Tag Archives: Edmund Kirby Smith

The Missouri Incursion Begins

August 28, 1864 – Major General Sterling “Pap” Price organized a new Confederate army to move north into Missouri and claim that state for the Confederacy.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price, a former Missouri governor, now commanded Confederates at Camden, Arkansas. He had been urging his superiors to let him take the offensive so that he might drive Federal influence out of his home state. In July, Price wrote:

“My opinion is that the people of Missouri are ready for a general uprising, and that the time was never more propitious for an advance of our forces into Missouri. Our friends should be encouraged and supported promptly. Delay will be dangerous. Unsustained, they may be overwhelmed by superior numbers, become dispirited, and, finally, disheartened and hopeless.”

Price traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana, to meet with General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, and Texas Governor Thomas Reynolds. Both Smith and Reynolds approved the expedition, but only if someone besides Price led it. Realizing they had nobody else, they reluctantly gave Price the assignment. Reynolds urged Smith to ensure that Price had “the best division and brigade commanders and an unusually efficient staff.”

Smith issued orders for Price to “make immediate arrangements for a movement into Missouri, with the entire cavalry force of your district.” Price would collect the forces scattered around the District of Arkansas to form the 12,000-man Army of Missouri, which consisted of three cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals James F. Fagan, John S. Marmaduke, and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby.

Price instructed his commanders: “Make Saint Louis the objective point of your movement, which, if rapidly made, will put you in possession of that place, its supplies, and military stores, and which will do more toward rallying Missouri to your standard than the possession of any other point.” The commanders were to–

“… scrupulously avoid all wanton acts of destruction and devastation, restrain your men, and impress upon them that their aim should be to secure success in a just and holy cause and not to gratify personal feeling and revenge. Rally the loyal men of Missouri, and remember that our great want is men, and that your object should be, if you cannot maintain yourself in that country, to bring as large an accession as possible to our force.”

The Confederates were to capture supplies at both St. Louis and Jefferson City, redeem Missouri from the Unionists, and then ride back south through Kansas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The operation was delayed over three weeks due to lack of ammunition. Price took command of the divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke at Princeton on the 28th, but he feared that the Federals had found out about his line of march. Price therefore led the two divisions back to Little Rock, from which he could link with Shelby’s division at Batesville. Such a roundabout movement was not a good sign of things to come for Price.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 12075-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480, 491; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562

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.

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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

Arkansas: The Jenkins’ Ferry Engagement

April 30, 1864 – Confederates attacked Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas as it tried crossing the Saline River to get back to the safety of Little Rock.

Steele, whose 10,000 Federals had been holed up in Camden, decided to abandon that town and return to Little Rock because his supply train had been destroyed and he was now 70 miles deep in enemy territory. This ended Steele’s efforts to reach Shreveport, his original objective. The Federals left Camden and marched north through Princeton, slowed by heavy rain and mud.

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

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the 10,000 Confederate troops outside Camden, did not know that the Federals had left until mid-morning on the 27th. The Confederates quickly entered the town and began repairing the pontoon bridges over the Ouachita River so they could pursue. According to Smith’s aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Edward Cunningham:

“It took us all day and all night to construct a bridge over which the infantry could pass. At sunrise on the morning of the 28th, the troops commenced crossing. The enemy had 26 hours’ start of us. On the night of the 29th, the head of our infantry was at Tulip, 14 miles from the Saline, at Jenkins’ Ferry, and 40 miles from Camden… The rear of the enemy’s column had passed Tulip at 8 o’clock that morning. The Saline Bottom was, however, a quagmire five miles wide, and it was possible his trains had not been gotten over. We had but little expectation of getting a fight. Our pontoon train had not yet come up, and even with it we could not cross the river in face of the enemy.”

Smith hoped that Brigadier General James F. Fagan’s cavalry might catch up to the Federals, but Fagan informed him that the cavalry had gone to Arkadelphia for supplies. On the Federal side, Captain Charles Henry, Steele’s chief quartermaster, reported, “The command reached the Saline River on the 29th,” and since they had left Camden, “a large number of animals had broken down on account of having no forage.”

The Federals were to cross the Saline at Jenkins’ Ferry, but Steele wrote that the river was “continually rising from the rain which continued to fall. From the same cause the bottom, being cut up by our artillery and baggage trains, was becoming almost impassable and required corduroying.”

Federals worked all night to build a pontoon bridge so the men could cross. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Samuel Rice and about 4,000 troops set up a line of breastworks and abatis about two miles from the crossing to face the oncoming Confederates.

