Tag Archives: Richard Taylor

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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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 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; 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 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34

Sherman Stops Pursuing Hood

October 21, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals stopped pursuing General John Bell Hood’s Confederates in Alabama, and Hood announced his intention to force Sherman out of Georgia by targeting Federal supply bases and troops in Tennessee.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hood ended his raid on Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and led his Confederate Army of Tennessee west into Alabama. Hood informed his superiors at Richmond that he would move north across the Tennessee River and enter the state of Tennessee, where he would cut supply lines and destroy the Federal army under Major General George H. Thomas.

From there, Hood’s Confederates would regain the capital of Nashville and then continue north into Kentucky. Sherman then “would be forced to go on board ship, and, after a long detour by water and land, repair to the defense of Kentucky and Ohio.” And if Sherman instead went to Petersburg to reinforce the Federals under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Hood would move east to reinforce the Confederates there under General Robert E. Lee.

Without waiting for approval, Hood led his army to Gadsden on the 20th and notified General Richard Taylor that he had entered Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. Hood supplied his troops at Gadsden, asked Taylor for more supplies, and informed him, “I will move tomorrow for Guntersville on the Tennessee.”

Hood did not notify General P.G.T. Beauregard, his new superior. Beauregard remained at his Jacksonville, Alabama, headquarters, still expecting Hood to carry out his original plan of raiding Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and drawing him out into an open fight.

Meanwhile, Sherman already received approval to leave Hood for Thomas and turn south toward the sea. Sherman reported:

“I shall pursue him (Hood) as far as Gaylesville. The enemy will not venture toward Tennessee except around by Decatur. I propose to send the Fourth Corps back to General Thomas, and leave him, with that corps, the garrisons, and new troops, to defend the line of the Tennessee River; and with the rest I will push into the heart of Georgia and come out at Savannah, destroying all the railroads of the State.”

In another message, Sherman wrote:

“Hood will escape me. I want to prepare for my big raid. On the 1st of November I want nothing in Atlanta but what is necessary for war. Send all trash to the rear at once, and have on hand 30 days’ food and but little forage. I propose to abandon Atlanta, and the railroad back to Chattanooga, to sally forth to ruin Georgia and bring up on the seashore.”

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As Sherman reported, he stopped pursuing Hood’s Confederates at Gaylesville, 30 miles northeast of Gadsden, on the 21st. He was not sure where Hood was or what he intended to do, but now that the Confederate army was in Alabama, Sherman no longer cared. Thomas began concentrating the Federal forces in his department at Nashville to prepare for Hood’s possible incursion into Tennessee.

That same day, Beauregard finally learned that Hood and his army were at Gadsden, and he went there to discuss strategy. Hood unveiled his bold plan for “marching into Tennessee, with a hope to establish our line eventually in Kentucky.” The campaign would begin by crossing the Tennessee River at Guntersville, which would put his Confederates within striking distance of Sherman’s supply line running through Stevenson and Bridgeport. Hood would gather recruits as he moved north.

This new plan alarmed Beauregard, especially since Hood had begun executing it without first consulting him. But success depended on speed, and Beauregard had no alternate strategy. He had the authority to commandeer Hood’s army if he saw fit, but Beauregard feared that President Jefferson Davis would not support such a move. So Beauregard reluctantly approved.

Beauregard then consulted with Hood’s corps commanders. Hood later wrote that the commanders told Beauregard “we were not competent to offer pitched battle to Sherman, nor could we follow him south without causing our retrograde movement to be construed by the troops into a recurrence of retreat, which would entail desertions, and render the Army of little or no use in its opposition to the enemy’s march through Georgia.”

Beauregard added one stipulation to Hood’s offensive: his cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler had to stay in Georgia to oppose Sherman. Beauregard allowed Hood to have Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry instead, but Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and it would take him time to ride down to join Hood’s army.

Hood requested three weeks’ rations and prepared to move northwest to Guntersville. Beauregard notified Davis of the altered strategy. When the campaign began on the 22nd, it was immediately apparent that it would not go according to plan.

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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 21035, 21045, 21106; 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 12914-35, 12956-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 510, 512; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 586-87; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33

Forrest Prepares for a New Raid

October 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry troopers attacked Federal forces on the Tennessee River and prepared to launch a new raid on Federal supply transports in Tennessee.

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

Last month, Forrest and his men had tried disrupting Federal supply lines along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. This was part of the Confederate effort to starve Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals into abandoning Georgia. However, a lack of ammunition and supplies forced Forrest to cut his raid short.

Forrest’s troopers reunited to attack the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad near Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates then turned back south, wrecking track, destroying bridges, and capturing numerous blockhouses built to stop them along the way. They drove a Federal force out of Columbia and then continued southwest to Lawrenceburg. On the 5th, they returned to their starting point at Florence, Alabama, before finally stopping at Corinth, Mississippi.

