Tag Archives: Richard Taylor

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

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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

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

Red River: Porter Struggles to Withdraw

April 11, 1864 – The lowering water level on the Red River became a serious concern for Rear Admiral David D. Porter because it threatened to trap his massive naval squadron in hostile territory.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks had launched the Red River expedition in hopes of capturing the vital cotton-producing center of Shreveport, Louisiana, before driving into eastern Texas. He was accompanied by the largest naval fleet ever assembled west of the Mississippi River, headed by Porter. He was also supposed to have been joined by Major General Frederick Steele’s Army of Arkansas.

But things did not go as planned. Steele was being surrounded by Confederates in southern Arkansas, Porter’s vessels were in danger of being stuck on the rapidly falling Red River, and Banks had suffered an embarrassing defeat at Mansfield. Banks followed this up with an impressive victory at Pleasant Hill, but by then he had lost his nerve and ordered a withdrawal back down the Red.

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

Meanwhile, Porter’s situation was becoming more critical each day. As his ships chugged through the shallow waters, Porter noticed that the road along the river was in excellent shape for a marching army. But Banks had taken an inland road instead, where he was driven back by the Confederates. Porter wrote to Major General William T. Sherman:

“It struck me very forcibly that this would have been the route for the army, where they could have traveled without all that immense train, the country supporting them as they proceeded along. The roads are good, wide fields on all sides, a river protecting the right flank of the army, and gun-boats in company. An army would have no difficulty in marching to Shreveport in this way.”

By the 10th, Porter’s fleet was stopped at Loggy Bayou and Springfield Landing, about 30 miles from Shreveport, due to falling water and the hulk of the Confederate steamer New Falls City, which had been sunk to block his advance. Porter notified Sherman:

“When I arrived at Springfield Landing I found a sight that made me laugh. It was the smartest thing I ever knew the rebels to do. They had gotten that huge steamer, New Falls City, across Red River, one mile above Loggy Bayou, 15 feet of her on shore on each side, the boat broken down in the middle, and a sand bar making below her. An invitation in large letters to attend a ball in Shreveport was kindly left stuck up by the rebels, which invitation we were never able to accept.”

Soon after, a messenger arrived informing Porter that Banks was retreating, and the naval fleet was “to return without delay” to Grand Ecore. Porter quickly “reversed the order of steaming, and with a heavy heart started downward, anticipating that the rebels, flushed with victory, with our army in full retreat before them, would come in on our flank and cut us to pieces.”

Porter wrote Sherman, “As I anticipated, the rebels were soon aware of our turning back, and were after us like a pack of wolves. They assailed us from every point, but the dispositions that were made always foiled them. We always drove them away with loss.”

According to officers of the U.S.S. Chillicothe, “at 4:30 p.m. the enemy opened fire on the transports Black Hawk and Benefit with musketry, which was immediately replied to by the Cricket, Osage, Gazelle, and the tug Dahlia.” Porter later recalled:

“Of course we fired back, but what harm could that do to people who were in deep rifle-pits, screened by trees or in a canebrake? The affair reminded me very much of the retreat of the French from Moscow, only this wasn’t retreating; we were getting out of the enemy’s country as fast as we could!”

By the night of the 11th, Banks’s entire army had reached Grand Ecore, and any faith the exhausted and demoralized troops may have had in Banks’s leadership was gone.

Porter’s flotilla reached Blair’s Landing on the 12th, but several ships were either stuck in the shallows or still struggling to get through. Confederate snipers on the bluffs overlooking the river fired down on them, while Brigadier General Thomas Green, perhaps drunk, led his dismounted cavalry in a reckless attack from the riverbank.

As the Federals aboard the gunboats trained their cannon to meet the attack, Chief Engineer Thomas Doughty of the U.S.S. Osage used an instrument he had developed, which Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, commanding the Osage, later called “a method of sighting the turret from the outside, by means of what would now be called a periscope…” This first known use of a periscope helped Selfridge direct his fire. Selfridge wrote:

“… On first sounding to general quarters… (I) went inside the turret to direct its fire, but the restricted vision from the peep holes rendered it impossible to see what was going on in the threatened quarter, whenever the turret was trained in the loading position. In this extremity I thought of the periscope, and hastily took up station there, well protected by the turret, yet able to survey the whole scene and to direct an accurate fire.”

The Federal guns, accompanied by soldiers and sailors hiding behind cotton bales and stacks of hay and oats fired into the Confederate attackers, mortally wounding Green. Another 309 Confederates were killed or wounded in the withering fire of muskets, grape, and canister, while the Federals lost 57.

The surviving Confederates fell back. Green, the hero of Valverde, died at Blair’s Plantation. Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, overall Confederate commander in Louisiana, lamented, “His death was a public calamity, and mourned as such by the people of Texas and Louisiana.” Even Banks commended Green, calling him “the ablest officer in their service.”

After repelling the Confederate charge, Porter managed to dislodge his vessels and continue downriver. But extracting his squadron from the Red River completely would prove a monumental challenge.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 65-66; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391-92; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 323; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 417, 419; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63, 66-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 483-84; 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. 193-94