Category Archives: Louisiana

Red River: Banks Faces Problems

March 25, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks assembled the largest Federal force west of the Mississippi River, but he soon ran into trouble.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf (three divisions of XIX Corps and two divisions of XIII Corps) joined forces with Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s 10,000 Federals from the Army of the Tennessee and Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s 60-vessel naval squadron at Alexandria. The force consisted of 27,000 men with 90 army guns and 210 naval guns. The Confederates could not hope to match its power.

Banks, commanding the army portion of the expedition, was now ready to march north and capture Shreveport, the key cotton-producing center in the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. However, besides the delays that had already put the campaign fearfully behind schedule, Banks noticed other problems that would eventually need addressing.

First, Federal sailors were grabbing all the cotton they could find and sending it north for profit. Porter received five percent on all sales, and half the rest was distributed among the sailors. The sailors did not discriminate between Confederate-owned, Unionist-owned, or even free black-owned cotton.

Cotton bales stamped “C.S.A.” (from the Confederate army) were re-stamped “U.S.N.” Civilian bales with no branding were illicitly stamped “C.S.A.” and then “U.S.N.” Federal army troops, who were not allowed to join in the scheme, complained that “C.S.A.U.S.N.” stood for “Cotton Stealing Associate of the United States Navy.”

Second, the water levels on the Red River were falling, which made it potentially dangerous for Porter’s massive flotilla to proceed upstream. If the levels continued falling, there was a chance that the ships could be trapped in the shallows and destroyed by Confederates on shore. Banks and Porter decided to risk heading upriver anyway.

Third, Banks was required by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to return A.J. Smith’s troops to the Army of the Tennessee by April 15, just 20 days away, whether Shreveport was captured by then or not. Not only did Banks have to hurry if he wanted to take Shreveport, but he would then be required to immediately turn east and advance on Mobile, Alabama.

Despite these issues, the Red River campaign entered a new phase when the Federals began moving northward out of Alexandria. Colonel Thomas Lucas’s cavalry held Henderson’s Hill, 20 miles north of town, and A.J. Smith’s troops occupied a nearby plantation. Banks’s next targets were Grand Ecore and Natchitoches, about halfway between Alexandria and Shreveport on the Red.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, was to direct troops from Major General Sterling Price’s army in Arkansas to reinforce Major General Richard Taylor’s force in Louisiana, currently at Grand Ecore. Taylor wrote E.K. Smith, “It will be perfectly practicable at the present time for General Price’s command to be transported by water to Grand Ecore. This would save 60 or 70 miles of marching.”

Taylor reported that because of Unionist “jayhawkers” in the region, “the difficulty of obtaining accurate intelligence is greatly enhanced. The whole country between this and Alexandria swarms with these outlaws, who are allied with the enemy and acting in his interests.”

Having lost his only cavalry unit at Henderson’s Hill, Taylor awaited the arrival of Texas cavalry under Brigadier General Thomas Green, who would be arriving in a few days. Taylor wrote, “I shall assume the offensive as soon as Green joins me.”

On the Red River, Federal sailors continued seizing all the cotton they could get their hands on. Crewmen from the U.S.S. Benton landed at a plantation near Fort DeRussy and seized 13 bales of cotton. The next day, the same crewmen went back and “got 18 bales from the same place, which they baled themselves, using up an old awning for the purpose.”

By the 29th, Porter was having trouble getting his vessels up Alexandria Falls, which consisted of rapids over deadly boulders. Having nobody in his squadron who ever navigated their way through this stretch, Porter later wrote, “We had no pilots of any account, and got along by main strength and nonsense.”

The army transports got through, but some of the gunboats had to be left behind. As the U.S.S. Mound City awaited a tug to pull her through the falls, “At 8:45 tug came with orders from admiral not to attempt the rapids until the wind had subsided.” When the wind died down, the Mound City proceeded, but she “Struck a shoal at 6:15 p.m. and grounded.”

One of the heaviest vessels in the squadron, the U.S.S. Eastport, was brought over the falls, according to Porter, “after a great deal of labor and two and a half days’ hard work.” It would take until April 3 to get the rest of the flotilla over the falls, which Banks later cited as the reason for his delays (even though he refused to heed warnings that the river levels were low). Porter further reported:

“It is very slow work getting over these rocks, but as yet we have met with no accidents. One hospital ship (the Woodford), belonging to the Marine Brigade, sunk on the falls by striking the rocks, but all the rest of the transports went over safely. I shall only be able to take up a part of the force I brought with me, and leave the river guarded all the way through.”

