April 24, 1864: Sherman asks Steele what’s going on

Gen.  Frederick Steele

Sherman can’t tell what’s happening in Arkansas and Louisiana, but he wants Steele to take charge in the far west.


Nashville, Tenn., April 24, 1864.

Major General STEELE,

Commanding, Red River:

GENERAL: My latest dates from your quarter are to April 14, when General Banks’ army had fallen back to Grand Ecore, where a part of Admiral Porter’s fleet was threatened by low water. It is utterly impossible for me to give you any instructions from here, without the knowledge of events since April 14. All I can now say is that if Shreveport has been taken and destroyed, all you should attempt is to garrison Alexandria, in connection with the gun-boats, and strengthen your line on the Arkansas. Smith’s command is needed at Memphis and here as soon as it can possibly be spared. Your command has been extended over the Indian Territory and General Blunt is sent back to Kansas. I have repeatedly urged that all the territory west of the Mississippi be united in one command, embracing, of course, Kansas and Missouri, so that the officer may control all the resources of that region. I have no means of knowing what troops are in Missouri, Kansas, the Indian Territory, or even Arkansas, my returns are so incomplete. All these should be under one commander, but as it is you must do the best you can with the resources at your command. All our armies are much weaker than the public suppose, and the veterans return slowly, protracting their leaves too long. Write me more fully and frequently.

I am, with respect,


Major-General, Commanding.

Posted in Frederick Steele, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 23, 1864: Sherman to Halleck

General William Tecumseh Sherman

While Sherman seems to be holding out some hope to Grant that Banks and Steele might combine forces and accomplish something, his dispatch to Halleck just sounds disgusted.

Official Records:

NASHVILLE, TENN., April 23, 1864-12 midnight.
(Received 2.45 a. m., 24th.)
Lieutenant-General GRANT:

General Corse says that General Banks and the fleet would again start for Shreveport to cover Steele’s advance. I will send a message round by Fort Smith, but have no doubt ere this he knows every-thing. By the 14th instant he must have been near Red River.



Nashville, Tenn., April 23, 1864.
Major-General HALLECK:
Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: I send you herewith official copies of letters this moment received from General Banks and Admiral Porter.* General Corse is here, having just come from Grand Ecore. He describes the battle more satisfactorily than I had it before. I will not express an opinion, but Banks had 17,000 men and A. J. Smith 10,000, and I do think that force well handled should have whipped Kirby Smith. General Corse says that General Banks ordered a retreat from the battle-field, which was near Mansfield, back to Grand Ecore, near 35 miles, that, too, when the enemy was also retreating. Our wounded, dead, and trains were left on the field. Of course that is defeat. I would not ask General Banks to send away Smith’s command under these circumstances, but I would ask him to renew his attack, which might have been made a success. I don’t hear of Steele since he was at Camden. The whole move has been too slow for complete success. General Corse speaks of all the troops being demoralized except those of A. J. Smith. I send these papers for the information of the War Department and of General Grant.

I am, &c.,
Major-General, Commanding.

Posted in Frederick Steele, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 22, 1864: What’s Sherman up to?

Sherman in Atlanta, 1864

The Richmond Daily Dispatch reports that Sherman is cutting loose from his base — an act of desperation, they say — and heading perhaps for Mobile, perhaps some places in Georgia.

The situation in Mississippi.

It is the general impression that Sherman will have something else to do before marching direct on Mobile. His expedition may first strike the Tombigbee at Demopolis and capture Selma and Montgomery; but the final point is the Gulf city. The AtlantaAppeal, speaking of the situation, says:

The late movement of the enemy in Mississippi, whether regarded as a military enterprise, a strategic policy, or a coup de guerre, is certainly the most extraordinary of the war. For an army of thirty or forty thousand men to cut itself loose from its base, like a balloon from its moorings, and plunge into the depths of an unexplored country, confronting the hazards not only of resistance but of exhaustion and starvation, is a mark of boldness, not to say of extreme recklessness, and is but an additional evidence of the extremities to which the enemy is driven in order that an end may be accomplished or a point carried.

There can scarcely be a doubt, we presume, but that the capture of Mobile is the ultimate aim and purpose of this enterprise, whatever may be its present purposes, and, so far, from all we have yet learned, the enemy have met with but few obstacles to oppose his advance. His movements have been so rapid and eccentric that our Generals seemed to be baffled in their efforts at resistance, not knowing where to make a stand or what points to defend.

One plausible supposition is, that if Mobile be not really the objective points of this movement, it is their purpose to push our army back into Eastern Mississippi and Alabama, thereby securing the uninterrupted possession of the railroad from New Orleans to Memphis, and redeeming the large belt of cotton-growing country lying between that road and the Mississippi river. This supposition would seem to receive strength from the fact that the Federal force is said to have divided at Morton, one column going North and the other South. By a light detour, these columns would again strike the railroad, the one at canton and the other at Hazlehurst or Brookhaven, while at the same time the Vicksburg and Jackson road is being rapidly repaired to the latter place.

Several objects would be accomplished by the consummation of a design of this sort. In the first place, the navigation of the river would be freed from the interruption of our troops on this side, and in the second, the planters, assured of future tranquillity, might be induced to plant largely of cotton, which is now worth more than gold to the Yankees, while a new base or bases would be secured from which to commence operations when the spring shall have fairly opened.

