APRIL 2004

The Red River Campaign
As told in the American History Civil War chat room on AOL

March 10 - May 22 1864

Well, I want you to curl up and make yourselves comfy, kick off your shoes, and set a spell.  Grab a cup of that "mulled cider" steaming away over there on the fire.  I'm gonna tell you a story about "The Red River".  You don't hear as much about this series of events because at the same time from March to May of 1864, Grant starts after Lee in Virginia with the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and North Anna.

By 1864, the French invasion of Mexico, the shortage of cotton, and the desire to expand political reconstruction in Louisiana and eastern Texas, compelled Federal officials to send an expedition up the Red River.  This "desire to expand political reconstruction" originated from Washington in July of 1863, from General Halleck by letter to General Banks, contrary to General Grant's desire to follow up the fall of Port Hudson that month to move on Mobile.  The unfortunate expedition to Sabine Pass in September 1863 failed and thus ended the initial attempt.  The Federal eyes turned toward the Red River as the avenue best suited to try again.  The usual time of highest water in the upper Red River fixed the date for the movement as the middle of March.  General Sherman came to New Orleans on the 1st of March and promptly sent 10,000 men to join Admiral Porter at the mouth of the Red River, and, accompanied by the fleet, to be at Alexandria by the 17th of March, coinciding with the arrival of Banks's troops marching north by Bayou Teche.   So, on March 10, 1864, Brigadier General Andrew J. Smith's 10,000 troops left Vicksburg,  landing at Simsport (just up the Red River from the Mississippi) the next day.  Porter's fleet, then carrying Sherman's troops up from New Orleans, entered the mouth of the Red River on 12 March.  On the 13th, two divisions of the Sixteenth Corps, under Mower, and Kilby Smith's division of the Seventh Corps, all under the command of General A.J. Smith, landed at Simsport and marched on to  capture Fort de Russy, which he did on the 14th and carried the works by assault with a loss of 34 killed and wounded, capturing 260 prisoners, eight heavy guns, and two field pieces.  Walker's division of the Confederate army under General Richard Taylor, which was holding the area from Simsport to Opelousas, fell back to Bayou Boeuf to cover Alexandria.  Meanwhile, Porter's fleet had burst through the dam and raft nine miles below, and was thus able to proceed at once up the river, arriving off Alexandria on the 15th.  Kilby Smith followed on the transports with the remainder of the fleet and landing at Alexandria on the 16th occupied the town without any resistance, as Taylor had retired toward Natchitoches and called in Mouton's division from the country north of the river to join Walker's.   A.J. Smith, with Mower, followed on the 18th.  So, Porter and A.J. Smith were at Alexandria ahead of time.  Banks, after attending to electioneering duties delegated to him by President Lincoln arrived in Alexandria on the 24th.

When Banks arrived in Alexandria, new orders from the newly appointed Lieutenant General Grant of the United States Forces arrived.  Grant's orders consolidated all the armies efforts between the Mississippi and the Atlantic to support the coordinated movement of all these armies early in May.   The jist of these orders indicated that to support this coordinated movement, Banks was to go against Mobile and A.J. Smith was to join the Army of the Tennessee for the Atlanta Campaign.  That indicated Shreveport had to be taken by the 25th of April without the support of A.J. Smith as his orders were to return to Vicksburg by the 10th of April.  With these constraints, Banks determined to go ahead and give it a shot.

The time Banks used to deliberate on these choices, really didn't slow the movement down, as Porter has having a difficult time getting his gun-boats and transports over the rapids on the Red River just above Alexandria.  Finally on April 3rd, thirteen gun-boats (Eastport, Chillicothe, Carondelet, Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburgh, Osage, Ozark, Neosho, Fort Hindman, Cricket, Juliet and the Lexington), and thirty transports made it over.  That left seven gun-boats and the larger transports stuck below the rapids.  That forced the Federals to establish an old fashioned portage to get supplies and communications around the obstacle of the rapids as well as having Grover's division at Alexandria for protection and transport of the stores.

In the mean time Taylor, having evacuated Alexandria had moved his munitions and supplies up and on the 18th of March joined with Walker's and Mouton's divisions at Carroll Jones's plantation in the pine forest covering the roads to Shreveport and the Sabine, about thirty-six miles above Alexandria and forty-six below Natchitoches. 

After the arrival of Lee's cavalry, A.J. Smith quickly sent Mower with his two divisions and and Lucas' bridage from Lee's division on the 21st up to Hederson's Hill, near Cotile, 23 miles above Alexandria, to clear the way across Bayou Rapides.  That same night, in a heavy rain storm, Mower skillfully surprised the only cavalry force Taylor had, the 2nd Louisiana under Col. William G. Vincent, and captured practically the entire regiment (250 men, 200 horses, and 4 guns of Edgar's battery).  This was a serious blow to Taylor, since it deprived him of his only "Cavalry Eyes" until Green's Cavalry should finally arrive from Texas.   Mower then returned to Alexandria and Taylor withdrew further north to Natchitoches.

