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The Red River Campaign
March 10 to May 22, 1864
as described by Mark Mayo Boatner III
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a description of the Red River Campaign as written by Mark Mayo Boatner (1921 - 2006), an American historian, in his book The Civil War Dictionary, published by Vintage, 1991.

It should be noted that the 16th Ohio did not join this campaign, a failed mission lead by General Nathaniel Banks, until April 26, 1864, when Banks forces were in full retreat back down the Red River, fleeing the attacking Confederate General Richard Taylor. The 16th Ohio, with other elements of the 13th Army Corps, had been pulled from their occupation along the Texas coast, to reinforce Banks and,

Overview Of The RED RIVER CAMPAIGN OF 1864 (10 Mar.-22 May '64).

Because of the French threat (Maximilian) in Mexico, Lincoln wanted military operations undertaken early in 1864 to raise the Federal flag over some part of Tex. Although Grant, Sherman, and Banks were opposed, a line of operations up the Red River was finally prescribed. (Halleck favored it.) Banks, as senior department commander (Gulf), was directed in Jan.'64 to work out a joint operation with the other two department commanders, Sherman (Miss.) and Frederick Steele (Ark.).

As finally agreed, Banks was to move up Bayou Teche with 17,000 troops and link up at Alexandria on 17 Mar. with 10,000 Sherman would send up the Red River. Steele was to advance south from Little Rock with 15,000 and join Banks at Alexandria, Natchitoches, or Shreveport, as seemed best. (As it turned out, Steele was so late starting that he played no part in the operations.)

To oppose this concentric advance Kirby Smith had 30,000 troops in his Trans-Miss. Dept. that were divided into three equal groups: T. H. Holmes was near Camden, Ark.; Magruder was along the Tex. coast; and Richard Taylor was in La. Taylor's forces were disposed as follows: J. G. Walker's division of three brigades and with three attached cavalry companies was located around Marksville, with covering forces in the direction of Simsport and 200 men detached to reinforce the artillery garrison of Fort De Russy. Mouton's newly-created division of two brigades (Henry Gray and Polignac) was posted below Alexandria when Taylor learned of the Federal advance. Vincent's 2d La. Cav. was on the Teche around Vermillionville, except for the three companies with Walker.

The task force Sherman sent to Banks was composed of the division of J. A. Mower, W. F. Lynch, and T. Kilby Smith. A. J. Smith commanded this 10,000-man provisional organization, which is variously referred to in accounts as the detachment from the Army of the Tennessee, XVI and XVII Corps, etc. It will be called A. J. Smith's corps or command in the following narrative.

On 10 Mar. A. J. Smith's command embarked at Vicksburg and was escorted into the Red River by Admiral Porter with the most formidable force that had ever been collected in western waters: 13 ironclads and seven light draught gunboats (B.&L., IV, 362). After leaving Vicksburg Smith learned that Banks had not departed on schedule,and also that the Red River was obstructed at Fort De Russy. The Federals landed at Simsport and captured the partially-completed Fort DeRussy, 14 Mar., from the land side with little difficulty. About 250 prisoners were taken and Walker's three cavalry companies were cut off, temporarily depriving him of their reconnaissance. On 18 Mar. A. J. Smith entered Alexandria (population: 600) without opposition, as Taylor retreated up the Red River. Vincent's 2d La. Cav. joined Taylor on the 19th and was sent toward Alexandria. The next two days Vincent skirmished briskly with the Federal advance guard, and he was reinforced with Edgar's battery of light artillery. The night of 21 Mar., which was cold and rainy, A. J. Mower led the brigades of Hubbard and Hill (2 and 3, 1, XVI) with Lucas' cavalry brigade and the 9th Ind. Btry. in an envelopment that surprised and captured about 250 men and Edgar's four guns (O.R., 1, XXXIV, 1, 225 [sketch]-all the following O.R. references pertain to this volume). This action is known as Henderson's Hill (or Bayou Rapides), 21 Mar. '64.

At Natchitoches, Taylor halted to await the reinforcements Kirby Smith had ordered from Tex. (a cavalry division) and Ark. (two infantry divisions).

On 24 Mar. Banks arrived at Alexandria in person, and two days later the contingent from the Dept. of the Gulf reached that area. His column was composed of Ransom's XIII Corps (3d Div. of R. A. Cameron, and 4th Div. of W. J. Landram); W. B. Franklin's XIX Corps (lst and 2d divisions of W. W. Emory and Cuvier Grover); Albert Lee's cavalry division; and four infantry regiments of Negro troops (75rd, 75th, 84th, and 92nd U.S.C.T.). There were 13 batteries of artillery with the Gulf troops, and none with A. J. Smith's corps. All of the infantry divisions had only two brigades, with the exception of Lynch's and Emory's, which had three each.

