Tag Archives: Army of the Gulf

The Red River Campaign Ends

May 20, 1864 – One of the greatest Federal military disasters of the war finally ended.

Federals under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, an engineer by trade, had been building a dam on the Red River in Louisiana for the past 10 days to raise the water level. This would enable Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s naval flotilla to pass through and get to Federal lines before Confederates on shore could destroy the vessels. The dam had burst on the 10th, but four ships got through, and work began on a stronger dam at the upper falls so the rest of Porter’s fleet could pass.

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

The new dam was breeched on the 11th, as thousands of Federal troops used ropes to pull the ironclads U.S.S. Carondelet, Mound City, and Pittsburgh over the upper falls. All three vessels, with their hatches battened down, made it through the rapids safely (the Mound City and Carondelet ran aground but were freed). Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “The passage of these vessels was a beautiful sight, only to be realized when seen.”

The dam was then closed again to continue raising the water level. Over the next two days, the rest of Porter’s fleet successfully passed through the upper falls. Bailey and his workers then began building wing dams on the lower falls so that Porter could get his ships off the Red and onto the Mississippi River. Porter wrote Welles:

“The water had fallen so low that I had no hope or expectation of getting the vessels out this season, and as the army had made arrangements to evacuate the country I saw nothing before me but the destruction of the best part of the Mississippi squadron… Words are inadequate to express the admiration I feel for the abilities of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey. This is without doubt the best engineering feat ever performed… He has saved to the Union a valuable fleet, worth nearly $2,000,000…”

Bailey later received the thanks of Congress for saving the naval squadron.

As the ships began steaming down the Red, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf left Alexandria and continued its retreat, moving parallel with the fleet. The Federals resumed their pattern of destroying nearly every town they passed by burning Alexandria before leaving. A soldier wrote that “thousands of people, mostly women, children, and old men, were wringing their hands as they stood by the little piles of what was left of all their worldly possessions.” Reportedly only two houses remained standing in the town.

Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in Louisiana, hoped to destroy Banks’s army before it could return to New Orleans. But being hopelessly outnumbered, Taylor had to wait for reinforcements from Arkansas to arrive. As he waited, he dispatched cavalry and other units to harass Banks’s Federals on their retreat.

On the 16th, the Federals found themselves blocked by a portion of Taylor’s force under Brigadier General Camille A. Polignac in an open prairie outside Mansura. A four-hour artillery duel erupted, after which Banks directed Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s Federals to attack. Taylor withdrew in the face of superior numbers, moving southwest while the Federals continued retreating southeast.

The Federal vanguard arrived at Simmesport on the Atchafalaya River, where Bailey’s Federals began building a makeshift bridge out of transports and riverboats so the Federals could cross the 600-yard-wide waterway. Around the same time, Porter’s flotilla finally reached the Mississippi River, ending its service in the Red River campaign.

Skirmishing resumed on the 17th, during which the main part of Banks’s army fell back to Yellow Bayou, about five miles from Simmesport. Bailey continued working on the bridge, leaving the Federals to fend Taylor’s Confederates off until they could get across to safety.

Taylor approached the Federals at Yellow Bayou with about 5,000 troops the next day. Banks responded by dispatching A.J. Smith and about 5,000 of his men to meet them. The Federals pushed the enemy skirmishers back before coming up to Taylor’s main line.

Both sides attacked and counterattacked over the next several hours, giving ground and taking it back, until a brushfire compelled both sides to disengage. In this brutal clash, the Federals sustained about 350 casualties while the Confederates lost 608. By the time the fight ended, the bridge spanning the Atchafalaya was ready.

The Federals crossed the river over the next two days, ending their failed Red River campaign. Since its beginning in March, Banks’s Federals had sustained 5,245 army and 300 naval casualties. They lost eight vessels (including three gunboats) and 28 guns. The seizure of 15,000 bales of cotton during the expedition did not make up for the losses or Banks’s failure to achieve his ultimate goal of capturing the vital cotton-producing city of Shreveport. One of Banks’s staff officers described the aftermath:

“Franklin quitted the department in disgust, Stone was replaced by Dwight as chief of staff, and Lee as chief of cavalry by Arnold; A.J. Smith departed more in anger than in sorrow; while between the admiral and the general commanding, recriminations were exchanged in language well up to the limits of ‘parliamentary’ privilege.”