Porter soon received word that Confederates were trying to obstruct the naval advance at Loggy Bayou. He later wrote, “If one (vessel) got on a bank, another would haul him off, and there was not a vessel there that did not haul the others off three or four times before we got to Loggy Bayou–the name is significant enough without saying any more in regard to it.” Porter also noted that civilians were no help:

“The people all along were kind to us as we went up, and gave us information cheerfully whenever we asked it. Only it was curious that their information led us into all kinds of difficulties. Where they told us the deep water was, we found shoals and snags, and where we were told to go through a cut-off we found it blind. But how could these poor people know? Likely they had never been on a steamboat or on the river in their lives.”

The Eastport made it up the Red all the way to Grand Ecore, which was taken on the 30th. Taylor’s Confederates fell back to Pleasant Hill, about 40 miles northwest of Natchitoches and less than 20 miles from the Texas border. When Taylor learned that E.K. Smith still had not sent any of Price’s men to reinforce him, he sent an angry message:

“Had I conceived for an instant that such astonishing delay would ensue before reinforcements reached me, I would have fought a battle even against the heavy odds. It would have been better to lose the state after a defeat than to surrender it without a fight. The fairest and richest portion of the Confederacy is now a waste. Louisiana may well know her destiny. Her children are exiles; her labor system is destroyed. Expecting every hour to receive the promised reinforcements, I did not feel justified in hazarding a general engagement with my little army. I shall never cease to regret my error.”

Part of Green’s Texas cavalry finally arrived, but it only consisted of 250 troopers. Taylor stationed them on the north bank of the Red to harass the Federal vessels as best they could. Another 350 horsemen arrived the next day, but half were unarmed. Meanwhile, Banks put one of his Federal corps on transports, intending to reunite his forces at Natchitoches by April 2. From there, they would begin the last leg of their expedition toward Shreveport.

In Arkansas, Major General Frederick Steele’s 7,000 Federals continued southward on their mission to link with Banks at Shreveport. They arrived at Arkadelphia on the 29th after various clashes with Confederate cavalry, covering just 70 miles in six days. Steele rested his men while awaiting Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s Federals from Fort Smith. Once Thayer arrived, the Federals were to advance to the Little Missouri River.

Federals under Colonel Powell Clayton moved southward from Mount Elba and attacked a Confederate supply train at Long View on the Sabine River, capturing 35 wagons and 260 men. The next day, Clayton concentrated his Federals at Mount Elba, opening a supply line toward Camden to support Steele’s approach.

E.K. Smith needed Price to keep Steele at bay if he was going to send reinforcements to Taylor. Smith directed Price, “Retard the enemy’s advance. Operate on their communications if practicable. Time is everything with us.”

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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 20613; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 388-89; 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 609-19, 648-77, 726-36, 1367-77, 1386-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 412-13; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 54-56, 63-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 479

Red River: The Federal Two-Pronged Advance Finally Begins

March 24, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federals finally began moving out of Little Rock, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals finally reached Alexandria.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele reported that his Army of Arkansas (officially the 3rd Division of VII Corps) numbered about 7,000 men, and that it was inadequate to support the Red River campaign as ordered. Steele argued that Banks’s Army of the Gulf, which numbered about 27,000 men, was strong enough to take care of itself, and moving through southern Arkansas would be treacherous due to lack of forage.

Finally, after repeated orders from his superiors, Steele agreed to move south. He told Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on the 18th that he planned “to concentrate my forces at Arkadelphia, about 10,000 strong, move from there on Camden and open communication back to Pine Bluff, and then move on Shreveport in time to co-operate with Banks at that point.”

When Steele requested more horses for transportation, Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, replied, “It is now too late to make preparations for the expedition which should have started on the 7th.” Sherman would not provide Steele with any horses until he explained “the cause of this delay.”

Finally, Steele assembled his army and prepared to move out of Little Rock on the 23rd, a week and a half after being ordered to move by Grant. He planned to link with Federals from Fort Smith under Brigadier General John M. Thayer at Arkadelphia, which would increase the force to about 10,400 men. Steele continued complaining that he lacked food for his men and horses, and Confederate cavalry regularly assailed his flanks.

