The Red River Campaign was planned by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck and was a diversion from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s overall strategy. He had planned to use Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ 30,000-man Army of the Gulf to surround and capture Mobile, Alabama, thereby eliminating a major Confederate Gulf port.
Halleck and Union strategists had other ideas. They saw an expedition up the Red River in western Louisiana and the occupation of the area would cut off Texas from the rest of the Confederacy. The Lone State State was a vital source of food, guns and supplies for the Confederate armies. There also seemed to be some concern about the 25,000 French troops that Napoleon III had sent to Mexico in order to aid the Emperor Maximillian.
The Union had four goals at the start of the campaign:
- To destroy the Confederate Army commanded by Taylor.
- To capture Shreveport, Louisiana, Confederate headquarters for the Trans-Mississippi Department, control the Red River to the north, and occupy east Texas.
- To confiscate as much as a hundred thousand bales of cotton from the plantations along the Red River.
- To organize pro-Union state governments in the region.
The commander of the Union forces was Nathaniel Banks, a 48-year old political general. Banks had been Congressman and Speaker of the House. Resigning his seat in December 1857, he then served as Governor of Massachusetts until January 1861. Banks was appointed as one of the first major generals of volunteers on May 16, 1861.
He was initially resented by many of the generals who had graduated from the United States Military Academy, but Banks brought political benefits to the administration, including the ability to attract recruits and money for the Union cause.
Banks’ career in the Union army was not filled with successes. He was defeated by Stonewall Jackson in the Valley and again at Cedar Mountain where he was saved by the arrival of Maj. Gen. John Pope with reinforcements. After a short assignment commanding the Washington defenses, he was sent to the Gulf with 30,000 new recruits, replacing General Benjamin Butler in New Orleans.
Halleck’s plan for the campaign required a number of moving parts and the cooperation of other commanders. Banks was to take 20,000 troops west and north from New Orleans to Alexandria, on a route up the Bayou Teche (in Louisiana, the term bayou is used to refer to a slow moving river or stream).
There they would meet 15,000 troops from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces in Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were under the under the command of Brigadier General A.J. Smith. These forces were available to Banks only until the end of April, when they would be sent back east where they were needed for other Union military actions. The combined force would be commanded by Banks and be supported by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter‘s fleet of gunboats.
At the same time, 7,000 Union troops from the Department of Arkansas under the command of Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele would be sent south from Arkansas to rendezvous with Banks in his attack on Shreveport, and to serve as the garrison for that city after its capture.
The Union force consisted of the following component units:
1. Troops from the Department of the Gulf, commanded by Maj Gen Banks, consisting of two infantry divisions from the XIII Corps, two infantry divisions from the XIX Corps, a cavalry division, and a brigade of US Colored Troops. In total approximately 20,000 men.
2. 10,000 men from XVI Corps and XVII Corps from the Army of the Tennessee under A.J. Smith.
3. The Mississippi flotilla of the US Navy, commanded by Admiral Porter, consisting of ten ironclads, three monitors, eleven tinclads, one timberclad, one ram, and numerous support vessels.
4. 7,000 men under General Steele in the Department of Arkansas.
The Confederate forces were under the overall command of General Edmund Kirby Smith who commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department. The Confederate senior officers were confused as to whether the Red River, Mobile, Alabama, or coastal Texas was the primary Union target for the spring 1864 campaign. Smith dispatched troops to the Shreveport area in order to defend the vital capital city of Louisiana.
The Confederates used a fluctuating number of troops and on all occasions were outnumbered by their adversary. Their forces consisted of:
1. District of West Louisiana, commanded by Richard Taylor, contained approximately 10,000 men consisting of two infantry divisions, two cavalry brigades and the garrison of Shreveport.
2. District of Arkansas, commanded by Sterling Price, contained approximately 11,000 men consisting of three infantry divisions and a cavalry division. As the campaign began, Smith ordered two of Price’s infantry divisions to move to Louisiana.
3. District of Indian Territory (Oklahoma), commanded by Samuel Maxey, contained approximately 4,000 men in three cavalry brigades
4. District of Texas, commanded by John Magruder, 15,000 men, mostly cavalry. As the campaign began, Smith ordered Magruder to send as many men as he could. Over the course of the campaign almost 8,000 cavalry came from Texas to aid Taylor in Louisiana, however it arrived slowly and not all together.
5. The Confederate Navy based in Shreveport had the ironclad CSS Missouri, the ram CSS Webb as well as several submarines.
The campaign commenced on March 10, 1864 as the Union forces began their march from New Orleans. It would last for almost 2 1/2 months and end in an overall Confederate victory.