The Red River Campaign Discussion
Part II, The Retreat

This discussion was held in WebAmerica's Civil War Chat Room on the evening of September 7, 1997. It was hosted by Tiger (a handle used by a historian from Louisiana) who's specialty is the Western theater of the American Civil war and by Xan, an editor of Civil War Interactive, an online Civil War magazine. This the second in a two part series dealing with the Red River Campaign..

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:05:39]: okay, last week we left off with the Battle of Pleasant Hill..Banks ordered a withdrawal to Natchitoches and the Port of Grand Ecore...this had the unhappy result of leaving Porter's fleet unprotected up at Springfield Landing...The Federals began to dig around the Port.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:07:38]: General William B Franklin was aghast at this works building going on and came admonished the troops for it, One soldier then asked,Where have you been the past two days sir? A ref. to the two demoralizing fights at Mansfield and P Hill.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:08:50]: This is VERY important! The state of mind of Banks, and his army, would be critical for the rest of this campaign.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:09:23]: "Our supply of coals having given out, we were dependent upon fence rails for fuel. Two hours before sunset the fleet and transports would tie up to the bank, and whole crews and companies of soldiers would range over the country, each man loading himself with two rails, and in an incredibly short time the country would be denuded of fences as far as the eye could see. There was a saying among the Confederates that they should have destroyed the fences and not the cotton. Had they done so, our progress would have been much slower." Cap'n Selfridge.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:10:16]: Hi Scarlet! When Banks learned that Steele had been driven off by Price's troops and would not march to reinforce him, Banks ordered the retreat to continue to Alexandria.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:12:37]: Fearing that Taylor, and his ghost army of 25,000, would cut him off and bring on another major battle, Banks ordered a quick move to Monette's Ferry. That crossing was critical and both sides knew it.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:15:06]: Taylor ordered Brig Gen Hamilton Bee to move to the heights over-looking the crossing, to dig in and to wait. Meanwhile, newly arrived Major Gen John Wharton had assumed command of the Conf cavalry and mounted infantry following Tom Green's death at Blair's.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:17:08]: (jump in anytime Xan with the river operations) Taylor had only 5,800 men with him and another 1,200 under Brig Gen Liddell on the east bank of the Red...didnt matter, Taylor understood the demoralized condition of the Federal army and decided to trap them at Monette's.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:18:29]: Tiger, I need a date on this. Half the time the Army and the Navy had no idea what the other one was doing; it was sheer coincidence that Porter turned back at the same time as Banks because he didn't hear about the defeat at Pleasant Hill for over a day.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:18:55]: Riding with General Polignac's div, Taylor directed his other troops' movements with couriers, Wharton pressed the 16th Corps hard from the rear and Bee welcomed the 19th Corps and cavalry van warmly at the heights.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:20:04]: Okay AJ Smith moved into Natchitoches on April 21st, the federal van reached Monette's late on the 22nd.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:21:24]: Want to catch up Xan? the fight at Blair's was on the 12th ( I think).

Xan at [Sep 7 20:23:37]: Gen. Thomas Green, who Tiger mentioned earlier, is one of the few Confederate partisan/cavalry raiders to be killed by direct action of the US Navy, in the attack on the USS Osage.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:27:10]: Read an account by a US Marine aboard one of the gunboats..seems Banks abandoned Porter and his fleet to their fate..I shall do the same to Xan and press on.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:27:31]: Whoops! I am running behind then. Green was killed attacking Osage on Apr. 12. They did not again attack the fleet until the 25, but in between came the incident with the USS Eastport, which struck a "torpedo" (floating mine) eitht miles below Grand Encore. Her captain, Phelps, was a stubborn fellow who refused to give up his badly damaged ship. He refloated her.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:30:00]: Eastport would make a few more miles and sink again. From the 21st to the 25 he kept this up, very hazardous considering that the retreat of the army had left the riverbank completely unprotected.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:32:02]: Monette's, on April 23rd, was probably the single most crucial day of the campaign, next to Mansfield anyway...here the beaten Banks was prepared to surrender his entire army, thinking he was out-numbered or at least Taylor had close to an equal number...Banks trusted no one and had the 3rd Mass Cav serve as his HQ guard, an officer, (rank unknown) named Ewer of the 3rd Mass recorded the conversation that Banks brought up the possibility of surrendering.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:33:02]: Finally, on April 25, the poor Eastport was more patches than hull, and Phelps ordered her blown up and burned. The rest of the fleet was making for Alexandria as fast as they could (not very) when they were set upon by a force of infantry and 20 pieces of artillery. The Cricket, Porter's flagship, was hit 38 times and lost a third of her crew.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:34:21]: Banks was a pre-war Governor of Mass. and the officers of that regt were friends of the family...also during the retreat the Federals engaged in wanton looting and burning and banks had the house he stayed at one night guarded by the entire regimentt to prevent it from being burned too.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:35:50]: In addition, two pump-boats, Champion No. 3 and No. 5, completely unarmed and unarmored, were subjected to the same fire all on the 26th. No. 3 took a shot in the boiler, which exploded, killing the captain, Stewart, the engineer, and all but 15 of the Negro crew of 200. They were essentially boiled to death.

