Report of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, U. S. Army,
Commanding expedition and Department of the Gulf.
RED RIVER CAMPAIGN
NEW YORK, April 6, 1865.
Hon. E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.:
SIR: I have the honor to transmit a report of the military operations of my command in the Department of the Gulf, in 1862, 1863, and 1864. It is prepared by direction of the Adjutant-General. Being absent from the records, I have been unable to state as fully and as much in detail as could be desired the history of the different campaigns. After the campaign of Port Hudson the troops were engaged immediately and continuously, and the officers were for that reason unable to make detailed reports of the operations of their respective commands. I have been unable, therefore, to name the officers who deserve the consideration and favor of the Government for distinguished services, of whom there are many, and I shall ask leave to submit an additional report upon that subject. The details of the Port Hudson campaign are drawn from such publications and dispatches of the time as have been within my reach. Any error that may occur will be corrected at the earliest possible moment.
With much respect, your obedient servant,
N. P. Banks,
To THE SECRETARY OF WAR
SIR: While engaged in earnest efforts to effect the capture of Galveston, with a view to those general operations contemplated for the winter campaign, I was informed by a dispatch [sic], received January 23 and dated January 4, that “it was proposed that General Steele should advance to Red River if he could rely upon your (my) co-operation and be certain of receiving supplies on that line,” and that “the best military opinion of the generals of the West seemed to favor operations on Red River, provided the stage of the water would enable the gun-boats to co-operate;” that “this would open a better theatre of operations than any other for such troops as General Grant could spare during the winter.” I was also informed that Major General Grant and Major General Steele had been written to, and I was instructed to communicate with them upon this subject.
Having made known my plan of operations on the coast, and fully stated at different times the difficulties to be encountered in movements by land in the direction of Alexandria and Shreveport, I did not feel at liberty to decline participation in the campaign, which had been pressed upon my attention from the time I was assigned to the command of this department, and which was now supported by the concurrent opinions of the general officers in the west, on account of difficulties which might be obviated by personal conference with commanders, or by orders from the general-in-chief. It was not, however, without well-founded apprehensions of the result of the campaign, and a clear view of the measures (which I suggested) indispensable to success, that I entered upon this new campaign.
The necessity of a perfect unity of command and of purpose, as well as of constant communication between the forces assigned to this duty, and then separated by hundreds of miles, was too apparent to admit of question.
I replied to this dispatch [sic] on the 23d of January, stating that “with the forces proposed,” to wit, General Sherman’s and General Steele’s and my own disposable force, I concurred in the opinion that the Red River was the shortest and best line of defense for Louisiana and Arkansas, and as a base of operations against Texas, and that with my own forces and those of General Steele and the assistance of General Sherman, the success of the movements on that line might be made certain and important, and that I should cordially co-operate with them in executing the orders of the Government.
In order that the inherent difficulties attending the proposed combined movement, which had been thoroughly tested in the campaign of 1863 and 1864, and which I had represented with as much earnestness as seemed to be proper, might be presented in a manner most likely to gain attention, I directed Maj. D.C. Houston, chief engineer of the department, who possessed the highest claims to favorable consideration from professional qualifications and experience and his acquaintance with the route, to prepare a memorial upon operations on Red river, which had been long under consideration.
This was transmitted to the headquarters of the Army, and appeared to have received the attention and approval of the general-in-chief. It stated with precision the obstacles to be encountered and the measures necessary to accomplish the object in view. No change would be required in this statement if it had been written in review, rather than in anticipation of, the campaign. It recommended as a condition indispensable to success, 1st, such complete preliminary organization as would avoid the least delay in our movements after the campaign had opened; 2d, that a line of supply be established from the Mississippi independent of water-courses; 3d, the concentration of the forces west of the Mississippi and such other force as should be assigned to this duty from General Sherman’s command, in such a manner as to expel the enemy from Northern Louisiana and Arkansas; 4th, such preparation and concert of action among the different corps employed as to prevent the enemy, by keeping him constantly employed, from operating against our positions or forces elsewhere; and, 5th, that the entire force should be placed under the command of a single general. Preparations for a long campaign were advised, and the month of May indicated as the point of time when the occupation of Shreveport might be anticipated. Not one of these suggestions, so necessary in conquering the inherent difficulties of the expedition, were [sic] carried into execution, nor was it in my power to establish them. The troops under command of General Steele were acting independently of my command, under orders not communicated to me, and at such distance that it was impossible to ascertain his movements or to inform him of my own, so that we might co-operate with or support each other. The detachment of troops from the command of Major-General Sherman, though operating upon the same line with my own, were under special orders, having ulterior objects in view, and afforded an earliest but only a partial co-operation in the expedition. The distance which separated the different commands, the impossibility of establishing necessary communications between them, the absence of a general authority to command them, the time that was required for the transmission of orders from Washington, and the necessity of immediate action, on account of the condition of the rivers and operations contemplated for the armies elsewhere, gave rise to embarrassments in the organization of forces and in the execution of orders which could not be overcome.
In the instructions I received from the Government it was left to my discretion whether or not I would join in this expedition; but I was directed to communicate with General Sherman and General Steele and Admiral Porter upon the subject. I expressed the satisfaction I should find in co-operating with them in a movement deemed of so much importance by the government, to which my own command was unequal, and my belief that, with the forces designated, it would be entirely successful. Having received from them similar assurances, both my discretion and my authority, so far as the organization of the expedition was concerned, were at an end. The disposition of the enemy’s forces at that time, according to the best information that could be obtained, was as follows: Magruder had about 20,000 men of all arms, of which 15,000 were serviceable. The main body covered Galveston and Houston from an anticipated movement from Matagorda Peninsula, still held by our troops. Walker’s division, numbering 7,000 men, were upon the Atchafalaya and Red rivers, from Opelousas to Fort De Russy; Mouton’s division, between the Black and Washita Rivers, from Red River to Monroe, numbering 6,000 men; while Price, with two heavy divisions of infantry, estimated at 5,000, and a large cavalry force, estimated at from 7,000 to 10,000, held the country from Monroe to Camden and Arkadelphia, confronting Steele. Magruder could spare 10,000 of his force to resist an attack from the east, leaving his fortifications well garrisoned on the coast, while Price could furnish at least an additional 5,000 from the north, making a formidable army of from 25,000 to 30,000 men, equal to any forces that could be brought against them, even with the most perfect unity and co-operation of commands. This estimate of the strength of the enemy was given in my dispatch of February 2, but was thought, upon information received by the government, to be exaggerated. The defenses of the enemy consisted of a series of works covering the approaches to Galveston and Houston from the south, the defenses of Galveston bay, Sabine Pass, and Sabine river, Fort De Russy, a formidable work located 3 miles from Marksville for the defense of the Red river, and extensive and formidable works at Trinity, the junction of the Tensas and Washita at Camden, commanding approaches from the north.
To meet these forces of the enemy it was proposed to concentrate, in some general plan of operations, 15,000 of the troops, under command of General Steele, a detachment of 10,000 from the command of General Sherman, and a force from 15,000 to 17,000 men from the Army of the Gulf, making an army of 35,000 to 37,000 men of all arms, with such gunboats as the Navy Department should order. Orders were given to my command at once to suspend operations at Galveston, and vigorous preparations were made for the new campaign. Having been charged by the President with duties not immediately connected with military operations, but which were deemed important and required my personal attention at New Orleans, the organization of the troops of my command assigned to the expedition was intrusted [sic] to Major Geneal W. B. Franklin. The main body of his command, consisting of the Nineteenth Corps (except Grover’s division at Madisonville, which was to join him,) and one division of the 13th Corps, under General Ransom, were at this time on Berwick’s bay, between Berwick City and Franklin, on the Bayou Teche, directly on the line of march for Alexandria and Shreveport. Small garrisons were left at Brownsville and Matagorda bay in Texas (positions which, under instructions from the President and subsequently from Lieutenant General Grant, were not to be abandoned,) at New Orleans, and at Port Hudson, which was threatened by a vigorous and active enemy. Smaller garrisons at Baton Rouge and Donaldsonville, on the river, and at Pensacola and Key West, on the coast, constituted the balance of forces under my command.
