March 4, 1864: Sherman’s instructions to Banks and Steele

William Tecumseh Sherman

Sherman prepares to have Banks, Steele, and his own troops meet at Shreveport — always a tough trick to bring off. He emphasizes to both that moving on time is essential. He also reminds both that the whole expedition needs to be over quickly so he can get the troops back to head into Georgia.

Official Records:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE, Steamer Diana, under motion, March 4, 1864.
Major General N. P. BANKS,
Commanding Department of the Gulf, New Orleans:

GENERAL: I had the honor to receive your letter of the 2nd instant yesterday at New Orleans, but was unable to answer it except verbally, and I now reduce it to writing.

I will arrive at Vicksburg the 6th instant, and I expect to meet there my command from Canton, out of which I will select two divisions of about 10,000 men, embark them under a good commander, and order him, first, to rendezvous at the mouth of Red River and, in concert with Admiral Porter (if he agree), to strike Harrisonburg a hard blow; second, to return to Red River and ascend it, aiming to reach Alexandria on March 17 to report to you; third, that this command, designed to operate by water, will not be encumbered with land transportation, say two wagons to a regiment, but with an ample supply of stores, including mortars and heavy rifled guns, to be used against fortified places; fourth, that I calculate, and so report to General Grant, that this detachment of his forces in no event go beyond Shreveport, and that you spare them the moment you can, trying to get them back to the Mississippi in thirty days from the time they actually enter Red River. The year is wearing away fast, and I would like to carry to General Grant, at Huntsville, Ala., every man of his division as early in April as possible, as I am sure we ought to move from the base of the Tennessee River to the south before the season is too far advanced-say April 15 next.

I feel certain of your complete success, provided you make the concentration in time, to assure which I will see in person to the embarkation and dispatch of my quota, and I will write to General Steele, conveying to him my personal and professional opinion that the present opportunity is the most perfect one that will ever offer itself to him to clear out his enemies.

Wishing you all honor and success, I am, with respect, your friend and servant,


Official Records:

Commanding Department of Arkansas, Little Rock:

DEAR GENERAL: I am now going from New Orleans to Vicksburg. I went down purposely to see General Banks about the Shreveport movement. I found all his preparations complete, and he will positively leave on the 7th instant, and promises to be at Alexandria on the 17th. His line of march is by Opelousas. I have undertaken to send 10,000 men by water, in concert with the gunboats, from Vicksburg to Alexandria by the same date. I understand you also have undertaken to act in concert, but the route and manner are not clear to me. General Banks says you move via Monroe. When three armies start from distant bases, by the science of war they should meet at some point agreed on sooner than there is a possibility of the enemy (supposed to be superior to either one of the opposing armies) being able to reach it; but in this case rapidity of movement and the enemy’s tenderness for Shreveport would warrant each column (supposed to be over 10,000) to move straight on Shreveport, for I don’t believe Kirby Smith would risk Shreveport to go out and meet either of your armies; but I won’t make any opinion, but as a friend and brother officer I advise you to move with great rapidity and not stand too much on preliminary preparation.

You may safely rely on the country for forage, meat, and partial supplies of corn meal. General Grant will need on the Tennessee every man he can collect in all April, and this Shreveport movement, like mine on Meridian, is only justified on the ground of rapid execution and to result in setting free the troops hitherto held to defend points. By destroying Meridian and the railroads centering there I make it impossible for our enemy to threaten our river by anything but cavalry, and therefore we can draw from the garrisons of Columbus, Memphis, and Vicksburg full 15,000 men to re-enforce the armies in Tennessee. If in like manner you destroy by a rapid movement the enemy’s force on Red River, you also could give us from 5,000 to 8,000 men. Of course you will need all your cavalry, and were I you I would move toward Shreveport by the most direct route with all your force, and after passing Arkadelphia would send back a part with the feeble and foot-sore to swell the garrison deemed necessary for Little Rock. The moment Kirby Smith sees three columns all tending to Shreveport he will call for every man he has, and then decide to fight at Shreveport or save his army by retiring on Marshall, Tex. I believe he will do the latter.

In my Meridian move my cavalry failed me. It did not leave Memphis till February 11, when it was appointed to reach Meridian February 10, and the force did not go south of Columbus, Miss. Had it started on time it would have reached me, and I could have prevented Polk’s army escaping across the Tombigbee. As it was, Polk got across on the 17th, three days after I entered Meridian. Either Hurlbut or A. J. Smith will command the forces I send up Red River.

Your friend, &c.,

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