Grant & The Red River Campaign, Part 1

Update March 30, 2015: post edited to show a change in how the series will unfold.

In my opinion, several aspects of the Red River campaign of 1864 are misunderstood. An example of this is the role of General Ulysses S Grant. This post is the first in a six an eight part series that will examine his relationship to the campaign.

I am going to start with a statement that might make fans of Frank Varney happy: part of the reason for the misunderstanding of Grant’s role in the campaign is that what Grant wrote in his memoirs is misleading.

Here is how Grant referred to the campaign in his memoirs:

“General Banks had gone on an expedition up the Red River long before my promotion to general command. I had opposed the movement strenuously, but acquiesced because it was the order of my superior at the time. By direction of Halleck I had reinforced Banks with a corps of about ten thousand men from Sherman’s command. This reinforcement was wanted back badly before the forward movement commenced. But Banks had got so far that it seemed best that he should take Shreveport on the Red River, and turn over the line of that river to Steele, who commanded in Arkansas, to hold instead of the line of the Arkansas. Orders were given accordingly, and with the expectation that the campaign would be ended in time for Banks to return A. J. Smith’s command to where it belonged and get back to New Orleans himself in time to execute his part in the general plan. But the expedition was a failure. Banks did not get back in time to take part in the programme as laid down. Nor was Smith returned until long after the movements of May, 1864 , had been begun. The services of forty thousand veteran troops, over and above the number required to hold all that was necessary in the Department of the Gulf, were thus paralyzed.” 1

In the first sentence Grant claims that the campaign began “long before my promotion to general command.” Grant was promoted on March 10th 1864.2 But Banks’ forces did not start on the campaign until March 13th, three days later.3 And the detachment from Sherman’s command only left Vicksburg for the Red River on March 10th, the same day as the promotion. 4 So in his memoirs Grant misrepresented the timing of the campaign.

The chronology is important because Banks was outside Grant’s command authority prior to the promotion.  However, the campaign involved forces from Sherman’s command and Steele’s command, both of whom had been under Grant’s authority before he was promoted. Grant mentioned them in the paragraph quoted above but in an off hand way that minimizes their role. Sherman had been essential parts of the planning of the campaign for months prior. As a result, Grant had been more aware of the campaign than his memoirs imply. Part 2 of this series will discuss in more detail the role of Sherman in the lead up to the campaign and how that involved Grant.

Prior to his promotion, Grant was subject to the direction of General Halleck. Part 3 will examine Halleck’s influence on Grant with respect to the Red River Campaign.

Once promoted, Grant had authority over all the commanders involved and issued orders that had an impact on the campaign. Parts 4and 5, and 6 will review Grant’s orders to Banks in mid-March, late-March and mid-April, respectively, and examine the effect they had on the campaign.

Part 67 will look at Grant’s final decisions regarding the campaign and Part 8 will include conclusions about what it all means.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant, Chapter 47; the same text can also be found in the chapter titled “Preparing for the Campaigns of 64” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 4
  2. Stanton to Grant, March 10, 1864
  3. Franklin to Stone, March 13, 1864
  4. General Orders No 3, Headquarters, Red River Expedition




4 responses to “Grant & The Red River Campaign, Part 1”

  1. James F. Epperson Avatar

    In the 19th Century, how practical would it be to stop a planned campaign of several thousand men, with all the associated logistics, on three days notice? I don’t argue that Grant misrepresented the timing in his Memoirs, but I am not sure he could have done much about it on such short notice. It was probably seen as a better option to let it go forward than try to stop it and re-direct the effort elsewhere.

    1. Ned B. Avatar
      Ned B.


      Great comment. That will be discussed in later parts of this series.


  2. Josh Liller Avatar
    Josh Liller

    Should be an interesting series. I hope you’ll address the political question i.e. “Did Grant have any real choice with the Red River Campaign due to political considerations?” See also Ben Butler and Franz Sigel still commanding armies in May 1864.

    1. Ned B. Avatar
      Ned B.

      Thanks Josh. I have decided to expand to an 8 part series in order to better address everything. Previous I had been trying to squeeze too much into Part 2. The post above has been edited to show my change of plan.

      – Ned

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