The Grand Federal Military Strategy

March 17, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant met with Major General William T. Sherman at Nashville, where Grant issued his first order since becoming general-in-chief of all Federal armies.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

The two close friends began discussing military strategy when they met in the Tennessee capital. Grant explained that he would take up headquarters in the Eastern Theater, giving Sherman complete command of the West. Grant then issued General Order No. 1: “I assume command of the Armies of the United States, headquarters in the field, and until notice these will be those of the Army of the Potomac.”

One of the main reasons why Grant chose to accompany the Army of the Potomac was because three other generals in Virginia–Major General Benjamin F. Butler commanding the Army of the James, Major General Franz Sigel commanding the Army of West Virginia, and Major General Ambrose E. Burnside commanding IX Corps from the Army of the Ohio–all outranked the army commander, Major General George G. Meade, and Grant sought to prevent any jealousy over the fact that Meade led the largest Federal army.

As Grant and Sherman talked, they were in danger of the swarming newspaper reporters learning and possibly divulging their secret plans. So they boarded a train and traveled to Cincinnati. When they found that the train noise made it almost impossible to converse, they waited until they reached their destination and booked a room at the Burnet House, where they posted a guard at the door, laid out their maps, and got down to business.

By this time, Federal forces occupied the mouth of the Rio Grande, the entire Mississippi River including New Orleans, Tennessee from Memphis to Chattanooga, West Virginia, and part of Virginia north of the Rapidan River. They also occupied the ports of Norfolk and Fort Monroe in Virginia; Plymouth, Washington, and New Bern in North Carolina; Beaufort, Hilton Head, Folly and Morris islands in South Carolina; and Fernandina, St. Augustine, Pensacola, and Key West in Florida. From these occupation points, Grant envisioned a campaign in which every major Federal army would launch an offensive simultaneously.

Grant now commanded 662,000 officers and men in 22 army corps, the largest command any Federal general ever had up to that time. If he could put them all in motion at once, they could quickly destroy the dwindling Confederate armies. Grant’s strategy consisted of:

  • The Army of the Potomac crossing the Rapidan River and confronting General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia
  • The Army of the James moving up the Virginia Peninsula and threatening Richmond and Petersburg from the east
  • The Army of West Virginia clearing Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley
  • The Army of the Gulf moving east to threaten Mobile, Alabama
  • Sherman leading the Armies of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee in confronting General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee

Grant and Sherman would personally confront the two largest Confederate armies left in the field. Once Grant and Meade destroyed Lee’s army, they were expected to capture Richmond. Once Sherman destroyed Johnston’s army, he was expected to capture Atlanta.

A few days later, Grant headed back east and Sherman returned to Nashville, where he officially assumed Grant’s old command as head of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Near month’s end, Sherman issued orders closing the railroad line between Nashville and eastern Tennessee to all non-military traffic. When civilians protested that they needed the line to bring their goods to Nashville, Sherman instructed them to drive their goods and animals over the mountains by wagon like the old days because “his” railroad was too important to serve them.

In Virginia, Meade learned of Grant’s general order and wrote his wife, “I see General Grant’s assuming command and announcing that his headquarters will be with the Army of the Potomac, is in the public journals, and by to-morrow will be known in Richmond. Of course, this will notify the rebels where to look for active operations, and they will plan accordingly.”

Rumors began spreading among the Federal high command that Lieutenant General James Longstreet, whose Confederate corps had been stationed in eastern Tennessee after its failed siege of Knoxville, would soon be rejoining Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Henry W. Halleck, now the Federal army chief of staff, notified Grant that “it is thought that Longstreet is now with Lee, and that some movement will soon be made.”

Arriving at Washington, Grant met briefly with President Abraham Lincoln and then returned to the Army of the Potomac. Grant instructed Meade, “Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also. The only point upon which I am now in doubt is, whether it will be better to cross the Rapidan above or below him.”

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 385-86, 395; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 966; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 397-417; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 410; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 22-26, 37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 476; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500-01, 543

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Forrest’s Confederates Enter Kentucky

March 16, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a Confederate cavalry expedition into western Tennessee and Kentucky.

