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04/18/14

Grant’s Final Strategy

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant in full uniformAfter being turned down by the high Command and the President, Grant revisited his strategic plan. Washington was a risk-averse town and the military and civilian leaders of the Union government were the most risk-averse of all. Grant’s initial plans for the campaigns across the South were extremely radical.

His proposal to drive across North Carolina in order to cut off Lee’s supply lines was, in their view, the riskiest of all. Moving troops from northern Virginia would uncover the nation’s capital would risk raids by the Confederates. What if Lee didn’t take the bait and drove right up Pennsylvania Avenue? No, that just wouldn’t do.

Grant’s pincer attack from Mobile to Montgomery was rejected because Abraham Lincoln was fixated on a show of strength for the French in Mexico. He felt that the Union government needed to send a message by sending an expedition up the Red River. It was as if he was saying that we can protect all of our territory. So, it was back to the drawing board for General Grant.

Grant now proposed a new strategy. Grant had seen the war from a Western Theater point of view. In the Eastern Theater the war was mostly confined to Virginia with two confederate invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania. In the Western Theater the view was very different.

The war in the Western Theater exposed Grant to a war against the entirety of Southern society. He understood that the Southerners were unrepentant, their armies were resilient and the war zone was expansive.

In Virginia, the war was a one-on-one conflict between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia. In the Western Theater, the war had to carried out against all of the elements: the population, the Confederate Army and Southern society. Therefore, Grant tailored his strategy based on these principles.

When asked about his opinion on Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini’s book on strategy, Grant was said to have replied:

I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on. 

Seems simple enough.

Grant’s first element of his strategy was the destruction of the Confederate field armies. His plan called for placing as much pressure as possible on Robert E. Lee’ Army of Northern Virginia and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. His plan was to draw them out into the open field and destroy them by a series of major engagements.

In order to successfully carry out these objective, Grant planned to coordinate all of the Union armies. By doing this the Confederates would not be able to shift their forces across theater lines, as they had done when General James Longstreet’s Second Corps had been sent to the Western Theater. This would eliminate the Confederacy’s advantage of interior lines of supply.

Grant estimated that if he couldn’t annihilate his enemies in battle, he would be able to exhaust them logistically, economically and psychologically. It has been characterized by historians either as a annihilation or attrition or both.

Grant and his disciples, the foremost being William T. Sherman, saw war as brutal and unpleasant. They believed in the “hard war” or total war that would be necessary in order to bring the Civil War to swift and successful conclusion.

In order to carry out his strategy, Grant would need commanders that agreed with his belief in “hard war” but here he ran into the political realities of the war.

Sherman was a logical choice as commander of the Army of the Tennessee and eventually overall commander of the Western Theater. Today, he is best remembered for his pronouncement: “All war is hell” but in a letter to the mayor and city council of Atlanta he wrote:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.

Sherman was an easy position to fill but the others were not so easy. General Nathaniel Banks was in command of the Army of the Gulf. He was a former Massachusetts Congressman and Governor with very little military experience. His Red River Expedition was defeated before the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia could even begin. This gave Grant the opportunity to replace him with General Edward Canby. By then Grant lamented that the Red River Expedition had eliminated the use of 40,000 troops for the Sherman’s campaign and the attack on Mobile.

The commander in the Shenandoah Valley was General Franz Sigel, a German immigrant. So far, Sigel was a best inept and at worst incompetent. He had been appointed to his position by Lincoln who hoped to secure German immigrant support for the Republican Party. Sigel failed miserably at the Battle of New Market on May 15th and retreated North to safety. Grant was furious and replaced him with General David Hunter.

Grant’s plan called for the movement of the Army of the James to threaten Richmond from the East. The commander of the Army of the James was another Massachusetts politician, General Ben Butler. Butler was a former Democrat turned Radical Republican. Lincoln needed the support of that wing of his party so Butler’s appointment was a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Grant was favorably impressed with Butler when they met at Fortress Monroe in April. Grant’s initial judgment of Ben Butler was a serious mistake. He was indecisive and needed constant supervision. Grant constantly needed to prod him to take action. He was unable to break through the Confederate lines at Bermuda Hundred even though he outnumbered General P.G.T. Beauregard 33,000 to 18,000. This allowed Lee to move troops from this line.