In Louisiana, Banks arrived at Alexandria on the 24th, a week behind schedule. Banks learned that water levels on the Red River were lowering, which could potentially hamper naval operations. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal naval squadron, reported that his vessels had seized over 2,000 bales of cotton, along with vast amounts of molasses and wool, since entering the Red. All goods had been sent to Federals downriver or destroyed.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, did not believe that Louisiana could be held. He therefore ordered Major General Richard Taylor to withdraw his Louisiana forces to Shreveport and await reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas. These forces would then move north and join with Major General Sterling Price’s troops opposing Steele in Arkansas. Smith had previously told Taylor, “The only field for great results in this is the District of Arkansas, and a concentration must be made there this summer for the recovery of the Arkansas Valley.”

Price’s Confederates were stationed near Washington, Arkansas, about 120 miles southwest of Steele’s Federals at Little Rock. Price urged Smith to send him all troops from Texas and Louisiana so he could move north, defeat Steele, and then continue north to regain his home state of Missouri. Smith explained to Price that the numbers needed for such a campaign were not available.

As more intelligence was received, Smith came to believe that Steele posed no major threat, and Taylor’s assertion that Louisiana could be saved was correct. Smith therefore pulled 5,000 Confederates from Price’s army under Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill to reinforce Taylor. Smith then began arranging for the rest of Price’s men to join Taylor at Natchitoches, and if the Federals moved north from Alexandria to confront them, “bring matters to an issue.”

Smith resolved to defend Shreveport, the military, political, and economic center of his Trans-Mississippi Department. This would involve defeating the strong Federal force coming up the Red River first, and then turning north to defeat Steele’s weaker force in Arkansas.

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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 20604-13; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 387-88; 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 609-19, 1348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 411; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51, 54, 63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 476-77

Red River: The Henderson’s Hill Engagement

March 21, 1864 – Portions of the Federal and Confederate armies clashed in Louisiana as the Federals looked to move farther up the Red River from Alexandria.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval squadron and Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s 10,000 Federals had captured Alexandria on the 15th. There they waited for Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf before continuing upriver to Shreveport. Banks was supposed to meet them there on the 17th, but he was delayed by political matters in New Orleans.

Banks’s cavalry began arriving at Alexandria on the 19th, and soon after Major General William B. Franklin’s XIX Corps of Banks’s army began heading up the lower Teche toward the town. When all the Federal army forces converged, Banks would have 27,000 men to go with Porter’s naval flotilla, which was the largest ever assembled on waters west of the Mississippi River.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, had an army in western Louisiana under Major General Richard Taylor that consisted of just 6,100 men (5,300 infantry, 500 cavalry, and 300 artillerists). Anticipating the Federals’ impending drive up the Red River to Shreveport, Smith issued orders to destroy a steamer below the town and plant 30 torpedoes (i.e., mines) in the Red below Grand Ecore.

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

Meanwhile, Taylor dispatched his only cavalry force, the 2nd Louisiana under Colonel William Vincent, to reconnoiter the Federals at Alexandria and try to prevent Banks’s forces from joining them. As Vincent’s horsemen probed south, A.J. Smith dispatched a Federal cavalry brigade under Colonel Thomas J. Lucas to scout northward, supported by Brigadier General Joseph A. Mower’s infantry division (under Mower’s overall command).

The Federals set out along the Bayou Rapides (a tributary of the Red River) on the morning of the 21st. Lucas’s cavalry met the Confederate troopers and drove them back seven miles to the southern base of Henderson’s Hill, about 20 miles from Alexandria. Lucas waited for Mower’s infantry to come up, giving Vincent time to establish a defense line and start firing on the Federals with his artillery. Vincent also asked Taylor to send him Major General John G. Walker’s infantry division as reinforcement.

When Mower arrived, he directed Lucas to demonstrate against the enemy front while another force marched around the Confederate right. Colonel Sylvester Hill, commanding a brigade in the flanking movement, recalled that “after a tedious march of about eight miles, through marshes and a dense pine forest, in a hard rain and cold wind, we halted. The men were much fatigued and thoroughly wet, suffering from cold and a severe hail-storm; some were compelled from exhaustion to leave the ranks.”