A.J. Smith's Corps returned to their line of march and on the end of the 3rd of April the entire force (Army and Navy) concentrated near Natchitoches.  Even though Gen. John M. Corse overtook the expedition with a reminder from Sherman about A.J. Smith's required presence in Vicksburg on the 10th, it was agreed to forge ahead as Shreveport was only 4 marches away.  Kilby Smith's division headed up the river with the transports to Loggy Bayou.  A.J. Smith with Mower's divisions moved by land up the north bank of the Red River.  Franklin, with Lee's cavalry in advance followed by the 13th Corps under Ransom, Emory's division (of the 19th) and Dickey's colored brigade all took off the following day.

On night of April 7th, Lee's cavalry, after a sharp skirmish with Major's brigade of Green's division of Texas cavalry, bivouacked on Bayou St. Patrice, 7 miles beyond Pleasant Hill, Ransom and Emory at Pleasant Hill, and A.J. Smith a day's march in their rear.

Meanwhile, Taylor, who had continued to afall back, found himself on the 5th of April at Mansfield covering the roads to Marshall, Texas and to Shreveport, with Green's cavalry coming up at last, and Churchill's Arkansas division and Parson's Missouri division of Price's army closing in fast.  This gave Taylor 16,000 men with whom he might battle in a chosen position if Bank's force remained stretched out.  The situation Taylor wanted presented itself early on the morning of the 8th of April.  Taylor quickly moved up to Sabine Cross-Roads, and there formed line of battle with Walker's, Mouton's, and Green's divisions and waited.....  

Lee marched at dawn, and after meeting with spirited resistance from three of Green's regiments, designed to give Taylor the time he needed, arrived about noon at the at the cross-roads which would become the battle of Mansfield.  Lee held on orders from Banks to await the Federal columns coming quickly, but Taylor didn't wait.  Around 4pm, Taylor sent in a vigorous charge by Mouton's division on the left of the Pleasant Hill road.  Walker followed astride and on the right of the road, with Bee's brigade of cavalry on his left.  The Federal front was outnumbered by 2 over to 1 at that point.  Nim's spleadid battery, with it's honorable record on every field from Baton Rouge to Port Hudson, was taken by Walker's men in the first rush.  Even with Emory's quick advance of Cameron's division toward the front to aid Lee, he was only just in time to witness and for a brief interval to check the disaster, but not to retrieve it.  The whole Union line was driven back.  To complete the confusion a wild panic ensued amoug the teamsters of the cavalry train, which was close behind.  This caused the loss of the guns of two fine batteries, the Chicago Mercantile and the 1st Missouri, as well as of many prisoners and wagons.  Emory, following Cameron and plowing through the impossible turmoil, finally arrived within three miles of the battle where he met the routed column.  Immediately forming up, he was hit head-on by Taylor's victorious troops.  Fighting like animals while bringing McMillan up to support Dwight's right, Emory's line held and the retreat was covered.   

After darkness ended the fighting, Banks withdrew to Pleasant Hill and went on the defensive.  Taylor attacked the following afternoon, but failed to dislodge Banks at the battle of Pleasant Hill.  Kirby Smith, responded by foolishly ordering most of Taylor's infantry to Arkansas, which eliminated any possibility of Taylor cutting off Banks and capturing or destroying Porter's fleet.

Unusually low water in the Red River influenced Banks to continue his withdrawal.  He reached Alexandria on April 26th, where shallow water trapped Porter.  After constructing a dam to save the fleet, and setting the town alight, Banks proceeded down river on May 13.  The campaign ended a week later, when the Federals escaped beyond the Atchafalaya River.

The participants of this campaign were:  UNION Forces under Maj. Gen Nathaniel P. Banks; the 13th Army Corps - Ransom consisting of 3rd Division - Cameron; A.J. Smith's detachment from the Army of the Tennessee consisting of the 16th Army Corps - Mower, and the 17th Army Corps - T. Kilby Smith; the 19th Army Corps - Franklin consisting of, 1st Division - Emory & McMillian. 2nd Division - Grover, Artillery Res - Closson, Cavalry Division - Lee; Corps D'Afrique - Dickey.  From the Dept. of Arkansas - Steele with the 3rd Division - Rice, Cavalry Division - Carr and the Independent Cavalry Brigade - Clayton.

CONFEDERATE Forces under Gen. E. Kirby Smith; District of W. Louisiana consisting of Walker's Division, Mouton's Division;  Detachment of Price's Army - Churchill, consisting of Missouri Division - Parsons, and the Arkansas Division - Tappan.  The District of Arkansas from Price, consisting of Fagan's Cavalry Division, Marmaduke's Cavalry, Walker's Division, and the Arkansas Division.

Sources were "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV", published by Castle; and "The Atlas of the Civil War" edited by James M. McPherson, 1994, published by Swanston Publishing Limited.

 

Return to the Main Page