It had been arranged that the troops concentrated at Franklin should move for the Red river on the 7th of March, to meet the forces of General Sherman at Alexandria on the 17th, but, for causes stated by General Franklin, the march was delayed until the 13th, at which time the advance under General A. L. Lee, left Franklin, the whole column following soon after and arriving at Alexandria, the cavalry on the 19th and the infantry on the 25th. On the 13th of March, 1864, one division of the 16th Corps, under Brigadier General Mower, and one division of the 17th Corps, under Brigadier General T. Kilby Smith – the whole under command of Brigadier General A. J. Smith – landed at Simmsport, on the Atchafalaya, and proceeded at once toward Fort De Russy, carrying it by assault at 4.30 p.m. on the afternoon of the 14th. Two hundred and sixty prisoners and 10 heavy guns were captured. Our loss was slight. The troops and transports under General A. J. Smith, and the Marine Brigade, under General Ellet, with the gunboats, moved to Alexandria, which was occupied without opposition on the 16th of the same month. General Lee, of my command, arrived at Alexandria on the morning of the 19th. The enemy in the mean time [sic] continued his retreat through Cheneyville, in the direction of Shreveport. Officers of my staff were at Alexandria on the 19th, and I made my headquarters there on the 24th, the forces under General Franklin arriving on the 25th and 26th of March; but as the stage of the water in Red River was too low to admit the passage of the gunboats or transports over the falls, the troops encamped near Alexandria, General Smith and his command moving forward twenty-one miles to Bayou Rapides, above Alexandria. There was but six feet of water in the channel, while seven and a half was necessary for the second-class and ten feet for the first-class gunboats. The river is narrow, the channel tortuous, changing with every rise, making its navigation more difficult and dangerous, probably, than any of the western rivers, while pilots for the transports were reluctant to enter government service for this campaign. The first gunboat was unable to cross the rapids until the 26th; others crossed on the 28th, with some transports, and others still on the 2d and 3d of April, the passage having been made with difficulty and danger, occupying several days. Several gunboats and transports, being unable then to ascend the river, remained at Alexandria or returned to the Mississippi.
While at Alexandria Major General McPherson, commanding at Vicksburg, called for the immediate return of the Marine Brigade – a part of General Smith’s command – to protect the Mississippi, for which service it had been specially organized. The transports of this brigade were unable to pass above Alexandria. The hospital boat, Woodford, had been wrecked on the rapids in attempting the passage up. The troops were suffering from smallpox, which pervaded all the transports, and they were reported in condition of partial mutiny. It was not supposed at that time that a depot or garrison at Alexandria would be required, and this command being without available land or water transportation, was permitted to return to the Mississippi, in compliance with the demands of General McPherson. This reduced the strength of the advancing column about 3,000 men.
The condition of the river and the inability of the transports to pass the falls made it necessary to establish a depot of supplies at Alexandria, and a line of wagon transportation from the steamers below to those above the falls. This was a departure from the plan of the campaign, which did not contemplate a post or depot at any point on Red river, and involved the necessity of leaving a division at Alexandria for the purpose of protecting the depot, transports, and supplies. Brigadier General C. Grover was placed in command of the post, and his division left for its defence [sic]. This reduced the force of the advancing column about 3,000 men.
While at Alexandria, on the 21st instant, a movement was organized against the enemy posted at Henderson’s Hill, twenty-five miles in advance. The expedition consisted of three brigades of General A. J. Smith’s command and a brigade of cavalry of the 19th Corps, under command of Colonel Lucas, of the 16th Indiana Volunteers – the whole under command of Brigadier General Mower, of the 16th Corps. The enemy were surprised, losing two hundred and fifty prisoners, two hundred horses, and four guns with their caissons. Colonel H. B. Sargent, of my staff, was severely wounded in this action, and disabled from service during the campaign. This affair reflected the highest credit upon the officers and men engaged. Anticipating by a few days the passage of the gunboats, the army marched from Alexandria for Natchitoches, eighty miles distant by land, reaching that point on the 2d and 3d of April. The enemy continued his retreat, skirmishing sharply with the advance guard, but offering no serious resistance to our advance.
The shortest and only practicable road from Natchitoches to Shreveport was the stage road through Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, distance 100 miles, through a barren, sandy country, with little water and less forage, the greater portion an unbroken pine forest.
A reconnaissance from Natchitoches on the 2d April, under command of General Lee, discovered the enemy in force at Pleasant Hill, thirty-six miles distant, and established the fact that a portion of Green’s command had arrived from Texas, and were then confronting us. Prisoners captured from Price’s command indicated what had been feared from the loss of time at Alexandria, a concentration of the entire available force of the enemy, numbering, according to the statements of prisoners and intercepted letters, about 25,000 men, with 76 guns.
The river was perceptibly falling, and the larger gunboats were unable to pass Grand Ecore. The troops under command of General A. J. Smith, which had hitherto moved in transports by the river, now marched by land from Natchitoches, with the exception of one division of the 17th Corps, 2,500 men, under Brigadier General T. Kilby Smith, which, by order of General A. J. Smith, continued its movements by the river,in company with the fleet, for the protection of the transports. The arrangement of land transportation for this portion of the column, the replenishing of supply trains from the transports, and the distribution of rations to the troops, were made at this point, but the fleet was unable to ascend the river until the 7th of April. The condition of the river would have justified the suspension of the movement altogether at either point, except for the anticipation of such a change as to render it navigable. Upon this subject the counsel of the naval officers was implicitly followed. On the 4th of April, Colonel O. P. Gooding, commanding a brigade of cavalry engaged upon a reconnaissance north of Red river, encountered Harrison’s command, 1,500 strong, in which the enemy was defeated with considerable loss. Our loss was about forty in killed, wounded, and missing. The enemy’s repulse was decisive. The army was put in motion for Shreveport via Pleasant Hill and Mansfield April 6. General Lee with the cavalry division led the advance, followed by a detachment of two divisions of the 13th Corps, under General Ransom, first division, 19th Corps, under General Emory, and a brigade of colored troops under command of Colonel Dickey, the whole under the immediate command of Major General Franklin. The detachments of the 16th Army Corps under command of Brigadier General A. J. Smith, followed on the 7th, and a division of the 17th Army Corps, under Brigadier General T. Kilby Smith, accompanied Admiral Porter on the river as a guard for the transports.
The fleet was directed to Loggy bayou, opposite Springfield, where it was expected communications would be established with the land forces at Sabine Crossroads, a distance of fifty-four miles by land from Grand Ecore, and one hundred miles by water. I remained with a portion of my staff to superintend the departure of the river and land forces from Grand Ecore until the morning of the 7th, and then rode rapidly forward, reaching the head of the column at Pleasant Hill the same evening, where the main body encamped. General Smith’s command was at the rear of the column on the march, but passed the negro brigade on the route to Pleasant Hill. A very heavy rain fell all day on the 7th, which greatly impeded the movement of the rear of the column, making the road almost impassable for troops, trains, or artillery. The storm did not reach the head of the column. In passing the troops from Natchitoches to Pleasant Hill I endeavored, as much as possible, to accelerate their movements.
The enemy offered no opposition to their march on the 6th. On the 7th the advance drove a small force to Pleasant Hill, and from there to Wilson’s farm, three miles beyond, where a sharp fight occurred with the enemy posted in a very strong position, from which they were driven with serious loss and pursued to Saint Patrick s bayou, near Carroll’s Mill, about nine miles from Pleasant Hill, where our forces bivouacked for the night. We sustained in this action a loss of fourteen men killed, thirty-nine wounded, and nine missing. We captured many prisoners, and the enemy sustained severe losses in killed and wounded. During the action General Lee sent to General Franklin for re-enforcements, and a brigade of infantry was sent forward, but the firing having ceased it was withdrawn. The officers and men fought with great spirit in this affair. At daybreak on the 8th, General Lee, to whose support a brigade of the 13th Corps, under Colonel Landram, had been sent by my order, advanced upon the enemy, drove him from his position on the opposite side of Saint Patrick’s bayou and pursued him to Sabine Crossroads, about three miles from Mansfield. The advance was steady, but slow, and the resistance of the enemy stubborn. He was only driven from his defensive positions on the road by artillery. At noon, on the 8th, another brigade of the 13th Corps arrived at the crossroads, under Brigadier General Ransom, to relieve the first brigade. The infantry moved from Pleasant Hill at daybreak on the 8th, the head of the column halting at Saint Patrick’s bayou, in order that the rear might come up. I passed General Franklin’s headquarters at 10 a.m., giving directions to close up the column as speedily as possible, and rode forward to ascertain the condition of affairs at the front, where I arrived between one and two o’clock. General Ransom arrived nearly at the same time, with the second brigade, 13th Corps, which was under his command in the action at the Crossroads.