Finally, Grant kept George Gordon Meade as the commander of the Army of the Potomac even though he offered to resign. Grant was impressed by Grant’s willingness to step aside for the welfare of the nation. Grant kept him on but decided to travel with the Army of the Potomac where he could guide his chief weapon.

 

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.

04/16/14

Grant’s Original Strategy

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series 1864: the Year of the Three Generals

Grant as a Lieutenant GeneralIn the late summer of 1863, Ulysses S. Grant was asked by then-General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to outline his plans on a broader strategy against the South. After all, Grant was the most successful commander that the Union Army had. He had led the Western armies in an almost unbroken series of victories against his nation’s foe. Why wouldn’t the high command in Washington wish to know his thinking?

Halleck had been Grant’s direct commander in the West and based on they way that he treated him thought little of his intellect and military knowledge. Either Halleck realized that his earlier judgments of Grant were wrong or he realized that change was in the air. He better begin to find out Grant’s thinking before he became the boss.

Grant responded with two letters to Halleck. In them he outlined a bold campaign scheme. Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command. Grant was widely viewed by the Easterners as a plodding butcher who achieved his victories by sheer overwhelming force. However, his views on strategy both in the Western Theater and in the overall war changed that dismissive attitude.

It turned out the Ulysses S. Grant was a strategic thinker of considerable ability and sophistication. Earlier, Grant had called for the consolidation of the Western armies under one consolidated command.

He put forward a plan that called for his own Army of the Tennessee and Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf to start at Mobile and drive north to capture Montgomery, Alabama.

Meanwhile, General William S. Rosecrans was to advance overland from Chattanooga to Atlanta. All military resources in the area were to be destroyed, depriving the Confederacy of vital supplies.

Grant ran in to Lincoln’s desire to send Banks up the Red River to ‘show the flag.’ The French had installed  Maximillian, the archduke of Austria, as emperor in Mexico, a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Lincoln wanted to make it clear that the United States would defend its territory despite the Civil War. Grant’s military plans fell victim to Lincoln’s political plans.

In October 1863, all of the armies in the West, except Banks’ Army of the Gulf, were consolidated under Grant’s command. In November Grant was victorious at Chattanooga and he wasted little time in putting forward his strategic plan for the Western Theater. Grant once again proposed his Mobile to Montgomery campaign and once again Lincoln pointed out the needs of Union diplomacy with regards to Mexico.

Grant was encouraged by Washington to expand his plans to include the entire war zone. In his second letter Grant proposed what must have seemed like heresy to Eastern-centric high command. Grant proposed flanking Lee by moving deep into North Carolina and cutting off his supply lines from the South.

He proposed a starting point of Suffolk in southeastern Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina as the objective point. He proposed to use New Bern as his supply base until the strategic port of Wilmington, North Carolina could be captured. He proposed using a force of 60,000 men to carry out the destruction of the rail lines south of Richmond. Should Lee move South to counter this force, a large force would not be required on the Potomac.

Grant saw this line of attack as most productive. It would destroy key lines of communication and supply. It would also increase desertion rates among North Carolina troops who would be eager to defend their homes. Slaves would be encouraged to leave their plantations, further diminishing the Confederate supply base. Finally Grant felt that it would “virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee.”

In summation, Grant felt that there would no longer be the need for an attack on Richmond since it would be necessary for the Confederate government to abandon their capital. Once Lee would find it necessary to move South, Richmond would cease to be important to the enemy.

In putting forward his radical plan, Grant was making the point that the destruction of the Confederate armies were the objection rather than capturing cities and towns. Grant’s plans also emphasized the use of the offensive by the Union armies would deny the offensive to Lee who many in both armies viewed as an offensive genius.

Henry W. Halleck was conservative to the core and he viewed Grant’s plan both in the East and the West as too risky. Removing so many troops from northern Virginia would leave the capital defenseless in his view. Grant’s Western strategy would never be approved by Lincoln. The President had a continued desire to control more parts of Louisiana and the Tran-Mississippi Region. The troops that Grant had designated for the Mobile Campaign were sent to Banks for his ill-advised Red River Campaign.

In the next post we’ll look at how Grant’s strategy evolved in light of the risk-averse thinking in the Washington high command.

If you’re interested in reading about Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, here is the link to the first post in the five-part series.

