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05/15/13

Lincoln’s Democrat Generals

George B. McClellan in 1861Some historians have put forward a theory that the Union generals of the early war were lenient in prosecuting the war due to their political leanings. Abraham Lincoln in an effort to garner support for the war appointed a significant number of Democrats as major generals of volunteers at the start of the war.

The most important reason for appointing political generals was to appease important blocs of voters. President Abraham Lincoln used such appointments as a way to get the support of moderate Democrats for the war and for his administration (“War Democrats“). The first three volunteer generals Lincoln appointed, (John Adams DixNathaniel Prentice Banks and Benjamin F. Butler) were all Democrats, and therefore these three officers were the most senior major generals in the Union Army. Republicans were also appointed including Richard James Oglesby of Illinois.

John Adams Dix was a New York politician who had served in the Senate and as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan for less than two months in 1861. He is best known for the telegram that he sent to all Treasury agents in New Orleans. “If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” Although the telegram was intercepted by Confederates, and was never delivered, the text found its way to the press, and Dix became one of the first heroes of the North during the Civil War.

Dix was the most senior major general of volunteers in the Union Army because his was the first appointment. He served in a variety of commands in the Eastern Theater. He is best known for the Dix-Hill Cartel for the exchange of prisoners of war.

Nathaniel Prentice Banks was a Massachusetts politician who had served in the U.S. House of Representatives as both a Member and then as Speaker. He left the House and ran for the governorship which he won. He was the second major general of volunteers to be appointed by Lincoln. During his career, Banks held commands in Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley and the Department of the Gulf.

He had the bad fortune to have to face Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley during his memorable Valley Campaign of 1862. Jackson bested Banks at Winchester and later at Cedar Mountain.In the South, Banks commanded at the Siege of Port Hudson and on the Red River Campaign.

Benjamin Butler was the third ranking major general of volunteers appointed by Lincoln. His policies regarding slaves as contraband so they could have freedom, his administration of occupied New Orleans, his ineffectual leadership in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, and the fiasco of Fort Fisher rank him as one of the most controversial political generals of the war. Butler was the first Eastern Union General to declare runaway Virginia slaves “contraband of war”; refusing to return them to their masters.

Then we have the most famous of the Democrat Union generals, George B. McClellan. After the disastrous Union defeat at Bull Run in July 1861, McClellan was ordered from his post in western Virginia to take command of the Washington defenses. Based on two somewhat minor victories he was feted by the New York Herald as “…the Napoleon of the Present War.”

On May 14th, McClellan at 34 had been promoted to major general in the Regular Army, outranking everyone but Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. Carl Sandburg wrote, “McClellan was the man of the hour, pointed to by events, and chosen by an overwhelming weight of public and private opinion.” He was appointed commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, the main Union force responsible for the defense of Washington.

On August 20th after consolidating a number of Union formations he immediately formed the Army of the Potomac, with himself as its first commander. McClellan considered himself the savior of his country. In a letter to his wife he wrote, “I seem to have become the power of the land.”

McClellan immediately went about reorganizing the Army of the Potomac as a superb fighting force. He created defenses for Washington that were almost impregnable, consisting of 48 forts and strong points, with 480 guns manned by 7,200 artillerists. From July to November, the army grew from 50,000 to 168,000 men, a stupendous number for the 19th century.

McClellan was a superb logistics officer who understood the use of rail and steamboat transportation in war. However, he never seemed willing to throw his army into the fires of war. Some would say that he loved it too much to risk it in combat. Others whispered that McClellan was among the Union commanders who wished for conciliation with the South on the conditions that prevailed at the start of the war.

McClellan delivered a memorandum to Lincoln on August 2nd which was read to the Cabinet the following day. In it the general seemed to follow Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan. He felt that it was necessary “to display such an overwhelming strength, as will convince all our antagonists…of the utter impossibility of resistance.”

McClellan detailed his military grand strategy calling for attacks down the Mississippi, into Missouri, through East Tennessee into Kentucky and into West Texas. Other Union forces would maintain their hold on western Virginia and Fort Monroe. He also alluded to a substantial amphibious forces for attacks along the Southern coastline.

All of this was to be in support of a massive offensive against the Confederate capital of Richmond which would be followed by a thrust deep into the Deep South. McClellan called for a massive army of 273,000 troops with 600 pieces of artillery. This force would have been 20 times the size of the army that captured Mexico City in 1847.

McClellan had two objectives with his strategy. First, he hoped to detach the bulk of the Southern people from their presumably weak loyalty to the “political leaders of the rebels.” His second objective was to convince the “governing aristocratic class” that resistance was futile. In order to be successful with the first objective there could be no more Union defeats. At the same time he felt that a lenient policy of prosecuting the war was necessary in order not to alienate the Southern population.