Combined with Major General Frederick Steele’s Camden expedition in Arkansas, the Federals lost over 8,000 men and 57 guns. General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, which included Louisiana and Arkansas, lost a total of about 4,275 men. The Confederates had also captured well over 1,000 supply wagons and 3,500 horses or mules. They prevented Major General William T. Sherman from receiving reinforcements for his Georgia offensive, and they stopped Banks from turning east to attack Mobile, Alabama, as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had ordered him to do.

The only positive result for the Federals was that they somehow escaped complete destruction. The Confederates from Arkansas finally arrived to reinforce Taylor two days after the Federals had crossed the Atchafalaya. Unable to pursue any further, Taylor issued a congratulatory order to his men for their conduct during the campaign:

“Long will the accursed race remember the great river of Texas and Louisiana. The characteristic hue of its turbid waters has a darker tinge from the liberal admixture of Yankee blood. The cruel alligator and the ravenous garfish wax fat on rich food, and our native vulture holds high revelry over many a festering corpse.”

When Banks arrived at Simmesport, he was met by Major General Edward R.S. Canby, who informed him that his Department of the Gulf, as well as Steele’s Department of Arkansas, had been absorbed into Canby’s new Military Division of West Mississippi. Banks, who had presided over disasters in the Shenandoah Valley and Louisiana during the war, would now serve in an administrative capacity under a man three years his junior in date of rank.

Canby accompanied Banks on the last 100 miles of the retreat from Simmesport to Donaldsonville. Banks, a former House speaker and Massachusetts governor, would turn his attention back to political issues, mainly restoring Louisiana to the Union. Canby, whose jurisdiction extended from Missouri to Texas, and then east along the Gulf Coast to Florida, would eventually set his sights on capturing Mobile.

—–

References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20649-57; 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. 404-08, 412; 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 1757-86, 1792-802, 1820-30, 1840-918, 1928-48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 431, 434, 436, 438-42; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66, 68-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 496-501, 505; 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. 723; 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. 195; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23, 330; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 816; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751, 846

Advertisements

The Red River: Federal Disaster Looms

May 2, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas began returning to Little Rock, while Federal naval forces on the Red River in Louisiana were in grave danger of being stranded in shallow water.

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

By the beginning of May, the Federal mission to capture the vital cotton-producing city of Shreveport via the Red River and Arkansas had failed. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf was back where it started at Alexandria and Steele, who had been expected to meet Banks at Shreveport, was retreating from Camden to Little Rock. These two forces retreated intact, but Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval flotilla on the Red River faced potential destruction.

The river had been falling for weeks, and the vessels that had moved upstream now did not have deep enough water to get back down. In late April, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey had put Federals to work building dams that would raise the water and, when burst, create a current large enough for the vessels to float over the jagged rocks in the riverbed and steam to safety.

The Federals working to get the squadron downstream were under constant attack from Confederates on shore. The Confederates destroyed the Federal transport Emma at David’s Ferry, 30 miles below Alexandria, taking the captain and crew prisoner. A few days later, they captured the Federal transport City Belle at the same spot and took over a third of the 700 troops aboard prisoner (the rest jumped overboard to escape). Meanwhile, guerrillas clashed with Federals around the plantation of Louisiana Governor Thomas O. Moore.

At Dunn’s Bayou below Alexandria, Confederate infantry and shore batteries attacked the Federal transport Warner and her gunboat escorts, the U.S.S. Covington and Signal, as they rounded a bend. The Warner carried Ohio troops going home on furlough as a reward for reenlisting. She was immediately disabled and grounded in a bend near Pierce’s Landing.

The Confederates then disabled the Signal, forcing her to surrender when the Covington lost most of her crew and ran out of ammunition. In the first five days of May, Confederates had inflicted nearly 600 casualties while destroying two gunboats and three transports.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

During this time, Steele’s demoralized Federals straggled back to Little Rock from Camden. In his mission to advance to Shreveport, Steele never even got out of Arkansas due to lack of supplies and Banks’s failure in Louisiana. Steele’s army sustained 2,750 casualties while losing nine guns and nearly 700 supply wagons. In his report, Steele called his campaign the “Camden expedition” without acknowledging that it was supposed to have been the “Shreveport expedition.”