In 13 days, Forrest’s command had inflicted about 3,360 casualties (including 2,360 captured), destroyed miles of railroad track and many blockhouses and bridges, and captured 800 horses, seven guns, some 2,000 small arms, and 50 wagons filled with much-needed supplies. The damage done to the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad would require six weeks to repair. The troopers sustained just 340 casualties (47 killed and 293 wounded).

However, Forrest did not accomplish his main goal, which was to force Sherman out of Georgia. Consequently, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, ordered Forrest to lead 3,500 men on another raid. The new target would be Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River. This marked the terminus of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, which Sherman’s Federals used extensively for supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals sent an expedition up the Tennessee River to confront Forrest’s troopers. As Federal troops debarked their transports east of Corinth at Eastport, Forrest’s men used shore batteries to attack the squadron. The Confederates disabled the transports Aurora and Kenton, sending them drifting downriver. The gunboat Undine went after the disabled transports, while the gunboat Key West covered the troops as they crowded aboard the remaining transport, the City of Peking.

Forrest’s new raid began on the 19th, when his command left Corinth and headed northwest toward Jackson, Tennessee. Nine days later, the Confederates turned northeast, crossed the Big Sandy River, and arrived at Paris Landing on the Tennessee, about 30 miles north of Johnsonville near the Kentucky state line. The troopers quickly began obstructing the river to stop Federal traffic around Forts Heiman and Henry.

After setting up artillery on either end of a five-mile length of riverbank, the Confederates captured the transport Mazeppa, which carried a load of 9,000 pairs of shoes. The Confederates then attacked the gunboat Undine and the transports Venus and Cheeseman. They captured all these vessels as well, giving Forrest a makeshift “navy” with which to attack Johnsonville in early November.

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465, 470, 473, 477, 481-82; 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 12573-619, 12982-3002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504, 506, 508, 511, 515-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 577-78, 582, 585-86, 590-91

Jefferson Davis Travels South

September 25, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis visited General John Bell Hood at his Palmetto headquarters to learn more about the condition of the Army of Tennessee.

Hood had requested that either Davis or another high-ranking Confederate official come to Georgia to review the army and discuss future strategy. Although Hood had lost Atlanta to Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals, Davis was optimistic that Hood could still redeem Georgia, telling a congressman before leaving, “Sherman’s army can be driven out of Georgia, perhaps be utterly destroyed.” When asked about the loss of Atlanta and the defeats in the Shenandoah Valley, Davis remarked, “The first effect of disaster is always to spread a deeper gloom than is due to the occasion.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The president left Richmond on the 20th, hoping to not only visit Hood’s army but to lift southern spirits along the way. He arrived at Palmetto five days later, where he met with elements of the Army of Tennessee and addressed a group of Tennesseans: “Be of good cheer, for within a short while your faces will be turned homeward and your feet pressing the soil of Tennessee.”

Davis met with Hood, who took him on an army inspection, where several soldiers openly called out for Davis to replace Hood with their old commander, Joseph E. Johnston. Hood later wrote, “I regretted I should have been the cause of this uncourteous reception to His Excellency; at the same time, I could recall no offense save that of having insisted that they should fight for and hold Atlanta 46 days, whereas they had previously retreated 100 miles within 66 days.”

Regarding strategy, Hood explained that–

“… our only hope to checkmate Sherman was to assume the offensive, cut the enemy’s communications, select a position on or near the Alabama line in proximity to Blue Mountain Railroad, and there give him battle. Should the enemy move south, I could as easily from that point as from Palmetto, follow upon his rear, if that policy should be deemed preferable.”

Davis also met with Lieutenant General William Hardee, the corps commander who Hood blamed for the defeats at Peachtree Creek and Jonesboro. Hardee criticized Hood and urged Davis to replace him with Johnston. Hardee then said that either he or Hood should be removed from the army.

Davis, having personally selected Hood to command the army, would not admit to a mistake by removing him. Therefore, after leaving on the 28th, he instructed Hood, “Relieve Lieutenant-General Hardee from duty with the Army of Tennessee, and direct him to proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.” Hood was authorized to turn Hardee’s corps over to Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham.

The president traveled to Macon and delivered a speech at a benefit to raise money for the exiled Atlanta residents. Davis declared, “Friends are drawn together in adversity. What though misfortune has befallen our arms from Decatur to Jonesborough, our cause is not lost… Our cause is not lost… Sherman cannot keep up his long line of communications; retreat, sooner, or later, he must.”

Davis admonished all able-bodied men who were not serving in the military: “If there is one who will stay away at this hour, he is unworthy of the name of Georgian.” He cited a report showing that two-thirds of Georgians formerly in the Confederate army were no longer there, “some sick, some wounded, but most of them absent without leave.”

Davis concluded, “If one half the men now absent without leave will return to the front, we can defeat the enemy… I may not realize that hope, but I know there are men that have looked death in the face too often to despond now. Let no one despond.”

