previous next

Chapter 13:

The winter of 1863-64 was without stirring events in Louisiana Banks was taking breath and ‘stock’ in New Orleans. Taylor, too busy for leisure, was establishing depots, both labor and forage, between the Boeuf and Pleasant Hill—the country thereabout being utterly barren. Out of abounding caution, he left small detachments to guard these depots. Meanwhile; throughout the Teche country, Vincent's Second Louisiana cavalry rode everywhere, alert and watchful, keeping marauders in order.

Toward the end of February, 1864, Taylor had posted his army as follows: Harrison's mounted regiment (just organized), with a 4-gun battery, were ordered to Monroe. Mouton's brigade was encamped near Alexandria; Polignac had headquarters on the Ouachita; Walker's division lay at Marksville, with three companies of Vincent's cavalry. One day, Sherman came to New Orleans to confer with Banks. Friend and enemy were the wiser for this interview. Immense shifting in commands did, in truth, in both armies follow this secret de Polichinelle. Taylor, warned by it of the re-buzzing of Banks' bee, hastened Polignac, on March 7th, to Alexandria—thence with Mouton to the Boeuf, twenty-five miles south. Harrison was transferred to the Ouachita (west bank). Vincent was ordered to leave flying scouts on the Teche, next [127] to hasten his regiment to Opelousas. Sherman's visit had stirred both camps to a fever of expectation. With Banks, the result was that he began to open his forces like a great fan, from New Orleans outward. With Taylor, it was to draw his army within closer lines, nearer Shreveport than Alexandria.

Polignac's brigade, and the Louisiana brigade under Colonel Gray, were soon united in a division, the command of which was given to General Mouton. We shall see the telling work of this new division later on in the campaign of 1864. On the 21st, Edgar's battery, four guns, was despatched to strengthen Vincent.

At his worst, Richard Taylor was not over-given to falling back. Before falling back he always looked to see where he could best jump from his new point. More than in war, there is profit in such caution. With the first days of March he was particularly on the alert for consequences of the Sherman visit. They were not long in coming.

On March 12th Admiral Porter had entered the mouth of the Red river with nineteen gunboats. The gunboats were followed by 10,000 men loaned by Sherman for the punishment of Louisiana. The news was no sooner given out than Alexandria was prudently evacuated by Taylor. A step backward at Alexandria was to stiffen his muscles for the triumphant leap to Mansfield. From Alexandria, Taylor for once turned to Pleasant Hill. Reinforcements, specially of horse, were slow in reaching him. Green's Texans, three companies of which came first, were ill provided with arms. To Taylor, impatiently waiting at Pleasant Hill, came Walker and Mouton; Green joined him the same day. Major, with the remainder of the Texans, had not come up. To give him time to reach the hill, Taylor halted two days. Thus far the enemy had made no serious advance; and on April 4th and 5th he [128] marched to Mansfield. In the cavalry arm, the Texans were well represented by Debray's and Buchel's1 regiments. Before these Price had dispatched from his command in Arkansas two brigades of Missouri infantry, numbering together 4,400 muskets. These marched to Keachi2 on the morning of April 6th, reporting to Taylor from that point, where, under orders, they remained during that day. Banks began his movement from Grand Ecore to Pleasant Hill on April 6th, with a force (estimated) of 25,000. Taylor, to meet this large army, had on the field only 8,800 men. Though given with apparent precision, this ‘was a very full estimate.’

During the early part of his administration of affairs, civil and military, General Banks had shown some substantial result in civic affairs. Results as substantial might be expected from his feverish energy in the field. Here, in New Orleans, his tarnished record against Stonewall Jackson in the valley of Virginia was not a pleasant reminder to himself. In March, 1864, his plans for a triumphant movement ‘into the bowels of the land’ were revived. His previous expedition had been attended by no practical success. Alexandria had been occupied for a short time, but Shreveport still remained Confederate.

For the year 1864, operations began in North Louisiana as early as March 1st. On that day, Black river was the medium, through an attack made by a small Federal fleet consisting of an ironclad, the Osage, and five other boats (semi-gunboats).3 This fleet made its appearance at [129] Beard's Point, on Black river, at 9:30 p. m. The objective point on the river was evidently Harrisonburg— the Confederate headquarters under Brig.-Gen. Camille J. Polignac.4 The territory is one of numerous watercourses, treacherous rivers interspersed with more treacherous bayous. Recent rains had made the roads, already bad, impassable for the movement of troops. Polignac, with a small force of infantry, under Colonel Taylor and Lieutenant-Colonel Stone, cavalry under Captain Randle, and Faries' battery, had so skillfully handled his men that the expedition was made practically a useless exhibition of force. He was gallantly assisted by Capt. T. A. Faries, of the Pelican (Louisiana) battery, against the flotilla, whose main damage had been done by firing not less than 1,000 rounds out of 24 and 32-pounders, and by shelling, out of 12-pounder Parrott rifles, the banks between Trinity and Harrisonburg, as well as the two towns. It was a brief fight, at short distance, between Faries' battery of light guns and the heavier metal of protected boats. This amphibious duel between a battery on shore and an armed flotilla in the river, was still a novelty in warfare. Disappointed at the result of ten days shelling, the flotilla withdrew, on the 4th, up the Ouachita river. Casualties, 3 killed and 13 wounded, 3 of them mortally. The enemy were supposed to have buried 15 on the banks of the Ouachita.