Brig Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Forrest, stationed at Columbus, Mississippi, with 5,000 troopers, received orders to move north. His mission was to attack Federal outposts, recruit volunteers, capture deserters, and disrupt the Federal supply line along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Forrest took 2,700 of his men on the excursion.

A little over a week later, a detachment of Forrest’s 7th Tennessee Cavalry surprised and captured the Federal 7th Tennessee Cavalry at Union City in northwestern Tennessee. The Confederates placed logs on wheels to resemble cannon and left a note: “If you persist in defense, you must take the consequences. N.B. Forrest, Major General, Commanding.” The Confederates took 481 prisoners, 300 horses, and a large amount of supplies.

Meanwhile, Forrest’s main force continued north toward Paducah, a strategic Kentucky town near the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers which had been under Federal control since September 1861. After riding 100 miles in 50 hours, the troopers arrived outside Paducah on the 25th. The Federals, led by Colonel Stephen G. Hicks, quickly fell back to Fort Anderson, a strong fortification west of town.

Hicks had just 665 men, but they were supported by artillery and two tinclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Peosta and Paw Paw) on the Tennessee River. Forrest sent Hicks a message: “If you surrender you shall be treated as prisoners of war, but if I have to storm your works you may expect no quarter.” Forrest did not actually intend to assault the fort; he only wanted horses and supplies.

The Federals responded to Forrest’s demand by blasting the streets with their artillery, joined by fire from the gunboats. Brigadier General Mason Brayman, the overall commander at Paducah, later wrote that the tinclads–

“… shelled the rebels out of the buildings from which their sharpshooters annoyed our troops. A large number took shelter in heavy warehouses near the river and maintained a furious fire upon the gunboats, inflicting some injury, but they were promptly dislodged and the buildings destroyed…”

Colonel Albert P. Thompson disregarded Forrest’s orders and led two regiments in an assault on Fort Anderson. The Federals repelled them, inflicting 50 casualties (10 killed and 40 wounded), though Hicks claimed to have inflicted 1,500 casualties. Thompson, who lived nearby, was among those killed. The Federals sustained 60 casualties (14 killed and 46 wounded).

Meanwhile, the gunboats fired about 700 rounds. According to a gunner on the Peosta:

“We kept putting the shell and grape into them from all the guns we could get to bear. Their riflemen and some of the people of the town got into the buildings down by the river and pelted us with musket balls but we soon gave them enough of that for we directed our whole fire on them at short range with shell grape and canister and soon fetched the bricks around their eyes… They would have had the fort and the city if it had not been for us, for they were out of ammunition in the fort.”

Forrest finally withdrew the next morning, taking 50 prisoners, 400 horses, and more supplies. Before leaving, the Confederates destroyed cotton and a steamer in dry dock. Forrest’s raid had alarmed residents of the Ohio River Valley, but the Confederates failed to establish a foothold in Kentucky. They fell back toward Fort Pillow on the Mississippi.

After Forrest left Paducah, he learned from a local newspaper that his troopers had missed out on capturing 140 army horses hidden in a mill. Forrest resolved to return next month and get those mounts.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 385, 388; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2249-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 409, 411-12; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 552; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 477-78; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190

Red River: Federals Target Alexandria

March 15, 1864 – Federal army-navy forces followed up their capture of Fort DeRussy by continuing up the Red River in Louisiana.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next objective for Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s naval squadron and Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s Federal troops was Alexandria. The Federal gunboats pursued Confederate vessels fleeing over the Alexandria rapids but could not overtake them. One Confederate ship, the Countess, was grounded while fleeing; her crew burned her to prevent capture.

Once Porter and Smith reached Alexandria, they were supposed to meet Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf coming up from New Orleans. But Banks was helping to install a new Unionist Louisiana government and still had not yet left New Orleans. Banks received a message from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, that began in part:

“I have not fully determined upon a plan of campaign for this spring, but will do so before the return of our veteran troops to the field. It will, however, be my desire to have all parts of the Army, or rather all the armies, act as much in concert as possible. For this reason I now write you…”

Grant wrote that although he regarded “the success of your present move as of great importance in reducing the number of troops necessary for protecting the navigation of the Mississippi River,” Banks was to “commence no move for the further acquisition of territory” beyond Shreveport. Grant added, “It is also important that Shreveport should be taken as soon as possible,” so that A.J. Smith could go “back to Memphis as soon as possible.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Regarding the timetable, Grant warned that if capturing Shreveport took longer than expected, Banks was to send Smith’s troops back to Major General William T. Sherman, who was planning a drive on Atlanta. Banks was to return these men “even if it leads to the abandonment of the main object of your expedition.”