Davis moved on to the former Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, where he told an audience, “There will be some men who when they look at the sun can only see a speck upon it… We should marvel and thank God for the great achievements which have crowned our efforts.” He continued on to Selma to meet with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.

Meanwhile, Hood moved his Confederates north across the Chattahoochee River. If he could not defeat Sherman in battle, he would head north into Tennessee, destroying Sherman’s supply lines along the way. Depending on Federal resistance, Hood planned to possibly continue northward into Kentucky or even Ohio. Such a move could force Sherman to abandon Atlanta and chase him down.

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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 20973-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 461; 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 12683-14, 12746-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 499, 501, 503; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 338; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 570-75; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-20; 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), Q364

Forrest Captures Athens

September 24, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry force raided Federal supply lines, including a vital depot in northern Alabama.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After raiding Memphis in August, Forrest’s troopers went to join Confederates against a possible Federal attack at Mobile. When the Federals did not attack, Forrest led his force to northern Alabama and met with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, the new commander of the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. It was agreed that Forrest should raid Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal supply lines in Middle Tennessee.

Forrest’s main objective was the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad, which linked to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and fed Sherman’s Federals at Atlanta. The main depot at Athens, Alabama, was guarded by a 600-man garrison of mostly black troops. Forrest’s 3,500 Confederates crossed the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama, and rode east toward Athens, 40 miles away.

The troopers arrived outside the town on the night of the 23rd. The next day, they opened fire on the Federals with eight guns, and Forrest sent a messenger under a flag of truce to demand an “immediate and unconditional surrender.” If the Federals accepted, the “white soldiers,” Forrest wrote, “shall be treated as prisoners of war and the negroes returned to their masters.”

The Federal commander refused. However, when he agreed to meet Forrest in person, he was shown a list of Confederate personnel that made it seem like Forrest had a force three times its actual size. Unaware of the ruse, the Federals promptly surrendered. Forrest netted 1,300 prisoners, 300 horses, two guns, two locomotives, and many supplies. They destroyed anything considered useful to the enemy.

The Confederates moved north along the railroad and attacked a Federal garrison defending the Sulphur Branch Trestle, which was 72 feet high and 300 feet long with a blockhouse on each end. The Federals initially refused to surrender but relented after being bombarded with about 800 rounds of artillery. Forrest took 973 prisoners, 300 horses, two more guns, and more supplies. His men destroyed the blockhouses and the trestle.

Forrest’s command reached the Elk River, between Athens and Pulaski, Tennessee, on the 26th. The troopers destroyed a railroad bridge and continued to Richland Creek, where they wrecked a 200-foot bridge. Most Federals in their way either fled or surrendered. But despite this success, Forrest’s ammunition was running low and his force was dwindling because he had to detach units to guard the growing number of prisoners.

Moreover, Sherman had dispatched two divisions from Atlanta under Major General George H. Thomas to hunt Forrest down. Thomas would soon be reinforced by troops from Memphis and Chattanooga, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s Federals were on the way from Missouri as well. Sherman instructed Thomas that “the whole resources” of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama must be “turned against Forrest… until he is disposed of.”

By the 27th, advance elements of these converging Federals under Brigadier General Lovell Rousseau were at Pulaski awaiting Forrest’s approach. Thomas wrote Rousseau, “Press Forrest to the death, keeping your troops well in hand and holding them to the work. I do not think that we shall ever have a better chance than this.”

As Forrest approached Pulaski, he informed Taylor, “Enemy concentrating heavily against me.” Forrest later reported:

“Six miles from Pulaski the enemy attacked my advance force and compelled them to fall back… The resistance of the enemy was most obstinate. He contested every inch of ground and grew more stubborn the nearer we approached town, but my troops drove them steadily back.

“Three miles from Pulaski he made a stand with seeming determination to yield no more ground… The engagement was becoming a general one. The enemy threw his right around for the purpose of making an enfilading fire upon my troops who had pushed far into his center.

“About this time my troops on the left advanced, and the artillery in that direction unexpectedly opened a destructive fire, which caused the enemy to make a hasty retreat. He was closely followed up and driven into town and into his fortifications.”

The Confederates finally reached Pulaski after a seven-hour fight, but the strong Federal defenses prompted Forrest to withhold an attack. The troopers instead headed north to wreck more railroad track between Pulaski and Columbia before turning to attack the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, 50 miles east. Forrest ended the month by skirmishing at Lynchburg and sending a detachment to wreck track at Tullahoma.

Forrest’s troopers had wreaked much havoc in northern Alabama and Tennessee, but dwindling manpower and ammunition meant that the raid would not last as long as Forrest had hoped.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 459, 461, 464; 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 12511-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95, 497, 499-501; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567, 569-70, 574-76

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.

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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

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