 

02/27/14

The Political Generals of the Union: Nathaniel Banks

This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Union General Officers

General Nathaniel BanksWhen Abraham Lincoln realized that he would have to prosecute a war against the Southern states he knew that he would need to gain the allegiance of the Democrat Party. He did not want the Northern war effort to be seen as simply as Republican Party-only. In order to gain the confidence of the Northern Democrats, he would need to appoint a number of them to generalships.

Among these so-called political generals can be found Nathaniel Banks, Benjamin Butler, Franz Siegal and Dan Sickles. Added to this was John Charles Fremont who was the first Republican candidate for President, running in the 1856 election.

Nathaniel Banks was a Democratic politician from Massachusetts. He had served in the state legislature from 1848 until 1856. Within two years he was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1855 and after a protracted contest was elected Speaker of the House. In 1857, he was elected Governor, a post that he served in until January 1861. By then Banks had moved from the Democrat Party to become a Republican.

Lincoln appointed Banks as the first major general of volunteers on May 16, 1861, giving him seniority over everyone who followed him. Banks may have been a good politician but he was not a good general. He was unschooled in the ways of strategy and tactics. Lincoln’s problem was that Banks could not be fired.

Over the course of his career he failed in a number of theaters. He was whipped by “Stonewall” Jackson in the Valley Campaign of 1862 and at Cedar Mountain in August 1862. At the latter, he was saved by the arrival of Union reinforcements that resulted in a standoff.

In the winter of 1862 he raised a force of 30,000 men from the Northeast who he led to New Orleans where he replaced Maj. Gen. Ben Butler as commander of the Department of the Gulf. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, doubted the wisdom of replacing Butler with Banks.

According to historian John D. Winters, “Welles’s opinion of the military abilities of both men was very low, but he did not question Butler’s skill as a ‘police magistrate’ in charge of civil affairs. Banks, he thought did not have ‘the energy, power or ability of Butler.’ He did have ‘some ready qualities for civil administration,’ but was less reckless and unscrupulous’ and probably would not be able to hold a tight enough rein on the people” once placed under Union control.”

Banks had mixed success in the Gulf. He was ordered to capture the vital Confederate base at Port Hudson, Louisiana on the Mississippi River. With the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson the South would be split in two parts, cutting off supplies to their armies east of the river. Banks led an expedition of 12,000 men who attempted to storm the Confederate works on two occasions. Both were dismal failures with each of the two attacks resulting in more than 1,800 Union casualties. The Confederate garrison surrendered after Vicksburg fell.

In March 1864 at the urging of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, who was still General-in-Chief, Banks embarked on the Red River Campaign. Banks’s army was routed at the Battle of Mansfield by General Richard Taylor (son of former President Zachary Taylor) and retreated 20 miles (32 km) to make a stand the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Despite winning a tactical victory at Pleasant Hill, Banks continued the retreat to Alexandria, his force rejoined part of the Federal Inland Fleet.

After the campaign, just before General Sherman began his operations against Atlanta, Sherman said of the Red River campaign that it was “One damn blunder from beginning to end.” On April 22, 1864, Grant wired Chief of Staff Halleck asking for Banks’s removal. He was replaced by Edward Canby, who was promoted to major general.

President Lincoln ordered Banks to oversee elections held under the new constitution in September, and then ordered him to return to Washington to lobby Congress for acceptance of Louisiana’s constitution and elected Congressmen. Congress refused to seat Louisiana’s two Congressmen in early 1865.

After six months, Banks returned to Louisiana to resume his military command under Canby. However, he was politically trapped between the civilian government and Canby, and resigned from the army in May 1865 after only one month in New Orleans. He returned to Massachusetts in September 1865.

 

02/18/13

The Union Forces Retreat

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

After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks‘ Army of the Gulf began their retreat back down the Red River to the Atchafalaya River. In the course of this retreat his forces fought several actions in attempts to fend off the advancing Confederates under Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor.

At Blair’s Landing in Red River Parish, Louisiana a mixed force of troops from Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Kilby Smith‘s Provisional Division, XVII Corps, and the Navy gunboats furnished protection for the army transports engaged  Brig. Gen. Tom Green‘s Cavalry Division on April 12, 1864.

Green’s force charged the boats at the landing area.  Hiding behind bales of cotton, sacks of oats, and other ersatz obstructions, the men on the vessels, along with the Navy gunboats, repelled the attack, killed Green, and savaged the Confederate ranks.

