July 26, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates in the area of Vicksburg, Mississippi, detached a portion of his force to try regaining the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge.
Van Dorn, learning that the Federal Mississippi River fleet had split in two and moved off in opposite directions, issued orders to Major General John C. Breckinridge, former U.S. vice president, to lead 4,000 Confederates southward out of Jackson, Tennessee. Their mission was to surprise the Federal occupation forces at Baton Rouge.
Breckinridge did not think the town was worth the effort because even if regained, it could not be held against Federal gunboats. But Van Dorn coveted Baton Rouge because it was the state capital, and as such he ordered Breckinridge to proceed. Breckinridge’s men boarded trains in Vicksburg the next day and arrived at Camp Moore near Kentwood, Louisiana, on the afternoon of the 28th. From there they were to march overland about 60 miles southwest to the state capital.
Breckinridge split his force into two divisions and began the advance at dawn on the 30th. However, he suspended the march the next day when he learned “that the effective force of the enemy was not less than 5,000 and that the ground was commanded by three gunboats lying in the river.” Breckinridge, whose force had dwindled to 3,400 due to illness, telegraphed Van Dorn that he would still “undertake to capture the (Baton Rouge) garrison if Arkansas could be sent down to clear the river or divert the fire of the gunboats.”
The C.S.S. Arkansas was the Confederacy’s most formidable ram on the Mississippi, currently stationed at Vicksburg. Breckinridge planned to resume his approach after receiving Van Dorn’s response that the Arkansas would be at Baton Rouge by the morning of August 5.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 578