If Banks accomplished his mission, he was to “hold Shreveport and the Red River with such force as you may deem necessary, and return the balance of your troops to the neighborhood of New Orleans. I would not at present advise the abandonment of any portion of territory now held west of the Mississippi, but commence no move for the further acquisition of territory unless it be to make that now ours more easily held.”

Grant explained that he was writing this to Banks because he considered “the conquering of the organized armies of the enemy as being of vastly more importance than the mere acquisition of territory.” Grant then advised Banks on supplying his army:

“There is one thing, general, I would urge, and don’t know but what you have already, and that is of supplying your army as far as possible from the country occupied. Mules, horses, forage, and provisions can be paid for, where taken from persons who have taken the amnesty oath prescribed by the President (if the oath be taken before the loss of property), with both economy and convenience.”

It was implied that supplies and property taken from civilians who refused to pledge loyalty to the U.S. would not be compensated.

Grant then wrote Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal Army of Arkansas at Little Rock. Steele had been ordered to move south and join Banks at Shreveport, but he had protested due to lack of forage in southern Arkansas, and because Banks already had sufficient resources. Grant wrote, “Move your force in full cooperation with General N.P. Banks’ attack on Shreveport. A mere demonstration will not be sufficient.”

Major General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces at Alexandria, had hoped that the garrison at Fort DeRussy would hold out long enough for him to establish defenses. But the fort had surrendered almost immediately, leaving Taylor no choice but to abandon the town. The Confederates evacuated all the supplies they could, and their last steamer left Alexandria on the morning of the 15th. The leading nine vessels of the Federal squadron arrived a half-hour later.

Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge of the U.S.S. Osage led a party ashore that occupied Alexandria without opposition. Porter and A.J. Smith’s 10,000 Federals arrived later that day. The troops seemed unimpressed with Alexandria; one called it “rather a big village than a city.” Porter later wrote, “The inhabitants were respectfully treated, and everything was as quiet as a New England village.” But at least one resident disagreed:

“Immediately on disembarking, they were permitted to rush through the streets of the town, unrestrained by the presence of their officers. They made an indiscriminate onslaught upon every private residence, appropriating to themselves everything valuable upon which they could lay their hand–and the depositories of food were at once forced open and their contents borne away.

“The drug stores, three in number, were among the first places taken possession of. These were at once despoiled of their contents, which were used in furnishing their hospitals in town, and one devoted to the reception of cases of small pox, two miles below town. Forty-four cases of this disease were landed from the transports on the day of their arrival.

“The stores of all descriptions underwent a similar spoliation; the iron safes forced and emptied, the ledgers, promissory notes, and accounts destroyed. Private residences were entered at night; writing desks, bureaus and armoirs rifled, and the occupants insulted and abused in the grossest manner, despite the efforts of the provost marshal, Captain Wolf, who evinced every disposition to afford protection to those applying to him for guards about their premises.”

Another resident claimed that the Federals especially wanted cotton, writing that after Porter’s flagship arrived–

“… her crew entered Rachal’s warehouse, rolled out the cotton, all of which was private property, and marked on one end C.S., and on the other U.S.N., thus endeavoring to make it appear the cotton was captured property of the Confederate Government. Rear Admiral Porter was present, witnessed the fraud, and seemed in high glee at the adroitness with which his rascally ingenuity could outwit Banks, and appropriate the spoils of the expedition. The same thing was repeated in every yard, barn, and cuthouse where they found cotton. They seemed to believe it was hidden everywhere.”

A few days later, Federal Quartermaster D.N. Welch corroborated this account: “The navy is seizing all the cotton they can get hold of. Every gun-boat is loaded with cotton, and the officers are taking it without regard to the loyalty of the owners. It looks to me like a big steal.”