Map of the Red River CampaignThe Confederates withdrew and most of the Union transports continued downriver. On April 13, at Campti, other boats ran aground and came under enemy fire from Brig. Gen. St. John Richardson Liddell‘s Sub-District of North Louisiana troops throughout April 12–13. The convoy rendezvoused with Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’s army at Grand Ecore, providing the army with badly needed supplies. The Confederates lost some 200 men while the Union force suffered only 7 casualties.

On April 23rd, the Union army’s advance party, commanded by Brig. Gen. William H. Emory, encountered Brig. Gen. Hamilton P. Bee‘s cavalry division near Monett’s Ferry, or Cane River Crossing in Natchitoches Parish, on the morning of April 23. Bee had been ordered to defend the area against a Union crossing and had dispersed his forces to take advantage of the area’s natural features.

Emory made a demonstration in front of the Confederate defenders in order to hold them in place. Meanwhile, he dispatched two of his brigades to search for other crossings. One brigade located a ford, crossed in force and attacked the Confederate’s flank. Bee was forced to order a retreat. The Union troops built a pontoon bridge and crossed the river, escaping a potential Confederate trap.

At Mansura on May 16th, General Taylor made an attempt to bring Banks to battle. He hoped to slow down the Union withdrawal and deplete their numbers or even destroy them. He massed his forces on an open prairie near the town and when the Union troops approached, opened fire with his artillery. After a four hour battle, the Union forces massed for an attack and the Confederates fell back. The Union forces continued on to Simmesport while the Confederates continued to harass them.

The final engagement of the campaign took place at Yellow Bayou on May 18th. The Union force had reached the Atchafalaya River the previous day but were force to wait while their engineers constructed a bridge across the river. Banks ordered Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Mower to defend their rear with his division while the construction took place.

General Mower order his troops to attack and they drove the Confederate line back. Taylor order a counterattack and forced the Union troops to give up ground. The Union troops eventually repulsed the Confederates. All the while, the bridge continued to be built. Eventually both sides withdrew and Banks’ Army was able to cross the river to safety.

The Red River Campaign was a Union fiasco, the outcome of which did not have a major impact on the war. It may have extended the length of the war by several months as it diverted Union efforts from the far more important objective of capturing Mobile, Alabama, an event that did not occur until 1865, and could probably have been accomplished by June 1864 if not for the Red River Campaign.

The failure of the campaign effectively ended the military career of Banks, and controversy surrounding his retreat, the presence of cotton speculators and the use of military boats to remove cotton dogged his early postbellum congressional campaigns. Admiral Porter realized a substantial sum of money during the campaign from the sale of cotton as prizes of war.

The Confederates lost two key commanders, Mouton and Green, and suffered casualties they could not afford. Perhaps more importantly, relations between the aggressive Taylor and cautious Kirby Smith were permanently damaged by their disagreement over Smith’s decision to remove half of Taylor’s troops following the battle of Pleasant Hill.

The lost opportunity to capture the entire Union fleet as it lay helpless above the falls at Alexandria haunted Taylor to his dying day, certain that Smith had robbed him a chance to cripple the Union forces. The arguments between the two generals resulted in Taylor’s transfer to command of the Department of East Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama soon after the campaign ended.

02/15/13

The Battle of Pleasant Hill

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign

The Battle of Pleasant Hill was a continuation of the fighting at Mansfield the day before. The two sides were essentially composed of the same forces and the same leadership as there was at Mansfield with Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks leading the Union forces and Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor leading the Confederates. Pleasant Hill was located about 16 miles southeast of Sabine Cross Roads, the scene of the previous day’s fighting.

During the overnight period the Union forces were reinforced, giving them a total of about 12,000 men while the Confederates slightly outnumbered them with about 12,100. Union reinforcements included Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith, commanding detachments of XVI and XVII Corps. They arrived from Grand Ecore late on the April 8, around nightfall, and encamped about 2 miles from Pleasant Hill.

Map of the Battle of Pleasant HillConfederate reinforcements had arrived late on the April 8. Churchill’s Arkansas Division arrived at Mansfield at 3.30 PM and Parson’s Missouri Division (numbering 2,200 men) arrived at Mansfield at 6 PM. Neither of these Divisions participated in the Battle of Mansfield. However, both would play a major role during the Battle of Pleasant Hill.

