalry began a concerted series of raids to disrupt Union supply lines and communications in the summer and fall of 1863. On October 11, 1863, 3,000 Confederates, under the command of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers, swooped down on the tiny Union garrison protecting Collierville. The Confederates chased the Federals into their fortifications and captured wagons of supplies.
Suddenly, in what proved to be a stroke of luck for the Union army, a train carrying Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and his headquarters staff–an estimated 260 men–pulled into the Collierville depot. Chalmers never knew Sherman was coming–in fact Sherman was headed east to review his troops at Corinth, Mississippi, before they moved to Chattanooga to help the besieged Army of the Cumberland.
Gen. Sherman quickly sent his troops from the train to push back the Confederate assault while he ordered local commander Col. D. C. Anthony to refuse General Chalmers’s demand for surrender. Soon the Confederates were close enough to fire volleys into General Sherman’s train, and Sherman ordered the burning of nearby buildings that potentially sheltered enemy fire. The Confederates set fire to the rear of the train and even captured Sherman’s favorite horse, Dolly, but they never gained control. Union commanders ordered reinforcements to rush to the town. Once Chalmers learned of approaching Federal reinforcements from Germantown, he withdrew his troops, to fight another day.
Losses on both sides totaled over 200. The Federal dead were buried and later removed to the National Cemetery in Memphis. One unknown Confederate soldier is buried in the town’s Magnolia Cemetery.
Despite the damage, General Sherman was back on track, headed to Corinth, in a day. But the encounter at the Collierville depot taught the Union general that dependence on this railroad was unwise. He reported to General Grant that the Federal advance in the Deep South should never be dependent on the railroad and should depend instead on whatever could be taken from the countryside. The lesson Sherman learned at Collierville became part of his basic strategy along the “March to the Sea” in 1864.