Banks’s chief engineer, Major D.C. Houston, later testified before Congress that sailors “were seizing cotton in the vicinity of Alexandria, and bringing it in there and putting it on board barges and other vessels as prize, as I understood at the time.” Houston did not know if Porter directed such activity, but “it was all in plain sight; I should think he could not help seeing it.” Houston also testified that it was “rather demoralizing to the soldiers to see the navy seizing the cotton for prize on land, while they did not get any.”

Federal forces continued their occupation of Alexandria while they waited for the rest of Banks’s army (XIX Corps and two divisions of XIII Corps) to join them.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20604; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 385; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 321-41, 1334-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 409; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51, 54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 475

Lincoln’s Reconstruction Efforts

March 13, 1864 – Federal authorities tried implementing President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” in many states, including Louisiana, where Lincoln suggested for the first time that black men be given the right to vote.

In Florida, Lincoln’s private secretary (now major) John Hay had tried to register 10 percent of eligible voters pledging loyalty to the U.S. according to Lincoln’s plan. However, Floridians’ support for the Confederacy, coupled with the abortive Federal invasion in February, made Hay’s efforts a failure.

Hay announced, “I am very sure that we cannot now get the President’s 10th” in Florida. Newspapers critical of Lincoln accused him of wasting “2,000 men in a sordid attempt to manufacture for himself three additional (electoral) votes in the approaching Presidential election.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In Arkansas, Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal troops supervised an election of delegates to a state constitutional convention. Only those who pledged loyalty to the U.S. in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan” were permitted to vote. Not surprisingly, Unionists won overwhelming majorities.

Another election was held four days later, in which Unionist voters elected state officials and ratified a Unionist Arkansas constitution that included abolishing slavery and repudiating secession. The election, supervised by military force, consisted of less than a quarter of the total votes cast in the state in the 1860 canvass. The convention that had adopted the new constitution consisted of delegates from only half the counties in Arkansas.

On the 4th, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Andrew Johnson as Federal military governor of Tennessee. Johnson had been the only U.S. senator from a seceded state who refused to relinquish his seat. The next day, Johnson began the “process for State reconstruction” by calling for an election of county officials as soon as possible. Only those pledging loyalty to the U.S. would be permitted to vote. Johnson declared, “It is not expected that the enemies of the United States will propose to vote, nor is it intended that they be permitted to vote or hold office.”

In Louisiana, Michael Hahn became the new Unionist governor in accordance with Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” Hahn was a Bavarian immigrant and former Democrat who switched allegiances when Louisiana seceded; he eventually became one of the state’s greatest champions of slave emancipation. Over the past year, Lincoln had relied on Hahn to gauge the political atmosphere in Louisiana.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf occupying New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, had arranged elections for civil officials in which only those who swore allegiance to the U.S. could participate. The elections only took place in areas under Federal military occupation, thus ensuring Unionist results. Hahn won the governorship by portraying himself as a moderate between the conservative J.Q.A. Fellows and the radical Benjamin F. Flanders.

Michael Hahn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The extravagant inaugural ceremonies included 1,000 singers from local army bands singing the “Anvil Chorus” in Lafayette Square. In his inaugural address, Hahn declared that “although the people of a State may err, a State, as a member of the American Union, cannot die.” He continued:

“The Union of these States, handed down by our revolutionary ancestors, is of more value than any falsely styled ‘State rights,’ especially when these ‘rights’ mean sectional institution, founded on a great moral, social and political evil, and inconsistent with the principles of free government. The institution of slavery is opposed alike to the rights of one race and the interests of the other; it is the cause of the present unholy attempt to break up our government; and, unpleasant as the declaration may sound to many of you, I tell you that I regard its universal and immediate extinction as a public and private blessing.”

Lincoln bestowed military powers onto new Governor Hahn in addition to his civil powers as governor, even though over 90 percent of Louisianan voters did not vote for him. Banks began arranging to stage another election, this time to elect delegates to a state convention that would rewrite the Louisiana constitution. It was a foregone conclusion that slavery would be abolished in the new constitution, but a debate raged over whether freed slaves should be allowed to vote.