Click map to enlarge

Historian John D. Winters of Louisiana Tech University in his The Civil War in Louisiana described the scene along the road from Mansfield to Pleasant Hill as being “littered by burning wagons, abandoned knapsacks, arms, and cooking utensils. Federal stragglers and wounded were met by the hundreds and were quickly rounded up and sent to the rear. 

On the morning of the April 9, Maj. Gen. William Franklin ordered the baggage train to proceed to Grand Ecore. It left Pleasant Hill at 11:00 AM, and included many pieces of artillery. Most of Franklin’s Cavalry (commanded by Brig. Gen. Albert Lindley Lee) and the XIII Corps left with it. This included the Corps D’Afrique commanded by Colonel William H. Dickey (wounded on April 8) and Brig. Gen. Thomas E. G. Ransom‘s detachment of the XIII Corps, now under the command of Brig. Gen. Robert A. Cameron. Ransom had been wounded on the April 8.

The baggage train made slow progress and was still only a few miles from Pleasant Hill when the major fighting began later that day. Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone, Chief of Staff, and others, attempted to get Cameron to return to Pleasant Hill throughout the day, but he failed to do so. Cameron stated that he never received any written orders to return. Banks didn’t appear to have been fully aware of the exact orders Cameron had received from Franklin.

The Union side lost 18 pieces of artillery at the Battle of Mansfield. These were now turned on the Union forces the next day at Pleasant Hill. Confederate Brig. Gen. Jean Jacque Alexandre Alfred Mouton was killed during the Battle of Mansfield and was replaced by Brig. Gen. Camille J. de Polignac.

Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department commander Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who was at Shreveport, received a dispatch from Taylor that reached him at 4:00 AM, April 9. It informed him of the Battle of Mansfield. Smith then rode 45 miles to Pleasant Hill, but did not reach there in time for the battle, arriving around nightfall.

Dr. Harris H. Beecher, Assistant-Surgeon, 114th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, present at the battle, described the village of Pleasant Hill as “a town of about twelve or fifteen houses, situated on a clearing in the woods, of a mile or so in extent, and elevated a trifle above the general level of the surrounding country.”

In 1864, the countryside in this part of Louisiana mostly consisted of pine forests and scrub oaks. According to Banks, “The shortest and only practicable road from Natchitoches to Shreveport was the stage road through Pleasant Hill and Mansfield (distance 100 miles), through a barren, sandy country, with less water and less forage, the greater portion an unbroken pine forest.”

According to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ Report of the Battle, “The enemy began to reconnoiter the new position we had assumed at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, and as early as 1 or 2 o’clock opened a sharp fire of skirmishers, which was kept up at intervals during the afternoon.”

At about 5:00 PM, the Confederates attacked along the entire Union line. The Confederates had little success on the Union right but did push the Union defenders back in the center and on the left. The defenders succeeded in halting their retreat and in turn regained their former positions. They were able to stabilize their lines and then drive the Confederates from the field. The entire battle lasted about two hours with heavy casualties on both sides.

The experience of Confederate Brig. Gen. Hamilton P. Bee illustrates the heavy fighting. Bee advanced with  two regiments in columns of four riding swiftly down the Pleasant Hill road toward the enemy lines. The Confederate forces were suddenly attacked at close range by Federals concealed behind a fence. Winters describes the scene, accordingly: “Men toppled from their saddles, wounded horses screamed in anguish, and for a moment pandemonium reigned.”

Bee’s men took temporary shelter . . . in a series of small ravines studded with young pines until they recovered from the shock of the unexpected attack. Bee rallied his men but in the process had two horses shot from under him. Colonel [Xavier B.] Debray was injured when he fell from the saddle of his dead horse. . . . Debray was able to withdraw his men safely to the rear leaving, however, about a third of them killed or wounded on the front.

Banks ordered a withdrawal from Pleasant Hill at about 1:00 AM on April 10th. Bee reported that he was in possession of the field the following morning. “The day has been passed in burying the dead of both armies and caring for the Federal wounded, our own wounded having been cared for the night before.” After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Banks and his Union forces retreated to Grand Ecore and abandoned plans to capture Shreveport, by then the Louisiana state capital.

Pleasant Hill was an exceedingly bloody affair with the Union forces sustaining 1,369 casualties (150 killed, 844 wounded, 375 missing or captured). The Confederates lost 1,629 including 1,200 killed or wounded and 429 missing or captured.