On the 17th, Banks heard of the capture of Fort De Russy on the 14th, by A. J. Smith's forces. He was also cheered by the news of the capture of Alexandria on the 15th, by Admiral Porter's fleet; and on the 19th, by the report that General Franklin was coming from the Teche with 18,000 men. From General Steele, at Camden, Arkansas, he heard that he was on the march with 12,000 [130] men to his aid. To a man of Banks' mercurial nature, all these reinforcements tending his way made propitious tidings. So lightened, indeed, was his heart, through these flashes connected with the expedition which was to twine his military column with laurel, that on the 13th he wrote to Halleck at Washington, ‘leaving General Franklin to continue his march as expeditiously to Alexandria as possible, I shall proceed immediately to that point.’

On April 2d he was reporting to the same official his arrival in Alexandria. He showed no anxiety about his rear, nor any fear that his garrisons in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Port Hudson would be much missed from his imposing advance. If numbers could win in this campaign in Louisiana, there were chances with odds for his success. ‘Gen. A. J. Smith,’ he says loftily, ‘with a column of 10,000 men is with us. Our troops occupy Natchitoches,5 and we hope to be in Shreveport by the 10th of April. I do not fear concentration of the enemy at that point. My fear is that they may not be willing to meet us there. I shall pursue the enemy into the interior of Texas for the sole purpose of destroying or dispersing his forces if it be in my power. . .. Taylor's forces are said to be on that line (Sabine town). This will not,’ he adds arrogantly, ‘divert us from our movement.’

Thus he wrote on April 2d, making much of A. J. Smith's 10,000 men, borrowed from General Sherman. A small string was attached, by the way, to this loan of Smith's division. Banks had agreed to return the men to Sherman within ‘three months.’ He never once [131] doubted that the pledge would be redeemed within the time. The great battle which was shortly to crown him with military success would surely bring the fulfillment of his pledge. He could see no danger on the Sabine Cross-roads, where Confederate Richard Taylor awaited him with hope equal to his. ‘Thus do I trample upon the pride of Plato,’ snarled Diogenes to the philosopher. ‘Yes,’ answered Plato, mildly, ‘but with greater pride, Diogenes.’ For with Dick Taylor were the Louisianians of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill!

Banks, a man of much hope and many fears, was greatly troubled about the low stage of Red river, which made him anxious in regard to the co-operation of Porter's larger gunboats. The smaller gunboats of the fleet were already at Alexandria, but the larger boats, deterred by the impossibility of passing the rapids, were anchored expectantly at Grand Ecore. From the first, he had been jubilant of that success which, a few days later, was to avoid him and finally escape him altogether. He thought highly enough of two or three details of his imposing campaign to let the government at Washington know them. The net results were the capture of four guns and 250 prisoners. (Report of General Banks, April 3, 1864.) One achievement was the capture of Fort De Russy, a water battery in a strategic position below Alexandria. Taylor had been at the pains to gather considerable ordnance and ordnance stores at the fort, which surrendered after an hour's fight. The capture of these stores proved a serious loss to his army's scanty supply.

In the meantime Kirby Smith was at Shreveport, looking out for Banks' army. He was sure of checking, in due time, its advance. Already in the latter part of August, 1863, that sagacious officer had known that a formidable expedition was preparing, under the auspices of Grant and Banks, up the Red river valley. He had not been ignorant of the collapse of that expedition by [132] reason of Rosecrans' defeat at Chickamauga, and by Grant's transfer to Tennessee. He had never lost the belief, during the ensuing months of inaction, that the frustrated expedition, grown riper for mischief and more dangerously equipped, would be renewed at some future day. This new movement of March, 1864, did not alarm him. What he had been doing in the interim had been to prepare his extensive department from Shreveport, on the shortest line of communication, to Camden, Ark. With permanent headquarters at Shreveport, General Smith knew that that city would be the meeting point of the two columns, advancing from Arkansas (Steele) and from New Orleans (Banks).

As showing the peculiar importance of Shreveport to the successful holding for the Confederacy of the Trans-Mississippi department, as the central point for west Louisiana, and to the inadequacy of his available forces, General Smith's report on the subject, June 11, 1864, is valuable as a summary of the situation. At that time, two months after Taylor's triumphant campaign, Shreveport was still a city of the Confederacy and the war capital of the (Confederate) State of Louisiana. ‘The enemy was operating with a force of full 50,000 effective men. With the utmost powers of concentration not 25,000 men could be brought to meet their movements. Shreveport was made the point of concentration. With its fortifications covering the depot, arsenals and shops at Jefferson, Marshall and above, it was a strategic point of vital importance. All the infantry, not with Taylor, opposed to Banks, was directed to Shreveport. General Price, with his cavalry command, was instructed to delay the march of Steele's column while the concentration was effected.’

