Chapter 41: the Red River expedition, under Major-General N. P. Banks, assisted by the Navy under Rear-Admiral David D. Porter.
- The origin, objects and plan of the expedition. -- the naval vessels and troops assemble at the mouth of the Red River. -- removal of obstructions. -- capture of the Confederate camp at Simmsport. -- attack and capture of Fort de Russy. -- arrival of the fleet and troops at Alexandria. -- up the falls. -- the abominable cotton traffic. -- General A. J. Smith's “ragged guerillas.” -- bridge of cotton. -- advance on Shreveport. -- Banks meets a reverse near Pleasant Hill. -- battle at Sabine cross Roads. -- Confederates make good use of Banks' cannon and Army wagons. -- battle at Pleasant Hill. -- Banks victorious, but orders a retreat to Grand Ecore. -- retreat of the fleet impeded. -- engagement between the Osage and Lexington and 2,500 Confederates under General Green. -- reports of Lieutenant -- Commander Selfridge and General Kilby Smith. -- the Army and Navy at Grand Ecore. -- minor engagements. -- battle at Cane River. -- the Eastport blown up. -- the attack on the little Cricket. -- fearful scene of carnage. -- the Juliet disabled. -- batteries engaged along the River. -- dissatisfaction of the Army. -- the squadron in a bad position.
No official account detailing the particulars of this unfortunate expedition was forwarded by General Banks until long after the expedition failed. A question has been standing for many years as to who originated it, and this has been settled by the highest authority. General Grant, in his Memoirs, says that the expedition originated with General Halleck, who urged General Banks, with all his authority, to undertake it. This is, without doubt, the origin of the affair. After the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, General Sherman proposed to Admiral Porter an expedition to Shreveport, La., via Red River; but on careful inquiry it was found that the water was unusually low for the season of the year, and therefore the expediency of a movement was doubted. But, as General Sherman was anxious to undertake the expedition. and promised to be in Natchez in the latter part of February, 1864, Admiral Porter ordered the following vessels to be ready near the mouth of Red River to accompany the Army whenever the latter should commence its march: the Essex, Benton, Lafayette, Choctaw, Chillicothe. Ozark, Louisville, Carondelet. Eastport, Pittsburg, Mound City, Osage, Neosho, Ouichita, Fort Hindman. Lexington, Cricket, Gazelle. Juliet, and Black Hawk (flagship). This squadron comprised the most formidable part of the Mississippi fleet, only the lighter vessels being left to protect the Mississippi, the Ohio, and their tributaries; for, supposing that the Army would send a large force into the interior of Louisiana, Admiral Porter determined there should be no want of floating batteries for the troops to fall back on in case of disaster. The Admiral had written to General Sherman that he did not think the time propitious for ascending Red River, and  when he arrived in Natchez he found that Sherman had gone to New Orleans to see General Banks. The impression was that he went there to obtain Banks' co-operation in the great raid through the South, which Sherman afterwards so successfully accomplished without Banks' assistance. By looking at the map, it will be readily seen how valuable a position Mobile would have been at such a time if held by the Union troops, its railroad system connecting with all the Southern roads, by which Sherman could have been supplied with provisions and stores, as well as reinforcements of men in case of necessity, while the straggling forces of the enemy between him and the Gulf would have been cut off. It would strike the military observer that to insure complete success Mobile should have been captured at the time Sherman started on his raid, which would have placed the entire country between him and the sea at the disposal of the Federal forces.
|The Black Hawk, Admiral Porter's flag-ship.|