Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

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Grant Ends the Prisoner Exchange (Though it Wasn’t that Simple)

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April 17, 1864 (Sunday) Over the summer of 1863, the Federal victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg included many thousands of captured Confederates. Previously in the war, these prisoners would have been paroled on the spot, the captives vowing not to take up arms against their enemies until officially “exchanged,” when the Southern army released a like number of Northern prisoners. But since the summer, things were changing. No longer were captured soldiers immediately released. They were, instead, taken to prison camps and held there until exchanged. This caused prisons on both sides to quickly become overcrowded and laden with miserable conditions. This process became even more bogged down when confusion reigned over the wording of just who was responsible for the exchanges. Traditionally, when the two armies in the field would parole their captives, it was up to the commanders of those armies. Now that they were held in prisons, it was much less defined. One of the major sticking points was the refusal of the Confederate government to recognize black soldiers are actual soldiers.… Read More

‘Impossible for Me to Dispense with Your Services’ – Banks Ignores Sherman

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April 16, 1864 (Tuesday) General A.J. Smith was ready to leave. The day previous, he had received orders from William Tecumseh Sherman to load his troops on transports and begin their journey down the Red River and up the Mississippi to Vicksburg. The spring campaign season was about to start. This should have come as no surprise to Nathaniel Banks, who was leading the Federal expedition up the Red River. Long before starting out, everyone from Sherman to General Grant and Henry Halleck told him that the project would have to be wrapped up by the middle of April. Banks received notice from Smith himself, who explained that he was being recalled by Sherman. This would not do, as Banks was determined to make something out of his complete debacle to take Shreveport, Louisiana. Now, from his headquarters about 70 miles down the Red from his quarry, Banks wrote both Sherman and A.J. Smith. “The low stage of the water in Red River, and the difficulties encountered in our campaign consequent thereon,” began Banks, “makes… Read More

‘Enemy Was In Larger Force Than Anticipated’ – Excuses and Reasons in the West

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April 15, 1864 (Friday) William Tecumseh Sherman was understandably worried. He had loaned more than a corps worth of men to Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign, with the understanding that they would be returned to him by April 15th at the latest. While he never fully trusted Banks to return the troops on time, he also didn’t fully blame Banks. On the morning of this date, he received a wire from Little Rock, Arkansas, giving the latest news from Frederick Steele’s front, about 200 miles north of Banks’ army in Louisiana. Steele had been selected to take over for Banks in the Union stab at Shreveport. Banks was to move on Mobile, while the corps under A.J. Smith was to be returned to Sherman. Sherman related to General Grant that Steele “had had considerable skirmishing, in all of which he was successful,” but had been holed up near Camden for quite some time. “It seems to me his movement is very slow, and he may be so late in reaching Red River as to keep… Read More

Cat and Mouse in Louisiana and Arkansas

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April 14, 1864 (Thursday) Following General Nathaniel Banks’ retreat from Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, things were not exactly going well. The victorious Union troops had left the field to the defeated Rebels, returning to Grand Ecore on the Red River. Aiding Banks in his stab toward Shreveport was the naval fleet under David Dixon Porter. Once Porter received word that Banks was falling back, he had to do the same, turning around for Grand Ecore on the 11th. After battling Texas cavalry under the now-late Thomas Green, Porter’s vessels struggled to float, skid, tow, and drag their way down the Red. With the fleet was an infantry division under Kilby Smith, who was growing more and more worried that the Rebels who apparently defeated Banks would make their way to the river to deal with him. And so he ordered his transport ships to move to the town of Campti, which he reached on this date. When he arrived, he found a brigade of infantry under Col. William Shaw. Col. Shaw had covered the retreat of… Read More

‘My Duty is Plain’ – Meade Still Thrilled with Grant

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April 13, 1864 (Wednesday) “Grant has not given an order, or in the slightest degree interfered with the administration of this army since he arrived,” wrote General George Meade of the Army of the Potomac to his wife – his most trusted confidant, “and I doubt if he knows much more about it now than he did before coming here.” When he first received word that Grant was coming East, Meade was naturally a bit concerned that he would either be out of a job or fitted with a very short leash. But neither, it now seemed to him, were the least bit true. Meade was, if anything, enthusiastic and even excited about Grant’s arrival. However, it was not without cost. “It is undoubtedly true that he will go with it [the Army of the Potomac] when it moves,” continued Meade, “and will in a measure control its movements, and should success attend its operation, that my share of the credit will be less than if he were not present.” Meade had to have realized… Read More

Words Cannot Describe the Scene – Three Contemporary Accounts of the Fort Pillow Massacre

