Grant & The Red River Campaign, Part 6

by Ned B. on June 13, 2015 · 5 comments

Continued from Part 5.

In previous posts I wrote about Grant’s orders to Banks on March 15 and March 31, 1864.  Grant continued to be anxious about the situation in Louisiana so in mid April he sent another set of orders to Banks.  This time he tasked Gen. Hunter with hand delivering the message and wrote additional instructions for Hunter.

In the message to Banks, Grant acknowledged “the difficulty of giving positive instructions to a distant commander” and thus sent Hunter to “express more fully my views than I can well do on paper”. 1 This is a dilemma that distant commanders had struggled with before.  For example, Halleck preferred to give ‘suggestions’ rather than orders because he felt the distance and resulting time delay made giving specific instructions difficult. Yet the ambiguities that came from these suggestions was also problematic. Likewise, Grant’s orders to distance commanders tended to be filled with contingencies — if this, then that — in hopes of addressing dynamic situations.  But the result can also be confusing if all branches of the contingency aren’t clear or feasible.

Grants orders to Banks in mid-March had spoken of Mobile as an uncertain possibility. Then at the end of March he wrote specific instructions for a campaign against Mobile but, as mentioned in the previous post, he seemed aware that it would not be possible by May 1st.  However in the mid-April orders, Grant wrote “I would much rather the Red River expedition had never been begun than that you should be detained one day after the 1st of May in commencing your movement east of the Mississippi.”  I find this statement at this point in the campaign to be exasperating. If Grant had expressed this a month earlier, it could have been helpful. But at the time this was written, Banks had not yet even received the previous message that first instructed him to move against Mobile.  The newer message wouldn’t reach Banks until April 27. Grant’s new timetable for a move toward Mobile was absolutely impossible. Though it revealed his frustration, Grant’s venting about wanting a move to the east before May 1 simply wasn’t helpful.

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The instructions that Grant wrote to Hunter stressed two issues: “the importance of commencing operations at the very earliest possible moment against Mobile” and that Banks “should take with him the greatest number of troops possible from his command”.  2 These meshed with what he told Banks and with the idea of a prompt campaign against Mobile. But then Grant undercut his own intention by telling Hunter that “It is of the first importance that we should hold Red River.” Grant wanted the Red River held by Steele but added that “If, however, General Steele has not with him the necessary force to leave for this purpose, General Banks will have to supply the deficiency until re-enforcements can be got to General Steele.” These appear to be conflicting instructions — the emphasis on a move toward Mobile but declaring it of “first importance” to keep holding the Red River.

Grant ordered Hunter to “remain with General Banks until his move from New Orleans is commenced and a landing effected at Pascagoula, or such place as may be selected for the base from which to draw the supplies” but Hunter only stayed with Banks a few days and then left. Despite Grant’s effort to resolve the situation, nothing was accomplished by sending Hunter.

 

  1. Grant to Banks, April 17, 1864, Official Records, Series 1 – Volume 34 (Part III) p191
  2. Grant to Hunter, April 17, 1864, Official Records, Series 1 – Volume 34 (Part III) p190

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

James F. Epperson June 13, 2015 at 9:42 am

I wonder if what we are seeing here is Grant’s view on the campaign evolving as he learns/reflects/considers more about it?

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Ned B. June 13, 2015 at 11:39 am

Absolutely. Grant’s views evolved during the first month he was in his new position. The problem, as I see it, is that the delay in communication (over a week to get a message to Banks) and the rapidly approaching launch of the spring campaign meant that this evolution didnt happen quickly enough for it to be implemented.

Also, with the immense responsibilities he had, Grant had to rely on input from those around him when making decisions about a secondary campaign. In this case Sherman and Halleck heavily influenced the evolution of his thinking. I wrote about that in previous parts but I will write about it more.

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James F. Epperson June 13, 2015 at 9:49 pm

I think we are also seeing Grant be a bit indecisive, which is not is usual way, but would perhaps be natural in dealing with a minor campaign while learning his new position.

What I think this is leading up to is a variation on “hindsight is 20-20” married to “victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan”—everyone thought the Red River campaign was a good idea until it failed. At this distance (in time) I must confess that I don’t see the reason for doing the campaign. Texas was cut off—let it wither on its own. Expend your effort on more valuable targets east of the Mississippi. (If Banks had been moving on Mobile in late April, Sherman probably destroys Joe Johnston in north Georgia—Johnston’s third infantry corps was basically Polk’s command tasked with defending Mobile.)

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Heartlander June 30, 2015 at 3:20 pm

“Texas was cut off — let it wither on its own.”

I agree with your comments overall, but just to play devil’s advocate with respect to Texas: As I understand it, Texas was worrisome to the Union because of French imperialism in Mexico, and the Confederacy’s possible relationship with them.

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James F. Epperson June 30, 2015 at 7:26 pm

I think that was in the back of many (every) brain that was thinking about this. Grant, especially, had strong feelings about this issue. I just don’t think it was worth the diversion of resources.

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