I found the troops in line of battle, the skirmishers sharply engaged, the main body of the enemy posted on the crest of a hill in thick woods on both sides of a road leading over the hill to Mansfield on our line of march. It was apparent that the enemy was in much stronger force than at any previous point on the march, and being confirmed in this opinion by General Lee, I sent to General Franklin, immediately upon my arrival, a statement of the facts and orders to hurry forward the infantry with all possible dispatch [sic], directing General Lee at the same time to hold his ground steadily, but not advance until re-enforcements should arrive. Our forces were for a long time stationary, with some skirmishing on the flanks. It soon became apparent that the entire force of the enemy was in our front. Several officers were sent to General Franklin to hurry forward the column. Skirmishing was incessant during the afternoon. At 4.30 p.m. the enemy made a general attack all along the lines, but with great vigor upon our right flank. It was resisted with resolute determination by our troops, but overpowering numbers compelled them, after resisting the successive charges of the enemy in front and on the flank, to fall back from their position to the woods in rear of the open field, which they occupied, retreating in good order. The enemy pressed with great vigor upon the flanks, as well as in front, for the purpose of getting to the rear, but were repulsed in this attempt by our cavalry.
At the line of woods a new position was assumed, supported by the third division of the 13th Army Corps, under General Cameron, which reached this point about 5 p.m., and formed in line of battle under the direction of Major General Franklin, who accompanied its advance. The enemy attacked this second line with great impetuosity and overpowering numbers, turning both flanks and advancing heavily upon the center. The assault was resisted with gallantry, but the troops finding the enemy in the rear, were compelled to yield the ground and fall steadily back. The road was badly obstructed by the supply train of the cavalry division, which prevented the retreat of both men and artillery. We lost ten of the guns of Ransom’s division in consequence of the position of the train, which prevented their withdrawal. Repeated efforts were made to reform the troops and resist the advance of the enemy; but though their progress was checked, it was without permanent success.
Brigadier General W. H. Emory, commanding first division, 19th Corps, had been early notified of the condition of affairs and directed to advance as rapidly as possible and form a line of battle in the strongest position he could select, to support the troops in retreat and check the advance of the enemy. The order to advance found him seven miles to the rear of the first battle-ground. He assumed a position at Pleasant Grove, about three miles from the crossroads, on the edge of the woods commanding an open field, sloping to the front. The 161st New York volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel Kinsey commanding, were deployed as skirmishers and ordered to the foot of the hill, upon the crest of which the line was formed to cover the rear of the retreating forces, to check the pursuit of the enemy, and give time for the formation of the troops.
General Dwight, commanding first brigade, formed his troops across the road upon which the enemy was moving, commanding the open field in front, the third brigade, Colonel Benedict commanding, formed to the left, and the second brigade, General McMillan, in reserve. The line was scarcely formed when the 161st New York volunteers were attacked and driven in. The right being threatened, a portion of McMillan’s brigade formed on the right of General Dwight. The fire of our troops was reserved until the enemy was at close quarters, when the whole line opened upon them with most destructive volleys of musketry. The action lasted an hour and a half. The enemy was repulsed with very great slaughter. During the fight a determined effort was made to turn our left flank, which was defeated. Prisoners reported the loss of the enemy in officers and men to be very great. General Mouton was killed in the first onset. Their attack was made with great desperation, apparently with the idea that the dispersion of our forces at this point would end the campaign, and with the aid of the steadily falling river leave the fleet of transports and gunboats in their hands or compel their destruction. Nothing could surpass in impetuosity the assault of the enemy but the inflexible steadiness and valor of our troops. The first division of the 19th Corps, by its great bravery in this action, saved the army and navy. But for this successful resistance to the attack of the enemy at Pleasant Grove, the renewed attack of the enemy with increased force could not have been successfully resisted at Pleasant Hill on the 9th of April. We occupied both battle-grounds at night.
From Pleasant Grove, where this action occurred, to Pleasant Hill was fifteen miles. It was certain that the enemy, who was within the reach of re-enforcements, would renew the attack in the morning, and it was wholly uncertain whether the command of General Smith could reach the position we held in season for a second engagement. For this reason the army, towards morning fell back to Pleasant Hill, General Emory covering the rear, burying the dead, bringing off the wounded, and all the material of the army. It arrived there at 8.30 on the morning of the 9th, effecting a junction with the forces of General Smith, and the colored brigade, under Colonel Dickey, which had reached that point the evening previous.
Early on the 9th, the troops were prepared for action, the movements of the enemy indicating that he was on our rear. A line of battle was formed in the following order: first brigade, 19th Corps, on the right, resting on a ravine; second brigade in the centre [sic], and third brigade on the left. The centre [sic] was strengthened by a brigade of General Smith’s forces, whose main force was held in reserve. The enemy moved toward our right flank. The second brigade withdrew from the centre [sic] to the support of the first brigade. The brigade in support of the centre [sic] moved up into position, and another of General Smith’s brigades was posted to the extreme left position on the hill, in echelon, to the rear of the left main line. Light skirmishing occurred during the afternoon. Between 4 and 5 o’clock it increased in vigor, and about 5 p.m., when it appeared to have nearly ceased, the enemy drove in our skirmishers and attacked in force, his first onset being against the left. He advanced in two oblique lines, extending well over toward the right of the third brigade, 19th Corps. After a determined resistance this part of the line gave way and went slowly back to the reserves. The first and second brigades were soon enveloped in front, right, and rear. By skillful movements of General Emory the flanks of the two brigades, now bearing the brunt of the battle, were covered. The enemy pursued the brigades, passing the left and centre [sic], until he approached the reserves under General Smith, when he was met by a charge led by General Mower and checked. The whole of the reserves were now ordered up, and in turn we drove the enemy, continuing the pursuit until night compelled us to halt.
The battle of the 9th was desperate and sanguinary. The defeat of the enemy was complete, and his loss in officers and men more than double that sustained by our forces. There was nothing in the immediate position or condition of the two armies to prevent a forward movement the next morning, and orders were given to prepare for an advance. The train which had been turned to the rear on the day of the battle was ordered to re-form and advance at daybreak. I communicated this purpose at the close of the day to General A. J. Smith, who expressed his concurrence therein; but representations subsequently received from General Franklin and all the general officers of the 19th Corps, as to the condition of their respective commands for immediate active operations against the enemy, caused a suspension of this order, and a conference of the general officers was held in the evening, in which it was determined, upon the urgent recommendation of all the general officers above named, and with the acquiescence of General Smith, to retire upon Grand Ecore the following day. The reasons urged for this course by the officers commanding the Nineteenth and Thirteenth Corps were–
First, that the absence of water made it absolutely necessary to advance or retire without delay. General Emory’s command had been without rations for two days, and the train, which had been turned to the rear during the battle, could not be put in condition to move forward upon the single road through dense woods, in which it stood, without difficulty and loss of time. It was for the purpose of communicating with the fleet at Springfield Landing from the Sabine Crossroads to the river, as well as to prevent the concentration of the Texan troops with the enemy at Mansfield, that we had pushed for the early occupation of that point. Considering the difficulty with which the gunboats passed Alexandria and Grand Ecore, there was every reason to believe that the navigation of the river would be found impracticable.
A squadron of cavalry, under direction of Mr. Young, who had formerly been employed in the surveys of this country and was now connected with the engineer department, which had been sent upon a reconnaissance to the river, returned to Pleasant Hill, on the day of the battle, with the report that they had not been able to discover the fleet nor learn from the people its passage up the river.*
* The report of General T. Kilby Smith, commanding the river forces, states that the fleet did not arrive at Loggy bayou until 2 p.m. on the 10th of April, two days after the battle at Sabine Cross-Roads.
This led to the belief that the low water had prevented the advance of the fleet. The condition of the river, which had been steadily falling since our march from Alexandria, rendered it very doubtful, if the fleet ascended the river, whether it could return from any intermediate point; and probably, if not certain, that if it reached Shreveport it would never escape without a rise of the river, of which all hopes began to fail. The forces designated for this campaign numbered 42,000 men; less than half that number was actually available for service against the enemy during its progress. The distance which separated General Steele’s command from the line of our operations (nearly two hundred miles) rendered his movements of little moment to us, or to the enemy, and reduced the strength of the fighting column to the extent of his force, which was expected to be from 10,000 to 15,000 men. The depot at Alexandria, made necessary by the impracticable navigation, withdrew from our forces 3,000 men under General Grover. The return of the Marine Brigade to the defence [sic] of the Mississippi, upon the demand of Major General McPherson, and which could not pass Alexandria without its steamers nor move by land for want of land transportation, made a further reduction of 3,000 men.