02/14/13

The Battle of Mansfield

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign

General Richard TaylorThe first major battle of the Red River Campaign would turn out to be a Confederate victory. Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ Army of the Gulf was outfought by Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor’s Confederates. The battle halted the advance of the Union forces and was followed by a series of battles in the same area.

By April 1 Union forces had occupied Grand Ecore and Natchitoches. While the accompanying gunboat fleet with a portion of the infantry continued up the river, the main force followed the road inland toward Mansfield, where Banks knew his opponent was concentrating. On April 8, 1864, the Union forces were strung out along the road from Natchitoches and Mansfield.

At the start of the battle, the Union forces consisted of a cavalry division commanded by Brig. Gen. Albert L. Lee, consisting of approximately 3,500 men, and the 4th Division of the XIII Corps, commanded by Col. William J. Landram, consisting of approximately 2,500 men. During the battle the 3rd Division of the XIII Corps, commanded by Ezio Auditore Da Firenze.

Gen. Robert A. Cameron, arrived with approximately 1,500 men. The battle ended when the pursuing Confederates met the 1st Division of the XIX Corps, commanded by Brig. Gen. William H. Emory, with approximately 5,000 men.Thomas E. G. Ransom commanded the XIII Corps during the engagement, while the XIX Corps was commanded by William B. Franklin.

The opposing Confederate force under General Taylor consisted of approximately 9,000 troops consisting of Brigadier General Alfred Mouton‘s Louisiana/Texas infantry division, Major General John G. Walker‘s Texas infantry division, Brigadier General Thomas Green‘s Texas Cavalry Division, and Colonel William G. Vincent’s Louisiana cavalry brigade.

Taylor also called on the 5,000 men in the divisions of Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill and Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons which had been encamped near Keachie, between Mansfield and Shreveport. These troops arrived late in the afternoon, after the battle had commenced.

There is also anecdotal evidence that Taylor also had paroled men from Vicksburg and a number of Louisiana militia men that had been recruited Map of the Battle of Mansfieldby Governor Henry Watkins Allen who had organized them into two battalions of State Guard. Joseph Blessington, a soldier in Walker’s Division, wrote that “The Louisiana militia, under command of Governor Allen, was held in reserve, in case of an emergency.” In addition, Blessington wrote that, from the surrounding communities, “old men shouldered their muskets and came to our assistance”.

During the morning, Taylor positioned Mouton’s division on the east side of the clearing. Walker’s division arrived in the afternoon and formed on Mouton’s right. As Green’s cavalry fell back from the advancing US forces, two brigades moved to Mouton’s flank and the third to Walker’s flank.

The Arkansas division arrived around 3:30 but was sent to watch a road to the east. The Missouri division did not arrive until around 6 PM, after the battle was fought.

About noon, the Union cavalry division supported by one infantry brigade of Landram’s division was deployed across a small hill at the south end of the clearing. Shortly thereafter the other brigade of Landram’s division arrived.

Cameron’s division was on its way, but would not get there until the battle had already begun. For about two hours the two side faced each other across the clearing as Banks waited for more of his troops to arrive and Taylor arranged his men.

At that point, Taylor enjoyed a numeric advantage over Banks. At about 4 p.m., the Confederates surged forward. On the east side of the road, Mouton was killed, while several of his regimental commanders were hit as well and the charge of his division was repulsed.

However, west of the road Walker’s Texas division wrapped around the Union position, folding it in on itself. Ransom was wounded trying to rally his men and was carried from the field; hundreds of Union troops were captured and the rest retreated in a panic. As the first Union line collapsed, Cameron’s division was arriving to form a second line but it too was pushed back by the charging Confederates, with Franklin wounded as well but remaining on the field in command.

For several miles the Confederates and pursued the retreating Union troops until they encountered a third line formed by Emory’s division. The Confederates launched several charges on the Union line but were repulsed, while nightfall ended the battle.

The Battle of Mansfield was a disaster for Banks with 113 killed, 581 wounded, and 1,541 captured as well as the loss of 20 cannon, 156 wagons, and a thousand horses and mules killed or captured. More than half of the Union casualties were from 4 regiments – 77th Illinois, 130th Illinois, 19th Kentucky and 48th Ohio. Most of the Union casualties occurred in the XIII Corps, while the XIX Corps lost few men.

General Edmund Kirby Smith reported the loss of about 1,000 men killed and wounded but more precise details of Confederate losses were not recorded.

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.