While Kirby Smith was making ready for the vaunted expedition, so formidable in numbers, so thoroughly equipped in material, so confident of success, Banks himself was beginning to be dubious of seeing Steele's 12,000 [133] men from Arkansas in time for his own advance. In the closing days of March Taylor had been impatiently expecting reinforcements of cavalry. Vincent's Second Louisiana cavalry, which had been watching the enemy on the Teche, had joined him on the 19th. On the night of the 30th, the Fifth (Texas) cavalry rode in, followed by the Seventh on the 31st. Taylor, having secured his much needed cavalry, began at once to plan a counter-campaign. In February, he had learned by secret information from the city of the probable Federal plan of campaign. A. J. Smith was to bring from Vicksburg his division of veterans, while Banks was to march up through that Teche country which Taylor knew so well. He at once notified Gen. Kirby Smith of his suspicions. It was then that Smith, to meet this movement, began to draw in his forces, which were much scattered throughout his vast department. In March, A. J. Smith came up Red river while Banks was marching triumphantly up the Teche. Army and navy had joined in this final campaign of invasion. In the array, whether on land or wave, the lightest heart was that of the generalissimo of the army.

The Federals, after having captured Fort De Russy, marched unhalted up the whole valley of the Red river. Taylor had been falling back steadily before the enemy's advance, a falling back as if the Confederate mot d'ordre was to skirmish each day, and by night weakly yield the road just ahead. This held good until Taylor found himself at Mansfield, almost at the door of Shreveport. Here his mock patience gave out. Like a skilled sabreur he had, in the retreat, felt his enemy and had learned his strong points. Now, with Mouton's Louisianians at his call, and relieved about his cavalry, Taylor was to make sure of his weak play. In Mouton's command were the following Louisiana forces: Eighteenth regiment (Armant's); Crescent regiment (Bosworth's); Twenty-eighth (Gray's); Beard's battalion; Fournet's battalion; Faries' battery. [134]

Taylor did not count numbers. It mattered little to him that he was to hurl 9,000 men at that Federal wall of three times his number. He resolved to make a stand at Mansfield. With his battle already outlined in his mind, he sent a dispatch to Gen. Kirby Smith, stating his purpose. Fearing Taylor's impetuosity, Smith had the day before Mansfield sent a courier to him with this message: ‘Not to fight, but to withdraw nearer Shreveport.’ Smith had also sent from headquarters another dispatch of general application to all Confederates of Christian faith in his department. He had appointed April 8, 1864, as a day of fasting and prayer. The women of west Louisiana were on their knees weeping before their altars. Its soldiers were in the field, exultantly driving the enemy before them, a disorganized mass. [135]

1Buchel, who had served in the Prussian army, was an instructed soldier. Three days after he joined us he was mortally wounded in action, and survived but a few hours. The old Fatherland sent no bolder horseman to battle at Rosbach or Gravelotte.’—‘Destruction and Reconstruction’

2 Three roads led from Mansfield to Shreveport—the Kingston, Middle and Keachi. The distance by the first is thirty-eight miles by the second, forty; by the third, forty-five.—‘Destruction and Reconstruction.’

3 U. S. vessels engaged in the expedition: The Conestoga., Cricket, Fort Hindman, Lexington, Osage, and Ouachita.—Report of Com. Ramsay.

4 Brigadier-General Polignac (Prince Camille de Polignac) was a gallant young Frenchman, as devoted to the cause of the Confederacy as he had been, nay, as he still is, to the Bourbon Lilies Polignac had lately joined Taylor's army and had been put in command of a brigade of Texas infantry.

5 General Taylor says: ‘The enemy's advance reached the river road by the 31st. . . I remained in the town until the enemy entered, then rode four miles to Grand Ecore, where, in the main channel of Red river, a steamer was awaiting me. Embarking, I went up the river to Blair's Landing, .. .whence was a road 16 miles to Pleasant Hill . . . During this long retreat, I had been in correspondence with Gen. Kirby Smith, and always exposed my intentions to fight as soon as reinforcements reach me.’—Taylor's ‘Destruction and Reconstruction.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1864 AD (3)
March (3)
March, 1864 AD (2)
April 6th (2)
April 2nd (2)
19th (2)
June 11th, 1864 AD (1)
April 8th, 1864 AD (1)
April 3rd, 1864 AD (1)
February, 1864 AD (1)
August, 1863 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
April 10th (1)
April 4th (1)
March 12th (1)
March 7th (1)
March 5th (1)
March 1st (1)
February (1)
31st (1)
30th (1)
21st (1)
17th (1)
15th (1)
14th (1)
4th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: