Recently, while reading about the 1864 Red River campaign, a few things written about the detachment from the Army of the Tennessee commanded by General A.J. Smith left me scratching my head.
The first thing that caught my eye was a statement by Craig Symonds in Lincoln and His Admirals wherein Symonds calls Smith’s men “the best fighting troops” among the US forces in the campaign.1 I’m puzzled how this conclusion was reached. How is “best” measured in this case?
The second thing I noticed was that Smith’s command had more men at the end of the campaign than at the beginning, despite tough fighting and marching. During the month of April they participated in battles, skirmishes, and some tough marching. Smith reported 98 killed in the battle of Pleasant Hill.2 Yet the number shown as present on April 30 report was 995 larger than the number shown on March 31, with no change in units which composed the force.3 Is this some sort of new math?
Which leads me to the third thing I noticed: how often they are referred to as “Smith’s veterans”. While poking around in some unit histories I was surprised to learn that several of the regiments were composed of non-veterans. In the spring of 1864 the Army of the Tennessee conducted a furlough program that allowed veteran soldiers to go home for a month. In mid-March many of the veterans went home such that several of the units that went with Smith up the Red River were composed of non-veterans. Sherman would later write “when General Banks asked for 10,000 men for one month on Red River we made up the force by using troops, non-veterans, and availed ourselves of the lull to furlough the veterans.”4 The return of some of the veterans from furlough could explain the increase in numbers mentioned above.
- Lincoln and His Admirals, Craig Symonds, Oxford University Press, 2008; page 300 ↩
- Smith’s Report for the campaign, official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 – Volume 34 (Part I) ↩
- Abstract from returns and rosters of the US Troops, March 31 and April 30, 1864 ↩
- Sherman to Halleck, August 20, 1864 ↩
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