During the first week of July, 1864, the powerful “Army Group” commanded by Major General William T. Sherman slowly closed in on Atlanta, Georgia. To help loosen the grip of the Confederate Army of Tennessee on Atlanta, Sherman planned to send a fast moving cavalry force, about 3,000 strong, to smash the Montgomery and West Point Railroad. (This railroad linked the defenders of Atlanta with the magazines and supply depots of central Alabama.) Leaving Decatur, Alabama, on July 9, these raiders were expected to strike the vital railroad near Opelika. After tearing up the track and burning the trestles and bridges, the Union cavalry would have to escape the clutches of the aroused Confederates. If the raiders found that it was impossible to rendezvous with Sherman’s “Army Group” before Atlanta, they were to head for Pensacola, Florida, which had been occupied by the Union forces since May, 1862.
Bearss, Edwin L.
"Asboth's Expedition Up the Alabama and Florida Railroad,"
Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 39
, Article 5.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol39/iss2/5