The protection of the fleet of transports, against the enemy on both sides of the river, made it necessary for General A. J. Smith to detach General T. Kilby Smith’s division of 2,500 men from the main body for that duty. The army train required a guard of 500 men. These several detachments, which it was impossible to avoid, and the distance of General Steele’s command, which it was not in my power to correct, reduced the number of troops that we were able at any point to bring into action, from 42,000 men to about 20,000. The losses sustained in the very severe battles of the 7th, 8th, and 9th of April amounted to about 3,969 men, and necessarily reduced our active forces to that extent. The enemy, superior to us in numbers in the outset, by falling back, was able to recover from his great losses by means of re-enforcements, which were within his reach as he approached his base of operations, while we were growing weaker as we departed from ours. We had fought the battle at Pleasant Hill with about 15,000 against 22,000 men and won a victory, which, for these reasons, we were unable to follow up. Other considerations connected with the actual military condition of affairs afforded additional reasons for the course recommended.
Between the commencement of the expedition and the battle of Pleasant Hill a change had occurred in the general command of the army, which caused a modification of my instructions in regard to this expedition.
Lieutenant General Grant, in a dispatch dated the 15th March, which I received on the 27th March, at Alexandria, eight days before we reached Grand Ecore, by special messenger, gave me the following instructions: “Should you find that the taking of Shreveport will occupy ten or fifteen days more time than General Sherman gave his troops to be absent from their command you will send them back at the time specified in his note of (blank date) March, even if it should lead to the abandonment of the main object of the expedition. Should it prove successful, hold Shreveport and Red river with such force as you deem necessary and return the balance of your troops to the neighborhood of New Orleans.” These instructions, I was informed, were given for the purpose of having “all parts of the army, or rather all armies, act as much in concert as possible,” and with a view to a movement in the spring campaign against Mobile, which was certainly to be made “if troops enough could be obtained without embarrassing other movements, in which event New Orleans would be the point of departure for such an expedition.”
A subsequent dispatch [sic], though it did not control, fully justified my action, repeated these general views and stated that the commanding general “would much rather the Red river expedition had never been begun that that you should be detained one day beyond the 1st of May in commencing the movement east of the Mississippi.”
The limitation of time referred to in these dispatches was based upon an opinion which I had verbally expressed to General Sherman, at New Orleans, that General Smith could be spared in thirty days after we reached Alexandria; but it was predicted upon the expectation that the navigation of the river would be unobstructed; that we should advance, without delay, at Alexandria, Grand Ecore, or elsewhere on account of low water, and that the forces of General Steele were to co-operate with us effectively at some point on Red river, near Natchitoches or Monroe. It was never understood that an expedition that involved on the part of my command a land march of nearly 400 miles into the enemy’s country, and which terminated at a point which we might not be able to hold, either on account of the strength of the enemy or the difficulties of obtaining supplies, was to be limited to thirty days. The condition of our forces, and the distance and difficulties attending the further advance into the enemy’s country after the battles of the 8th and 9th against an enemy superior in numbers to our own, rendered it probable that we could not occupy Shreveport within the time specified; and certain that, without a rise in the river, the troops necessary to hold it against the enemy would be compelled to evacuate it for want of supplies, and impossible that the expedition should return ,in any event, to New Orleans in time to co-operate in the general movements of the army, contemplated for the spring campaign. It was known at this time that the fleet could not re-pass the rapids at Alexandria, and it was doubtful, if the fleet reached any point above Grand Ecore, whether it would be able to return. By falling back to Grand Ecore we should be able to ascertain the condition of the fleet, the practicability of continuing the movement by the river; reorganize a part of the forces that had been shattered in the battles of the 7th, 8th, and 9th, possibly ascertain the position of General Steele and obtain from him the assistance expected for a new advance north of the river or upon its southern bank, and, perhaps, obtain definite instructions from the Government as to the course to be pursued. Upon these general considerations, and without reference to the actual condition of the respective armies, at 12 o’clock, midnight, on the 9th, I countermanded the order for the return of the train, and directed preparations to be made for the return of the army to Grand Ecore. The dead were buried, and the wounded brought in from the field of battle and placed in the most comfortable hospitals that could be provided, and surgeons and supplies furnished for them. A second squadron of cavalry was sent, under direction of Mr. Young, of the engineer department, to inform the fleet of our retrograde movement and to direct its return, if it had ascended the river, and on the morning of the 10th the army leisurely returned to Grand Ecore. The wounded were immediately visited by Dr. Sanger, who took with him clothing, rations, medicines, and other supplies, and reported them in comfortable condition.
The fleet sailed from Grand Ecore on the 7th and reached its destination at Loggy Bayou on the evening of the 10th, one day after the battle at Pleasant Hill and two days after the engagement at Sabine Crossroads. General T. Kilby Smith received a verbal message the evening of the 10th, and on the morning of the 11th written orders to return. The transports were in a crippled condition, rudders unshipped, and wheels broken. The enemy attacked the fleet, on its return, near Pleasant Hill Landing, on the 12th, with a force of 2,500 cavalry, a strong reserve infantry, and a battery of six guns, under General Green; but the troops, protected by cotton bales and bales of hay, with the gunboats, kept up a deadly fire, and drove the enemy from the river. For two miles the bank was strewn with the wounded and dead. Among other rebel officers killed was General Green, who was left dead upon the field. The troops of the transports saw him fall, and claim that his death was the work of their artillery – the gunboats and transports all firing at the same time. The enemy, under Liddell, who had occupied the north bank of the river with 2,500 men, attacked the fleet on the 13th, but was driven back with loss. The navigation up and down the river was intricate and difficult, and the steamers were frequently aground.
Several of the boats were laden with ammunition and ordnance stores, but the energy of the officers and men brought off every boat. The only loss in stores was a hundred sacks of oats, thrown overboard for the relief of a steamer aground. They reached Compte on the 14th, with a loss of one man killed and eighteen wounded, where they met a force from the army sent to their assistance, and reached Grand Ecore on the 15th without further obstruction.
General T. Kilby Smith, to whose courtesy I am indebted for all the official information I have received of this part of the expedition, mentions with commendation Major D. C. Houston, of the engineers, who had in charge the ordnance stores, and Lieutenant Colonel W. S. Abert, officers of my staff, who accompanied him, and also officers and men of his own command and masters of transport steamers.
General Smith, who commanded the land forces and transports, is entitled to the highest commendation for the energy, skill, and success with which he managed this most difficult affair. Lines of defense were established at Grand Ecore the 12th of April, and orders given to attack the enemy if he approached. A pontoon bridge was thrown across the river during the night. Our pickets were driven in on the 13th, but the enemy appeared, upon a reconnaissance made in force, to have gone below for the purpose either of attacking our troops at Alexandria or occupying Monett’s Bluff, on Cane River. On the same day General Smith crossed the river with two brigades, two batteries, and a strong cavalry force, to aid the fleet still above Grand Ecore. Despatches [sic] were sent to General Steele, informing him of the condition of affairs and requesting him to join us at some point on the river. Orders were sent to New Orleans for re-enforcements, and the Lieutenant General commanding the Army was informed of the condition of affairs by telegraph, and of my intention to advance upon Shreveport, if General Steele could come to our assistance, and my determination not to withdraw without orders. The fleet returned on the 15th in safety, without loss of vessels or material of war. Admiral Porter, with whom I had a conference on his arrival at Grand Ecore, advised against any further attempt to advance without a rise of the river, and his counsel was followed. The river had been steadily falling. Supplies were brought up to Grand Ecore with very great difficulty. It was found that two of the gunboats could not go below Grand Ecore, and it was now certain that the fleet could not pass the falls at Alexandria. Lieutenant Commander Selfridge, left in command of the fleet by the admiral, who had gone to Alexandria, addressed to me a dispatch [sic], dated 17th of April, stating that he had been informed the army was to withdraw immediately, and that it would be impossible in that case to get the gunboats down the river. I informed him at once that the army had no intention of withdrawing from that position; that I had sent to New Orleans for troops, and by a special messenger to General Steele, urging his direct co-operation, and that until it was definitely ascertained that his assistance would fail us, and that my force would be insufficient to advance further upon this line against the enemy, who appeared to be in full force, I should entertain no thought of a retrograde movement, and never if it left the navy in any danger. No such purpose was then entertained, and until I received information in reply to my despatches [sic] it was my purpose to maintain my position. A copy of this letter is appended to this report.