Steele’s retreat allowed General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, to shift his primary focus from Arkansas to Louisiana. Smith issued orders for his Confederates at Camden to move “by the most direct route to Louisiana” to confront both Banks’s dispirited army and Porter’s vulnerable flotilla.

Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Louisiana district under Smith, notified him that the Confederate victory at Dunn’s Bayou had turned the lower Red River into “a mare clausum. Forage and subsistence of every kind have been removed beyond the enemy’s reach. Rigid orders are given to destroy everything useful that can fall into his hands. We will play the game the Russians played in the retreat from Moscow.”

As Confederate troops hurried from Arkansas back to Louisiana, Bailey’s Federals continued working to dam the 758-foot-wide Red River. By the 8th, the dam had been built on either side of the river, leaving a 150-foot gap in the center. This raised the water level high enough for three of the lighter-draft gunboats (the U.S.S. Fort Hindman, Neosho, and Osage) to go through the upper falls, just before the dam.

On each dam wing, Bailey directed the sinking of two stone barges to raise the water even higher. However, two of the barges broke loose under the pressure, allowing a massive flood of water to surge through the chute in the center. Porter quickly ordered the three gunboats, along with the U.S.S. Lexington, to try passing on this wave. The Lexington tried first.

According to Porter, the timberclad “steered directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was rushing so furiously that it seemed as if nothing but destruction awaited her. Thousands of beating hearts looked on anxious for the result; the silence was so great as the Lexington approached the dam that a pin might almost be heard to fall.”

The Lexington, “with a full head of steam on, pitched down the roaring torrent, made two or three spasmodic rolls, hung for a moment on the rocks below, was then swept into deep water by the current and rounded to, safely, into the bank. Thirty thousand voices rose in one deafening roar.” The next three gunboats also passed safely, after which Bailey’s Federals began working to shore up the dam for the rest of the flotilla to pass.

—–

References

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. 399-400; 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 1609-29, 1658-717; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 427, 429; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65, 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 490-91, 493; 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. 195

The Grand Federal Offensive Begins

April 29, 1864 – One part of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s overall offensive began as Federals advanced in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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

From his headquarters at Culpeper Court House, Grant shared his overall plan with Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Grant would remain headquartered with Meade’s army, and, “So far as practicable, all the armies are to move together, and towards one common centre.”

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, commanding the Federal Army of the Gulf, was “instructed to turn over the guarding of the Red River to General (Frederick) Steele and the navy, to abandon Texas with the exception of the Rio Grande, and to concentrate all the force he can, not less than 25,000 men, to move on Mobile.”

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding three Federal armies, faced General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. Grant told Meade that Sherman “will move at the same time you do, or two or three days in advance, Jo. Johnston’s army being his objective point, and the heart of Georgia his ultimate aim.” If Banks and Sherman succeeded, they would join forces and operate in the Deep South.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler, leading the 33,000-man Federal Army of the James from Fort Monroe, will “seize City Point, and operate against Richmond from the south side of the (James) river. His movement will be simultaneous with yours (i.e., Meade’s).”

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside who had been reunited with his beloved IX Corps at Annapolis, “will reinforce you. I will give him the defense of the road (Orange & Alexandria Railroad) from Bull Run as far south as we wish to hold it. This will enable you to collect all your strength about Brandy Station.” As for 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. Each plan presents great advantages over the other with corresponding objections. By crossing above, Lee is cut off from all chance of ignoring Richmond and going north on a raid. But if we take this route, all we do must be done whilst the rations we start with hold out. We separate from Butler so that he cannot be directed how to co-operate. By the other route Brandy Station can be used as a base of supplies until another is secured on the York or James rivers.”

Maj-Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The last major part of Grant’s overall plan involved Major General Franz Sigel’s Army of West Virginia. This consisted of Sigel’s main force in the Shenandoah Valley and Brigadier General George Crook’s Federals operating in West Virginia’s Kanawha Valley. According to Grant:

“Sigel collects all his available force in two columns, one, under (E.O.C.) Ord and (William W.) Averell, to start from Beverly, Virginia, and the other, under Crook, to start from Charleston on the Kanawha, to move against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Crook… will endeavor to get in about Saltville, and move east from there to join Ord. His force will be all cavalry, while Ord will have from 10 to 12,000 men of all arms.”