In January, Lincoln had met delegates representing “the free people of color” of Louisiana, who presented a petition signed by over 1,000 blacks (27 of whom were veterans of the War of 1812) asking for Lincoln’s help in securing the right to vote. Impressed, Lincoln weighed in on the debate in a letter to Hahn. After congratulating him “as the first-free-state Governor of Louisiana,” the president wrote:

“I barely suggest for your private consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be let in–as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty in the family of freedom.”

Lincoln closed by writing, “But this is only a suggestion, not to the public, but to you alone.” Many Radical Republicans who might have supported black suffrage boycotted the convention, while the remaining moderates and conservatives approved emancipation but would not grant political equality to the former slaves. However, they did approve a provision empowering the state legislature to allow blacks to vote if it chose to someday revisit the question.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16597-605, 16850, 16885; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 381; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10369; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 332; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 905; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 599-609, 1338-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405, 409-10; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 472, 474-76; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 705-07

Red River: The Fall of Fort DeRussy

March 12, 1864 – Federal forces embarking on a campaign to conquer western Louisiana and eastern Texas approached a small Confederate fort on the first leg of their journey up the Red River.

By the 12th, the massive Red River campaign had begun. This was one of the largest Federal operations of the war, and all its moving parts had to work almost flawlessly for it to succeed:

  • Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s 10,000 Federals, on loan from Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee, arrived at the mouth of the Red River to be transported to Alexandria.
  • Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s naval flotilla of 60 vessels prepared to move up the Red to support the Federals already at Alexandria.
  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was to lead part of his Federal Army of the Gulf out of New Orleans, up Bayou Teche to Alexandria.
  • Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas was to move south from Little Rock to join Porter and Banks at the vital cotton-producing city of Shreveport.

Gen A.J. Smith | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The campaign immediately bogged down when A.J. Smith received word that Banks was busy setting up a Unionist Louisiana government at New Orleans and could not meet him at Alexandria until the 21st at the earliest. Smith and Porter therefore decided to begin moving up the Red River without the rest of Banks’s army.

To reach Alexandria, the Federals first had to deal with Fort DeRussy, a work garrisoned by 3,500 Confederates and 10 guns. According to Smith, “It was therefore deemed best to act against it in conjunction, the army in the rear by land and the navy by river.” The troops boarded transports and, with Porter’s gunboats in the lead, the squadron started up the Red.

The U.S.S. Eastport was assigned to “clearing away the heavy obstructions the rebels had placed in the river, and to amuse the fort until the army could land at Simmsport and get into the rear of the enemy’s works.” Porter noted that several of his largest vessels had trouble moving up the shallow waterway. A detachment of Porter’s fleet and the transports veered onto the Atchafalaya River and stopped at Simmsport (now spelled Simmesport).

A landing party from the U.S.S. Benton moved inland and drove off a small Confederate force manning an uncompleted fort on Yellow Bayou. These Confederates fled to Fort DeRussy, about 30 miles north, while A.J. Smith’s Federals debarked.

Back on the Red, Porter instructed Lieutenant Commander S.L. Phelps of the Eastport that after clearing the obstructions, “move up within a short distance of Fort DeRussy, but make no attack until I get up with the main force, though, if there is any force at DeRussy, you can amuse them by feints until the army get into their rear.” Porter warned Phelps to “take every precaution against torpedoes, and protect your men against sharpshooters.”

Meanwhile in Arkansas, Steele continued balking at orders to meet the Federals at Shreveport. After failing to persuade his superiors that southern Arkansas lacked the forage needed for his men, Steele now argued that since A.J. Smith was reinforcing Banks, “This is more than an equal for everything (Confederate General Edmund) Kirby Smith can bring against them.” Henry W. Halleck, who had recently become the Federal chief of staff, repeated his order for Steele to go to Shreveport unless otherwise directed by the new general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By the 13th, Porter’s vessels had gotten through the obstructions on the Red. Porter reported that the Confederates “supposed it impassable, but our energetic sailors with hard work opened a passage in a few hours.” The Eastport and Neosho began bombarding Fort DeRussy, while A.J. Smith’s Federals began preparing for a ground assault.

