Echoing Bad History

The other day Dimitri Rotov had a blog post comparing a quote from James M. McPherson’s new book with similar quotes from other books.  What bothers Dimitri is that McPherson isn’t original; what also ticks me off is that McPherson mimics bad history.

The quotes in question link the Red River Campaign of 1864 to Lincoln’s concern about the situation with the French in Mexico.  But this just wasn’t the case. It is true that in the summer of 1863 Lincoln was concerned about the situation in Mexico and at the time he did order that Banks occupy some part of Texas.  Yet Banks had accomplished this goal by the end of 1863 with landings on the coast of Texas leading to the occupation of Brownsville and Matagorda Bay.

After the failure in September 1863 of the attempted landing at Sabine Pass on the eastern end of the Texas coast, Banks organized an amphibious expedition to the western end of the Texas coast.  Leaving New Orleans on October 26, Banks sailed with a fleet of transports carrying an infantry division from the 13th Corps and was escorted by warships of the US Navy.  By November 2 he had his men ashore at Brazos Santiago, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, from where they marched to Brownsville, 30 miles inland.

The occupation of Brownsville by the US had an immediate impact on political affairs in northeastern Mexico.  Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, was initially controlled by Gen. Jose Cobos, who was considered pro-French, pro-Confederate and anti-US.  On November 7th Gen. Juan Cortina, a supporter of the Juarez government and friendly to the US, seized power and had Cobos executed.  Secretary of State Seward wrote to congratulate Banks and Lincoln wrote “My thanks for your successful and valuable operations in Texas.” Thus the Red River Campaign was not a result of Lincoln’s concern about the French in Mexico, since this issue already had been addressed.

With Brownsville secure, Banks decided to expand his position in Texas.  Banks took a brigade with naval support up the coast, capturing Mustang Island and Corpus Christi.  This was followed in late November by a second expedition further up the coast to Fort Esperanza, Lavaca and Indianola around Matagorda Bay.  More troops were ferried over from New Orleans and by the end of the year Banks had over 12,000 troops from the 13th Corps in Texas —  one division at Brownsville and two around Matagorda Bay.

I think it is worth noting that Banks had to remove some of these troops from Texas in order to conduct the Red River Campaign and mid-way through that campaign Grant ordered Banks to withdraw the remaining troops still in Texas excepting a small garrison for Brownsville.  Thus rather than aiming to establish a US presence in Texas, the Red River Campaign actually reduced the US presence in Texas.

If  McPherson is going to parrot other works,  would be nice if he picked better source material. For a good book on Banks’ invasion of Texas at the end of 1863, I recommend “The Yankee Invasion of Texas” by Stephen Townsend, published in 2006 by Texas A&M University Press.


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