The Federals got into position and attacked near nightfall. According to Lieutenant Colonel William Heath of the 33rd Missouri:

“The enemy’s pickets were relieved by the advance and placed under guard; a section of his battery, with caissons and horses, captured, and the center of his camp gained without raising any alarm or meeting any opposition, the enemy mistaking us for re-enforcements which had been requested from General Walker. Moving rapidly now, with fixed bayonets, through his camp, we succeeded, without resistance, except a few pistol-shots, in capturing a gun and limber and two caissons, all with horses complete, besides a number of prisoners, cavalry horses and equipments, and a few small arms.”

The Federals continued advancing and eventually captured “4 pieces of artillery (2 were loaded with canister), 4 caissons filled with fixed ammunition, 32 horses attached to the artillery, ready for immediate action; also 222 prisoners, including 16 officers, 126 horses equipped, 1 guidon, an ambulance with some surgical instruments and medicines, which the division surgeon took charge of, 92 stand of small-arms.” Vincent narrowly escaped capture.

The virtual annihilation of the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry left Taylor without mounted troops. Consequently, as he reported, “this disaster leaves me with little or no means of obtaining information in front of a very large force of the enemy’s cavalry.” Taylor blamed this loss on “the treachery of citizens,” and “deserters and jayhawkers” who showed the Federals “a road unknown to my best guides.”

Taylor prepared for a follow-up assault, but it never came. The Federals returned to Alexandria to continue awaiting Banks’s arrival. Taylor eventually pulled his remaining Confederates back north to Natchitoches and Mansfield, about 40 miles up the Red River, which had been supplied in anticipation of a possible retreat.

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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 20604-13; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 386; 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 638-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 410; 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. 476-77

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

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

Banks Initiates Reconstruction in Louisiana

January 11, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Department of the Gulf from New Orleans, issued orders calling for the election of Louisiana state officials and delegates to a convention that would rewrite the Louisiana constitution.

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

The state officials were to comprise “the civil government of the State under the Constitution and laws of Louisiana, except so much of the said Constitution and laws as recognize, regulate, or relate to slavery, which, being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs, and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons now existing within its limits, must be suspended.”

Banks had been prodded by President Abraham Lincoln to implement his “Ten Percent Plan” in Louisiana. Banks resolved that “the only speedy and certain method” to do this was to hold a special election for state officials under the current Louisiana constitution while declaring that the provisions in that document regarding slavery were “inoperative and void.”

Most Unionists opposed Banks’s plan because they wanted to amend the constitution to not only abolish slavery but to abolish other alleged injustices that favored planters over the masses. Banks responded by also calling for the election of delegates that would revise or replace the Louisiana constitution at a later date.

Those eligible to vote in the elections for state officials and delegates were white men who swore allegiance to the Union and adhered to the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the proclamation exempted many areas of Louisiana from abolishing slavery. Also, the election would be held when Federal occupation forces controlled only 17 of the state’s 48 parishes. Regardless, Banks had the 10 percent of 1860 voters he needed to call for the election, and it was set for February 22.

Some objected to the notion that only white men would be voting to revise Louisiana’s constitution. A petition was sent to Washington, signed by over 1,000 men, calling on the Federal government to grant the “free people of color” in New Orleans the right to vote. The signees included 27 veterans of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and the relatives of many men currently serving in the military. Radical Republicans in Congress applauded the delegates who delivered the petition, and Lincoln invited them to the White House.

But while the Radicals favored granting black men the right to vote, many opposed Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.” Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland introduced a resolution stating, “There is no legal authority to hold any election in the State of Louisiana; … (and) any attempt to hold an election… is a usurpation of sovereign authority against the authority of the United States.” Politics played a part in Davis’s opposition, as Lincoln had not supported Davis’s bitter struggle against the Blairs’ political machine in Maryland.

Despite the opposition, Lincoln directed Banks to “proceed with all possible despatch” to install a Unionist state government in Louisiana. He reminded Banks that, as department commander, he was “at liberty to adopt any rule which shall admit to vote any unquestionably loyal free state men and none others. And yet I do wish they would all take the oath.”

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16850; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 359; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10346-58, 10391; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 388-89, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 454, 459; 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. 707; 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 Battle of Sabine Pass

September 8, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition to the Texas-Louisiana border met with embarrassing defeat by less than 50 Confederates defending Sabine Pass.

With Louisiana under Federal occupation, the Lincoln administration sought a military expansion into eastern Texas. Cotton-starved New England mill owners applied political pressure to invade the cotton-rich region. Also, Mexican arms shipments to the Confederacy through this region provided another reason to invade. Moreover, a Federal presence in eastern Texas could threaten the French puppet regime in Mexico and prevent France from recognizing the Confederacy.