When Major General John G. Walker, commanding the defenders at Fort DeRussy, learned of A.J. Smith’s approach, he notified his superior, Major General Richard Taylor at Alexandria, “It will be unsafe to linger here. I feel most solicitous for the fate of Fort DeRussy, as it must fall as soon almost as invested by the force now marching against it.”

Taylor replied, “If the force of the enemy landing at Simmsport is such as to admit of your fighting him with the least hope of success, the sooner you attack him the better… every hour that the enemy is held in check by your presence in his front or on his flank must be improved to get everything in complete readiness at Fort DeRussy.” Losing the fort “would be a great disaster, and, therefore, we must take more than ordinary hazards in fighting.”

Walker guessed which road the Federals might take to get to the fort and deployed a brigade to block them. But Smith took a different road and moved his forces across Bayou de Glaize. They moved through Marksville and stopped within a mile and a half south of DeRussy that night. Smith assigned one of his three divisions, led by Brigadier General Joseph A. Mower, to attack in the morning.

The next day, Porter’s gunboats renewed their bombardment of the fort while Mower’s division advanced. Walker moved his main force out in front of DeRussy, leaving a skeleton force of about 300 men inside. He received word that the Federal troops had given up trying to capture DeRussy and were returning to their transports. But, as Walker reported:

“Soon after daylight on the 14th, this information was proven incorrect by hearing the sound of numerous drums in the distance in the direction of Simmsport, and as the morning advanced it became apparent that the enemy in force was approaching our position.”

Walker saw that he was vastly outnumbered. He also saw that the Federals were moving toward the fort, leaving the main Confederate force on their left flank. Walker reported:

“All these considerations induced me to adopt the only course not dictated by folly or madness, and however mortifying it might be to abandon our brave companions in arms at Fort DeRussy to their fate, it became my imperative duty to do so rather than attempt assistance, which at best could delay this danger but a few hours, and without a miracle from Heaven would insure the certain destruction of my entire command.”

The Federals stormed the fort and easily captured the 300-man garrison while Walker’s 3,000 troops slipped southward; they eventually linked with the rest of Taylor’s army. As the Federals prepared to target Alexandria next, Taylor prepared to withdraw to Natchitoches, 50 miles north.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 473-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20604; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 384-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 619-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407-09; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 52-53; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 474-75; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 193; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 292; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

The Red River Campaign Begins

March 11, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks and Rear Admiral David D. Porter embarked on the largest army-navy expedition ever conducted west of the Mississippi River in hopes of seizing the vital cotton crop in western Louisiana and eastern Texas.

The Lincoln administration had long urged Banks to move into Texas to confiscate the cotton harvested there and to stop the importation of supplies from Mexico. Banks’s Army of the Gulf had gained a foothold on the Texas coast last November but achieved little else. Banks would now finally do what the administration had urged since the beginning: advance toward Texas via the Red River.

The Federal high command wanted Banks to work in conjunction with both Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron and Major General Frederick Steele’s Army of Arkansas. The mission had four objectives:

  • Destroy all remaining Confederate resistance in Louisiana
  • Capture the vital cotton producing city of Shreveport and then continue west into eastern Texas
  • Confiscate as much cotton as possible, which could then be sold to starving northern markets for windfall profits
  • Form Unionist state governments in Louisiana and Arkansas according to President Abraham Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan”

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Army of the Tennessee at Vicksburg, met with Banks at New Orleans and agreed to loan him 10,000 troops under Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith. But Banks had to return them by April 15th because Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted them to participate in Sherman’s drive on Atlanta in the spring.

Sherman was skeptical of Banks’s abilities, but he trusted Porter. When he returned to Vicksburg, Sherman ordered A.J. Smith to “… proceed to the mouth of the Red River and confer with Admiral Porter; confer with him and in all the expedition rely on him implicitly, as he is the approved friend of the Army of the Tennessee, and has been associated with us from the beginning…”

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter, who acted independent of Banks’s command, sent gunboats to reconnoiter the Black and Ouachita rivers on the 1st. Confederate sharpshooters fired on the vessels on the Black until they were driven off by grape, canister, and shrapnel. The next morning, the flotilla passed Trinity and bombarded Harrisonburg. Confederate shore batteries responded with heavy fire, disabling the starboard engine of the U.S.S. Fort Hindman.