Grant initially planned for Sigel to stay in the northern part of the Shenandoah, guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad against Confederate raiders. However, Sigel proposed moving up the Valley from Martinsburg to join forces with Crook at Staunton, after Crook wrecked the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. At Staunton, Sigel and Crook would wreck the Virginia Central Railroad. Grant responded on the 19th: “I approve your plan of operations. Make your preparations for executing it with all dispatch.”

Crook’s force of 6,155 men set out toward Dublin Station on the 29th, but the advance was slowed by pouring rain and the harsh terrain of West Virginia. Sigel led his portion of the army, consisting of 8,000 Federals, out of Winchester the next day. Meanwhile, Brigadier General William W. Averell’s Federal cavalry would target the salt mines at Saltville and the lead mines at Wytheville.

This operation began ahead of Grant’s other offensives, and it would face intense Confederate opposition come May.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 166-67; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 730-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08; 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 5138-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414-16, 419, 425-26; Lewis, Thomas A., The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 481-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 504-06, 788; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 180; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177-78; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 737; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 146, 739

Red River: Porter in Grave Danger

April 27, 1864 – Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval flotilla reached Alexandria, Louisiana, but it was still faced potential destruction as the Red River continued falling.

Federal crewmen had worked tirelessly to rescue the gunboat U.S.S. Eastport after she hit a torpedo. But the vessel had grounded several times over the next five days, and, on the 26th, she grounded for the last time on the Alexandria rapids. Porter had no choice but to order the crew to destroy their ship. They used 3,000 pounds of gunpowder to blow the Eastport up before transferring to the U.S.S. Fort Hindman.

During this action, Confederate shore batteries and snipers attacked other nearby gunboats, in keeping with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor’s goal to “keep up a constant fight with the gunboats, following them with sharpshooters and killing every man who exposes himself.” Confederate forces tried boarding Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Cricket, but were beaten back.

As the Federal ships continued downriver, they came under artillery and rifle fire near the mouth of the Cane River (a tributary of the Red). The Champion No. 5, a transport carrying slaves to freedom, sustained a shot through her boiler that burned 100 slaves to death. The wooden gunboat Juliet was disabled but towed to safety by the Champion No. 3, also damaged.

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

Fighting resumed the next day, as the Confederate guns disabled the Fort Hindman and sent her drifting downstream. The Champion No. 5 was grounded and burned, and the Juliet sustained more damage. The heavy ironclad U.S.S. Neosho tried leading the other ships to safety under what Porter called “the heaviest fire I ever witnessed.”

Porter reached Alexandria later that day, where he met up with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks and the Army of the Gulf. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had long sought for Banks to turn east and advance on Mobile, Alabama, and Banks had just received a message from Grant instructing him not to be “detained one day after the 1st of May in commencing your movement east of the Mississippi. No matter what you may have in contemplation, commence your concentration, to be followed without delay by your advance on Mobile.”

However, most of Porter’s fleet was still above the Alexandria rapids, which were becoming more impassable by the day. Banks assured Porter that he would not start his move on Mobile until Porter’s fleet had safely evacuated the Red River. Porter sent a pessimistic report to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“… I find myself blockaded by the fall of three feet of water, three feet four inches being the amount now on the falls; seven feet being required to get over; no amount of lightening will accomplish the object… In the meantime, the enemy are splitting up into parties of 2,000 and bringing in the artillery… to blockade points below here…”

Porter acknowledged that he may have to scuttle his entire fleet to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands and wrote that “you may judge my feelings at having to perform so painful a duty.” He then offered a scathing account of the Red River campaign thus far:

“It has delayed 10,000 troops of Gen. (William T.) Sherman, on which he depended to open the State of Mississippi; it has drawn Gen. (Frederick) Steele from Arkansas and already given the rebels a foothold in that country; it has forced me to withdraw many light-draft vessels from points on the Mississippi to protect this army…”

A ray of hope appeared on the 29th when Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, an engineer with XIX Corps (and former Wisconsin lumberjack), proposed building a dam across the rapids to raise the water level to the required seven feet. Then, the dam would be opened and the vessels would ride the high current over the jagged rocks, past the rapids to safety. Porter later wrote:

“This proposition looked like madness, and the best engineers ridiculed it, but Col. Bailey was so sanguine of success that I requested Gen. Banks to have it done… two or three regiments of Maine men were set to work felling trees… every man seemed to be working with a vigor seldom seen equaled… These falls are about a mile in length, filled with rugged rocks, over which at the present stage of water it seemed to be impossible to make a channel.”

