March 20, 1864 (Sunday)
While the Yankees ransacked Alexandria, Louisiana, the town’s former Confederate resident, General Richard Taylor was regrouping to the north. After the Northern troops took Fort DeRussy, Taylor, along with two divisions of his troops.
Taylor had thrown his first division, under John Walker, toward the fort prior to the Federal advance. For a time, they were separated from their comrades, but were now rejoining them about forty miles to the north. Greeting them was the division under Alfred Mouton, a Southern aristocrat who barely managed to graduate West Point before becoming a vigilante. When the war started, he was elected colonel of a Louisiana regiment, rising quickly to lead a brigade, before utterly failing in an independent command. And so at the brigade level he languished until Taylor placed him at the head of his new division.
With his infantry still coming together, General Taylor needed to see how close the Federals were to attacking. To assess the danger, on this date, he called upon Col. William Vincent and the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry. Col. Vincent had arrived by Taylor’s side on the 17th. He had been doing his best to hold back the second Federal column under Nathaniel Banks as it made its way up Bayou Teche to join the other column already in Alexandria. When the Federals seemed not to be moving any farther north out of the city, Taylor figured that they were waiting for Banks to finally arrive before stabbing northward. However, he wanted to be sure but he wanted to be sure, so he sent Col. Vincent south toward Alexandria to suss it out. The day following (the 19th), Vincent reported back the Federal strength, number around 10,000 men, confirming that they were still encamped and that Banks had yet to join them.
Vincent’s single regiment of cavalry was all of that particular branch that Taylor had in his small army. Others from Texas and Arkansas were hoped to be on their way, but the process was a slow one. If anything happened to the 2nd Louisiana, he would be unable to effectively screen his movements. Nevertheless, on this date, Taylor once more sent Vincent south to see what he could see.
Though Banks’ infantry was lagging, his cavalry, with Albert Lee at the helm, had arrived in Alexandria on the 19th. After resting for the night, General Charles Stone, Banks’ chief of staff, ordered that the cavalry brigade under Thomas Lucas be sent north the next day to see what Taylor was doing up there.
Scouts had reported that a detachment of cavalry was descending the river, establishing some sort of outpost at Bayou Radides. Shots were exchanged, but little more. The scouts returned, and by nightfall, Lucas’ Brigade was ordered to ready themselves for an early morning. By the time all would step off, most of Lee’s cavalry, as well as an entire division of infantry, would be moving north to dash upon the rocks this single Rebel regiment.
That night, Col. Vincent of the 2nd Louisiana was in near constant contact with General Taylor, feeding him as much information as he could find. But even with such an advanced position, he had no idea that the Federals were finally ready to begin the Red River Campaign in earnest.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 1, p306, 497, 498, 561, 562; Part 2, p666; Richard Taylor and the Red River Campaign of 1864 by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. [↩]