After silencing the batteries, the ships continued upriver to Catahoula Shoals and then turned back. The Federal crewmen seized cotton and guns before anchoring at the confluence of the Red and Mississippi rivers. The reconnaissance was successful, but Porter worried that the low level of the Red might upset the timetable. He wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“I came down here anticipating a move on the part of the army up toward Shreveport, but as the river is lower than it has been known for years, I much fear that the combined movement can not come off without interfering with plans formed by General Grant.”

By the 9th, Porter had nearly every ship in his squadron at the mouth of the Red. The armada included 13 ironclads, 13 tinclads, two large steamers, four small paddle-wheelers, Brigadier General Alfred W. Ellet’s Marine Brigade, and various other transports and supply ships. At 60 ships and 210 guns, this was the largest flotilla ever assembled in the region. Such a large squadron would struggle to navigate the low, winding Red River, but Porter needed the ships to grab as much cotton as possible along the way.

Banks relied on Porter for success, but he also needed Steele, whose 15,000 Federals were to march from Little Rock to join the Army of the Gulf at Shreveport. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck had urged Steele to get moving, but Steele was not optimistic about his chances for success. He wrote Halleck that he would obey orders “against my own judgment and that of the best-informed people here. The roads are most if not quite impracticable; the country is destitute of provision.”

Steele also notified Halleck about the problem of Confederate partisans organizing in northern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri: “If they should form in my rear in considerable force I should be obliged to fall back to save my depots, &c.” Steele recommended that his army simply demonstrate against Arkadelphia or Hot Springs to divert Confederate attention from Banks. Despite Steele’s objections, the expedition would proceed:

  • A.J. Smith’s Federals would move to Alexandria to join Banks’s XIX Corps under Major General William B. Franklin.
  • Banks would lead the rest of his army from New Orleans via Bayou Teche to join Smith and Franklin at Alexandria.
  • Porter’s squadron would move up the Red River to support Banks’s forces advancing along the waterway.
  • Steele’s Federals would move south from Little Rock to meet Banks and Porter at Shreveport.
  • Banks and Porter would proceed into eastern Texas while Steele held Shreveport.

The vast Confederate spy network in New Orleans quickly informed Taylor, commanding the District of Western Louisiana, of the Federal movements. Taylor directed his men to destroy all approaches to Alexandria while he established a line of supply (and possible retreat) from Alexandria to Shreveport. Taylor also used troops and impressed slaves to strengthen Fort DeRussy on the Red. The fort was garrisoned with 3,500 Confederates.

Taylor discussed strategy with his superior, General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department from Shreveport. Smith wanted Taylor to stay on the defensive and fall back to Shreveport if necessary, but Taylor wanted to assume the offensive and drive toward Baton Rouge, thus forcing the Federals to detour their drive up the Red.

But then Taylor received indications that Banks might turn back and instead move east toward Mobile, Alabama. He wrote E.K. Smith on the 6th, “I am more and more disposed to think that Banks will be forced to move Mobile-ward.” If so, Taylor would “throw everything forward to the Mississippi, and push mounted men (if I can concentrate enough of this arm) into the La Fourche.”

Three days later, Taylor wrote, “It can hardly be supposed that Grant will permit any forces under his command to leave the principal theater of operations, yet common sense forbids the idea that Banks would move from the (Bayou) Teche as a base with his entire force without Sherman’s co-operation.”

On the 11th, Taylor once more concluded that Banks would indeed move up the Red: “Should Banks move by the Teche and Red River, we ought to beat him, and I hope, will.” As for Sherman at Vicksburg, “I shall not believe that he will send a man this side of the Mississippi until he is actually in motion.” Taylor concluded that if Sherman did invade Louisiana, he would come from the north, via Monroe. He did not know that part of Sherman’s army under A.J. Smith was coming to reinforce Banks at Alexandria.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-82, 384; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 963-64; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 552-62, 580-600, 1324-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405-08; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 473-74; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 722; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 192-93

The Grand Federal Military Reorganization

March 10, 1864 – When Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant received official authority to assume command of all Federal armies, he was already in the field with the Army of the Potomac.