Both President Abraham Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck favored a Texas invasion via the Red River. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf, favored an attack on Mobile, Alabama. However, his army shrank drastically after capturing Port Hudson, when the enlistment terms of many of his regiments expired. This made a Mobile expedition impossible without reinforcements.

Banks ultimately agreed to target Texas, but he opposed the dangerous Red River plan because the summer had lowered the water level, making it difficult for Federal gunboats to pass. Also, as a former politician with questionable command ability, he did not want his future political aspirations damaged if the expedition failed. Banks instead favored a safer amphibious attack on the Texas coast. Lincoln and Halleck approved.

Banks selected multiple targets, with Sabine Pass being the first. The pass was at the mouth of the Sabine River, which forms the Texas-Louisiana border. Once the Federals controlled Sabine Pass, they could seal it off from blockade runners and continue upriver to Sabine City. From there, they could advance on Beaumont, Houston, or Galveston.

For the army part of the operation, Banks selected Major General William B. Franklin to command. Franklin had failed to save Harpers Ferry prior to the Battle of Antietam, failed to press his advantage at the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac for conspiring against Major General Ambrose E. Burnside. He was given 5,000 troops for this mission.

Admiral Henry H. Bell, acting commander of the Federal West Gulf Blockading Squadron, assembled four ironclad gunboats (the U.S.S. Clifton, Arizona, Granite City, and Sachem) to support the army troops. These vessels were converted side-wheel river steamers and the only available ships that had drafts shallow enough to get over the sandbar and enter the Sabine River.

According to Banks, the gunboats had “decayed frames and weak machinery,” and were “constantly out of repair.” Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, the official squadron commander currently on leave, informed Navy Secretary Gideon Welles when he learned of the plan that “you may expect to hear of disaster.” Lieutenant Frederick Crocker would command the navy part of the operation, which included not only the gunboats but 22 transports to convey Franklin’s troops.

The Federal armada arrived off the bar at Sabine Pass late on the 7th. Franklin planned to seize the pass the next day, then move inland to Beaumont and capture the Texas & New Orleans Railroad. This linked Houston to New Orleans and represented the last rail connection between Texas and the eastern Confederacy. In the meantime, a Federal division under Major General Francis J. Herron would divert the attention of Confederates in Louisiana so they would not interfere with the operation.

Fort Griffin guarded the pass about two miles up the Sabine River, but only 47 Confederate artillerists of the Texas Jeff Davis Guards, which had been merged into the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery, manned the fort. Led by 20-year-old saloonkeeper Lieutenant Richard W. Dowling, the Confederates had been posted at Griffin partly as punishment for misbehavior.

The fort had just six smoothbore cannon, but they were on an elevated platform from which the artillerists could see several miles around them. The men had placed range markers in the river and practiced firing their guns every day. Dowling observed Federal signal lights off the pass on the night of the 7th and notified Major General John B. Magruder, his department commander. Magruder advised him to spike the guns and retreat, but Dowling prepared to defend the fort instead.

The Federal gunboats began bombarding Fort Griffin at dawn the next day. The Confederates held their fire until the vessels crossed the bar around 4 p.m. and came within range. Then Dowling’s men used their range markers to open a deadly cannonade. Within a half-hour, the Sachem had taken a shot through her boiler and the Clifton took one through the steam drum. The crews of both gunboats surrendered, while the remaining vessels quickly withdrew.

Federal gunboats entering Sabine Pass | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In addition to 315 men captured from the Clifton and Sachem, the Federals sustained 65 casualties (19 killed, nine wounded, and 37 missing). Crocker was among the wounded. Franklin also reported that 200,000 rations had been dumped overboard to lighten a grounded transport, and 200 mules had been dumped to lighten a steamer.

As Farragut had predicted, Franklin relied solely on the gunboats to neutralize the fort rather than provide infantry support. Franklin aborted the attack and ordered a return to New Orleans. Thus, the first Federal attempt to invade Texas ended in humiliating failure. The next day, Confederate Captain F.H. Odlum issued his report on the battle:

“I have the honor to report that we had an engagement with the enemy yesterday and gained a handsome victory. We captured two of their gunboats, crippled a third, and drove the rest out of the Pass. We took 18 fine guns, a quantity of smaller arms, ammunition and stores, killed about 50, wounded several, and took 150 prisoners, without the loss or injury of any one on our side or serious damage to the fort.”

