Grant & The Red River Campaign, Part 3

Delayed a couple weeks, but picking up where Part 2 left off…

The planning of the Red River campaign involved multiple proponents; multiple motives; and multiple goals. Previously I discussed how Grant had been drawn into it because of Sherman’s interest. He also was involved because of Halleck, who was general-in-chief until Grant’s promotion in March 1864. Whereas Sherman envisioned a punishing raid – “make them feel their vulnerability”; “make that rich country pay in gold or cotton for all depredations on our river commerce”1 – Halleck wanted to capture and occupy Shreveport as a defensive outpost and base for future operations. Shreveport was the command center for Confederate operations in Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana.  Halleck convinced Grant that capturing Shreveport would neutralize opposition in Confederate Trans-Mississippi thereby allowing for a reduction in the forces needed west of the Mississippi. He also may have misled Grant about there being a political need for the campaign.

Soon after the surrender of Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, Halleck wished “to clean up a little” in the Trans-Mississippi.2 He directed Grant to send forces to Arkansas for a campaign against Little Rock. After Little Rock was captured, Halleck wanted US forces to push on to the Red River.3 When the Lincoln administration decided that a foothold in Texas needed to be established, Halleck used that as the reason to push Banks to also advance up the Red River.4 Grant was encouraged to make cooperative moves: “Your plan of moving against Kirby Smith from Natchez, by Harrisburg and Monroe, will agree very well with the line of operations suggested to General Banks.” 5

At the start of 1864 Halleck increased the pressure for a campaign on the Red River. He told Banks that “Generals Sherman and Steele agree with me in opinion that the Red river is the shortest and best line of defense for Louisiana and Arkansas, and as a base of operations against Texas” and that the “best military opinions of the generals in the west seem to favor operations on Red river”; he also scolded Banks for choosing a coastal approach that did not support efforts to reach the Red River from Arkansas.6 To make a joint effort more likely, Halleck put Steele’s command in Arkansas under Grant’s authority, specifically stating  “It is quite possible that a combined movement of your corps and the troops under Major- General Sherman may be determined on, and, if so, it is deemed proper that General Grant should direct it.” and ”It is hoped that measures may hereafter be concerted between yourself, General Sherman, and General Banks to drive the enemy entirely out of Arkansas and then occupy the line of Red River, which is shorter and probably easier of defense.”7

The next day he wrote Grant what I consider a key message on this topic:

In regard to General Banks campaign against Texas, it is proper to remark that it was undertaken less for military reasons than as a matter of State policy. As a military measure simply, it perhaps presented less advantages than a movement on Mobile and the Alabama River, so as to threaten the enemy’s interior lines and effect a diversion in favor of our armies at Chattanooga and in East Tennessee. But, however this may have been, it was deemed necessary as a matter of political or State policy, connected with our foreign relations, and especially with France and Mexico, that our troops should occupy and hold at least a portion of Texas. The President so ordered, for reasons satisfactory to himself and his cabinet, and it was, therefore, unnecessary for us to inquire whether or not the troops could have been employed elsewhere with greater military advantage. I allude to this matter here, as it may have an important influence on your projected operations during the present winter. Keeping in mind the fact that General Banks operations in Texas, either on the gulf coast or by the Louisiana frontier, must be continued during the winter, it is to be considered whether it will not be better to direct our efforts for the present to the entire breaking up of the rebel forces west of the Mississippi River, rather than to divide them by also operating against Mobile and Alabama. If the forces of Smith, Price, and Magruder could be so scattered or broken as to enable Steele and Banks to occupy Red River as a line of defense, a part of their armies would probably become available for operations elsewhere. General Banks reports his present force as inadequate for the defense of his position and for operations in the interior, and General Steele is of opinion that he cannot advance beyond the Arkansas or Saline, unless he can be certain of co-operation and supplies on Red River. Under these circumstances it is worth considering whether such forces as Sherman can move down the Mississippi River should not co-operate with the armies of Steele and Banks on the west side. 8

In the first five sentences he explains how the effort to establish a foothold in Texas had been required for policy reasons. Then he states these operations “must be continued during the winterbut he does not reveal why it must be so. Ludwell H. Johnson, in Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War, concluded that “it is safe to say that Halleck without justification cited the original reason for ordering the Texas invasion as an argument to coerce Grant into accepting an unwelcome and unwise plan of campaign. In truth, there was no longer any reason why the Texas campaign had to be ‘continued during the winter’.”9  Halleck appeared to be lying to Grant.

In mid-January Halleck wrote another letter to Grant  in which he stated that  “Sherman and Steele should so operate as to assist General Banks as much as possible. I leave it entirely to your judgment to determine how, and to what extent, such assistance can be rendered.”10  So Halleck pushed onto Grant the decision about how Sherman and Steele should support Banks; and Grant (as quoted in Part 2) told Sherman to decide according to his own judgment.  But Sherman’s ideas about the purpose of the campaign contrasted with Halleck’s goals. Sherman’s concept was a raid similar to his campaign against Meridian, Mississippi; Halleck’s plan was for a long term occupation of Shreveport, which should have required different planning and logistics and a longer timeline.

Halleck was so committed to his idea that in the mid-January letter he indicated willingness to withdraw troops from the east and send them to support the Red River campaign and in mid-February Halleck stated that he thought any plans for the east should be delayed in favor of the Red River campaign.11 This is worth keeping in mind as these ideas contrasted with Grant’s thinking.

To make matters more confusing, Halleck had been writing directly to Sherman and Steele and had ordered Banks to communicate directly with both of them, skipping over Grant in the chain of command. As a result, while generally aware of the proposed campaign, Grant was at times left in the dark. In mid February he had to ask “Is Banks preparing an expedition up the Red River?”  By the time he learned what Sherman and Banks had agreed to, he had traveled to Washington and been promoted to general-in-chief.12 In Part 4 I will examine the orders Grant issued for the campaign now that he was in charge of coordinating all US armies.

  1. Sherman to Halleck, December 26, 1863 and Sherman to Porter, December 21, 1863
  2. Halleck to Grant July 22, 1863
  3. Schofield to Banks, November 19, 1863
  4. Halleck to Banks August  10, 1863;
  5. Halleck to Grant August 22, 1863; side note: while the report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and the Grant Papers contain the message as I have quoted it, the Official Records as published read “suggested by General Banks”, which alters the meaning slightly but doesnt make sense in context.
  6. Halleck to Banks January 4 and January 11, 1864
  7. Halleck to Steele, January 7, 1864
  8. Halleck to Grant, January 8th 1864
  9. Johnson, Page 44
  10. Halleck to Grant January 17
  11. Halleck to Grant January 17 and Halleck to Grant February 17
  12. Butterfield to Grant, March 11 and Grant to Stanton, March 12






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