Porter writes in disgust to Sherman about the defeat and retreat of Banks’ army. The gunboats are in trouble due to low water on the Red River, and they can’t sent back A.J. Smith’s division as planned as a result. Porter blames the entire debacle on Banks, a “political general.”
MISSISSIPPI SQUADRON, Flag-Ship Cricket, off Grand Ecore, La., April 14, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Mil. Div. of the Mississippi, Nashville, Tenn.:
DEAR GENERAL: You will no doubt feel much disappointed at not having General A. J. Smith’s division returned to you in the time expected, but you will be reconciled when I assure you that the safety of this army and my whole fleet depend on his staying here. His is the only part of the army not demoralized, and if he was to leave there would be a most disastrous retreat. The army has been shamefully beaten by the rebels. There is no disguising the fact, notwithstanding the general commanding and his staff try to make a victory. Armies victorious don’t often go back as this one has done. Your part of it maintained its reputation and saved the army from being beaten in the two days’ fight. It is too long a tale to write, but some of these days I will give you a full and fair account of it. The defeat arose from sending 6,000 raw cavalry to attack an army of 25,000 men, said cavalry being accompanied by over 200 wagons. It was only supported by 2,500 men, and when these were overpowered by vastly superior numbers the cavalry fell back on them; the wagons stampeded and fell into the hands of the enemy. General Corse has heard it all and will tell you all about it. I was averse to coming up with the fleet, but General Banks considered it necessary to the success of the expedition, and I now can’t get back again, the water has fallen so much. This has been terrible work; worse, if anything, than Deer Creek. There we had plenty of water; here no water, and thousands of sharpshooters. The gunboats has some satisfaction out of the rebels yesterday. A couple of brigades, flushed with victory, made an attack upon two of them, and, excited by liquor, fought like madmen, coming up to the edge of the bank, where they were what down like sheep. It is said we killed the rebel General Green, their best man.
I cannot express to you my entire disappointment with this department. You know my opinion of political generals. It is a crying sin to put the lives of thousands in the hands of such men, and the time has come when there should a stop be put to it. This army is almost in a state of mutiny and not fit to go into a fight. They would follow A. J. Smith, though, anywhere. The more I see of
that old gentleman the more I like him. He is a regular trump, and has no give-up in him. I have been up as far as Loggy Bayou, and there was brought to a dead stand by a large steamer sunk in the channel, resting on each bank. It was providential, or I might have gone farther, and would have been cut off to a certainty. I am not sure that Banks will not sacrifice my vessels now to expediency; that is, his necessities. I only wish, dear general, that you had taken charge of this Red River business. I am sure it would have had a different termination. I am very tired and must close for the present.
Wish best wishes, &c., I remain,
DAVID D. PORTER,