We are loth to believe that the enemy is so reckless as to project an overland expedition from Vicksburg against Mobile at this season of the year. Their policy hitherto has been to advance by gradual approaches, and so we think it will be in this instance. The distance to travel, the dangers to hazard, and the obstacles to overcome, are too many and great to justify such a belief. But a few days at most must develop the plans and purposes of the foe, when we shall be enabled to pass a more correct judgment upon his conduct.

We find the following items in the Mississippi papers:

The State archives of Mississippi are being removed to Selma, Ala.

Nothing has been heard of a column of fifteen thousand, promised by the Yankees papers, to advance from Port Hudson; neither has there been any force landed at Pascagoula as was expected.

The cars on the Mobile and Ohio railroad do not go above Citronelli.

Some of our exchanges think Mobile is the place Sherman intends to attack, others think he intends to move on Columbus, Macon and Demopolis.–From Demopils they say the Federal would advance on Tuscaloosa and Selma, with the purpose of co-operating with a column from Huntsville.

The Federal were known to be in the vicinity of Decatur, Newton county, Miss., in force, on Saturdayevening, and Confederate troops in their front.

Posted in Georgia, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 21, 1864: More bad news from the Red River

Edwin M. Stanton
Edwin Stanton


The extent of the blunder on the Red River is starting to become apparent, as Stanton and Grant learn that Sherman’s troops aren’t coming back anytime soon, and the low water has trapped the gunboats.

Official Records:

CAIRO, ILL., April 21, 1864 – 7 p. m.
(Received 11 p. m.)
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:

General Corse, who was sent by General Sherman to recall General A. J. Smith’s command from Red River, has returned. Our loss is 4,000 men, 16 guns, and over 200 wagons. Banks returned to Grand Ecore, badly injured. He refused to return Smith’s command. The naval force is caught in low water, with shoals above and below.

(Copy to General Grant.)

Posted in Edwin M. Stanton, Louisiana, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant | Leave a comment

April 20, 1864: Banks still retreating.

Ulysses S. Grant

Stanton informs Grant more about Banks’ troubles, and Banks continues to retreat.

Official Records:

April 20, 1864 – 10.35 a. m.
Lieutenant-General GRANT, Culpeper:

Detailed telegraphic reports from Chicago, which you will see in this morning’s Chronicle, represent General Stone to have been in command as chief of Banks’ staff at the time of Banks’ disaster, and that the operations were against the remonstrance of General Ransom,, who is badly wounded.



Grand Ecore, La., April 20, 1864.

1. The troops of his command, on receiving final orders to march, which will be issued hereafter, will move under the control and direction of Major General W. B. Franklin, commanding Nineteenth Army Corps, & c. The rear will be brought up by troops of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps, commanded by Brigadier General A. J. Smith. The requirements of circular letters of yesterday’s date as to rations and forage, the readiness of the troops, trains, & c., to march at an hour’s notice, will be strictly enforced.

* * * * * * *

By command of Major-General Banks:
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Grand Ecore, April 20, 1864.
Brigadier General A. J. SMITH,
Commanding Detachment Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps:

The commanding general directs that you move at 12 o’clock to-day, with your entire force of infantry and artillery to Natchitoches.
You are directed to take position to repel any attack of the enemy. The force here will be ready to support you in case you meet any considerable force of the enemy. Your pickets should connect with those already established.
I am, general, your obedient servant,

Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.

P. S. – You will please keep these headquarters fully informed of the condition, force, and movements of the enemy in your front on your march and after you assume position.

Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.

Posted in Arkansas, Edwin M. Stanton, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant | Leave a comment

April 19, 1864: Runaways

Runaway Slave

As I’ve noted before, I usually skip over the Richmond Daily Dispatch’s “runaways” section, which tends to be the same every day. Once in a while I see an ad that is particularly poignant. In this case, there are a couple of points. The first ad isn’t that unusual; frequently slave catchers were directed to look for runaways to return to the wives and children that had been sold away from them. I’m always a little surprised that the slaveowners don’t seem to view that as evidence of their “property”s humanity. But the noteworthy ad today is the one for Richard Turner’s terrier, sandwiched between ads for a 30-year-old woman named Maria and a 25-year-old man named John.

Two hundred Dollars reward.

–Ran away from the subscriber on the night of Wednesday, the 1st, my man Joe, 35 or 40 years old, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, of dark brown or black color, face somewhat speckled, and of slow speech, had on a suit of gray, , an overcoat, a blue blanket usually worn over the shoulders, and a low black silk hat. He was purchased on the of February last of A Y Headley, near Heath county, Va., where he has a wife and children.

I will pay the above reward if he is delivered to me at Richmond.

E. B. Cook,
No. 70 Main street


25 Dollars reward
–Ranaway from the subscriber a dark mulatto boy, named Bartlette. Said boy is about 14 years old, thick set, full face, hair cut short, and quick when spoken to. His belongs to Mr. Leonard Crump, of New Kent and he may be trying to make his way there. may be lurking about town. I will give the above reward if delivered to me, at Capt. Lamkin’s and 26th sts, or where I can get him.
John J Chadick.


Stop the Runaways–$1000 reward
–Ran away from the subscriber, on the 7th inst, the viz:
George, a man about 27 years old, black, about 5 feet 10 or 11 inches high.
Hob of color, very likely, about 17 years old, and about 5 feet9 inches high.
Bob. copper color, 19 years old, and about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high.
Ellis, a yellow boy, about 17 years old, straight black hair, about 5 feet8 inches high.
Jacob, of dark color, 5 feet 7 to 8 inches high and about 17 years old.