WT at [Sep 7 20:36:37]: Tiger, do you know the name of the town or the parish that Banks allowed the burning and looting?

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:37:34]: At Monette's Banks' subordinates asked for a chance to break out, several attempts at flanking the Conf to the east, and a foolish head-on charge were all easily repulsed but Brig Gen Henry Birge was ordered to lead his own brigade, Fessenden's brig and a div of the 13th Corps across the Cane River and flank Bee's Conf from the west.

shotgun at [Sep 7 20:37:57]: It might be also well to mention that Banks was a political animal and had friends in very high places. After hosing up the Valley Campaign earlier in his career, an ordinary soldier would have been finished. Not Banks, no sirree. He got another big assignment.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:39:25]: WT, to this point all of this is taking place in Natchitoches parish, towns burned were Grand Ecore, and towns attempted to be burned were Natchitoches and Cloutierville..but many a plantation and farm were also burned.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:41:09]: Nothing much more happened on the Navy side until the fleet was reassembled at Alexandria on the 27th. There they were stuck: the river, which normally rises in the spring, didn't this year. The ships needed 7 foot of depth to get over the rocks. The river was at 3 feet....and falling. Aggravating this, by some accounts, were Confederates on side streams building small dams to keep water from getting into the Red, and canals to lead more out.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:42:10]: Gen Franklin was aghast at the wanton destruction and called the Federals' actions "disgraceful and unbecoming of an army from a civilized nation" he also issued a gen order offering a $500 reward for info leading to the arrest of any soldiers caught.

3rdLa at [Sep 7 20:42:28]: "An Eastern soldier remorsefully reported: the wanton and useless destruction of valuable property has well earned his [Smith's] command a lasting disgrace." Civil War in Louisiana by Winters

Xan at [Sep 7 20:44:06]: WT, Selfridge gives an account of a Mr. Colhoun, who flagged down the Eastport and said he was a brother of US Navy Capt. Colhoun. He said his cotton pile, of 5000 bales, and the gin, worth $30,000, had been burned the night before by the Confederates. A bale went for $400 in New Orleans..they guy had lost $2 million overnight, but not to Banks.

WT at [Sep 7 20:45:06]: Was Smith a subordinate of Gen Banks?

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:46:08]: After Birge crossed the Cane River he was met by Col. George Baylor's Arizona Cavalry brig. this brig was 90% Texas troops but had been so named anticipating a move into arizona a little earlier in the war anyway Baylor's men fought fiercly and Birge eased along, afraid to press the attack.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:46:39]: To the rescue of the fleet came Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, chief engineer of the 19th Corps (actually a part of Sherman's army on detached duty for the RRE. Sherman was anxious to get them back, one reason for haste. )

Xan at [Sep 7 20:48:06]: Bailey had been a lumberman in Wisconsin before the war and knew that many of the Union men had lumbering backgrounds. He set out to raise the river by building a dam below the falls..a project which had been tried in peacetime and failed.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:48:06]: WT, AJ Smith, commanding his own 16th Corps and the div of the 17th Corps belonged to Sherman's Army of the West but were on loan for this campaign...but yes, Smith was subordinate to Banks.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:50:39]: It took ten days, during which time the side armor was stripped from the ironclads and taken upriver and dropped in a deep hole. Also the lighter guns, a dozen 32 ounders, were taken off to lighten the ships.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:51:15]: Baylor withdrew slowly and sent to Bee for help only Col Chisum's bttn of Texas cav would arrive to lengthen Baylor's line....once the heretofore fearless Birge rode ahead of his lines to scout and returned moments later, hatless and in a hurry..he shouted as he raced to the rear "It's no good boys!" this did not have the best effect on the average Federal soldier.

WT at [Sep 7 20:51:33]: That helps to explain somewhat the reason for Sherman burning Georgia during the march to the sea. He commanded a bunch of pyromaniacs sounds like.

Xan at [Sep 7 20:53:14]: Finally the river seemed high enough (there were incredible complications during all this, but this is the short version!) they ran ropes from each ship to the shore and "the united force of three thousand men, enlivened with a band of music, dragged them over the bottom till they floated in the deeper water below [the dam]".

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:53:51]: luckily for Banks and his army, Col Friske, of the 1st La US took control of the situation, he shouted to the pinned down Federals "Stand up damn you! stand up like men!" with a shout the Union lines surged forward and Baylor knew his time was short..instead of sending Baylor the needed reinforcements..Bee ordered a retreat and Taylor's trap had been opened.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:55:19]: WT, you are right and Taylor makes mention of that very fact in his memoirs, Sherman trained Smith's men! what else would you expect?

Xan at [Sep 7 20:58:10]: As the boats got up steam to scram, Selfridge went back to destroy the 32-pounders that had been left behind. Just as they got them blown up, a Rebel cavalry contingent came up and fired a volley..without effect.

Tiger at [Sep 7 20:58:23]: we, of course, will never know but many a historian thinks had Bee held on at the heights Banks would have surrendered his army the following day...the entire Fed army was sitting in a shallow valley, 3 miles long by 1 mile wide and the Conf were busy all night moving artlliery into position..it woulda been mighty hot for Banks' men come the next day , but alas, the crossing had been forced and Banks escaped.

3rdLa at [Sep 7 21:02:47]: A furious Taylor "blamed", "censored", "criticized", and "condemned" General Hamilton Bee for losing Monett's Crossing and held him responsible for allowing Banks to escape. Taylor stated that General Bee "displayed great personal gallantry, but no generalship."

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:02:51]: Taylor was furious! and even more so when Bee moved aside and allowed Banks to pass..Taylor wanted Bee to cont. to retire slowly in front..the next bottle neck loomed at Rapides Bayou crossing and McNutt's Hill, but Fed cavalry raced ahead and secured those two crucial spots..Banks would reach Alexandria, reinforcements, 2 fresh div of inf, and safety.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:03:12]: Okay, Tiger, Banks has escaped, the Fleet has escaped..time for a break and questions?

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:05:05]: any questions before Banks resumes his retreat? the army would remain in Alex. from April 25 - May 13, due mostly to a lil project building a dam ...Xan, take it away!

Xan at [Sep 7 21:07:02]: Er, Tiger, I was kinda interspersing the dam story with your tale of the army...did it get too mixed up?

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:09:30]: No, just thought if ya had more to add, now was a good time.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:11:36]: I do think it's crucial to understand just how close Banks came to surrendering and the ramifications of that: there'd been no dam to release the trapped ships, is one.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:13:06]: If there are no Q's, I will press on with the narrative....last chance, for now..will of course entertain Q's later.

3rdLa at [Sep 7 21:13:29]: Hey Tiger, Ya'll doing great, team work, land and sea, *opening last Zima*

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:15:07]: Okay, once the fleet passed the dam the army began moving again too, and the looting and burning cont as well, Alexandria was burned to the ground! Taylor had moved around to the south of Banks during that time and now waited on the grass prairies known as Avoyelles.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:15:38]: Okay, there was a little incident WHILE the dam was being built... I don't have the exact date, but the small gunboats 'Signal' and 'Covington', at Dunns Bayou below Alexandria, were escorting the quartermaster's boat 'Warner'. A Confederate unit (identity unknown..Selfridge didn't stop to check their ID's!) had passed around the army at Alexandria with 6000 men and 25 pieces of artillery. The gunboats fought like hell for five hours, with their steampipes cut and boilers leaking. Finally Lt. Lord landed 'Covington' on the far bank, offloaded his crew and set fire to his ship. 'Signal' had too many wounded to get away and fell into the hands of the Rebels, who took her guns and sunk her as an obstruction. Most of the guns, Porter claimed, which sank the Union ships were captured from the Union army at Pleasant Hill!

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:17:19]: Conf cavalry harried every step the fed army made and woe be the federal straggler! they were quickly taken prisoner...Banks lost some 60 wagons in a single cav raid while crossing the open prairie.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:19:20]: according to Taylor there were no more than 4 guns and 200 muskets that did that damage..remember Taylor only had 5,800 men of all arms with him! Liddell's command of 1,200 was operating on the opposite bank.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:20:54]: I think Selfridge is indicative of the mind-set of the entire federal side, army and navy, and why Taylor's meager force was able to chase them out of that part of the state.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:22:46]: Just as a little background on the size of the Naval operation here: there were 13 full-sized ironclads (one lost, 'Eastport'); four tinclads (the lighter armor would stop musket but not artillery fire); six other armed warships; and (number unknown) other ships including pump-boats, tugs, tenders and coal ships (two of which were actually BUILT INTO the dam at Alexandria and lost)

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:24:42]: On May 16th the ever-bold Taylor decided to make a stand, he formed his tiny army into line centering on Mansura...the federal rank and file, tiring of the retreat begged for a chance to redeem itself..so Banks allowed the entire army to deploy and advance on Mansura....cuz of the open prairie the Federals were able to form massive, unobstructed battle lines, and with bands playing and banners snapping in the breeze, over 35,000 union troops advanced..but it was Smith's command, 16th , 17th corps inf and some cavalry that reached Taylor first and compelled him to withdraw.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:24:58]: Tiger, his was the best first-hand account I could find (Selfridge I mean.) He does not go to any lengths to puff up what was done...I'm saving his analysis for the end. I'm also sure that many of his assumtions about opposing forces were wildly inaccurate...but he didn't know that at the time!

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:26:17]: One Iowa soldier later wrote of the Mansura affair that it was "grand and splendid, like a dress parade."

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:28:56]: I understand that Xan,,I was just pointing out how less than 6,000 Conf could chase such a huge army and navy off...many folks have trouble understanding this! I can not tell you how many times people have questioned me with, "Well, why didnt Banks just crush Taylor's small army?" yes, why not indeed...that's the point.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:31:16]: but Taylor was tenacious to a fault and cont the pursuit- on May 18th Brig Gen Joseph Mower was ordered to hold the crossing at Yellow Bayou with his div of inf and a brig of cavalry..Mower was a fighter and wanted a chance at Taylor...he crossed the bayou and moved out to engage Taylor.

shotgun at [Sep 7 21:31:46]: I 'spect that the reason Banks didn't crush Taylor was the same reason he didn't crush Jackson in the Valley. He was a politican not a soldier.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:32:19]: Actually, for a JANFU, this was a fairly well-run one. Both sides (Fed. army and navy) spent more time fighting the Confederates than each other. ;)

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:33:48]: the final battle of the Red River campaign began when Mower's van stumbled into the 18th La inf resting in some trees..how ironic that it was also the 18th La that started the fight at Mansfield on April 8th..but the fighting here was extremely close and fierce..the rest of Gray's brigade maneuvered thru a dry ditch and flanked the federals....Mower was compelled to fall back.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:37:13]: Taylor, who was busy planning his own offensive move, was surprised by the sound of a battle suddenly looming up from his line..by the time Taylor was able to get a grasp of the situation Mower was gone and half of Taylor's force in eager pursuit.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:37:13]: Last major Navy action was the crossing of the Atchafalaya on May 16th. Once again Bailey gets the credit for getting the Army across...on a bridge of steamboats! Contemplate the joys of attaching boats literally nose to stern across an expanse of 600-700 yards. It took till the 19th but they got 'em all across.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:38:28]: Taylor issued orders as best he could and chased after the sound of the battle that would eventually move some three miles back to the bayou...there Mower dug in and waited.

3rdLa at [Sep 7 21:40:28]: Just have to give the game ball to ol' Joe Bailey, even if he was on the losing side.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:41:38]: Bailey got better than that, 3rd LA but that's part of the wrapup..;)

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:44:05]: "with their blood up" Taylor knew there was nothing to do but allow the attack to cont...unfortuantely for the Conf, Mower's men were veterans and held their ground along the bayou..attack after attack was repulsed and yet Taylor's men surged ahead again, night would fall and still the fighting cont. once a regt of Tex Cav forced a crossing across the bayou and flanked the Fed line but in the darkness their aim was not true..the cresecent regt found the bayou and the Fed line, only 20 yards away and an incredible point blank exchange of musketry rocked the air...but Taylor could not force a tactical win and called off the attacks..it was over.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:46:49]: In the aftermath of Yellow Bayou, 350 fed cas. about 650 Conf cas...Taylor was indignant as he watched Banks make good his escape...he would blame Kirby-Smith for it.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:49:29]: okay, wrap-up time! xan, shall you go first?

Xan at [Sep 7 21:51:35]: "On the 21st of May the squadron and transports reached the Mississippi. And thus ended the Red River expedition, one of the most humiliating and disastrous that had to be recorded during the war." Selfridge was under no impression that this was anything other than an utter rout. He praised every man under him that he could for the bravery they showed, but he knew they got whupped.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:52:36]: Just one plug, the Museum of Historic Natchitoches, a non-profit org, that helped with the map sells a video on the Red River camp as a fund raiser. You can contact them at :Museum of Historic Natchitoches 840 Washington Natch, La 71457 ph: 318-357-0070 (still the only video about this campaign)

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:55:30]: The Red River Campaign would prove to be the last major victory of the war for the South,,that is an entire campaign, not just a battle..but it fell short of what was needed to change the outcome of the war...Taylor touches on this in great detail in his Destruction and Reconstruction book.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:56:19]: Lt. Col. Bailey was made a major general. He was awarded a Thanks of Congress citation and was given a beautiful presentation sword by Admiral Porter personally. A nice touch, I thought! ;)

3rdLa at [Sep 7 21:57:24]: Well deserved for sure.

LB at [Sep 7 21:58:23]: *removes his hat, bows, and passes it in a long sweeping arch to Xan and Tiger* Good Job.

Xan at [Sep 7 21:58:41]: I should also point out that the Navy part of this was commanded by Admiral Porter in person. He durn near got his butt shot off doing it, and personally took over piloting his flagship 'Cricket' during a very nasty battle when the regular pilot was wounded.

Tiger at [Sep 7 21:59:55]: Taylor was incredible too, I think, he was out-numbered thru out the campaign but never shied away from a fight..he was bold, daring, tireless, and snatched a victory, albeit a shallow one, from the jaws of certain defeat.

WT at [Sep 7 22:00:39]: I wish that I had gotten in on the very beginning of the discussion of the Red River Campaign. Was that last Sunday night?

3rdLa at [Sep 7 22:01:53]: I thought John D. >Winters summed up the Red River Campaign well.......

"....The failure of the Red River Campaign could largely be laid at Bank's door, but there were many who shared in this failure. Seward, desiring a toe hold in Texas, had convinced both Lincoln and Halleck that inestimable diplomatic advantages over French-held Mexico would be gained. Halleck, backed up by Sherman and joined by Porter, had picked the Red River route over Bank's protest. At Grand Encore, Banks had failed to make proper reconnaissance to find a river road that would give him naval protection. Instead he struck out inland and moved into Taylors trap at Sabine Crossroads. The long interior march through the pine barrens had necessitated long supply trains. Franklin, in overall command, had been wrong in insisting that the wagon train remain with the cavalry in front of the infantry. Lee's cavalry, fairly weak at best, should not have been allowed infantry reinforcements, which helped to bring on the battle of Mansfield. Neither Banks nor Franklin had espected Taylor to make a stand short of Shreveport since he had consistently retreated up to that point. They erred in allowing the infantry columns to become so widely separated, forcing the Federal army to fight in details and in so doing meet defeat. The retreat from Pleasant HIll to Grand Ecore was a serious error on Bank's part, although it was endorsed by most of his commanders. A drive against Taylor demoralized forces after Pleasant Hill would have led him into Shreveport. Banks's military ineptitude, /steele's case if the "slows" and hisfailure to co-operate with Banks, the falling river, the difficulty of sending supplies for great distances, Porter's anxiety for the safety of his fleet, the imminent departure of Smith's troops--all of these things added to the final failure. Banks had little or no control over some of these factors, but he failed to do all that he could have done. Porter, Franklin, A.J. Smith, and many of the men held Banks, the political general, entirely responsible for the failure of the campaign. "

Xan at [Sep 7 22:02:49]: LB! You sat so quietly I didn't know you were here. We thank you...alas, after the war Gen. Bailey had no better sense than to move to Missouri. He was elected sheriff and one day arrested a couple of bushwackers. (This was in 1868 or 69 as I recall) They made bail with suspicious haste and, next time Bailey headed out of town, they shot him dead. RIP.

Tiger at [Sep 7 22:04:21]: and in fairness, while unfit for command Banks was no coward he was conspiciuous on the battlefield at Mansfield imploring his men to make a stand...perhaps he saw his entire future political career racind past him in the faces of those frightened federal soldiers...but he was no coward and did expose himself to enemy fire thru out the campaign.

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