‘While We are Deliberating, the Enemy is Marching’

April 5, 1864 (Tuesday)

Richard Taylor want to do a little of this and that.
Richard Taylor want to do a little of this and that.

Richard Taylor’s Confederates had been forced out of Fort DeRussy, backed out of Alexandria, pushed up the Red River to Natchetoches. When Nathaniel Banks’ Federals approached, Taylor rallied forty miles to the west near Mansfield. Taylor was hardly contented to sit back and allow this, and was anxious to hit Nathaniel Banks’ Yankees as soon as Kirby Smith would unleash him. While in Mansfield, reinforcements for Taylor continued to file into town.

Richard Taylor was no stranger to Nathaniel Banks. When under the command of Stonewall Jackson in 1862’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, he commanded a brigade that helped drive the Federals from the Valley. But Kirby Smith was not budging.

Smith had called for two of Sterling Price’s brigades a couple of weeks previous. They had arrived in Shreveport, but were held by Smith as a sort of indecisive reserve, disallowing Taylor their use. It took him until the 3rd to release them. Still, they were placed under the command of Thomas Churchill and kept at the town of Keachi between Mansfield and Shreveport. Meanwhile, General Price rushed north with two additional brigades to General John Marmaduke’s side in the hopes of beating back Steele’s column. On this date, Price arrived and took command over the Confederate troops before Steele.

Approximate (but better) map.
Approximate (but better) map.

“Like the man who had admitted the robber into his bed-chamber instead of resisting him at the door,” wrote an irate Taylor on the 4th, “our defense will be embarrassed by the cries of women and children.” He demanded that “action, prompt and vigorous” was now required. “While we are deliberating, the enemy is marching. King James lost three kingdoms for a mass. We may lose three States without a battle.”

In an attempt to convince Kirby Smith that he had made a grave error in supporting Marmaduke over his own troops, he recalled Banks from the Valley Campaign. “Banks is cold, timid, easily foiled. He depends principally on the river for transportation.” But this hardly made the Federals before him seem even remotely intimidating. “Steel is bold, ardent, vigorous,” he continued. “Independent of rivers, his transportation has doubtless been made ample for his purposes. If he has anything like the force represented he will sweep Price from his path. He is the most dangerous and should be met and overthrown at once.”

Kirby Smith wants to hedge his bets.
Kirby Smith wants to hedge his bets.

More than anything, Taylor wanted Kirby Smith to make a decision. If he wanted to oust Banks from Louisiana, that was fine. If he wanted to fall upon Steele, so be it. But a decision had to be made, and a concentration be effected at once.

“It is far too great for us to concentrate on either column,” Smith replied on this date. He informed him that Steele had not yet crossed the Little Missouri and there was little danger in his column combining with Banks as they were over 200 miles apart. “Our position is a good one,” he continued, referring to both Price and Taylor’s separated commands. “We occupy the interior line, and a concentration is being forced which otherwise could never have happened. While we retain our little army undefeated we have hopes.”

Of course, Taylor’s little army was only undefeated (if one didn’t count Fort DeRussy) because they had not yet engaged the enemy. “When we fight, it must be for victory,” continued Smith as if there was some other reason to give battle. “Defeat not only loses the department, but releases the armies employed against us here for operation beyond the Mississippi.”

In this, Smith was right. The more Federal troops they kept busy is Louisiana and Arkansas, the less Federal troops could join with General Sherman and whatever plans he had for the coming Spring.

Smith wished to preserve both Louisiana and Arkansas, and to do so, he believed that both Taylor and Price had to be in each state. “The advantage of our position should not be given up by any movement which may jeopardize the loss of the command.”

Richard Taylor, while a fine general, was, to Smith’s mind, hardly decisive. With each dispatch came mixed messages, contradictory idea and what seemed like angry panic. First, he was begging Taylor to let him attack Banks, and then he was offering to take his entire command 200 miles north to hit Steele. To sort this all out, Smith resolved to drop in on Taylor’s command at Manchester the following day so the two could talk “clearly and unreservedly” about what to do next.

While Taylor waited for Smith to arrive, Nathaniel Banks was preparing to move. He issued orders to General William Franklin, commanding the Army of the Gulf (consisting of some of the Thirteenth Corps and all of the Nineteenth) to probe north on the road to Shreveport the following morning. Banks was now determined “to force him [Taylor] to give battle, if possible, before he can concentrate his forces behind the fortifications of Shreveport or effect a retreat westerly into Texas.” General Banks was still unsure in which direction Taylor was headed. He seemed to never consider that Taylor was a nod of Kirby Smith’s head away from attacking him. Banks commanded Franklin to move “in such order as to be able to throw as much as possible of your force into battle at any time on the march.”

He also issued orders to A.J. Smith’s infantry from the Army of the Tennessee (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Corps) to follow on the 7th. Banks ordered that each man have 200 rounds of ammunition on his person. Clearly, he was prepared for a brawl.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 1, p522, 524, 780; Part 3, p46-47; Richard Taylor and the Red River Campaign by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.; A Crisis in Confederate Command by Jeffery S. Prushankin. []
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‘While We are Deliberating, the Enemy is Marching’ by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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