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April 12, 1864 (Tuesday) There are few incidents in the war more controversial than what became to be known as the Fort Pillow Massacre. Numerous volumes have been produced, each analyzing (and in some cases ignoring) accounts given following the battle. Many draw upon testimony given years or even decades after the attack. While distance and time can make things appear more clear, I have found that accounts given immediately following an event are often the most accurate. This is, I feel, the case with Nathan Bedford Forrest’s assault upon Fort Pillow. And so I’m taking a drastically different approach to this post, allowing three men who fought there describe what they did and saw. All three of these accounts were written before the battle had become politicized. After that, I can’t see how anyone from either side wouldn’t be tainted by such perspectives.1 So let’s begin by allowing General Forrest to set the stage: On Monday last I moved against Fort Pillow, and attacked it on Tuesday morning with Chalmers’ division. The advance of… Read More

‘After Us Like a Pack of Wolves’ – Federal Navy Retreats Down the Red

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April 11, 1864 (Monday) On the 7th, the same day that Nathaniel Banks’ troop began their march away from the Red River toward Shreveport, Louisiana, Admiral David Dixon Porter began to steam his fleet of gunboats toward the same city. Shortly after leaving, Porter began to realize that the water levels were dropping. This was mostly due to the fact that a Confederate engineer, General William Boggs, exploded a levee that diverted water away from the Red. It was rough going, but by the 8th, his fleet had reached the southern mouth of Bayou Pierre. Still, he was not far from his shoving off point at Grand Ecore. The next day or so was better, at least as far as river travel went. Apart from that, Porter noticed two things. First, that all of the cotton had been burned by retreating Confederates all along the river. Second, that the road alongside the Red River was in fine shape. General Banks, when hastily planning the stab toward Shreveport, eschewed the river road as being not fit… Read More

‘Falling Flames of Muskets’ – Rebels Fall Back in Arkansas

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April 10, 1864 (Sunday) When last we visited with the Federal Army of Arkansas, Frederick Steele commanding, the Northern troops had just bested their Rebel counterparts along the Little Missouri River. Since then, however, much had changed. The day following the battle, rumors held that the Confederates had retreated some, but were felling trees across the road and fortifying defensive positions on the bluff overlooking the river. General Steele had been waiting for an addition column to arrived from Fort Smith, under the command of John Thayer, but they were days overdue. Waiting much longer would only allow the Southerners to better their defenses and gather reinforcements. And so on the 6th, Steele made his move, and the Confederates manning the breastworks fell back to where no one could yet say. Perhaps, however, it was already too late. Confederate General Sterling Price had taken command of the Rebel army, which was helmed by John Marmaduke. Arriving at their encampment at Prairie D’Ane on the 7th with two additional brigades, Price found the army “drawn up… Read More

Union Victory and Retreat at Pleasant Hill

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April 9, 1864 (Saturday) “Our forces silently retired during the night,” wrote Union General Nathaniel Banks following the previous day’s battle outside Mansfield, Louisiana, “and in the morning took up a position on Pleasant Hill, joining the forces of General [A.J.] Smith.” Confederates under Richard Taylor had launched an attack against Banks’ Army of the Gulf, which threw the Federal column back upon itself. “He attacked the line at every point with demoniac energy,” recalled Banks. And though he claimed that he had won a victory by finally stopping the last of the Confederate charges, he ended up retreating nearly sixteen miles, falling back upon reinforcements – A.J. Smith’s troops, the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps from the Army of Tennessee, which were a day’s march behind. Banks had been uneasy about staying. A.J. Smith’s troops might not reach him in time for morning, and water was becoming scarce. Before calling an end to their attack, the Rebels had captured a creek, and though Banks held the ridge above, the men and animals needed the water.… Read More

‘Too Late, Sir. The Battle is Won.’ – Confederate Victory at Sabine Crossroads

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April 8, 1864 (Friday) Almost immediately after General Kirby Smith left Richard Taylor’s headquarters in Mansfield, Louisiana, Taylor enacted his plan, which was in contrast to Smith’s own in almost every way. Smith had wanted Taylor to remain on the defense, falling back toward Shreveport if pushed by the Federals under Nathaniel Banks. Taylor, however, wanted to attack. He had dealt with Banks two years ago in the Shenandoah Valley, and knew he was, at best, a paper tiger. In the 7th, he sent out the newly arrived Texas cavalry under Thomas Green to scout the road leading to Natchitoches, where the Federals had concentrated. The weather had turned the roads to mud, and the bogged down Union Army of the Gulf had hardly made it to the small hamlet of Pleasant Hill when Green’s cavalry fell upon their Norther counterparts. The skirmish lasted most of the day, with the numerically superior Union troops calling for more reinforcements and pushing the Rebels back toward Taylor’s main line. Before the day was through, he was certain… Read More

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