The next day I received instructions from Lieutenant General Grant (to which I have referred) that if my return to New Orleans was delayed one day beyond the 1st of May, when it would be necessary for my command to co-operate with other armies in the spring campaign, it would have been better that the expedition had never been attempted. These instructions, with the fact that the river was not likely to rise; the report received by Capt. R. T. Dunham that General Steele could not co-operate with us, and that the difficulty of passing the falls at Alexandria was hourly increasing, if the passage was not even then impossible, led me to change my determination. It was not, however, until the entire fleet was free, transports and gunboats, and that Admiral Porter, in charge of the Eastport, which had been aground several miles below Grand Ecore for several days, had sent me word by Col. W. S. Abert (whose statement is hereto appended) that she was clear and further protection unnecessary, that orders were given the 21st April to turn the supply trains in the direction of Alexandria. The army moved on the morning of the 22d of April, every vessel having preceded both the marching orders and the movements of the army. Any statement, from whatever source, that the army contemplated moving from Grand Ecore toward Alexandria against the advance or without the approval of the naval officers in command, or until after the departure of every vessel on the river, is without the slightest color of truth. In my interview with Admiral Porter, on the 15th of April, he expressed the utmost confidence that the river would rise, and gave me no intimation of his leaving Grand Ecore, nor of the proposed withdrawal of his vessels, or of his apprehensions of the retreat of the army. I gave him at that time distinct information of my plans, which were to advance. This fact was communicated to Lieutenant Commander Selfridge in my letter of the 17th of April. The admiral expressed the same confidence in the rise of the river to officers of the army, who from long experience in the Red river country, were equally confident that it would not rise.
The difficulties attending the voyage of the Eastport were incident to the condition of the river, for which the army was in nowise responsible. I had offered every assistance possible, and did not leave this position while any aid was suggested or required.
Colonel Bailey, after consultation with the general officers of the army, offered to float the Eastport over the bars by the construction of wing-dams, similar to those afterward built at Alexandria, but the assistance was declined. No counsel from army officers was regarded in nautical affairs.
The army marched from Grand Ecore on the morning of the 22d of April, having been detained there by the condition of the navy ten days. To prevent the occupation of Mowet’s bluff [sic, Monett’s Bluff], on Cane river, a strong position, commanding the only road leading across the river to Alexandria, or to prevent the concentration of the enemy’s forces at that point, if it was in his possession, it became necessary to accomplish the evacuation without his knowledge, and to prevent his strengthening the natural defenses of the position by the rapidity of our march. The conflagration of a portion of the town at the hour appointed for marching partially frustrated the first object, but the second was fully accomplished. The army marched from Grand Ecore to Cane River on the 20th of April, a distance of forty miles, and moved upon the position held by the enemy the 23d of April, before daybreak. About 8,000 men and sixteen guns, under command of General Bee, were found in possession of the bluff on the opposite side of the river, who [sic] were evidently surprised at the unexpected presence of our army, but ready to dispute our only passage toward Alexandria. At daybreak one division of the 19th and 13th Corps each, the cavalry commanded by General Arnold, and the artillery commanded by Captain Classon, the whole under command of General W. H. Emory, were ordered forward to the river for the purpose of forcing this position. The pickets of the enemy were encountered on the west side of the river and quickly driven across, but the main position was found to be too strong to be carried by direct attack. A reconnoitering party, under Colonel Bailey, 4th Wisconsin Volunteers, sent to ascertain the practicability of crossing the river below the ferry toward Red River, on the morning of the 23d, reported that the river was not fordable below the ferry, and that, owing to the impassable swamps on one side and the high bluffs on the other, it would not be possible to cross Cane River at any point below the ferry. If we failed to dislodge the enemy at the ferry, the only alternative open to us was to attempt a crossing to the north side of Red river, an exceedingly difficult and dangerous movement. At the same time a force under command of General H. W. Birge, consisting of his own command, the third brigade of the first division, 19th Army Corps, Colonel Fessenden commanding, and General Cameron’s division, 13th Corps, were ordered to cross the river three miles above the ferry, and turning the left flank of the enemy, carry the heights in reverse, if possible. Upon the successes of this movement depended the passage of the river by the army. The route traveled by General Birge’s command was intersected by bayous, swamps, and almost impenetrable woods. This force reached its position late in the afternoon. To accomplish the purpose in view it became necessary to carry two strong positions held by pickets and skirmishers before the enemy was encountered in force on the crest of a hill, commanding an open field, over which our troops were compelled to cross in making the attack. The third brigade 19th Corps, Colonel Fessenden commanding, carried this position, which was defended with vigor, by assault. Its occupation compelled the retreat of the enemy from the bluffs commanding the ferry and ford. Our loss in this most brilliant and successful affair was about two hundred killed and wounded. Colonel Fessenden, who led his command with great gallantry, was severely wounded. General Birge, as in all actions in which he has been engaged, deserved and received the highest commendation. Lieutenant William S. Beebe, of the ordnance department, and Mr. Young, of the engineer department, both volunteers, were conspicuous in the fight. Mr. Young was twice wounded, and died in New Orleans in July of the injuries received in this battle. The attack on the rear of the enemy’s position, covering the line of the enemy’s retreat, failed in consequence of the difficulties encountered in the march and the late hour at which our troops gained their position. The enemy was thus enabled to escape with his artillery by the Fort Jesup road to Texas.
The main body of the army had moved from Cloutreville [sic Cloutierville] at 4.30 a.m. on the 23d to the river. They drove in the enemy’s pickets three miles in advance of the river, and formed a line of battle in front of the enemy’s position, while General Birge was moving upon the enemy’s left flank. The enemy opened with a heavy cannonade from his batteries, which was returned by our artillery with spirit and effect. The fire was continued at intervals during the morning, but the troops were held in reserve for the purpose of forcing the passage of the river at the moment that General Birge commenced his attack on the right. The action lasted till dark, when the enemy retreated and the heights were occupied by our forces. General A. J. Smith’s command had sharp skirmishing with the advance of the enemy in our rear on the 23d.
At 2 o’clock on the morning of the 24th, six guns were fired from the camp of the enemy in the rear. It was interpreted as a signal that they were ready for a combined attack, but the enemy in front had then been driven from the river and the contemplated movement upon our front and rear failed. During the morning of the 23d, an effort had been made by a portion of the cavalry under Col. E. J. Davis to turn the right flank of the enemy’s position, by crossing the river below the ferry in the direction of Red river, which proved impracticable on account of impassable swamps. A sharp engagement occurred on the morning of the 24th, between the troops of General T. Kilby Smith and the enemy in the rear, which resulted in the repulse of the latter. Our loss was about 50 in this affair. Had the enemy concentrated his forces and fortified his position at Monet’s Bluff [sic Monett’s Bluff] we could not have forced him from it, and should have been compelled to accept the chances of crossing Red river above Cane river in the presence of the enemy on both sides of the river. Orders had been sent to General Grover to move with all his force upon Monet’s bluff [sic Monett’s Bluff] in the event of its being occupied by the enemy or our march seriously obstructed, and his troops were in readiness for this movement.
The army marched from Monet’s bluff [sic Monett’s Bluff] on the afternoon of the 24th of April, and established lines of defense at Alexandria on the 25th and 26th of April. In the twenty-four days intervening between the departure of the army from Alexandria and its return the battles of Wilson’s Farm, Sabine Crossroads, Pleasant Grove, Pleasant Hill, Compte, Monet’s bluff [sic Monett’s Bluff], and several combats in the neighborhood of Grand Ecore while we were in occupation of that point, had been fought. In every one of these engagements, except that at Sabine Crossroads, we had been successful. The failure to accomplish the main object of the expedition was due to other considerations than the actual superiority of the enemy in the field. In these operations, in which my own command had marched by land nearly 400 miles, the total loss sustained was 3,980 men, of whom 289 were killed, 1,541 wounded, and 2,150 missing. A large portion of the latter were captured and have been since exchanged, but a considerable portion returned to the army during its operations on Red river. No loss of artillery or of trains or any army material whatever was sustained, except that which occurred at Sabine Crossroads. We lost there Nims’ battery and a section of the Missouri Howitzer Battery, 150 wagons and 800 mules, captured by the enemy on account of the position of the train near the field of battle. All the ammunition wagons were saved. The army had captured up to this time from the enemy 23 guns and 1,500 prisoners. His losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners – officers and men – were much greater than ours. Among the former were some of the most efficient rebel commanders, whose loss can never be made good. Up to this time no other loss of men or material had been sustained by our army.