Work began on the 30th, as 3,000 Federals started building a dam of logs, rocks, and dirt spanning the 758-foot-wide Red River. The Federals also sunk four barges filled with stones to raise levels. The work continued into May, as Porter relied on this desperate engineering effort to save his naval flotilla.

—–

References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20649; 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. 396-97; 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 1247-57, 1276-96, 1629-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 424-26; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 488-89; 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. 194; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 292

Red River: Banks Tries Returning to Alexandria

April 21, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals moved out of Grand Ecore, Louisiana, while struggling to salvage one of their best gunboats.

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

After his solid victory at Pleasant Hill, Banks decided not to press his advantage but instead retreat to Grand Ecore. As his troops and Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s naval flotilla on the Red River fell back, the U.S.S. Eastport was severely damaged by a torpedo. Federal carpenters worked nonstop for six days to try refloating the Eastport, and she was finally relaunched on the 21st. However, the gunboat grounded eight times over the next 60 miles.

Porter’s massive flotilla was in serious danger of being stuck in the falling Red River. Moreover, Banks feared that Lieutenant General Richard Taylor’s Confederates would attack again, unaware that three of Taylor’s divisions had been sent to Arkansas. This left just 5,000 Confederates to face Banks’s 30,000, but Taylor still looked to attack and Banks still looked to retreat.

In addition, Banks was being pressured by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to end his campaign, as Grant had told Banks over a month ago that Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s 10,000 troops borrowed from Major General William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee had to be returned by April 15. Banks argued that he could not return the men until Porter’s flotilla was out of harm’s way.

News of Banks’s failure to capture Shreveport had not yet reached Grant at his Culpeper, Virginia, headquarters, when he wrote Banks on the 18th. Grant expected Banks to turn east as soon as he captured Shreveport and advance on Mobile, Alabama. Grant wrote, “You cannot start too soon. All I would now add is that you commence the concentration of your force at once. Preserve a profound secrecy of what you intend doing, and start at the earliest possible moment.”

The next day, Banks issued orders for his force to fall back to Alexandria. They began moving out on the 21st, discarding any equipment that might slow their march. That same day, a messenger from Sherman arrived to request that Banks return A.J. Smith’s Federals to Vicksburg. Banks gave him a message for Sherman: “He refused to return Smith’s command. The naval force is caught in low water with shoals above and below.”

When this news reached Grant, he told Sherman that it “satisfies me of what I always believe, that forces sent to Banks would be lost for our spring campaign. You will have to make your calculations now leaving A.J. Smith out. Do not let this delay or embarrass, however. Leave for him, if he should return, such directions as you deem more advisable. He may return in time to be thrown in somewhere, very opportunely.”

Banks’s Federals stopped at Grand Ecore long enough to burn the main warehouse there. The fire quickly spread to other buildings until the entire town was destroyed. Meanwhile, A.J. Smith’s Federals moved out from Natchitoches and burned that town as well.

The Federals moved quickly amid rumors that Taylor was closing in on them with 25,000 men. They reached Cloutierville on the 22nd, having retreated 32 miles since the Battle of Mansfield. Vengeful Federal soldiers burned nearly every home, barn, warehouse, and cotton gin in their path. Such wanton destruction enraged Confederate Louisianans, most notably Taylor.

The outnumbered Confederates could not give battle, but they harassed the Federals on the retreat, forcing A.J. Smith to deploy his rear guard to fend them off. Meanwhile, a Confederate cavalry division under Brigadier General Hamilton P. Bee worked its way around to Banks’s front and secured high ground overlooking Monett’s Ferry on the Cane River, a tributary of the Red. The Federals needed the ferry to cross the Cane.

On the morning of the 23rd, Brigadier General William H. Emory’s Federals approached Monett’s Ferry (also known as Cane River Crossing). His cavalry “skirmished handsomely and briskly, driving in the enemy’s pickets until they got to the line of battle occupied by the enemy, which was very strong and defended by two batteries of eight pieces each, which crossed their fire on an open field, through which it was necessary to pass before we could reach the enemy’s position.”

Emory noted the Confederates on the bluffs across the river and bombarded them with artillery while two brigades went looking for another crossing. Troops under Brigadier General Henry W. Birge found an unguarded crossing about three miles upstream but, as Emory reported:

“The ground over which Birge had to pass was exceedingly difficult, traversed by muddy bayous, high and sharp ridges covered by a dense growth of pink, and other topographical difficulties. His progress was necessarily very slow and tedious, and he did not get into position until late afternoon.”

Birge’s Federals began firing on Bee’s left flank. This unexpected attack and the artillery fire in front compelled the Confederates to retreat. The Federals built a pontoon bridge across the Cane, allowing Banks’s army to cross the next day and continue their retreat to Alexandria. Federals suffered about 300 casualties in this fight, while Confederates lost about 50.

Taylor lodged several complaints against Bee’s conduct in the engagement, such as sending a brigade to guard a wagon train “for the safety of which I had amply provided for,” building no earthworks or other defenses, massing his troops in the center “where the enemy were certain not to make any decided effort,” and falling back 30 miles instead of counterattacking.

By the 25th, Banks’s exhausted, demoralized troops arrived at Alexandria, the starting point of their failed effort to capture Shreveport. But Taylor’s Confederates still operated in the vicinity, and Porter’s flotilla was still in danger of being trapped above the Red River rapids. Confederate forces attacked the vessels from the riverbanks, inflicting serious damage.

Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck notified Grant of Banks’s failure, which had been relayed to Halleck by Porter. Halleck told Grant, “Whatever may be said, the army there has met with a great defeat and is much demoralized.” Actually, the army had not met with any defeat except at Mansfield, but Banks retreated anyway. Halleck wrote that Porter “speaks in strong terms of Banks’ mismanagement and of the good conduct of A.J. Smith and his corps. He fears that if Smith is withdrawn Banks will retreat still farther.”

Grant replied, “A.J. Smith will have to stay with General Banks until the gunboats are out of difficulty… Banks ought to be ordered to New Orleans and have all further execution on the Red River in other hands.” Grant then stated that he had received two reports giving “deplorable accounts of General Banks’ mismanagement.” These, along with Banks’s own report on the campaign “clearly show all his disasters to be attributable to his incompetency.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20649; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 111; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 395; 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 1139-68, 1197-217, 1237-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420, 422-24; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66-67, 70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 485-88; 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. 194

The Battle of Pleasant Hill

April 9, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals made a stand after the previous day’s defeat as Confederates under Major General Richard Taylor sought to drive them out of western Louisiana.

Banks directed his Army of the Gulf to retreat to Pleasant Hill, about 15 miles east of Mansfield. There they linked with Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith’s veterans from XVI and XVII corps arriving from Grand Ecore. Banks now had 18,000 men, but he feared that his demoralized troops could not withstand another Confederate attack. Moreover, his XIX Corps had retreated past Pleasant Hill and could not be recalled if needed.

Meanwhile, the Confederate victory at Mansfield emboldened Taylor to pursue and destroy Banks’s army. Taylor’s force had been bolstered to about 13,000 men with the arrival of Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill’s Arkansas division on the night of the 8th. However, the troops were exhausted from fighting and marching, so Taylor gave them a few hours’ rest before resuming the pursuit on the 9th. This gave Banks more time to bolster his defenses.

Banks reported, “The enemy began to reconnoiter the new position we had assumed at 11 o’clock, and as early as 1 or 2 o’clock opened a sharp fire of skirmishers, which was kept up at intervals during the afternoon. About 5 o’clock the enemy abandoned all pretension of maneuvering and made a most desperate attack upon the brigades on the left center.”

After probing the Federal lines and firing on them with the cannon captured at Mansfield, Taylor launched a furious all-out assault. Major General John G. Walker’s Texans and Brigadier General Camille Polignac’s Louisianans struck the Federal right but could not break it. However, Churchill’s forces penetrated the Federal left and center, killing Federal brigade commander Colonel Lewis Benedict.

Battle of Pleasant Hill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federal left wavered until Brigadier General James McMillan’s brigade attacked Churchill’s vulnerable right flank. A.J. Smith saw this and, according to his report:

“I ordered a charge by the whole line, and we drove them back, desperately fighting step by step across the field, through the wood, and into the open field beyond, fully a mile from the battle-field, when they took advantage of the darkness and fell back toward Mansfield thoroughly whipped and demoralized.”

