March 10, 1864: Red River Campaign off to an inauspicious start

Nathaniel P. Banks
Nathaniel P. Banks


First of all, Sherman has sent a substantial force to the Red River to help Banks and Steele. He wants them back in no more than 30 days, so he can put them to work in Georgia. A rapid strike is essential. A.J. Smith is moving right along.

On board Westmoreland, near Memphis, March 10, 1864.
Major General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding Division of the Mississippi, Nashville:

GENERAL: Captain Badeay found me yesterday on board this boat and delivered his dispatches.

I had anticipated your orders by ordering Veatch’s division of Hurlbut’s corps at once to Dodge, via the Tennessee River, and had sent A. J. Smith up Red River with 10,000 men, to be absent not over thirty days, when I designed Smith’s division of about 6,000 men also to come round. We must furlough near 10,000 men, and by the time they come back the Red River trip will be made, and I can safely re-enforce my army near Huntsville with 15,000 veterans. I sent you by General Butterfield full details of all past events and dispositions, which will meet your approval.

As to the negroes, of course on arrival at Memphis I will cause your orders to be literally executed. A clamor was raised by lessors by my withdrawal of Osband (400) from Skipwith’s and General Hawkins’ brigade (2,100) from Goodrich’s. I transferred them to Haynes’ Bluff to operate up Yazoo, and the effect was instantaneous. Not a shot has been fired on the river since. I also designed to put a similar force at Harrisonburg to operate up the Washita, which would secure the west bank from Red River to Arkansas. Admiral Porter immediately feasible. I assert that 3,000 men at Haynes’ Bluff and 3,000 at Harrisonburg would more effectually protect the plantation lessors than 50,00 men scattered along the shores of the Mississippi. You know the geography so well that I need not demonstrate my assertion.

I understand that General Lorenzo Thomas has passed down to Vicksburg, and am sorry I did not see him, but as soon as I reach Memphis to-day I will send orders below and show him how much easier it will be for us to protect the Mississippi by means of the Yazoo and Washita Rivers than by merely guarding the banks of the Mississippi.
After awaiting to observe the effect of recent changes, i will hasten round to Huntsville, to prepare for the big fight in Georgia. Fix the time for crossing the Tennessee and I will be there.

Your friend,


HDQRS. RED RIVER EXPEDITION, No. 3. Vicksburg, Miss., March 10, 1864.

The Red River expedition will leave Vicksburg to-day as about 3 p.m. The signal for getting up steam will be one gun from these headquarters one hour before starting. The signal for starting will be five whistles from these headquarters on steamer Clara Bell, to be repeated by the boats carrying division and brigade commanders. Upon the signal for starting being given, the boats will swing out into the stream, each general commanding leading his command, in the following order: First Division, Sixteenth Army Corps; Third Division, Sixteenth Army Corps; General Kirby Smith’s division, Seventeenth Army Corps; the boats moving in the order laid down in the inclosed list.

The following signals are established for the running of the boats during the expedition: For starting or hailing, five whistles; for closing up, four whistles; for landing, three whistles. In landing, the divisions must be kept together.

By order of Brigadier General A. J. Smith:
Assistant Adjutant-General.


First, Clara Bell; second, Des Moines; third, Mars, Forty-seventh Illinois; fourth, Hamilton, Thirty-third Missouri; fifth, Baltic, Fifth Minnesota and Thirty-fifth Iowa; sixth, Chouteau, Eighty-ninth Indiana, Ninth [Indiana] Battery; seventh, Adriatic, Fifty-eighth and One hundred and nineteenth Illinois; eighth, J. H. Lacy; ninth, Southwester, Thirty-second Iowa; tenth, W. L. Ewing, Fourteenth Iowa, Third [Indiana] Battery; eleventh, Sioux City, Twenty-fourth Missouri; twelfth, Diadem, Twenty-seventh Iowa; thirteenth, Tutt, One hundred and seventeenth Illinois; fourteenth, Liberty, Forty-ninth Illinois; fifteenth, Emerald, One hundred and seventy-eighth New York; sixteenth, Hastings; seventeenth, Autocrat; eighteenth, Diana; nineteenth, Raine.

Trouble is, there are delays and problems right from the start. Banks is not going to make it on time because the roads are bad.

New Orleans, March 10, 1864.
Major General F. STEELE,
Commanding Forces in Arkansas, Little Rock:

GENERAL: Major-General Banks desires me to inform you that a violent rain-storm has rendered the roads between Franklin and Alexandria impracticalbe for a few days, and that in consequence his movements, indicated to you in the dispatch forwarded by Lieutenant-Colonel Woodrow, will be delayed about four or five days.

Very respectfully, I am, general, your most obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Staff.

And Steele can’t send as many troops as he’s supposed to, because he needs to garrison the places he already holds.

Little Rock, March 10, 1864.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT:

DEAR GRANT: I intended to have written you a letter to-day to send by your aide, but I unexpectedly received dispatches from Sherman and Banks in regard to to the expedition against Shreveport, which I have been answering. They are both mistaken in regard to the strength of my command and also in regard to the station of affairs in my department. I will send you copies of my letters to Banks on the subject.

I have been intending to write you for a long time, but you do not appear to have any local habitation. The forces under Banks will make Kirby Smith run without a battle. From what I can learn through people returning to their homes within my lines Kirby and all his friends are prepared to leave for parts unknown. I shall move by way of Washington with all my available force to co-operate with Banks. I cannot spare from the line of the Arkansas more than about 7,000 of all arms. Holmes’ command will break up and attempt raids in my rear.

Very truly, yours, in haste,


Little Rock, Ark., March 10, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Department of the Tennessee:

DEAR GENERAL: Your letters were received this morning. You and General Banks are laboring under a mistake in regard to the strength of my command and I think in regard to other matters in Arkansas. There was a bearer of dispatches with a communication from me to General Banks later than the one you saw. It was my intention to co-operate with him and to do so with all my available force, but I never agreed to move by a route which would subject my depots and the State of Missouri to raids from rebel cavalry. I have just written a letter to General Banks which Colonel Woodrow will show you.

The force you send, joined to Banks’ 17,000, can drive all the troops in Kirby Smith’s department into the Gulf. I would be glad to take a contract to do it, if I had the command. Smith will run; Holmes’ command will break into fragments. Some of them will desert, and others will form guerrilla bands and attempt raids along the Arkansas and into Missouri.
The total for duty in my department is 16,517. Look now at the points which I am obliged to hold, and you will discover why I can move to the support of Banks with but 7,000 of all arms. The posts are Helena, Batesville, Devall’s Bluff, Brownsville, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Lewisburg, Dardanelle, Fort Smith, Van Bureun, Fayetteville, Waldron, Clarksville, and in addition to these the troops necessary to guard the railroad, which is of vital importance to us. Scarcely one of these posts can be abandoned with safety. The country between here and Red River has been nearly exhausted of supplies by both armies, and it will be very difficult to obtain forage and impossible to subsist even 7,000 troops. I will send you a copy of my letter to General Banks,and will write you again by first mail.

Very truly, your friend,

And most important, the Red River is too low, and the gunboats can’t get up very far.

PORT HUDSON, LA., March 10, 1864-1 p.m.
Brigadier General C. P. STONE,
Chief of Staff:

Your communication of March 9 has been received. Please inform General Banks that General Sherman’s troops have not yet arrived, and I imagine that transportation is difficult to be had. The water is very low in Red River, and the gun-boats will not be able at present to reach Alexandria without a rise. Should there be none, the troops will be landed at Simsport and march up, to be in time to meet General Banks.

I have twenty-two gun-boats ready to start the moment the troops arrive.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

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