As soon as the lines of defense were completed preparations were made for the release of the fleet, which was then unable to pass below the falls. From the difficulty which the supply transports had encountered in passing the falls, it was known at Grand Ecore as early as the 15th of April that the navy could not go below, and the means for its release were freely discussed among officers of the army. During the campaign at Port Hudson the steamers Starlight and Red Chief were captured by Grierson’s Illinois cavalry, under command of Colonel Prince, in Thompson’s Creek. The bed of the creek was nearly dry and the steamers were sunk several feet in the sand. After the capture of Port Hudson, Colonel Bailey constructed wing-dams, which by raising the water lifted the steamers from the sand and floated them out of the creek into the Mississippi. This incident naturally suggested the same works at Alexandria for the relief of the fleet. A survey was ordered for the purpose of determining what measures could be best undertaken. The engineers of the army had complete surveys of the falls, captured from the enemy during our occupation of Alexandria in 1863, at the commencement of the Port Hudson campaign. It was found, upon examining these charts and upon a survey of the river, that the channel was narrow and crooked, formed in solid rock, and that it would be wholly impracticable to deepen its bed. It was therefore determined to commence the construction of a dam to raise the river to such a height as to enable the vessels to float over the falls. This project was freely discussed by the engineers and officers of the army, and was generally believed to be practicable. Capt. J. C. Palfrey, who had made the survey, reported that in his judgment it was entirely feasible, and the only question made related to the time that might be required for so great a work.
The management of this enterprise was naturally intrusted [sic] to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, 4th Wisconsin Volunteers, who was by profession a civil engineer, familiar with works of that kind common to slack-water navigation upon all the western rivers, and had successfully released the steamers from Thompson’s Creek, on the Mississippi. Colonel Bailey had suggested the practicability of the dam while we were at Grand Ecore, and had offered to release the Eastport when aground below Grand Ecore by the same means, which offer was declined. Material was collected during these preparations, and work commenced upon the dam on Sunday, May 1. Nearly the whole army was engaged at different times upon this work. The dam was completed on Sunday, May 8, and the gunboats Osage, Hindman, and two others came over the rapids about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The water had been raised upon the dam for a mile and a quarter about seven feet, with a fall below the dam of about six feet, making in all a fall of about thirteen feet above and below the falls. The pressure of the water at its completion was terrific. I went over the work at eleven o’clock on the evening of the 8th, with one of my staff officers, and felt that the pressure of the water was so great that it could not stand. I rode immediately to the point above where the fleet was anchored to ascertain if they were ready to follow the four boats that had already passed the rapids. I reached the fleet about twelve o’clock midnight. Scarcely a man or a light was to be seen. It was perfectly apparent that the boats were not in condition to take advantage of the completion of the dam, and feeling that it could not stand another day, I wrote a note to Admiral Porter at one o’clock on the morning of the 9th, which was delivered in person at two o’clock a.m. by Colonel J. G. Wilson, stating my belief as to the condition of the dam and fleet, and asking that measures should be taken to put the boats in condition to move over the rapids at the earliest possible moment in the morning. A little after five o’clock on the morning of the 9th, I saw a part of the dam swept away. The four boats that had passed the rapids the afternoon before were able to pass below through the opening which the waters had made. Only one of the vessels above the falls, the Lexington, was ready to move when the dam gave way, and that came down after the break and passed the dam safely, with all the vessels that were below the rapids. Had the others been ready to move all would have passed the rapids and the dam safely on Monday.
Until after the dam had been carried away no effort had been made to lessen the draught of the imprisoned vessels by lightening them of cargo, armament, or plating. Before the second series of dams was completed, a portion of the armament and the plating, materially lessening their draught and the depth of water required to float them, was removed. Lieutenant William S. Beebe, of the ordnance department, U.S. Army, superintended the removal of the heavy naval guns from above the rapids to a point below the dam by land, assisted by officers and soldiers of the army.
The army immediately commenced the reconstruction of the dam. Finding it impossible to resist the current of the river entirely, the opening made by the flood was only partially closed, and eight or ten wing-dams were constructed on the right and left bank of the river, in accordance with the original plan, turning the current of water directly upon the channel and raising it at the different points sufficiently to allow the vessels to pass. This new work was completed on the 12th of May, and on the afternoon of that day all the boats passed below the rapids to the dam. At six o’clock in the evening the Mound City and Carondelet passed the dam. The other boats remained above until the morning of the 13th. The water upon the dam was steadily falling, but at nine o’clock on the 13th all the boats had safely passed.
Preparations had been made for the movement of the army the evening after the passage of the boats below the dam on the 12th, and after all were below, on the 13th orders were given for the march.
The construction of the dam was exclusively the work of the army. But little aid or encouragement was rendered by officers of the navy, except by Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne, commanding the Mound City, who assisted in setting the cribs, and was always ready to answer the call of the officers charged with the construction of the work. The soldiers labored sedulously and zealously night and day, in and out of the water, from the 1st to the 13th of May, inclusive, when the passage of the boats was completed.
Upon my arrival at Alexandria, on the 25th of April, I found Major General Hunter with despatches [sic] from the Lieutenant General commanding the armies, reaffirming instructions which I had received at Grand Ecore relating to the operations of the army elsewhere, and to the necessity of bringing the Shreveport campaign to an end without delay. The only possible means of executing these peremptory orders had already been taken. General Hunter left on the 30th April, with despatches [sic] to the Lieutenant General, giving a report of the condition of affairs – that the fleet could not pass the rapids, that there was no course for the army but to remain for its protection, that the enemy would concentrate all his forces at that point for the destruction of the army and the fleet, and that it was necessary to concentrate our troops west of the Mississippi at the same point by which the army and navy could be relieved and the forces of the enemy destroyed.
Major General McClernand, with the larger part of the forces recently at Matagorda bay – which had been evacuated by order of Lieutenant General Grant, dated March 31 – arrived at Alexandria on the evening of the 29th of April. Brigadier General Fitz Henry Warren, left in command at Matagorda bay, followed with the rest of the forces in Texas, except those on the Rio Grande, when the batteries of the enemy on the river near Marksville obstructed his passage. Not having sufficient force to dislodge the enemy, he seized Fort De Russy below the batteries, which he held until the passage of the fleet and army.
While engaged in the construction of the dam a dispatch [sic] was received from Major General Halleck, dated April 30, as follows:
‘Lieutenant-General Grant directs that orders heretofore given be so modified that no troops be withdrawn from operations against Shreveport and on Red River, and that operations there be continued under the officer in command until further orders.’
This dispatch was not received until it was impossible to move either up or down the river from Alexandria. It was, of course, impracticable to execute these instructions.
Until the 4th of May communication with the Mississippi by the river was unobstructed. Lieutenant William Simpson, of my staff, left by the gunboat Signal with despatches [sic] for Lieutenant General Grant, Admiral Farragut, General Sherman, and General Rosecrans. The gunboat Covington, having in convoy the transport Warner, accompanied the Signal. We received news on the morning of the 6th of the destruction of the gunboats and the transport. The enemy had established a battery near Marksville, supported by a large infantry force. Communication with the Mississippi was closed from this date. About four hundred men of the 56th Ohio volunteers were on board the Warner. A part of them joined our troops below, and a portion of them pierced the lines of the enemy and returned to Alexandria. About one hundred and fifty were captured. Lieutenant Simpson was captured, but destroyed his despatches [sic]. The City Belle, on her way to Alexandria with four hundred and twenty-five men of the 120th Ohio volunteers, was captured by the enemy. Two hundred of the troops escaped.
The fleet passed below Alexandria on the 13th of May. The army on its march from Alexandria did not encounter the enemy in force until near the town of Mansura. He was driven through the town in the evening of the 14th of May, and at daybreak next morning our advance encountered his cavalry on the prairie east of the town. He fell back, with steady and sharp skirmishing across the prairie, to a belt of woods, which he occupied. The enemy’s position covered three roads diverging from Mansura to the Atchafalaya. He manifested a determination here to obstinately resist our passage. The engagement, which lasted several hours, was confined chiefly to the artillery until our troops got possession of the edge of the woods – first upon our left by General Emory; subsequently on our right by General Smith, when he was driven from the field, after a sharp and decisive fight, with considerable loss.