It is supposed these negroes are making their way to the Yankees, having been last seen going in the direction of Frederick’s Hall depot.

The above reward will be paid if apprehended beyond the limits of the county, or $200 for either or delivered to Lee & Bowman, Richmond, Va.

T J James,
Lock Lomond P O, Va.


Three hundred Dollars reward.

–Ran away on the 5th inst, my cook woman, Maria, medium height, tolerably fleshy, light gingerbread color, and is about 30 years old. She was bought from Mr. was lives about three miles below the city on the old turnpike road. Probably she may be in that neighborhood. The above reward will be paid for her delivery to me.

Juan Pizzini.



–Left my house, on Union Hill, or was taken therefrom, on the 11th inst, a small black terrier slut. She has very large teeth, and her tail is cut off about 1½ inches from the end; has a few gray hairs around her mouth. I will give a liberal reward for her return to me, or to Mr. sharp, at the Libby prison. She is very highly prized, being a pet dog. She has a small brass collar on. She goes by the name of Fannie.

Richard Turner.


Three hundred Dollars reward

–Ran away on the 6thMarch, my negro man John. He is 25 years old, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, very stout built, has a round face, high forehead, full head of hair, and of good countenance, very black, and is a blacksmith; had on when he left jeans pantaloons, blue jacket, and a pair of boots; he was raised in Powhatan county by Philip St George Cocke. I purchased him of John R Sedgwick in December last. I will give the above reward for him if delivered to Bowman, Richmond, Va. or to at Va. He is supposed to be making his way to the county of Powhatan.

John G Crockett.


Richmond and Danville R R.
Sup’ts office, Richmond, April5, 1864.

Ran away — From near Roanoke Station, Richmond and Danville Railroad, a dark mulatto boy named John, the property of R A A Watson, of Nottoway county, about 18 years old, 5 feet 8 or 10 inches high. He had on when he left a brown Virginia cloth coat and a blue military cap. Fifty dollars will be paid for his recovery.

Chas G Talbott.

Posted in Runaways, Slavery | Leave a comment

April 18, 1864: Dispute in Congress

Alexander Colfax
Speaker of the House Alexander Colfax


The Richmond Daily Dispatch is pleased to see an acrimonious debate in the Union Congress. The House fails to expel a couple of Democratic members (Alexander Long of Ohio and Benjamin Harris of Maryland) who called for recognition of an independent Confederacy; as Mr. Harris says, the alternatives are separation or the extermination of the Southerners. He seems to have overlooked the midrange of the spectrum. The New York Times had a somewhat different slant on events, including Colfax’s characterization of Long’s remarks as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” Given the Dispatch’s glee, this seems to be a pretty accurate characterization.

Lively scenes in the Yankee Congress — good signs.

On Saturday we published some account of turbulent scenes in the Lower House of the Yankee Congress, growing out of attempts to expel members for the expression of alleged disloyal sentiments. To day we copy additional sketches of these highly animated and not unamusing displays. They were initiated by a resolution moved by Mr. Colfax, Speaker of the House, for the expulsion of Mr. Long, of Ohio, on the ground that he had declared “in favor of recognizing the independence of the so called Confederacy now in arms against the Union.”–Upon this sprang a debate of a highly personal and rambling character, in which insults were most freely handled about with perfect impunity. It was quite remarkable that the Speaker thought it necessary that he should descend from the chair and initiate the proceeding which caused the storm. He was handled pretty roughly for it, as he deserved. There were a plenty of fanatical Republicans who would have gladly performed the service in order to gain some popular consideration among the subjugationists and “rebellion crushers” of the North; but Colfax, Yankee like, seeing, or thinking that he saw a chance to make something for himself, stood not upon any scruples of propriety, but caught at it eagerly.

The tendency of the debate, if debate it could be called, was quite remarkable.–There was a boldness in asserting sentiments hostile to the war and the Administration, that proves either a growing resolution or increased strength and confidence in the opposition pasty; and, perhaps, both. Upon a division of the House — the Long expulsion resolution being laid over — the parties stood 81 to 64, showing a majority of only seventeen for the ultra subjugationists. This vote was upon a motion to lay upon the table a preamble and resolution offered by Mr. Fink, of Ohio, declaring that “the army and navy cannot be rightfully and lawfully used to subjugate and hold as conquered territory any of the States of this Union,” and “that this war should not be urged on our part in any spirit of conquest or subjugation, nor for any purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of the States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and as soon as these objects are attained the war ought to cease.” A motion was made to lay the preamble and resolution on the table, and this prevailed by 81 to 64.