This small engagement greatly boosted Confederate morale. President Jefferson Davis called it “one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of warfare,” and labeled the battle the Thermopylae of the war. Dowling and his gunners became southern heroes, later receiving an official vote of thanks from the Confederate Congress. Houston residents also contributed to produce special Davis Guard medals for the men, the only official Confederate awards for military valor.

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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 15814; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322-24; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 774-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Locations 523-533; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346-48; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 46-47, 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 404-07; 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. 683; 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. 171-72; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 650

The Fall of Port Hudson

July 9, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf captured the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, opening the waterway to Federal commerce and cutting the Confederacy in two.

The Confederates at Port Hudson, Louisiana, had been under siege for six weeks, enduring an almost constant bombardment from both land and water. On the 1st, the Federal mortar flotilla commander on the U.S.S. Essex reported to Rear Admiral David G. Farragut: “From the 23 of May to the 26 of June… we have fired from this vessel 738 shells and from the mortar vessels an aggregate of 2800 XIII-inch shells.”

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

Banks stayed focused on strangling Port Hudson into submission despite more panicked messages from Brigadier General William Emory, commanding the Federal occupation forces at New Orleans. Emory feared that Major General Richard Taylor would attack him with 13,000 Confederates, and he wrote Banks on the 4th, “It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans. You can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

By that time, Taylor’s forces were at Thibodaux and Bayou des Allemands, and Taylor had no immediate plans to attack New Orleans. But he hoped to cause enough disorder in western Louisiana to force Banks to leave Port Hudson and confront him. Banks would not take the bait.

During the siege, Banks directed Federal sappers to dig tunnels under the Confederate defenses. Banks planned to detonate heavy mines in the tunnels and then attack with 1,000 troops, but most Federals considered it foolish. In fact, many questioned Banks’s competence as a commander. He had pushed the Confederates to the brink of surrender, but he had also sacrificed many Federal lives in costly failed attacks. Disease had killed or incapacitated thousands of others. Only news of Vicksburg’s surrender, which arrived on the 7th, revived the sagging Federal morale.

Federal reinforcements began arriving from Vicksburg that day, and Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederates in Port Hudson, learned that night that the city had fallen. He had hoped General Joseph E. Johnston’s “Army of Relief” would rescue his garrison after breaking the siege of Vicksburg, but this news only added to Confederate demoralization already caused by the bombardment and dwindling rations.

Still, some Confederates believed that the Federals were just trying to dishearten them by falsely claiming that Vicksburg had fallen. On the 8th, Gardner sent a courier under a flag of truce to ask Banks to confirm the rumors. When Banks supplied sufficient evidence to prove the claim, Gardner requested surrender terms. His Confederates had withstood nearly seven weeks under siege, during which time they repelled three major assaults and were nearly starved to death. Gardner now saw that any further resistance was futile.

Federal and Confederate officers met between the lines at 9 a.m. Under the temporary ceasefire, soldiers on both sides came out of their trenches and socialized. Some Confederates, knowing they would be surrendered, took the opportunity to sneak through the Federal lines and desert. The surrender agreement was finalized by 2 p.m., with a formal ceremony taking place the next day.

The surrender was unconditional, but Banks agreed to parole the 5,935 soldiers if they pledged not to take up arms against the Federals until properly exchanged. The 405 officers were sent to New Orleans to be either exchanged or sent to a northern prisoner of war camp.

The Confederate troops stood at attention as the Federals marched into their fortifications at 7 a.m. on the 9th. A Federal band played “Yankee Doodle” as Gardner ordered his men to lay their arms on the ground. Banks designated Brigadier General George L. Andrews to accept Gardner’s surrender. Gardner handed Andrews his sword, but Andrews returned it to Gardner “in recognition of the heroic defense” of Port Hudson.

A band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as Federals raised the U.S. flag over the works. The tune was followed by “Dixie.” The Confederates marched out, leaving the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi to Federal occupation forces. The Federals toured the enemy works as the Confederates received their paroles on the 10th.

The Federals sustained nearly 4,363 battle casualties during the siege (708 killed, 3,336 wounded, and 319 missing), along with another 4,500 due to various diseases or sunstroke. The Confederates lost about 7,200, including the 6,340 officers and men surrendered. The Federals also seized 51 cannon and 7,500 stands of arms. Despite his questionable leadership, Banks stated, “The siege will be remembered not only for its important results, but also for the manner in which it has been conducted.”