The 16th of May we reached Simmsport, on the Atchafalaya. Being entirely destitute of any ordinary bridge material for the passage of this river – about six hundred yards wide – a bridge was constructed of the steamers, under direction of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey. This work was not of the same magnitude, but was as important to the army as the dam at Alexandria was to the navy. It had the merit of being an entirely novel construction, no bridge of such magnitude having been constructed of similar materials. The bridge was completed at one o’clock on the 19th of May. The wagon train passed in the afternoon, and the troops the next morning, in better spirit and condition, as able and eager to meet the enemy as at any period of the campaign. The command of General A. J. Smith, which covered the rear of the army during the construction of the bridge and the passage of the army, had a severe engagement with the enemy, under Polignac, on the afternoon of the 19th, at Yellow Bayou, which lasted several hours. Our loss was about one hundred and fifty in killed and wounded; that of the enemy much greater, besides many prisoners who were taken by our troops. Major General E. R. S. Canby arrived at Simmsport on the 19th of May, and the next day assumed command of the troops as a portion of the forces of the military division of the West Mississippi, to the command of which he had been assigned.
Rumors were circulated freely throughout the camp at Alexandria that upon the evacuation of the town it would be burned. To prevent this destruction of property – part of which belonged to loyal citizens – General Grover, commanding the post, was instructed to organize a thorough police, and to provide for its occupation by an armed force until the army had marched for Simmsport. The measures taken were sufficient to prevent a conflagration in the manner in which it had been anticipated. But on the morning of the evacuation, while the army was in full possession of the town, a fire broke out in a building on the levee, which had been occupied by refugees or soldiers, in such a manner as to make it impossible to prevent a general conflagration. I saw the fire when it was first discovered. The ammunition and ordnance transports and the depot of ammunition on the levee were within a few yards of the fire. The boats were floated into the river and the ammunition moved from the levee with all possible dispatch [sic]. The troops labored with alacrity and vigor to suppress the conflagration, but owing to a high wind and the combustible material of the buildings it was found impossible to limit its progress, and a considerable portion of the town was destroyed.
On the 1st of April, two or three days before the army moved from Alexandria to Natchitoches, an election of delegates to the constitutional convention was held at Alexandria by request of citizens of the parish of Rapides. No officer or soldier interfered with or had any part whatever in this matter; it was left exclusively to the loyal citizens of the place. Three hundred votes were given in this election, which was a large majority of all the voting population in that parish. Fifteen hundred votes were a full representation of the people before the war. Nearly five hundred men from this and neighboring parishes enlisted in the army as mounted scouts, and rendered efficient and valuable services during the campaign.
Under the general prize law the naval authorities upon their arrival at Alexandria commenced the capture of cotton on both sides of the river, extending their operations from six to ten miles into the interior. Wagon trains were organized, cotton gins put in operation, and the business followed up with great vigor while the fleet lay at Alexandria. Some difficulty occurred with the marines, who insisted upon their right to pass the lines of the army, which was terminated by the advance of the army and navy to Grand Ecore. I was informed by parties claiming property which had been taken by the naval authorities, to whom I referred them, that upon application for relief their property had been released to them by the commander of the fleet. The army did not enter into competition with the navy in the capture of this property.
In order to remove all the products of the country which might, under any circumstances, be used to aid the rebellion against the government, General Grover, in command of the post of Alexandria, and the quartermaster of that post, upon the departure of the army from Alexandria, were directed to collect such property as should remain there after its departure and transmit it to the quartermaster at New Orleans, who was instructed to turn it over to the officers of the treasury, to be disposed of according to the orders of the government and the laws of Congress. Notice was also given to the supervising agent of the treasury at New Orleans that no trade would be allowed with that portion of the State until it should be completely and permanently occupied by the army. No person was allowed to accompany the army upon this expedition as reporter, or for any other purpose, without a distinct and written declaration that no trade by private parties or for personal purposes would be permitted under any circumstances, and that no property on private account would be transported by public or private vessels to New Orleans; but that all property sent to New Orleans would be consigned to the chief quartermaster, and by him turned over to the treasury agent and held subject to such claims and orders as should be approved by the government at Washington.
Previous to my departure from New Orleans, the chief quartermaster, Colonel S. B. Holabird, had been instructed that no privileges would be given to any party whatever, under any circumstances, to trade in, to dispose of, or to transport private property; that all the property that came down from that country, so far as the army was concerned, would be turned over to him, and by him to the proper treasury officers. The same information was given to the treasury agent. No permission was given to any person to accompany the army except upon these express conditions, and then only to such persons whose public positions seemed to be a full guarantee against the abuse of the privilege, and whose requests could not be properly refused. They were given to reporters of the public press and to prominent officers of States whose troops were in the field.
Upon representations made by officers of the Treasury Department at Alexandria that there would be difficulty in receiving such property except under the treasury regulations of the 26th of January, 1864, those regulations were officially promulgated for that purpose at Alexandria and at New Orleans. These orders were strictly enforced by all officers connected with or representing the army. There was no permission whatever given to any person to trade, to dispose of, or transport private property; no privilege of this kind was recognized under any circumstances. Every dollar’s worth of property that came into the hands of the army during this campaign was either appropriated to its use in kind by the proper officers of the commissary and quartermaster’s departments, receipts being given therefor, or transmitted to the chief quartermaster at New Orleans, and by him turned over to the treasury agents, to be disposed of according to the laws of Congress and the orders of the government.
When cotton or other property interfered with the transportation of any material of the army, or of refugees, negroes, or troops, upon the evacuation of the country, it was thrown from the boats and abandoned upon the river levee to the enemy. I intend this statement to be as comprehensive upon the subject as language can make it, and to cover all possible methods, direct or indirect, by which officers or citizens, public or private parties, or any persons whatever, could evade or violate these orders on the river or at New Orleans, or appropriate by any means public or private property to private uses or personal advantage, or to deprive the government or individuals of any property which, by any interpretation of military orders or public laws, could be considered as belonging justly and properly to them. General Grover, commanding the post, Colonel S. B. Holabird, chief quartermaster at New Orleans, and Honorable B. F. Flanders, supervising special agent Treasury Department, will be able to account to the government for public or private property coming into their hands during this campaign.
I was engaged upon the Gulf coast, hoping by the capture of Galveston and Mobile, to put my command in readiness for an effective co-operation, by Mobile and the Alabama River, with General Sherman, precisely in accordance with the campaign suggested by the Lieutenant General commanding the armies in his despatches [sic] of the 15th and 31st of March, when I received instructions to communicate with the admiral and the general officers commanding the fleet and forces of the upper Mississippi upon the subject of the campaign against Shreveport. I immediately complied with these orders. They had received similar instructions, and, in answer to my communications expressed their readiness and desire to enter upon the campaign. With the forces proposed, and the co-operation of the fleet, its success was reasonably certain. Under such circumstances I could not decline co-operation with them.
I at once abandoned all other enterprises and gave my whole attention to this service.
The first difficulty encountered was in the navigation of the river. Sixteen days’ delay, caused by the inability of the fleet to pass the rapids of Alexandria, and three days’ delay at Grand Ecore in waiting the rise of the river, enabled the enemy to concentrate his forces and rendered impossible that celerity of movement by the army which the success of the expedition demanded. Eight days of the delay at Alexandria would have been attributable to the tardy organization and movements of Franklin’s command, but the fleet was unable to pass the falls until eight days after his arrival at Alexandria. This delay was doubtless owing to the impracticable navigation of the river; but it is not improper to say that the forecast and diligence which are enforced upon all men in the daily affairs of life would have forbidden an attempt to force a fleet of so much importance to the free navigation of the Mississippi to a point from which it could never hope to escape, except upon the theory that the river ought to or might rise. The movement of the navy, in a dispatch [sic] of Rear Admiral D. D. Porter, to which the Secretary of the Navy has given official publication and sanction, is attributed to the request of General Banks, who “deemed the co-operation of the gunboats so essential to success that he (Porter) had to run some risks and make unusual exertions to get them over the falls.”
This implies that the responsibility of his action rests upon the army; but it is not consistent with the facts. The co-operation of the navy was an indispensable condition and basis of the expedition. Major General Halleck informed me, January 11, that he had been assured by the Navy Department that Admiral Porter would be prepared to co-operate with the army in its movements; and the admiral himself informed me, February 26, that he was “prepared to ascend Red River with a large fleet of gunboats,” and to cooperate with the army at any time when the water was high enough. The fleet was as necessary to the campaign as the army. Had it been left to my discretion, I should have reluctantly undertaken, in a campaign requiring but eight or ten light-draught gunboats, to force twenty heavy iron-clads four hundred and ninety miles upon a river proverbially as treacherous as the rebels who defended it, and which had given notice of its character by steadily falling when, as the admiral reports, “all other rivers were booming.”