Banks found his further passage endangered by low water that made it only barely possible for the fleet to pass the double rapids just above Alexandria. He also learned that A. J. Smith's contingent would have to be returned no later than 15 Apr. to participate in the Atlanta campaign. Despite these restrictions and his slow start, Banks ordered an advance on Shreveport.

Leaving Grover's division at Alexandria, Banks reached Natchitoches 2-3 April. There was a minor cavalry skirmish at Crump's Hill (Piney Woods), 2 Apr. He left this place on the 6th with all but Kilby Smith's division. The latter was to be moved by water-20 transports escorted by Adm. Porter with a force of six naval vessels-and to rendezvous with the land column within three days at Springfield Landing, 110 miles by river below Shreveport. Taylor continued his retreat to Pleasant Hill, where he was joined by Thomas Green's cavalry from Tex. The latter was put in command of a division formed of the brigades of Bee, Major, and Bagby, and given the rear-guard mission. Taylor then fell back to the vicinity of Mansfield, where he was within 20 miles of the two divisions of Churchill (Parsons and Tappan) that had been sent down from Ark.

At Wilson's Plantation (Farm) on 7 Apr. a spirited cavalry clash resulted in Albert Lee's being reinforced the next morning by Landram's infantry division.
Banks expected his advance guard to clear the way and ordered his other troops into bivouac. Cameron and Emory were camped near Pleasant Hill around noon (8 Apr.). The Confederate cavalry was driven to Sabine Cross Roads, a strategic communications hub within three miles of Mansfield. Here Taylor had organized a defensive position with the infantry divisions of Walker and Mouton, and Bee's cavalry. Although neither commander had all his forces available and neither intended to fight a major action here, a general engagement was brought on by Mouton's division late in the day. This was the battle of Sabine Cross Roads, 8 Apr. The Federals were routed with a loss of 2,500 prisoners and much materiel. Mouton was killed (succeeded by Polignac). Ransom was wounded and succeeded by Cameron; Franklin was wounded but retained command.

That night Banks withdrew his forward divisions to a line formed by Emory's division and two divisions of A. J. Smith's. Here was fought the battle of Pleasant Hill, 9 Apr., in which Taylor's attack was repulsed with heavy loss. Walker (C.S.A.) was wounded.

Kirby Smith reached the battlefield and found Taylor's army so demoralized that he ordered a retreat to Mansfield. The following morning, however, be found that Banks had withdrawn. He decided, therefore, to leave Taylor with Polignac's division and the cavalry (total 5,200) to harass Banks's withdrawal, and to return to Shreveport with Walker and Churchill and operate against Frederick Steele.

Banks abandoned his attempt to capture Shreveport since he could expect no assistance from Steele, and since the return of A. J. Smith's corps was already overdue.

At Grand Ecore, near Natchitoches, Banks was rejoined on 15 Apr. by the Porter-Kilby Smith force. The latter had gotten 30 miles up the river before being stopped on the 10th by an obstruction. At Blair's Landing (also called Pleasant Hill Landing), on the 12th, the naval expedition was attacked by Thomas Green's cavalry (750 horses and two batteries, according to Taylor, p. 215). The Confederates broke off the engagement after inflicting seven casualties on the gunboats and 50 on the transports and suffering scarcely a casualty except the death of General Green [killed], an irreparable one.

Banks left Grand Ecore the night of 21 Apr. and marched 32 miles to Cloutiersville without a halt. With Wm. Steele's brigade, Wharton drove the Federal rear guard from Natchitoches, took some prisoners, and continued the pursuit beyond Cloutiersville. Bee's cavalry was in a position at Monett's Bluff, about six miles due south of Cloutiersville, to block the Federal retreat while Wharton and Polignac attacked their rear. Bee was, however, driven off by a frontal attack by Emory and an envelopment by Birge from the west (Taylor, 220; O.R., 1, XXXIV, I, 233). This latter action is known by the names of Monett's Bluff (or Ferry), Cane River Crossing, and Cloutiersville. (Taylor's spelling is Monette.)

