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.

U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.
[Inclosure.]

******************************************************

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.,
U. S. GRANT,
Lieutenant-General.

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