There is a better reason for the disregard of the palpable difficulties of navigation than the overzealous counsel of army officers in nautical affairs. In a subsequent dispatch Admiral Porter says that “all my vessels navigated the river to Grand Ecore with ease, and with some of them I reached Springfield Landing, the place designated for the gunboats to meet the army. My part was successfully accomplished; the failure of the army to proceed and the retreat to Grand Ecore left me almost at the mercy of the enemy.” The records of the campaign do not at all support the reckless and fiery ardor of this statement. The fleet did not reach the “place appointed” until two full days after the first decisive battle with the enemy. The admiral occupied four days in moving 104 miles on what he calls “a rising river,” with “good water,” to the place appointed. General T. Kilby Smith states that the fleet made twenty miles on the 7th, fifty-seven miles on the 8th, eighteen miles on the 9th, and nine miles on the 10th of April – total, 104 miles. The failure of the fleet to move up the river with ordinary expedition, together with the fact that the gunboats were unable to pass Grand Ecore until the 7th, justified the belief that its advance had been prevented by the low stage of water, and governed the army exclusively in its retrograde movement to Grand Ecore, as it did in every important operation of the campaign. The admiral’s dispatch [sic] does not mention the fact that, in addition to the “mercy” of the enemy, he had the support of General T. Kilby Smith’s division of 2,500 men, whose most gallant and honorable part in the preservation of the fleet of gunboats and transports is not referred to in what the admiral calls “this curious affair between (the enemy’s) infantry and gunboats.” In view of the published despatches [sic] of Admiral Porter, it is proper for me to say that every position of difficulty in which the army was placed in this campaign was the immediate and direct consequence of delay in the operations of the navy. This may have been inevitable and entirely justifiable from the condition of the river. It is not my province to pass judgment upon its operations, but the fact remains, nevertheless. During my term of service it has been an invariable rule of conduct, from which I have never departed, to forbear the expression of opinion or complaint upon the official action of others, but I feel it to be a solemn duty to say, in this official and formal manner, that Admiral Porter’s published official statements, relating to the Red river campaign, are at variance with the truth, of which there are many thousand living witnesses, and do foul injustice to the officers and soldiers of the army, living and dead, to whom the Navy Department owes exclusively the preservation and honor of its fleet.
The partial disintegration of the several commands assigned to this expedition was a cause of embarrassment, though not entirely of failure. The command of Major General Steele, which I was informed by Major General Sherman would be about 15,000 men, was in fact but 7,000, and operating upon a line several hundred miles distant, with purposes and results entirely unknown to me. February 5 I was informed by General Steele that if any advance was to be made it must be by the Washita and Red rivers, and that he might be able to move his command by the way of Pine Bluff to Monroe for this purpose. This would have united our forces on Red river and insured the success of the campaign. The 28th of February he informed me that he could not move by the way of Monroe, and on the 4th of March, the day before my command was ordered to move, I was informed by General Sherman that he had written to General Steele to “push straight to Shreveport.” March 5 I was informed by General Halleck that he had no information of General Steele’s plans further than that he would be directed to facilitate my operations toward Shreveport. The 10th of March General Steele informed me that the objections to the route I wished him to take (by the way of Red river) were stronger than ever, and that he “would move with all his available force (about 7,000,) to Washington, and thence to Shreveport.” I received information the 26th of March, dated the 5th of March, from Major General Halleck, that he had “directed General Steele to make a real move, as suggested by you (Banks,) instead of a demonstration as he (Steele) thought advisable.” In April General Halleck informed me that he had telegraphed General Steele “to co-operate with you (Banks) on Red river with all his available forces.” April 16 I was informed, under date of the 10th, by General Sherman, that General Steele’s entire force would co-operate with me and the navy. In May I received information from General Steele, under date of the 28th of April, that he could not leave Camden unless supplies were sent to him, as those of the country were exhausted; that we “could not help each other operating on lines so wide apart ;” that he could not say definitely that he could join me “at any point on Red river at any given time,” and, from the distance that separated us, that I could render no assistance to him, an opinion in which I entirely concurred. I never received authority to give orders to General Steele; my instructions limited me to communication with him upon the subject of the expedition. His orders he received from other sources. I have no doubt that General Steele did all in his power to insure success, but as communication with him was necessarily by special messenger, and occupied from fifteen to twenty days at each communication, it was impossible for either of us fully to comprehend the relative positions of the two armies, or to assist or to support each other.
The column of General A. J. Smith was a partially independent command. General Sherman, in his dispatch [sic] of the 10th of April, received the 10th, informed me that “the thirty days for which he had loaned me General Smith’s command would expire on the 10th of April,” the day after the battle of Pleasant Hill. General Smith’s instructions, which he showed me, required him to confer constantly with Admiral Porter, the approved friend of the Army of the Tennessee. His orders were dated “Headquarters Red River Expedition, steamer Clara Bell.” He never declined co-operation with me, nor did he receive orders from me. He made no official reports of his forces or their operations. He was in nowise responsible for the results of the expedition, and may, perhaps, be said to have gained as much by its failure as he would from its success. When his thirty days were up he claimed the right, at Grand Ecore, to return to Vicksburg, irrespective of the condition of the army or the fleet, and did not consider himself at all responsible for the inevitable consequences of his withdrawal to the army or the navy, nor for that detention which their preservation demanded. That responsibility I was called upon to assume in written orders. I entertain no doubt that his official course was entirely consistent with his orders, and I cheerfully acknowledge the generous and earnest efforts of General Mower, of the 16th, and General T. Kilby Smith, of the 17th Corps, to infuse into the different corps that unity of spirit which is as essential to victory as the valor of the soldiers in actual battle. I gladly accord to the men of their commands the honor of having fought a desperate enemy, superior in numbers, with as much gallantry and success as that which distinguished the troops of my immediate command. No higher praise than this can be given to any soldiers. Alexander’s troops never fought better.
The results of the position of the cavalry train, and the loose order of march by the leading column of troops under Major General Franklin, on the 8th of April, before the battle of Sabine Crossroads, have been stated. A commanding officer is, of course, responsible for all that occurs to his command, whatever may have been the cause. I do not shrink from that responsibility. But, while it was both proper and necessary for me to give personal attention to the prompt advance of all the troops, and fleet, from Grand Ecore on the morning of the 7th, it was supposed that the movement of a single column of 13,000 men, moving in advance on one road for a distance of less than fifty miles in such manner as to be able to encounter the enemy if he offered resistance, might safely be intrusted to an officer of the reputation and experience of Major General Franklin, whose rank, except in one instance, was superior to that of any officer of the expedition or for the department of the Gulf.
I make no complaint of the navy; but in view of its prolific dispatches, long since published on this campaign, I may properly repeat a few facts already stated. The success of the expedition depended solely upon celerity of movement. The navy delayed the advance of the army at Alexandria sixteen days, and at Grand Ecore three days. It occupied four days in moving from Grand Ecore to Springfield Landing, a distance of 104 miles, upon what the dispatches call “a rising river with good water,” where it arrived two days after the first battle and one day after the decisive battle of the campaign at Pleasant Hill. It detained the army ten days at Grand Ecore and eighteen days at Alexandria on its return. These are not opinions; they are events. To the army they were pregnant and bloody events.
The difficulties of navigation, the imperfect concentration of forces, the incautious march of the 8th of April, and the limited time allotted to the expedition were the causes of its failure. We owe nothing to the enemy, not even our defeat. Could any one of these difficulties have been avoided the object of the campaign would have been accomplished.
But the occupation of Shreveport could not have been maintained. The presence of the enemy would have required such a force for its defense as could not have been supplied by the river, and for which no other arrangement had been made, as suggested in my dispatch [sic] of the 30th of March. The only possible method of maintaining this position would have been to concentrate at this point a force superior in numbers to the enemy, with sufficient time to pursue him wherever he should move, even if it took us to Galveston, on the Gulf coast. This was suggested as a possible result of the campaign, but it was not embraced within the original plan, and was specially precluded by orders received from the Lieutenant General commanding the armies.
I remain, sir, your obedient servant,
N. P. BANKS,
Major General Volunteers.
THE SECRETARY OF WAR
E. D. Townsend,
Assistant Adjutant General.
ADJUTANT GENERAL’S OFFICE, December 1, 1865.
Source: General Banks’s Report of the Red River Campaign, in Annual Report of the Secretary of War, in Message of the President of the United States, and Accompanying Documents, to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the First Session of the Thirty-Ninth Congress. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866.
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