It is not improbable that there is a gradual extension over the Northern mind of the idea that whatever be the condition of the South after the war, in case the North triumph, to that condition also must the North subside. If it is held as a conquered province and ruled by a despotic authority, then that authority must be despotic everywhere, and the North, as well as the South, be under its dominion. There are increasing signs of late that this apprehension is spreading. It is a just one; but nevertheless loss one of those just ideas which are slow to prevail in opposition to a Government with a large army and navy and unlimited means to back it. Nor should we infer that were the party now supporting this idea, in power, it would materially change the manner of the war. To bolster up its power and attain its ends it would consider any means justifiable, and would become so embittered against that brave people who would give them so much trouble by resistance as to think any punishment or calamity they might bring upon themselves well merited. Resisting Abe Lincoln and his myrmidons is not so horrible in their estimation; but to resist them were they in power would be quite another and much more serious affair. To fight Lincoln, who boldly tells us to what abject degradation he means to reduce us, is natural; but to resist these States–rights men, with their promise to secure to the Southern States all their “dignity, equality, and rights unimpaired,” would be an obduracy so monstrous and aggravating, as really after all to entitle the South to no better fate than that Lincoln had prepared for them. It might not be so; but there is in human nature such facility of change of policy and of principle to suit a change of circumstances, that we need not place much faith in any predominating party at the North–State rights nor any other. If there is in human nature a weakness where self is concerned, an infirmity of inclination to interest in despite of principle, how much greater is that weakness, that infirmity, in Yankee nature?

Still, let us take what pleasure we can in these feuds of our enemies, hoping at least that there is sincerity and honesty amongst those who are opposing the tyranny and barbarism of the Yankee Government, and feeling assured that the indomitable bravery of the soldiers of the South and the triumphs of Southern arms will embolden their opposition and still further divide the counsels of the inhuman Government now plotting the subjugation and denationalization of the South.

But to return to the subject of the expulsion: In the course of the debate Mr. Fernando Wood suggested that it would be better before expelling Mr. Long to recur to what he did say; and read from the manuscript copy of the speech, prepared several weeks before it was delivered, the following passages “I now believe that there are but two alternatives — either an acknowledgment of the South as an independent nation, or their complete subjugation and extermination as a people. Of these alternatives I prefer the former.” The reading of this passage occasioned a pause in the proceedings. The satanic subjugationists were placed in a dilemma. They would be forced to expel Mr. Long for preferring recognition of the Confederacy to the entire destruction of every man, woman and child in the South, or abandon the prosecution.–So they laid over the subject to see what the official report in the Globe would make Mr. L. say.
Nevertheless, while the fate of one victim was thus necessarily delayed, possibly averted, another presented himself in the person of Mr. Harris, of Maryland, who stood up to Mr. Long “through thick and thin.” Nay, he went farther. He declared as follows:–The South ask you to leave them in peace; but no, you say you will bring them into subjection — that is not done yet, and God Almighty great that it may not be. I hope you never will subjugate the South.” Mr. H. said a great many other strong things”among them that “a braver set of men never existed on God’s earth than exists at the South;” and that he would not consent that the money of the nation “should be spent by a tyrant; ” “not a man nor a dollar would no vote for this infernal war,” &c. But the first passage quoted above from the defiant Marylander (“there is life in the old State yet!”) was ordered to be written down by the clerk, and one of those brother blackguards, “the Washburnes” moved Mr. Harris’s expulsion including for so great an offender short skill the vote was immediately taken, and resulted ayes 81, noes 58–not a two thirds vote. So Mr. H. was not expelled.

The strategy was then changed, and it was moved by Mr. Schenck, (more appropriately Skunk,) of Ohio, that Mr. H. was “an unworthy member of this House, and is “hereby severely censured.” We cannot but suppose that the gallant Harris took this terrible judgment as a compliment! It is evident that the is in the wrong place — he is too noble a man to herd with such animals as now compose the representative body of Yankeedom in the Federal Congress. He is as unworthy of association with them as would be an honest man with a band of robbers, or a gentleman with a set of scurvy blackguards and knaves. Harris should be proud indeed of the honor conferred upon him!

We repeat, the occurrences to which we have alluded are significant of an emboldened sentiment of opposition to the tyranny and brutality of the Yankee Government. The rapid strides it has made to its imperious and overshadowing power — a complete despotism — and the danger that it will be permanent, are exciting a growing uneasiness and apprehension in the Northern public mind. This tendency of public feeling has been stimulated, no doubt, by the course of the campaigns opened so unfortunately for the Yankees the present year. A few more reverses will spread the flames rapidly, and there is no telling what startling events may not ensue within the year. The futile war — the Federal finances, which are growing daily more desperate — the despair of making the South pay the enormous Yankee debt — must produces political and social convulsions among a people who are too selfish to submit to an adversity they may check, too avaricious to endure pecuniary rain in a hopeless cause. Let us hope that such convulsions are not remote, and that they may come with all the force these causes can give them, and with as much severity as may be merited by the rapacious and heartless people upon whom they must fall.

Posted in Alexander Colfax, Democrats, Reconstruction, Republican | Leave a comment

April 17, 1864: Grant wants Banks to hit Mobile

Gen. David Hunter

Grant was always a bit ambivalent about the Red River expedition, and the last thing he wants is for it to delay his planned attack on Mobile. He is developing a plan in which Banks will attack Mobile while Sherman moves on Atlanta simultaneously, keeping rebel armies occupied separately. In the meantime, he sends General Hunter to instruct Banks in the field. He doesn’t know that Banks is basically in retreat, but in any case he wants him to come back. “I would much rather the Red River expedition had never been begun than that you should be detained one day after the 1st of May in commencing your movement east of the Mississippi.”

Official Records:

CULPEPER COURT-HOUSE, VA., April 17, 1864.
Major General D. HUNTER,
U. S. Volunteers:

In giving the instructions to Major General N. P. Banks, a copy of which accompanies this, the design was to impress upon the general particularly two points: First, the importance of commencing operations at the very earliest possible moment against Mobile, so that his movement may serve as co-operative with those of the other armies in the field; second, that he should take with him the greatest number of troops possible from his command. In fixing the Rio Grande as the only point in Texas to retain possession of, I do not intend to take from him all discretion about what should be held. If there should be any point on the Gulf easily defended against largely superior forces which, in the opinion of General Banks, it would give us great advantages in future operations to retain possession of, then he can hold such place. The same rule must apply in fixing garrison s for holding the Mississippi River. General Banks can tell much better from where he is than I can from here what points are necessary to hold and what is necessary to hold them.

Referring to General Banks’ letter of the 2nd of April to Major-General Halleck,* giving the strength of garrisons at the different points held by him, to with, Rio Grande, 3,000; Matagorda Bay, 3,277; Pensacola, 900; Key West, 791; New Orleans, 1,125; Baton Rouge, 1,565; Plaquemine, 620, and Port Hudson, 9,409, it looks to me that all might be taken from Matagorda, or 2,000, if the place is of such importance that it should be held; from Baton Rouge one half might be taken, and 7,000 might be taken from Port Hudson. This is my judgment from here. It is of the first importance that we should hold Red River. This, you will observe, I have turned over to General Steele, in order that General Banks might have a greater number of troops to move with. If, however, General Steele Banks will have to supply the deficiency until re-enforcement can be got to General Steele. Already several regiments have gone to Little Rock to re-enforce him, probably 2,000 men, and when some troops ordered from Saint Louis to West Kentucky get through with the work of driving Forrest from the State, they, too, can be sent. The whole re-enforcement for General Steele, however, cannot be relied ont over 5,000 men. Fort Smith and the Indian Territory having been added to the Department of Arkansas may give General Steele sufficient additional troops as to materially strengthen him also.

General Banks has always been very vigilant in the organization of colored troops. It is to be hoped that his expedition up Red River will give a large number of recruits of this class. All acquired in this way, however, being without organization or discipline, could not be counted as so many men for defense of garrisons. Three of them, though, might count equal to one veteran soldier in fixing the number to leave behind at any one place. All plans for the attack on Mobile are left to General Banks. He will make his movements to take place elsewhere, it is not at all probable that the enemy can make any effort at raising the siege, if Mobile is once invested. Should the place be difficult to take from the number of troops held to defend it, the success of holding them there will be great.

You will remain with General Banks until his move from New Orleans is commenced and a landing effected at Pascagoula, or such place as may be selected bring to me, wherever I may be, such report of operations as General Banks may then wish to forward. Write to me fully how you find matters immediately on your first interview with General Banks.



CULPEPER COURT-HOUSE, VA., April 17, 1864.
Major General N. P. BANKS,
Commanding Department of the Gulf:

Owing to the difficulty of giving positive instructions to an instant commander respecting his operations in the field, and being exceedingly anxious that the whole army should act nearly as a unit, I send Major-General Hunter, an officer of rank and experience, bearer of duplicate copy of instructions sent you, of the 31st of March,* together with written instructions for General Hunter’s guidance in your and his interview.

It is not intended that General Hunter shall give orders in my name further than the instructions addressed to him are such orders, but to express more fully my views than I can well do on paper, and to remain with you until such time as you will be able to say definitely at what time you will commence your movement against Mobile.

In your letter of the 2nd of April, brought by Lieutenant Towner, you, in anticipation of the enemy falling back from Shreveport, propose a movement through Texas in pursuit of him. You had not when the letter was written received my instructions of the 31st of March. I hope those instructions reached you before such a movement was commenced. I would much rather the Red River expedition had never been begun than that you should be detained one day after the 1st of May in commencing your movement east of the Mississippi.

If you have commenced to move from Shreveport to the interior of Texas, or away from the Red River in any direction, retrace your steps on receipt of this. No matter what you may have in contemplation, commence your concentration, to be followed without deadly by your advance on Mobile. Hopin that General Hunter will find you back at New Orleans, with the work of concentration commenced,

I remain, &c.,

Posted in Alabama, Arkansas, David Hunter, Mobile, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant | Leave a comment

April 16, 1864: Porter’s report to Sherman

Nathaniel P. Banks
Nathaniel Banks; not Porter’s favorite general.


Porter follows up on his brief dispatch with a lengthy report to Sherman. This unusually full and well-written document is notable in several ways. First, as before, Porter is disgusted with the management of the Red River campaign by the “political general” Banks. He describes the result of Banks’ mismanagement of the Mansfield/Pleasant Hill battles as “the singular spectacle of two armies running away from each other, both claiming the victory.” He reaffirms that he can’t take his boats back downriver due to the low water, suggesting that Steele be reinforced to help them hold on until next year. Finally, he becomes just the last in a long string of Union commanders to note that it can be easier to move an army through a productive rebel territory subsisting on the land than trying to extend and maintain a lengthy supply line.


Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Mil. Div. of the Miss., Nashville, Tenn.:

DEAR GENERAL: I wrote you a hurried note the other day by General Corse, and I imagine your disappointment at having your well-laid plans interfered with and having part of your command mixed up in an affair the management of which would be discreditable to a boy nine years of age. You need not blush, however, for anything that was done by your troops. General A. J. Smith was not in the fight on the first day, but on the second day, when Franklin’s corps, which behaved nobly, began to waver before the wild and desperate shocks of the rebels, who came on shouting like madmen, he, with 8,000 men, charged through Franklin’s ranks and met the incoming devils with a “Hi! hi!” that brought them to a full stop. Smith’s men then poured in their volleys, which cut up the rebels into mince-meat; they turned and fled, and your boats chased them 3 miles, until every one of them disappeared, leaving General Smith in possession of the battle-ground, all the killed and wounded, twelve pieces of our artillery lost the day before, two of which he brought off.

At this important moment, when there was not a rebel within 6 miles of us, General Smith was ordered to retreat. He begged permission to remain long enough to bury his dead and remove his wounded, all of which was denied him. The Confederates sent in a flag of truce six hours after, asking permission to bury their dead, and found the cannon they had left behind them, and the killed and wounded in possession of the field. The general will never get over it as long as he lives; he cried like a child at having to leave his poor fellows on the field. I am, however, getting a little ahead of my story. I must give you a little sketch of the first day’s fight, and tell you how it happened.

General Banks, you must know, has organized 6,000 infantry into mounted cavalry under the command of General Lee, who travels with 250 wagons and a camp train of many persons. He was not satisfied with his large command, but made frequent applications to General Franklin for 2,500 infantry as a guard to the cavalry. Franklin persistently refused to give him these men, very properly arguing that without them Lee would not be precipitating a battle, while with them he might get the army into a fight when they were not prepared for it.

On the 6th instant the army of General Banks left Grand Ecore. The fleet left at the same time for Springfield Landing, which we were to reach on Sunday, the 10th, at 12 o’clock. We made our time to the the minute, with difficulties enough to appall a stout heart. General A. J. Smith left Grand Ecore the next day after the grand army, and had a terrible time in getting to the front through the numerous trains which completely blocked up the road. The same day that General Smith left Grand Ecore General Lee was sent in advance with his cavalry to reconnoiter, his whole train of wagons in his rear (250 in all) close after him; the army, consisting of the Nineteenth Corps, under Franklin, some regiments of negroes, and the Thirteenth Corps, under Ransom, were coming on behind in only one road and in no particular order, as far as I can learn. There was sharp skirmishing in the front by the cavalry, who were apparently driving the enemy (that is the enemy were leading them into a trap), and Lee was sending Franklin messages to lend him 2,500 men with which to annihilate them. Franklin sent him word that he was not sent out to bring on a battle, and to fall back at once and act on the defensive until the main body of the army came up. Unfortunately, at this time General Banks rode to the front, and Franklin said he saw there was going to be terrible work. Lee’s messages reached Banks, and he ordered Ransom whit 2,500 men to re-enforce Lee. Ransom protested against this disposition of his men, stating that they would be sacrificed, but General Banks ordered the movement. Franklin then prepared for the consequences which he knew were to follow. In a short time the cavalry, emboldened by the small support, brought on a fight. The part of the Thirteenth Corps did its best to support them, but, opposed to about 15,000 infantry, were swept away almost to a man. The cavalry broke and fled back on the wagons, the wagons stampeded and blocked up the road, while such a scene ensued as was never seen before except at Bull Run.

Franklin opened his ranks and let the flying mass through, and received the rebels with such a murderous fire that they were soon dispersed, leaving many killed and wounded on the field. The rebels fought well that day, indeed desperately, coming up to the charge in a compact body and filling up their ranks as their men fell like veterans. It was just such a time as our men would have desired in the open field, but the panic created by the disorder at first was too great to get the men to do their work thoroughly. There was enough done, however, to allow us to hold our position and recover our lost trains. To expect to recover again the eighteen guns we lost was out of the question. They were mixed up with the trains, and the rebels had secured them with 100 rounds of ammunition each. Three of the best batteries in the army were lost and most of the men killed or wounded. Part of Nims’ battery was taken and all the ammunition wagons.

At 1 o’clock that night the army retreated back to Pleasant Hill, the fugitives arriving at Grand Ecore reporting that the army was cut to pieces, and I hear that when the general and staff arrived at Pleasant Hill he had lost all command of himself. I do not wonder at that. An uneducated soldier may be cool and pleasant enough in the hour of victory, but the true general is best known in the hour of defeat. General Banks lost all his prestige, and the men talked so openly of him that our officers had to check them and threaten to have them punished. Retreat was still the order of the day, and the army was ordered to fall back on Grand Ecore. The reason given was want of provisions. The rebels, however, pushed their advantage and attacked us on our own ground, charging right at the Nineteenth Army Corps which met them like men, sweeping them away with artillery and musketry. Still on they came, and Franklin’s commenced to waver, when General Smith came on with that splendid charge and scattered them like sheep.

Out of 500 cavalry that charged on A. J. Smith’s division only 1 man escaped; every saddle was emptied. He saved the fortunes of the day, and chased the rebels, as I have stated in the former part of this letter. The latter retreated 15 miles without stopping, and our army soon followed their example, showing the singular spectacle of two armies running away from each other, both claiming the victory. Certain it is that the rebels sent in a flag of truce asking permission to bury their dead, and finding no one there, they took possession of the field with all our killed and wounded, the guns they had lost themselves, and have held it ever since. Our pickets do not extend ever beyond Natchitoches, but we are encamped at Grand Ecore, the headquarters of the general near the big red brick house of De Russy’s.

A. J. Smith is encamped on the plain above the bluffs, outside of the present line of defense. The gun-boats are drawn up in line in front of A. J. Smith, who will have to take our fire over his head, which he is willing to do. While all the fighting was going on on shore the fleet was slowly and painfully working its way up Red River, through snaggy bends, logy bayous, shifting rapids, and rapid chutes. The rebels, frightened to death, went on before us, burning all the fine cotton (bales being hid in the woods), but destroying none of the corn or cattle. Of these we found an abundance, and though we only stopped at three or four places there was enough and more to satisfy the troops without touching the rations. It struck me very forcibly that this would have been the route for the army, where they could have traveled without all that immense train, the country supporting them as they proceeded along. The roads are good, wide fields on all sides, a river protecting the right flank of the army, and gun-boats in company. An army wound have no difficulty in marching to Shreveport in this way.

There is Bayou Pierre to pass, and some bridges to be built, but this is child’s play to our Western men, and “not so bad as being beaten” in a pine barren, with only one road through it, and that a narrow one, where troops cannot pass carts. I send you a correct map,* which I think will give you a good idea of the views I have expressed, if you have not got it already, knowing this country as well as you do. Why General Banks went through a desert, where he could not even find water (so he says), instead of a prolific country, I cannot say. You know I have always said that Providence was fighting this great battle its own way, and brings these reverses to teach us, a proud, stiff-necked, and unthankful people, how to be contented under a good Government, if peaceful times come again. I hope it will teach us not to place the destinies of a great nation in the hands of political generals or volunteer admirals.

When I arrived at Springfield Landing I found a sight that made me laugh; it was the smartest thing I ever knew the rebels to do. They had gotten that huge steamer, New Falls City, across Red River, 1 mile above Logy Bayou, 15 feet of her on shore on each side, the boat broken down in the middle, and a sand-bar making below her. An invitation in large letters to attend a ball in Shreveport was kindly left stuck up by the rebels, which invitation we were never able to accept. We had landed, though, at Springfield Landing with many hundred thousand rations, twenty-six transports, and six gun-boats. Word had already gone to General Dick Taylor, at Mansfield, that the transports contained many men (a large force), whereas we only had 2,000 under General Kilby Smith; still that report shook the rebels.

We surprised the guard who were watching our movements; my boat, the Cricket, came on them suddenly; our men rushed on shore, nearly taking them while eating their supper, and the letter was lying on the table giving an account of our “strong force.” When the recipient was in the act of reading it he got away to carry the news to Taylor, who would have been in full retreat on Shreveport had General Banks not appeared on the field on the morning of the 8th. While discussing the feasibility of getting the Falls City out of the way (we were provided with everything to do it) a courier rode in the tell us that Banks had been badly whipped and was in full retreat to Grand Ecore, and that the transports and troops were ordered “to return without delay,” and easier thing said than done. We had disembarked the troops, none dreaming of anything but victory to one of the best appointed armies I ever saw in the field, and after getting in our pickets and getting the troops on board, I reversed the order of steaming, and with a heavy heart started downward, anticipating that the rebels, flushed with victory, with our army in full retreat before them, would come in on our flank and cut us to pieces.

The banks were height above our pilot houses, and sharpshooters could annoy us with impunity. I was much annoyed when I found that General Banks’ quartermaster had added to the convoy ten large steamers which I had expressly stipulated with General Kilby Smith were not to come up the river. We were detained six hours lightening one of them loaded with ammunition, and the others were constantly getting into trouble. General Kilby Smith was in no way responsible for this outrageous proceeding, for it was done after we department from Grand Ecore, and that officer left nothing undone to co-operate with me and carry the expedition through successfully.

On all occasions I found General Smith ready and willing to co-operate in the same harmonious manner that has always existed between the Navy and the Army of the Tennessee. I am sure nothing will occur to interrupt that good feeling. As I anticipated, the rebels were soon aware of our turning back, and were after us like a pack of wolves. They assailed us from every point, but the dispositions that were made always foiled-them. We always drove them away with loss. The large transports so impeded us that it was with difficulty we made more than 20 miles a day, and it seemed that everything we came in contact with belonging to Banks’ army was disorderly and a drawback to us. My gun-boats were helping them off of sandbars half the time, they having no disposition to help each other.

Small bands of 100 or 150 had followed us along until we arrived at a place called Graff’s Bluff, where our friends, the negroes, informed us that the rebels had a battery. It was above 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and I laid to the bank while two gun-boats could get into position to whip the battery. They were permitted to occupy the place quietly, and I began to think there was none about. We shelled the woods in all directions and they kept quiet. At this moment a tremendous fire of musketry and heavy cannon, interspersed with artillery, broke out about 3 miles behind us. It sounded like a heavy battle. Hearing all the guns of the gun-boats, I did not fear for the result. It lasted so long that I at last turned my head upstream to join in the fray, and met a gun-boat a coming down, whose captain told me it was all over and the rebels had fled, so I tied up to the bank again, expecting the attack in front, when the firing commenced again and lasted until nearly sunset; in all, two hours.

It turned out to be what I had been expecting, and attack with artillery and infantry, 2,000 strong, in our rear, General Kilby Smith and two transports being divided from the main body by the artillery, which it was not proper to pass until silenced by the gunboats. This body of men was commanded by General Green, the best man they have, and one in whom the rebels place more confidence than anyone else. He led his men to the very edge of the banks, they shouting and yelling like madmen. They were handsomely received by the Osage and Lexington in the old style. General Smith, in the Hastings, with part of his men poured in his fire, and amongst us the rebels were cut into mince-meat. General Green and Colonel Chisum had their heads blown off with an 11-inch shell.

The ground was covered with killed and wounded and without great loss to ourselves. We shipped out 2,000 rebels, and kept 5,000 more in the rear of us from advancing, not liking the reports of the first party’s reception. This saved us from further molestation as far as large parties were concerned, but we were terribly annoyed by small bands. It being moonlight I ordered all the transports to leave, and had they taken advantage of the time they would have arrived in Grand Ecore next morning.

After getting them all ahead I reversed the order of sailing and followed them up, but when I arrived at camp I found them so mixed up and aground that I pushed on, and in three hours had General A. J. Smith under way with five regiments of infantry and a field battery. He arrived just in time to outflank the rebels with their heavy field battery, which they kept exclusively for the transports, hiding it when the gunboats came along. It was a most exciting and interesting week; much danger of being cut off unless aided by General Banks, which aid was not sent until I asked for it in person.

Someone got in in a quartermaster’s boat who reported everything safe, and General Smith on that account did not go himself, though ready to start at a moment’s notice. Finally all came in safely, not losing a rope yarn. You men behaved splendidly and coolly, and General Kilby Smith like a brave and gallant officer. I shall always feel proud to be associated with him, and we will both timely remember for many a day the perilous scenes we have gone through together. I found General A. J. Smith much depressed at some things that had occurred, but anxious to go out and whip the rebels, which we are able to do without any trouble. Instead of that I think General Banks is watching for an opportunity to retreat. If General Smith should leave him there would be a general stampede and much loss of material, and General A. J. Smith would be made the scapegoat.

Finding the water falling I sent down my largest gun-boats, and regret to say that the Eastport ran on a torpedo and sank. The damage was slight, and the shock only noticed by a few persons on board, and it was not for some time after they found water in her hold. She was five hours sinking, but we have no pumps that could save her. The captain forgot to put canvas under her bottom, which would have saved her. Unless we have more water I shall be kept above the falls, but with a land force at Alexandria I can hold my own until next year. We must hold the country, general, and not have to go over all this again.

Had Banks been victorious, as any ordinary general would have been, we would have had no trouble at all, but he has led all hands into an ugly scrape. I did all I could to avoid going up this river with him, but he would have thrown all the blame of failure on me had I failed to go. I have risked a great deal and only hope for a rise of water to get over the falls.

There are all kinds of surmises on the subject. We have had no rise this year at all. Do you think it will come? You know the nature of these rivers, having resided here so long. I have written you a long letter and said to you confidentially what I would not say to anyone else, knowing that it will go no farther. I am just down from Grand Ecore; have come to provide pumps to save the Eastport, which I will do if Banks don’t retreat; if he does I will blow her up; am getting her guns off at once. Now, what is to become of Steele? Banks has sent him a messenger. Will he (think you) be sacrificed, or can he take care of himself? Why not re-enforce him well and let him finish the job so badly begun? If this matter is left in this state it will be lasting disgrace to us. The rebels had 22,000 men, about 19, 0000 effective. Losing General Green has paralyzed them; he was worth 5,000 men to them.

Wishing you success in all your undertakings, and asking your forbearance for writing you so long a letter, I remain, truly and sincerely, yours,


Posted in Arkansas, David Porter, Frederick Steele, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment

April 15, 1864: Futile struggling over the Red River

William Tecumseh Sherman

Apparently Sherman hasn’t yet received the dispatch from Porter saying that A.J.Smith’s troops will be late. He asks Grant to hurry Steele and hurries Steele himself, blaming Steele for the delay — in error, as it turns out. Meanwhile Banks is telling Steele that he can’t move forward, and asking Steele to come to him. That’s not happening either.

Official Records:

NASHVILLE, TENN., April 15, 1864-10 a.m. (Received 3.15 p. m.)
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
Culpeper, Va.:
I have a dispatch from Little Rock of April 10, giving dates from General Steele of April 7, at Camden. He had had considerable skirmishing, in all of which he was successful, and had halted and sent back to Pine Bluff for provisions and ammunition. It seems to me his movement is very slow, and he may be so late in reaching Red River as to keep Generals Banks and A. J. Smith away behind time.


NASHVILLE, TENN., April 15, 1864.
General STEELE,
Via Little Rock:

Dispatch of 7th from Camden is received. I know that General Grant expects Generals Banks and A. J. Smith’s forces to come out of Red River for some other work very soon, and you should push with all possible speed to make a junction on Red River. Banks’ forces should by this time be in Shreveport.


GRAND ECORE, LA., April 15, 1864.
Major General F. STEELE:
* * * *

The enemy is in larger force than was anticipated by the Government, and has manifested his determination to fight for the posses-
sion of Shreveport and the country he now occupies, which was not anticipated by many of our officers. The lines upon which we operate are so far separated from each other that it is impossible for either of us to sustain effectively the forces of the other. If you can join us on this line I am confident we can move to Shreveport without material delay, and that we shall have an opportunity of destroying the only organized rebel army west of the Mississippi.
* * * *

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Posted in Arkansas, Frederick Steele, Nathaniel P. Banks, Red River Campaign, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman | Leave a comment