The Confederates fled in confusion much like the Federals had done the day before. The Federals atoned for their sharp defeat at Mansfield by holding Pleasant Hill. Smith reported capturing nearly 1,000 Confederates and called the enemy’s losses “unusually severe.” He also claimed that Banks came up to him after the battle and said, “God bless you, General, you have saved the army.”

Smith deployed two brigades ahead on the road to Mansfield, expecting “the order to follow up our success by a vigorous pursuit.” However, Smith was stunned when he received orders around midnight “to have my command in readiness to move at 2 o’clock in the morning, and at that hour to withdraw them silently from the field and follow the Nineteenth Army Corps back to Grand Ecore.” Smith advised Banks that the army should not retreat after such a strong victory, adding:

“I represented to him that the dead of my command were not buried, and that I had not the means of transporting my wounded; that many of the wounded had not yet been gathered in from the field, and asked of him permission to remain until noon the next day to give me an opportunity to bury my dead and leave the wounded as well provided for as the circumstances would permit.”

Banks denied Smith’s request and wrote in his official report:

“The rout of the enemy was complete. At the close of the engagement the victorious party found itself without rations and without water. To clear the field for the fight, the train had been sent to the rear upon the single line of communications through the woods, and could not be brought to the front during the night. There was neither water for man or beast, except such as the now exhausted well had afforded during the day, for miles around.”

Banks was also unnerved by the fact that Major General Frederick Steele’s Federals, which were supposed to meet Banks’s army at Shreveport, were still in Arkansas. In addition, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s massive naval squadron was still struggling to get up the falling Red River. But Banks did not consider that Taylor’s Confederates were in just as bad shape as his Federals, or else he could have pushed forward and most likely accomplished his mission of capturing Shreveport.

The Federals sustained 1,369 casualties (150 killed, 844 wounded, and 375 missing) at Pleasant Hill. Nearly all the Federal wounded were left behind in accordance with Banks’s orders. The Confederates lost about 1,200 men killed or wounded and 426 captured; Smith’s report of 1,000 prisoners was exaggerated. Confederate Brigadier General Hamilton P. Bee reported that his men spent the 10th “burying the dead of both armies and caring for the Federal wounded, our own wounded having been cared for the night before.”

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Shreveport, learned about the unauthorized fight at Mansfield early on the 9th and rode out to take personal command of Taylor’s men. He arrived at Taylor’s headquarters at 10 p.m., when he learned that the second unauthorized fight had just ended. Taylor pleaded with Smith to let him pursue Banks, but Smith refused. Taylor was to return to Shreveport, and Smith would soon be sending most of Taylor’s command to face Steele in Arkansas.

A bizarre scene unfolded the next day, as both armies that had fought at Pleasant Hill retreated. Taylor reluctantly pulled his Confederates back toward Mansfield, and Banks hurried his Federals back down the Red River to Grand Ecore. Banks had won his greatest victory of the campaign, but he squandered it by retreating. Thus, Shreveport remained in Confederate hands.

—–

References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20639; 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. 391; 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 1050-60, 1069-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 416-17; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 60-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 482-83; 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. 193; 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), Q264

The Battle of Mansfield

April 8, 1864 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals unexpectedly ran into Confederates under Major General Richard Taylor blocking their path to Shreveport.

Gen Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in Louisiana, had discussed strategy with General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department. Smith preferred Taylor to stay on the defensive and give battle only if Banks’s Army of the Gulf confronted him. Taylor wanted to take the fight to Banks. When the discussion ended and Smith returned to his headquarters, Taylor asked permission to attack only when Smith could not answer in time to stop him.

Taylor had about 8,500 men in three divisions under Major General John G. Walker, and Brigadier Generals Alfred Mouton and Thomas Green. Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill’s 5,000 Confederates were on their way from Keachi, but Taylor would not wait for them. Having helped “Stonewall” Jackson defeat Banks in the Shenandoah Valley two years before, Taylor was confident that he could whip Banks, even without Churchill’s help.

Taylor positioned his troops near Sabine Crossroads, three miles south of Mansfield and 35 miles south of Shreveport. Waiting for Banks to come within striking distance, two Confederate divisions held one side of the road and one division held the other. One of Taylor’s officers predicted that Banks would be “most seriously flogged.”