Farragut notified Rear Admiral David D. Porter, who had led the naval forces against Vicksburg, that the Federal navy now controlled the entire length of the Mississippi, all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Farragut planned to return to the Gulf Blockading Squadron. He wrote his wife about the campaign: “My last dash past Port Hudson (in March) was the best thing I ever did, except taking New Orleans. It assisted materially in the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

On the 16th, the unarmed cargo steamer Imperial docked at New Orleans bearing the U.S. flag after leaving St. Louis eight days before. The Imperial was the first vessel to travel between these two port cities in over two years. However, the resumption of river commerce soon proved difficult because Confederate guerrillas continued attacking Federal shipping from various points along the riverbanks.

Banks soon shifted his attention to ridding western Louisiana of Major General Richard Taylor’s Confederates. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston, desperately expressing hope that the Federals “may yet be crushed and the late disaster be repaired by a concentration of all forces.” This hope, like further Confederate resistance in the Western Theater, was becoming increasingly dim.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298, 304-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 599-600, 614-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 324, 326; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159, 168; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 206; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 381-82, 386-87; 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. 637; 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. 162; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 298; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 242

The Second Battle of Port Hudson

June 14, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks launched another doomed assault on the Confederate defenses at Port Hudson, Louisiana, but the Federal siege continued.

The Lincoln administration had long expected Banks and Major General Ulysses S. Grant to join forces and capture both Vicksburg and Port Hudson together. However, the slow trickle of information from the west indicated that the two commanders were conducting separate operations, with Grant besieging Vicksburg and Banks besieging Port Hudson. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck finally wrote Banks, the ranking commander, asking him to confirm this revelation:

“The newspapers state that your forces are moving on Port Hudson instead of co-operating with General Grant, leaving the latter to fight both (General Joseph E.) Johnston and (Lieutenant General John C.) Pemberton. As this is so contrary to all your instructions, and so opposed to military principles, I can hardly believe it true.”

This was confirmed to be true later that day when Halleck received a bundle of letters from Banks indicating that he was indeed advancing southeast from Alexandria to attack Port Hudson. Banks responded to Halleck’s reprimand the next day:

“If I defend New Orleans and its adjacent territory, the enemy will go against Grant. If I go with a force sufficient to aid him (bypassing Port Hudson), my rear will be seriously threatened. My force is not large enough to do both. Under these circumstances, my only course seems to be to carry this post as soon as possible, and then to join General Grant…”

Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf spent the next week strengthening its siege lines surrounding Major General Franklin Gardner’s Confederates at Port Hudson. Banks had enjoyed strong naval support from the Mississippi River since his campaign began, but Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, commanding the naval fleet, warned him on the 11th that “we have been bombarding this place for five weeks, and we are now upon our last 500 shells, so that it will not be in my power to bombard more than three or four hours each night, at intervals of five minutes…”

During this time, Confederate deserters coming into the Federal lines claimed their former comrades had “about five days’ beef” left to eat, and although there was “plenty of peas, plenty of corn,” there was “no more meal.” Banks decided to use the remaining naval ammunition to launch a massive bombardment and then, if the Confederates refused to surrender, overrun their supposedly weakened defenses.

Federal bombardment of Port Hudson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The gunboats began the bombardment on the 13th, firing a round per second for an hour. The Confederates, also low on ammunition, offered little response. When the firing stopped, Banks sent a message to Gardner under a flag of truce: “Respect for the usages of war, and a desire to avoid unnecessary sacrifice on life, impose on me the necessity of formally demanding the surrender of the garrison at Port Hudson…”

Gardner shared the message with his commanders and said, “What do you think? Why, Banks has notified me that to avoid unnecessary slaughter he demands the immediate surrender of my forces.” Gardner sent his reply: “Your note of this date has just been handed to me, and in reply I have to state that my duty requires me to defend this position, and therefore I decline to surrender.” When Banks read Gardner’s response, he ordered a resumption of the massive bombardment and made plans to launch a general assault the next day.

At 1 a.m. Banks issued orders for what was to be a coordinated attack by all his forces. The Federals advanced at 4 a.m., but the vague instructions and heavy fog quickly undermined the coordination. Brigadier General Cuvier Grover’s men hit the Confederate defenses first, but stiff resistance and harsh terrain drove them back. Brigadier General Halbert E. Paine’s division struck Priest Cap and made a temporary breakthrough before being repulsed with heavy losses, including Paine, who lost a leg.