Henry wrote, “The pontoon bridge was laid and the crossing commenced, which continued through the night and the next day, over four miles of the worst swamps in Arkansas. Our rear guard was attacked before the bridge was laid…” Smith had directed Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill’s Confederates to stop the Federal crossing. Henry continued:

“At 1 o’clock (a.m.) the column moved forward through deep mud, rain coming down in torrents. At daylight the two divisions were up with the cavalry advance, having marched 52 miles in 46 hours. We could hardly believe there was any large force of the enemy on our side of the river. The firing became more general, Churchill’s Division was thrown forward.”

Churchill ordered Brigadier General James Tappan to send one of his three regiments forward. Tappan reported:

“We had hardly finished building fires before we were ordered to advance. The enemy’s skirmishers were posted on a line about the center of the field, their line of battle being in the woods at the end of the same. My command drove in their skirmishers and became heavily and hotly engaged with their main line.”

Tappan sent the rest of his brigade forward and called for reinforcements. Churchill reported, “Like veterans they moved steadily forward across an open field, undaunted by a most destructive fire, with which the enemy met their advance.” He directed Brigadier General Alexander Hawthorn’s brigade to move up–

“… and gallantly did he come to the rescue. The firing, now incessant, was terrific, and the struggle was desperate beyond description. Still our brave and fearless troops maintained their ground and drove the enemy before them; but he was again heavily re-enforced, and being overpowered we slowly and stubbornly yielded the ground, inch by inch, after two hours of severest fighting I ever witnessed.”

Brigadier General Mosby Parsons’s division came up on Churchill’s right, and as Churchill recalled:

“The battle raged with the greatest fury along our entire line, and the roar of musketry was almost deafening. Nothing could surpass the valor and courage of our troops. They dashed forward with an impetuosity and fearlessness unsurpassed in this war, and it was not until their ammunition was exhausted that they were withdrawn.”

The Confederates actually made little progress due to the swamps and the strong Federal defenses in their front. Also, Smith committed his troops piecemeal rather than in one all-out assault that might have penetrated the Federal line. The fog and smoke of gunfire obstructed the Confederates’ vision more than the Federals, who mostly stayed crouched behind their fortifications. And the marshy ground rendered cavalry and artillery virtually useless.

Smith directed Major General John G. Walker’s Texas division to relieve Churchill, but Walker also committed his men a brigade at a time, which weakened the attack. All three of Walker’s brigade commanders were wounded, and Rice was mortally wounded on the Federal side. As the Confederates fell back to regroup, the Federals got across their pontoon bridge to safety. The fighting ended around 3 p.m.

The Federals sustained 521 casualties (63 killed, 413 wounded, and 45 missing), while the Confederates lost 443 (86 killed, 356 wounded, and one missing). Walker did not submit an official report, and thus his losses were not counted. The Federals claimed a tactical victory by holding Smith off and escaping to Little Rock as planned. Smith claimed victory because he drove the Federals from the field, even though they were trying to leave anyway; he also permanently prevented Steele from joining forces with the Federals in Louisiana.

Steele reported, “The enemy having disappeared from the field, our troops were withdrawn and passed over the bridge without interruption from the enemy.” Smith’s opinion differed: “The complete success of the campaign was determined by the overthrow of Steele at Jenkin’s Ferry.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65; 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 1305-15, 1533-53; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 425-26; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 176; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 395

Arkansas: The Marks’ Mills Engagement

April 25, 1864 – Confederates tried to intercept a force searching for supplies to feed the hungry Federal troops isolated at Camden.

Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal Army of Arkansas, had been ordered to move south and join forces with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf at Shreveport. However, Steele was holed up at Camden after being defeated at Poison Spring, and he was still unaware that Banks had ended his drive on Shreveport and retreated back down the Red River.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, reacted to Banks’s retreat by transferring three divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Taylor’s Confederate army in Louisiana to Major General Sterling Price’s force in Arkansas to increase the pressure on Steele. The arrival of Confederate reinforcements, which were positioned between Camden and Little Rock, indicated to Steele that Banks’s campaign had failed.

On the 20th, Steele’s Federals received much-needed supplies from Pine Bluff, which would keep the army going another 10 days. This convinced Steele that he could get even more supplies from Pine Bluff if he sent a wagon train to collect them. He dispatched 240 empty wagons, guarded by nearly 1,600 infantry and cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Francis M. Drake.

Three days later, Steele received a message from Banks written from Grand Ecore, urging Steele to join him there: “If you can join us on this line, I am confident we can move to Shreveport without material delay, and that we shall have an opportunity of destroying the only organized rebel army west of the Mississippi.” To Steele, this officially confirmed that Banks’s drive on Shreveport had failed.

Gen J.F. Fagan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Steele replied, “Owing to contingencies, it is impossible for me to say definitely that I will join you at any point on the Red River within a given time.” As Confederates from Louisiana continued moving into Arkansas, Confederate Brigadier General James F. Fagan learned that Steele had sent out a wagon train, and, “I made quick preparations for a move against it.”