Banks had 27,000 Federals, but they were advancing in a single column on a narrow road. Their line stretched nearly 20 miles, with the wagon train interspersed among the troops. Therefore, only about 12,000 men were available for action on the 8th.

Having moved inland along what Banks thought was a shortcut to Shreveport, the Federal army was no longer protected by Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s gunboats on the Red River. But that did not seem to concern Banks, considering that the Confederates had retreated every time his men applied a little pressure.

The Federals began assembling on Honeycutt Hill, opposite Sabine Crossroads, on the morning of the 8th. Federal cavalry tried probing the enemy positions, but the Confederates drove them back. Taylor’s men were partially concealed in thick woods, leading some Federals to speculate that he had been reinforced by Major General Sterling Price’s Arkansas army.

Mansfield Battle Map | Image Credit: Civil War Trust

Banks spent most of the day pondering whether to attack. Taylor, fearful that Federal reinforcements would arrive and E.K. Smith would cancel the attack, ordered an assault at 3:30 p.m. His center division, led by Brigadier General Alfred Mouton, rushed forward like “infuriated demons.” Federal gunners and infantry quickly opened on them in what Taylor called a “murderous fire of artillery and musketry.”

Mouton’s Louisianans crashed into Banks’s right, east of the road, forcing the Federals off Honeycutt Hill. Mouton was killed in the attack. His replacement, Brigadier General Camille Polignac, helped secure the victory. As Taylor reported, “The gallant Polignac pressed the shattered division stubbornly and steadily onward after Mouton fell.”

During this time, Taylor received Smith’s reply to his request to attack Banks: “A general engagement now could not be given with our full force. Reinforcements are moving up–not very large, it is true… Let me know as soon as you are convinced that a general advance is being made and I will come to the front.” Taylor told the courier, perhaps prematurely, “Too late, sir. The battle is won.”

Taylor next deployed Walker’s Texas division west of the road. The Texans quickly worked their way around the Federal left, severely wounding XIII Corps commander, Brigadier General Thomas E.G. Ransom, in the process. The Federal line broke and fell back to a second line. Taylor notified Smith around 6 p.m., “We have driven the enemy at this hour 3 miles.”

The second Federal line held briefly but then broke as well, causing panic and sending the Federals fleeing in confusion. Taylor reported to Smith at 7:30, “Since my last I have driven the enemy at least 3 miles farther.” Taylor ordered a pursuit, which resulted in the capture of several men, horses, and guns.

The Federal retreat became disorganized due to the wagons blocking the narrow road, but the Confederate pursuit became just as disrupted because the troops stopped to loot the wagons. Brigadier General William H. Emory’s division of XIX Corps finally regrouped and made a stand at Pleasant Grove. This prevented a complete rout, as the Federals repelled the last Confederate charge near sundown.

The Federals sustained 2,235 casualties (113 killed, 581 wounded and 1,541 missing). This was one of the most humiliating Federal defeats of the war, with Taylor reporting that it “was largely due to the ignorance and arrogance of its commander, Banks, who attributed my long retreat to his own wonderful strategy.”

In addition to the men, Banks lost 20 guns, 200 wagons, and about 1,000 horses or mules. Perhaps most importantly, he had lost the precious time needed to capture Shreveport and return Major General William T. Sherman’s men to Vicksburg by the April 15 deadline.

The Confederates lost about 1,100 killed or wounded. Taylor informed E.K. Smith, “We have captured about 2,000 prisoners, 20 pieces of artillery, 200 wagons, and thousands of small-arms,” but “our loss in officers has been severe, and we have many wounded.” Churchill’s men had come up late in the fight, but Taylor did not deploy them. Taylor told Smith that he would “continue to push the enemy with the utmost vigor.”

Banks held a council of war at 10 p.m. His demoralized men were far from naval support (Porter was stalled in low water at Springfield Landing), and worse, they were far from adequate drinking water. It was decided that the army should withdraw to Pleasant Hill, 15 miles east. The Federal retreat began around midnight, and the drive on Shreveport was ingloriously aborted. But Taylor was not finished with Banks yet.

—–

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; 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. 390-91; 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 880-90, 952-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 415; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 56-60; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 173; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 482; 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; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 590; 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), Q264