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[536]

XXIV. the War beyond the Mississippi in 1864.—Banks — SteeleRosecrans.


Gen. Banks was in New Orleans, intent on further operations against Texas by way of Galveston and the sea-coast, when he received1 a dispatch from Halleck, prescribing (or, as Halleck says, “suggesting” ) a totally different plan of campaign. Its line of operations was the Red river; its object, the capture of Shreveport, with the rout and dispersion of Kirby Smith's army, culminating in the recovery of Texas and a boundless supply of cotton for our mills and for ex-port. To this end, Admiral Porter, with a strong fleet of iron-clads and transports, was to embark at Vicksburg, 10,000 of Sherman's old army under Gen. A. J. Smith, and move with them up Red river, capturing by the way Fort de Russy, removing all impediments, and meeting at Alexandria Gen. Banks, who, with his 15,000 to 17,000 disposable men, was to march overland from the Atchafalaya to the designated point of junction; while Gen. Steele, with the bulk (15,000) of his Arkansas force, was to move on Shreveport directly from Little Rock. In other words: we were to threaten Shreveport with 40,000 men, so disposed that the enemy, with a compact, mobile force of 25,000, might fight them all in turn with superior numbers, and so cut them up in detail. It was a very old blunder, so often repeated in our struggle that none could plead ignorance of its oft-tested and certain effect; but braying in a mortar would be effective only with those who do not need it. Had Steele's men been brought down the Arkansas in boats, and added to Banks's and Smith's forces, the issue must almost certainly have been different. But Gen. Steele's demonstration, though designed to be simultaneous and cooperative with Banks's, was entirely independent2 while Gen. Smith's quota was only loaned to Banks for a brief period, and was subject to recall in entire disregard of his authority. Had such a movement missed failing, it would have been a disparagement of good generalship evermore.

Banks's own force was to have moved from Franklin on the 7th of March, so as to be at Alexandria on the 17th: but the General was busy at New Orleans, and intrusted the immediate command of his force to Gen. Franklin; who was not ready to start till the 13th, and had not fully reached Alexandria till the 25th; though his cavalry advance, under Gen. A. L. Lee, had arrived on the 19th.

1 Jan. 23, 1864.

2 Gen. Banks, before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, testified that--

The truth was, that while four forces--Gen. Steele's, Gen. Sherman's (under Gen. Smith), Admiral Porter's, and my own — were operating together, neither one of them had a right to give any order to the other. Gen. Smith never made any report to me, but considered his as substantially an independent force. * * * It took us 20 days to communicate with Gen. Steele; and then we could only state our own position, ask what he was doing, and give advice; but we could not tell whether he followed the advice or not, nor what he was doing.

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