Part of this lenient policy required the Union Army “to crush the rebels in one campaign” according to a letter that he wrote to his wife on the same day as he wrote the memorandum to Lincoln. He ordered his troops to rigorously respect private property, including slaves, and crush any attempt at a slave insurrection. These were the same orders that he gave his troops in Western Virginia.

However, McClellan could not be moved. Throughout the late and into the fall the Army of the Potomac continued to train while McClellan engaged in a bureaucratic struggle with Winfield Scott. Eventually Scott became so worn out with the struggle that he resigned as General-in-Chief. McClellan was appointed in his place and when he did he pressed his conciliatory views on each of the Union Army’s major commanders.

02/13/13

Up The Red River: The Initial Union Maneuvers

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign

Map of the Red River CampaignThe Red River Campaign commenced on March 10, 1864 with the movement of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ troops north from New Orleans. At the same time Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith moved his 10,000-man force down the Mississippi River to the confluence with the Red River.

Smith immediately moved his men up the Red River where they surprised and captured Fort de Russy on March 14th. Smith’s troops captured 317 Confederates and the only heavy guns available to the Confederates. Admiral Porter then moved upriver and removed the raft that was blocking passage. The way to Alexandria was open for the Union forces.

Confederate General Richard Taylor was forced to retreat, abandoning Alexandria, Louisiana, and ceding south and central Louisiana to the Union forces.

Smith’s force was the first to arrive at Alexandria on March 20th, followed by Maj. Gen. William Franklin’s advance divisions from the Army of the Gulf on March 25th. Banks arrived a day later. While he waited for Banks to arrive, Smith sent Brigadier General Joseph Mower on a successful mission to capture much of Taylor’s cavalry and his outpost upriver from Alexandria at Henderson’s Hill on March 21. Nearly 250 Confederates and a four gun artillery battery were captured without a shot being fired.

Admiral Porter and General Banks quarreled over possession of Louisiana cotton. Porter seized three hundred bales of Confederate cotton from various warehouses in Alexandria and stamped it “U.S.N. prize”, referring to the United States Navy. Porter sent his sailors into the country to search for unginned cotton. After the crop was located, it was brought to Alexandria to be ginned and baled.

The sailors also seized molasses and wool. Historian John D. Winters of Louisiana Tech University writes that Porter “took all cotton wherever he found it, cotton belonging to the Confederate government, cotton belonging to the ‘rebels,’ and cotton belonging to ‘loyal’ citizens.”

“Banks was furious with Porter when he learned that the admiral was scouring the interior for cotton. Since he had no authority to stop Porter’s speculative activities, Banks could only try to beat him to the remaining cotton. Army wagons were sent out in large numbers to collect the cotton. Thousands of bales were brought in by the troops and stored for future shipment. Jealous of the abundant transportation facilities of the army, unprincipled navy men stole army wagons and teams at night, repainted the wagons, and branded the mules with navy initials, and dove deep in the country in search of cotton. . . . “

Upon his arrival Banks found a message from the new General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant waiting for him. Grant stated that it was “important that Shreveport be taken as soon as possible” because A.J. Smith’s command must be returned to Sherman by the middle of April “even if it leads to the abandonment of the main object of your expedition.”

While the Confederates had some 80,000 men under the command of General Edmund Kirby Smith, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor would never have more than 18,500 in any one fight during the entire campaign.

By March 31st, the Union forces were 65 miles south of Shreveport, the Louisiana state capital. Heavy rains had delayed their advance for about a week. At the same time, Porter’s flotilla was delayed at the falls upriver from Alexandria by a combination of mines and low water.

Taylor had stationed his defenders about 25 miles northwest of the Union army with about 18,500 men and awaited the Union advance. From March 21st on, there had been constant skirmishing between cavalry forces of the two armies. On April 2, Brig. Gen. Albert Lindley Lee‘s division of Union cavalry collided with 1,500 arriving Confederate Texas cavalrymen. These Confederates would continue to resist any Union advance. The two forces were gathering for the first major battle of the campaign.

02/12/13

The Red River Campaign

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign

General Nathaniel P. BanksThe 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:

  1. To destroy the Confederate Army commanded by Taylor.
  2. To capture Shreveport, Louisiana, Confederate headquarters for the Trans-Mississippi Department, control the Red River to the north, and occupy east Texas.
  3. To confiscate as much as a hundred thousand bales of cotton from the plantations along the Red River.
  4. 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 Halleck's Plan for the Red River CampaignDavid 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.