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Grant & The Red River Campaign, Part 4

Continued from Part 3.

During the first week of March, 1864, Grant traveled from Nashville TN to Washington DC to meet President Lincoln for the first time. He was promoted to Lieutenant General on March 9th and the next day assigned to be general-in-chief of all US armies. He made a quick visit to the Army of the Potomac and then traveled back to Nashville to meet with Sherman.1 En route he learned of what Sherman had arranged with Banks for the Red River campaign. He also learned that Steele was hesitant to take part in the campaign.2 Once he reached Nashville, Grant wrote an order directing Steele to move in full cooperation with Banks, thus setting in motion the Arkansas portion of the campaign, alternatively known as the Camden Expedition.3 He also wrote an order to Banks for the first time. Quotes in the following paragraphs come from that order.4

It has been claimed that Grant had formulated a grand strategy and that part of this strategy was a campaign against Mobile instead of the one up the Red River. But in his order to Banks he states that “I have not fully determined upon a plan of campaign for this spring”.   He did admit that “It may be a part of the plan for the spring campaign to move against Mobile” but it was contingent on “if troops enough can be obtained to make it without embarrassing other movements.” It seems natural that Grant’s plans were a work in progress. He had only just been promoted. But it must be clearly understood that at this stage he had not settled on Mobile campaign. Since the availability of excess troops is what Grant needed for a Mobile campaign, the benefits of the Red River campaign fits into his thinking: “I regard the success of your present move as of great importance in reducing the number of troops necessary for protecting the navigation of the Mississippi River.” If troops along the Mississippi could be freed up, enough might be found for a Mobile campaign. Thus the Red River campaign was not an alternative to a Mobile campaign, rather it was a necessary precursor.

But the requirements Grant gave Banks would make a Mobile campaign difficult to organize. He told Banks to “hold Shreveport and the Red River with such force as you may deem necessary, and return the balance of your troops to the neighborhood of New Orleans”. He added that “I would not at present advise the abandonment of any portion of territory now held west of the Mississippi” but Banks should feel free to “making any disposition of your troops, or going anywhere, to meet and fight the enemy wherever he may be”.  Holding Shreveport and the Red River, not letting go of any other territory now held, and continuing to fight the enemy wherever he went would consume most of Banks available forces.  By my reckoning, very few men would be left to “return … to the neighborhood of New Orleans”.  So while Grant might think that taking Shreveport would reduce the number of troops needed along the Mississippi, his order would commit a significant portion of Banks command west of the river and leave an insufficient force for a Mobile campaign.

Grant ordered that Banks move forward quickly — “It is also important that Shreveport should be taken as soon as possible” — giving his impetus to the campaign. Grant also ordered Banks to return the detachment from Sherman but with a confusing condition about timing: “Should you find that the taking of Shreveport will occupy ten to fifteen days more time than General Sherman gave his troops to be absent from their command, you will send them back at the time specified in his note of the __ [date is blank in the copy of the message in the Official Records] of March, even if it leads to the abandonment of the main object of your expedition.” Sherman had given 30 days as the time for his troops to be absent, which meant they should be heading back by the second week of April.5 Though Grant’s condition was written as a negative, it implies that if Banks thought he could take Shreveport within 10-15 days more, he could keep Sherman’s men for that extra time.  The problem for Banks is that prior to the original return time he would have to guess whether Shreveport could be taken within the additional days. Since the importance of taking Shreveport had been stressed, it would be predictable that Banks would want to use the extra time. As a result, Grant was allowing for the campaign to stretch into late April.

In conclusion, while Grant would later complain that the Red River campaign got in the way of what he wanted done east of the Mississippi, the situation was partially of his own making. Part 5 will examine the next set of orders Grant sent to Banks.


  1. Papers of US Grant, Volume 10, Chronology
  2. Butterfield to Grant, March 11; Grant to Stanton, March 12 and Halleck to Grant March 13
  3. Grant to Steele March 15; Steele to Grant March 18
  4. Grant to Banks, March 15 1864
  5.  To compound the problem, there was already some ambiguity about the timing.  Sherman stated that the 30 days would start from when his troops entered the Red River, which was March 12, but Banks stated that he considered it to begin when the two forces were united at Alexandria, which was a week later. 






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