Low water continued to impede Porter's struggles to get his fleet down the river. The Eastport, largest of the ironclads, struck a mine (torpedo) eight miles below Grand Ecore and settled on the bottom. She was raised and gotten another 40 miles downstream before grounding again. After being once more floated free, again she was stopped by obstructions in the river. Adm. Porter had boarded the light draught Cricket and gone to Alexandria to bring back two pump boats to aid in saving the Eastport. However, when he returned with these, the Champion 3 and 5, the leak could not be found. When the ironclad grounded again she had to be destroyed (26 Apr.). Meanwhile, a blocking position had been established farther downstream at the junction of the Cane and Red rivers. Here Col. J. H. Caudle of Polignac's division with Capt. Florian Cornay's four-gun battery attacked this last element of Porter's fleet as it made its way toward Alexandria. Nineteen shells went crashing through the Cricket she was under fire she was struck thirty eight times and lost twelve killed and nineteen wounded and during the five minutes out of a crew of fifty, says the account in Battles and Leaders (IV, 364). The Juliet was nearly as badly hurt, with 15 casualties, but got under a bank and managed to turn back upstream. The Champion 3 exploded after being hit in the boiler and an estimated 200 of its Negro crewmen (runaway slaves) were scalded to death. The Fort Hindman remained upstream. The Cricket, aground and on fire, got free and escaped about dark. The next day the Hindman ran the batteries successfully, but the Champion 5 was sunk in the attempt. Taylor, in his memoirs, quotes Porter's report that he had been engaged by a large number of cannon, eighteen in all, every shot of which struck this vessel [Cricket].Taylor observes This is high testimony to the fighting capacity of two hundred riflemen and four guns. . . .

Banks had reached Alexandria on 25 Apr., where he found that the water had gone down so that the fleet could not pass the double rapids. At this point appeared the deus ex machina in the person of Colonel Joseph Bailey . . . In one of the most imaginative engineering feats of military history, BAILEY, using a lumberman's technique, raised the water level by a series of wing dams, and the fleet completed its passage of the obstacle on 13 May.

While this engineering project was going on, Taylor split his small force (5,200) to block the Red River below Alexandria while also maintaining pressure on Banks, who had to remain in the latter town to protect the fleet.

Major's brigade of about 1,000 cavalry was sent to Davide's Ferry (Snaggy Point), about 13 air line miles below Alexandria (25 miles by the river road) and three miles above Fort De Russy. Wm. Steele's cavalry (1,000) covered the river and Rapides roads to the north and west of Alexandria; Bagby's cavalry (1,000) covered the Boeuf road to the south; Polignac's 1,200 infantry were on the Boeuf road within supporting distance of Major and Bagby. Taylor says that Liddell's 700 newly-organized troopers and four guns were of little value. In a series of actions known collectively as ALEXANDRIA, La., 1-8 May, the Confederates harassed Banks's force, destroyed five Federal boats by "cavalry action," and effectively blocked the Red River during the period 4-13 May.

On 13 May Porter and Banks resumed their retreat from Alexandria. There were skirmishes at Wilson's Landing and Avoyelles (or Marksville) Prairie on the 14th and 15th. At Mansura, 16 May, the Federals had to fight their way through a Confederate position. Meanwhile, Liddell's cavalry was harrying Porter from the north bank of the river. At Yellow Bayou (Bayou de Glaize), 18 May, there was a loss of 267 Federals and 452 Confederates in the final action of the campaign, and in the last battle that took place in the Trans-Miss. region. (This action is known also as Old Oaks or Norwood Plantation.)

While this final rear-guard action was taking place, Joseph BaiIey's engineering skills were once more called on to solve the problem of bridging the 600 yard-wide Atchafalaya River at Simsport without pontoons or the usual engineer field equipment. Using steamers, he improvised a bridge over which Banks's wagon trains passed the afternoon of the 19th and the troops the next day (O.R., Banks's report). On 21-22 May A. J. Smith's corps embarked for Vicksburg, and on the 26th the rest of Banks's command reached Donaldsonville, La.

On both sides this unhappy campaign of the Red River raised a great and bitter crop of quarrels. Taylor was relieved by Kirby Smith, as the result of an angry correspondence; Banks was overslaughed, and Franklin quit the department in disgust; A. J. Smith departed more in anger than in sorrow; while between the admiral and the general commanding recriminations were exchanged in language well up to the limits of 'parliamentary' privilege, wrote a Federal officer in Battles and Leaders (IV, 361). One of the secondary purposes of the expedition was to open rich sugar and cotton country, and there was considerable suspicion of a great cotton speculation. On 14 Mar. Kirby Smith ordered the burning of an estimated 150,000 bales of cotton, then valued at $60,000,000. Banks was relieved of command in May; his campaign became a subject of a congressional investigation and official censure.

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