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02/7/14

The Campaigns of 1864

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series 1864: The Year of Decision

1864 was a year that saw fighting across all areas of the South. Many of the campaigns would be of critical importance to the final outcome of the American Civil War. For those who would like to review the major campaigns the following list provides links to the first post of of each campaign series.

Western Theater

The Shenandoah Valley

The Eastern Theater

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.

02/13/13

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.