General Grant Wants Ganeral Banks to Prioritize

March 15, 1864 (Tuesday)

Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks,
Commanding Department of the Gulf, New Orleans:

Enclosed herewith I send you copy of General Orders, No. 1, assuming command of the armies of the United States. You will see from the order it is Any intention to establish headquarters for the present with the Army of the Potomac. I have not fully determined upon a plan of campaign for this spring, but will do so before the return of our veteran troops to the field. It will, however, be my desire to have all parts of the Army, or rather all the armies, act as much in concert as possible. For this reason I now write you. […]

Lieutenant- General.

General Grant had left Washington, DC as swiftly as possible, and by this time had arrived back at his old headquarters in Nashville. This was, as he explained to General Banks, only a temporary visit. His new home was in the field in Virginia. This did not, however, mean that he felt the West, even the Trans-Mississippi, unimportant, especially when it came to the larger picture.

The campaign up the Red River was to have been completely under General Banks’ command. However, thus far, his column coming from the south had yet to join the troops under A.J. Smith, which had just captured Fort DeRussy, and were moving upon Alexandria, Louisiana on this date.

Look, Banks, you're important, but not THAT important.
Look, Banks, you’re important, but not THAT important.

Grant regarded Banks’ success on the Red River for the simple reason that it would put Rebel forces back from the Mississippi River. In turn, it would free up Union troops who would then have nobody to shoot at. “It is also important that Shreveport should be taken as soon as possible.” Grant continued. The reason for this, of course, was so that Banks would return A.J. Smith “back to Memphis as soon as possible.”

And here, Grant gave a warning. If Banks found that assailing Shreveport would take ten to fifteen days longer than first proposed and approved by General Sherman, “you will send them back at the time specified in his note of the — of March, even if it leads to the abandonment of the main object of your expedition.”

Basically, Grant was telling him that his expedition was important is so much as it needed to end by mid-April, regardless of victory or defeat. Of course, a victory was wanted, and Grant told Banks to “hold Shrevoport and the Red River with such force as you may deem necessary, and return the balance of your troops to the neighborhood of New Orleans.”

The land west of the Mississippi River was, of course, important. There were Unionists in both Louisiana and Arkansas, and the sooner those states could be returned to the Union, the better. But Grant reminded Banks that he wasn’t exactly his top priority. “I would not at present advise the abandonment of any portion of territory now held west of the Mississippi,” warned Grant, “but commence no move for the further acquisition of territory unless it be to make that now ours more easily held.” Grant assured him that he didn’t write such things to retrain him, but to remind him that he looked upon “the conquering of the organized armies of the enemy as being of vastly more importance than the mere acquisition of territory.”

Not only did Grant want the armies to act in concert, but he wanted them to live a certain way. His Army of the Tennessee had given up the idea of lines of supply in favor of living off the land. He now wanted to spread this throughout all the armies.

“There is one thing, general, I would urge, and don’t know but what you have already, and that is of supplying your army as far as possible from the country occupied. Mules, horses, forage, and provisions can be paid for, where taken from persons who have taken the amnesty oath prescribed by the President (if the oath be taken before the loss of property), with both economy and convenience.” This, of course, implied that supplies taken from those who still held true to the Confederacy would not be compensated.

Grant made no bones about his style of warfare. It was effective and had served him well. He hoped that such tactics would bring a more swift end to the war.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 2, p610-611. []
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