On the morning of the 25th, Fagan’s 4,000 cavalry under Brigadier Generals William L. Cabell and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby moved out. They took positions along the Saline River, overlooking a clearing called Marks’ Mill. Drake’s Federals entered this clearing at 8 a.m., and Fagan’s dismounted troopers attacked their front.

The Federals repelled the attack, but then Cabell’s Confederates hit their right flank. This sent the Federals reeling back toward their wagons, with both sides trading artillery fire in the process. Suddenly, Shelby’s troopers appeared and struck the Federal left, and Drake now faced assaults from three sides. After holding out for about four hours, the Federals surrendered. According to Fagan:

“The enemy’s lines could not sustain the combined attack. They wavered and showed signs of giving way. Our brave troops moved upon them with terrible and crushing effect. It was not long before the enemy’s forces broke in disarray and confusion, completely routed. Our victory was decided and complete.”

Fagan estimated that his men captured about 1,300 Federals, “their entire train of 300 wagons, a large number of ambulances, very many small-arms, and 150 negroes.” The remaining Federals were either killed, wounded, or escaped back to Camden. Many Federals accused Drake of “leading them straight into ambush by his dithering indecisiveness.”

Colonel Powell Clayton reported to Steele: “At that time our force, acting as escort for the train, was surrounded and over a hundred of the wagons in the hands of the enemy. The rebel forces were under Shelby and Fagan, and at least 5,000 strong. He thinks the entire train and artillery is captured, and the escort… are probably captured.”

This became known as “the slaughter at Marks’ Mills,” and it left Steele even more dangerously isolated. Ironically, had Fagan followed Smith’s orders and simply isolated the Federals at Camden, he might have starved Steele into surrendering his entire force. But instead he merely captured a detachment and left the bulk of Steele’s army intact.

Steele held a council of war that night, where he explained that without the Pine Bluff wagon train, supplies would soon run out. It was therefore decided to end efforts to get to Shreveport and turn back to Little Rock. As Steele’s chief engineer wrote:

“Our scouting parties in the front had succeeded in capturing prisoners who claimed to belong to infantry divisions of the enemy. Our spies, deserters coming into our lines, and stories told us by the residents of the country, all coincide that General Kirby Smith in person, with re-enforcements of infantry, had joined Price. Our position was by no means a safe one. It was evident that a crisis was at hand.”

The Federals began moving their remaining supply wagons and guns across the Ouachita on the 26th, and the troops began crossing that night. By next morning, they were marching through Princeton and crossing the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry, farther upstream from Marks’ Mills. Confederates quickly reclaimed Camden, and the “Camden expedition” of the Federal Red River campaign was over.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; 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 1465-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 422-24; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 488-89; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 252

Red River: Banks Misses His Deadline

April 15, 1864 – The deadline arrived for Major General Nathaniel P. Banks to return Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal troops, even though Banks had failed to capture Shreveport and the Red River was falling dangerously low.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had instructed Banks to finish his Red River expedition by mid-April, “even if it led to the abandonment of the main object,” which was the capture of Shreveport, Louisiana. Unaware that Banks was retreating, Grant notified Sherman that Banks had been ordered to end his campaign, and Major General Frederick Steele had been instructed to try capturing Shreveport on his own. Grant wrote Sherman, “Please give Steele such directions as you think necessary to carry out this direction.”

Sherman wrote Steele explaining that he should work in cooperation with Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval squadron. Shreveport and Alexandria “are the strategic points of Louisiana. Shreveport, if held in strength, covers all Arkansas and Louisiana, and is the proper offensive point as against Texas. If able, therefore, Shreveport should be captured, supplied well at present stage of water and held in force, communications kept up with New Orleans by water and with Fort Smith (Arkansas) by land.”

If Shreveport could not be taken, Sherman urged Steele to try taking Alexandria, as “the enemy could not approach the Mississippi River, and would hardly cross Red River as against Arkansas and Missouri. If you can accomplish in Red River what you did in Arkansas, you will be entitled to the gratitude and admiration of all sensible men.”

But replacing Banks with Steele would not be so easy. Porter’s squadron, in danger of being stuck on the falling Red River, withdrew to Grand Ecore after repelling a Confederate attack at Blair’s Landing. Upon learning of Banks’s ignominious retreat from Pleasant Hill, Porter wrote, “The army here has met with a great defeat, no matter what the generals try to make of it…” Porter then wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“I found the fleet at Grand Ecore somewhat in an unpleasant situation, two of them being above the bar, and not likely to get away again this season unless there is a rise of a foot… If nature does not change her laws, there will no doubt be a rise of water, but there was one year–1846–when there was no rise in the Red River, and it may happen again… Had we not heard of the retreat of the Army, I should still have gone on to the end.”