After two uncomfortable days in Washington, Grant headed back to the field. He arrived at Brandy Station, headquarters for the Army of the Potomac, late on the 9th in pouring rain. He was greeted by a Zouave regiment and a band playing “The General’s March.” Nobody knew that Grant was tone-deaf. Grant planned to meet with the army commander, Major General George G. Meade, with whom he had been slightly acquainted during the Mexican War, the next day.

Maj Gen G.G. Meade | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Meade speculated that Grant would remove him as commander. On the 2nd, he wrote his wife that Grant “may want some one else whom he knows better in command of his army.” A week later, Meade wrote that Grant “may desire to have his own man in command, particularly as I understand he is indoctrinated with the notion of the superiority of the Western armies, and that the failure of the Army of the Potomac to accomplish anything is due to their commanders.”

While at Washington, Grant had considered replacing Meade with Major General William T. Sherman, or perhaps Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith. He discussed the possibility of removing Meade with President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Both Lincoln and Stanton opposed removing him, but they would support Grant as general-in-chief if he chose to do it.

The meeting between Grant and Meade went extremely well. Meade said that he understood if Grant wanted to replace him, and he begged Grant “not to hesitate about making the change.” According to Grant, Meade “urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions.”

Grant assured Meade “that I had no thought of substituting any one for him,” and Meade’s willingness to sacrifice gave Grant “even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.”

Before coming east, Grant had planned to maintain his headquarters at Nashville. But now, after talking with Meade and assessing the Army of the Potomac, “It was plain that here was the point for the commanding general to be.” Grant proposed guiding the army while Meade retained direct command of the officers and men. Meade said that he would be happy with such a move. Meade later wrote his wife that he was–

“… very much pleased with General Grant. In the views he expressed to me he showed much more capacity and character than I had expected. I spoke to him very plainly about my position, offered to vacate the command of the Army of the Potomac, in case he had a preference for any other. This he declined in a complimentary speech, but indicated to me his intention, when in this part of the country, of being with the army.”

Meade added, perhaps sarcastically, “So that you may look now for the Army of the Potomac putting laurels on the brows of another rather than your husband.”

With Grant now in charge, a massive reorganization took place throughout the Federal military. At “his own request,” former General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck became the army chief of staff. He would be Grant’s political liaison and handle the administrative affairs of the armies, which included channeling communications from the 19 military departments to Grant. This would allow Grant to focus mainly on military strategy. In Lincoln’s general order announcing the change, he thanked Halleck for his “able and zealous” service since becoming general-in-chief in July 1862.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Major General William T. Sherman replaced Grant as commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Sherman would lead the three armies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River: Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, and Sherman’s former Army of the Tennessee, now under Major General James B. McPherson. He would also head Major General Franklin Steele’s Department of Arkansas across the Mississippi.

In a move that Grant could not control, Major General Franz Sigel was given command of the Department of West Virginia, replacing Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley. Sigel had spent much of the past year complaining about being overlooked, and, being a German immigrant, he held great political influence over fellow German-Americans (most of whom were Republicans) who would be voting in the upcoming presidential election. Thus, Lincoln made the move.

Sigel was expected to clear the Confederates out of the Shenandoah Valley. But his military reputation was dubious at best, even among his own staff. One aide cynically wrote of Sigel’s promotion, “The Dutch vote must be secured at all hazards. And the sacrifice of West Virginia is a small matter.”

After meeting with Meade, Grant returned to Washington, having accepted an invitation from First Lady Mary Lincoln to attend a dinner and a presentation of Richard III at Grover’s Theater, starring Edwin Booth. However, Grant changed his mind, opting to leave for Nashville that evening to confer with Sherman instead.

Disappointed, President Lincoln told him, “We can’t excuse you. Mrs. Lincoln’s dinner without you would be Hamlet with Hamlet left out.” Grant replied, “I appreciate the honor Mrs. Lincoln would do me, but time is very important now. And really, Mr. Lincoln, I have had enough of this show business.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 165-66; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 384; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10594; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 125-83, 233-62, 496-516; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407-08; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 473-74; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 817; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164