Major General Christopher C. Augur’s division next assaulted the enemy center, and then another Federal attack took place on the southern trenches. Both piecemeal assaults were easily repulsed, and the Federals commanders decided that any further attacks would be futile.

The Federals fell back to their original positions, having suffered one of the worst defeats of the war. They sustained 1,792 casualties (203 killed, 1,401 wounded, and 188 missing) while the Confederates lost just 47 men (22 killed and 25 wounded). Since the Federals had arrived at Port Hudson, nearly 11,000 men had dropped from the ranks, with 4,000 killed in combat and another 7,000 dead or suffering from various diseases.

The next morning, Banks announced to his troops, “One more advance and they are ours!” But the sharp defeat the previous day had demoralized them, and the commanders refused to try another assault. Thus, the siege continued without Banks’s “one more advance.”

Confederate resistance remained stubborn, but the Federals had cut their supply line, and the defenders grew weaker by the day. Troops fell out of the ranks due to illnesses such as dysentery and sunstroke, and other diseases ran rampant from drinking stagnant water and eating rats.

Major General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in western Louisiana, tried diverting Banks’s attention by threatening Donaldsonville. However, the U.S.S. Winona scattered the enemy cavalry near Plaquemine and kept Donaldsonville secure. Taylor next targeted the Federal depot at Berwick Bay, where Banks stored supplies for his planned expedition up the Teche and Red rivers after capturing Port Hudson.

Taylor advanced on the Federal garrison with 3,000 dismounted Texas cavalry, artillery, and a makeshift naval flotilla of 53 vessels. The Confederates attacked at dawn on the 23rd, hitting the Federals in both front and rear and forcing their surrender. Taylor took 1,700 prisoners, 12 guns, 5,000 stands of arms, and two locomotives pulling supply cars. His men also destroyed the Lafourche Bridge, preventing trains from going east to supply Banks at Port Hudson. Taylor estimated the value of the seized goods at $2 million, making this the most successful raid since “Stonewall” Jackson’s on Manassas Junction last August.

On the 28th, Taylor detached Brigadier General Thomas Green, who had gained fame for his victory at Valverde in the New Mexico Territory, and 800 dismounted cavalry to attack Fort Butler at Donaldsonville. The Federal garrison numbered just 225 men, but they repelled the attack with help from three gunboats. The Federals inflicted 261 casualties while losing just 24.

This stalled Taylor’s momentum, but it did nothing to calm Brigadier General William Emory, who commanded one of Banks’s divisions guarding New Orleans. Fearing that Taylor might strike him next, Emory reported to Banks:

“The railroad track at Terre Bonne is torn up. Communication with Brashear cut off. I have but 400 men in the city, and I consider the city and the public property very unsafe. The secessionists here profess to have certain information that their forces are to make an attempt on the city.”

Emory followed up five days later by stating that the approaching Confederates were “known and ascertained to be at least 9,000, and may be more… The city is quiet on the surface, but the undercurrent is in a ferment.” By month’s end, Emory’s panic had reached its peak:

“Something must be done for this city, and that quickly. It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans… My information is as nearly positive as human testimony can make it that the enemy are 13,000 strong, and they are fortifying the whole country as they march from Brashear to this place, and are steadily advancing. I respectfully suggest that, unless Port Hudson is already taken, you can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

Banks did not heed Emory’s warnings and remained focused on his relentless siege of Port Hudson instead. Federal sappers dug a tunnel under the Confederate trenches, from which they planned to detonate explosives that would blow a hole in the enemy lines. Banks assigned 1,000 volunteers to form an elite attack force designed to exploit that breech. Near month’s end, he addressed the force:

“A little more than a month ago, you found the enemy in the open country far away from these scenes. Now he is hemmed in and surrounded. What remains is to close upon him and secure him with our grasp. We want the close hug! When you get an enemy’s head under your arm, you can pound him at your will. The hug he will never recover from until the Devil, the arch Rebel, gives him his own!”

Meanwhile, the bombardment continued throughout the month, as the Federals slowly demoralized the Confederates by starving them into submission. By the end of June, it was clear that Gardner could not hold out much longer.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18674-83; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 400-04, 598-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 309-10, 313-14, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 366, 370, 372-73; 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. 637; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97