By the 14th, the entire Federal command under both Banks and Porter was either at or nearing Grand Ecore. As the demoralized troops filed into the town, Banks expressed concern that Lieutenant General Richard Taylor’s Confederates may be reinforced to attack again. Banks was unaware that Taylor had been ordered to return to Mansfield, and most of his command had been transferred to face Steele in Arkansas.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, believed that “to win the campaign his (Steele’s) column must be destroyed. Banks is certainly so crippled that he cannot soon take the offensive.” Actually Banks was not crippled, but he was retreating as if he was. Looking to Arkansas, Smith wrote Taylor, “Great results are to be reached in that direction if Steele can be reached. Arkansas will be saved politically and the reoccupation of the Arkansas Valley accomplished.”

Taylor disagreed, but Smith reasoned, “Were Steele in retreat, the prompt pursuit of Banks would be wise, and might result in inflicting still greater losses upon him.” But pursuing Banks would not “offer the permanent results that would follow the defeat of Steele alone.”

Smith set his sights on reclaiming Arkansas, arguing that Louisiana could not be reclaimed as long as the Federals held New Orleans. He wrote, “Their naval superiority make this result (taking New Orleans) impossible. Prepare your command and organize your trains for rapid movement.” Smith personally led three divisions from Taylor’s command north toward Arkansas, leaving Taylor at Mansfield with a single division and his cavalry. Nevertheless, Taylor began moving west toward Banks as he proclaimed, “The enemy will be pressed to the end.”

Meanwhile, the day to return Sherman’s troops arrived, and Sherman received a message assuring him that the divisions from XVI and XVII corps under Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith would be coming as soon as possible. Sherman also received news about Steele’s troubles at Camden, which he passed along to Grant. Sherman reported that Steele “had had considerable skirmishing, in all of which he was successful,” but he did not seem willing or able to leave Camden any time soon. Sherman wrote, “It seems to me his movement is very slow, and he may be so late in reaching Red River as to keep Generals Banks and A.J. Smith away behind time.”

Sherman reminded Steele that “General Grant expects Generals Banks and A.J. Smith’s forces to come out of Red River for some other work very soon.” Smith was to return to Sherman and Banks was to redirect his forces toward Mobile, Alabama. Steele was to “push with all possible speed to make a junction on Red River,” as “Banks’ forces should by this time be in Shreveport.”

However, Banks had fallen back 70 miles south of Shreveport to Grand Ecore. Banks informed Steele of the failure without accepting any blame: “The enemy is in larger force than was anticipated by the Government,” and the enemy had “manifested his determination to fight for the possession of Shreveport and the country he now occupies, which was not anticipated by many of our officers.”

Banks acknowledged that his and Steele’s forces were so far apart “that it is impossible for either of us to sustain effectively the forces of the other.” But rather than sending A.J. Smith’s troops back to Sherman and looking toward Mobile as directed by Grant, Banks wanted to renew his drive on Shreveport: “If you can join us on this line, I am confident we can move to Shreveport without material delay, and that we shall have an opportunity of destroying the only organized rebel army west of the Mississippi.” The next day, Banks informed Smith that he could not send his Federals back to Sherman:

“The low stage of the water in Red River, and the difficulties encountered in our campaign consequent thereon makes it impossible for me to dispense with your services as soon as I anticipated. Did it not involve more than the abandonment of the expedition I might consider General Sherman’s orders as imperative, but it is impossible for the navy to remove below at this time, and the withdrawal of your command at this moment will place my forces at the mercy of the enemy, who is in larger force than General Sherman could have anticipated.”

However, Banks was unaware that Taylor had just one division and some cavalry to face his 27,000-man Federal army. Banks implied in his message that Porter agreed with his decision to retain Smith, and in a separate message, Porter did, but not in the way that Banks had explained.

Porter told Sherman that A.J. Smith was “anxious to go out and whip the rebels, which we are able to do without any trouble.” However, Porter warned “that I think General Banks is watching for an opportunity to retreat. If General Smith should leave him there would be a general stampede and much loss of material, and General A.J. Smith would be made the scapegoat.” Thus, Porter agreed with Banks that Smith should remain in Louisiana, but only because if Smith left and Banks was defeated, Smith would be blamed.

Porter asserted that “we must hold the country, general, and not have to go over all this again. Had Banks been victorious, as any ordinary general would have been, we would have had no trouble at all, but he has led all hands into an ugly scrape. I did all I could to avoid going up this river with him, but he would have thrown all the blame of failure on me had I failed to go.”

These messages would not reach Sherman for a few days. During that time, Sherman still believed that Banks and Smith, “with gun-boats, were well up toward Shreveport.” However, Banks was now in full retreat, leaving Porter to find some way to get his flotilla off the falling Red River.

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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 20639-49; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 393; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 420; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 66-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 485-86; 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.

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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. 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.

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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; 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