Continued from Part 4.
Grant’s first order to Banks reached him on March 26 at Alexandria, Louisiana, where the forces for the campaign had concentrated. Though delayed by the navy’s effort to get the boats over the rapids, Banks still hoped he could reach Shreveport around April 10 and return Sherman’s troops after that.1 Meanwhile Grant had returned to Washington DC. His thinking about the spring campaigns had progressed substantially. In particular his desire for a campaign against Mobile had solidified. On the last day of March, Grant wrote orders to Banks that altered his previous instructions. The message had three numbered paragraphs, as follows.2
- “First. If successful in your expedition against Shreveport, that you turn over the defense of the Red River to General Steele and the navy. “
This reinforces Grant’s previous desire to take and hold Shreveport but changes the responsibility for garrisoning it.
- “Second. That you abandon Texas entirely, with the exception of your hold upon the Rio Grande. This can be held with 4,000 men, if they will turn their attention immediately to fortifying their positions. At least one-half of the force required for this service might be taken from the colored troops.”
This is a reversal from his previous message which had directed Banks not to abandon any territory. This also reveals the thinking at this point about Texas.
- “Third. By properly fortifying on the Mississippi River, the force to guard it from Port Hudson to New Orleans can be reduced to 10,000 men, if not to a less number. Six thousand more would then hold all the rest of the territory necessary to hold until active operations can again be resumed west of the river. According to your last returns, this would give you a force of over 30,000 effective men with which to move against Mobile. To this I expect to add 5,000 men from Missouri. If, however, you think the force here stated too small to hold the territory regarded as necessary to hold possession of, I would say concentrate at least 25,000 men of your present command for operations against Mobile. With these, and such additions as I can give you from elsewhere, lose no time in making a demonstration, to be followed by an attack upon Mobile. Two or more iron-clads will be ordered to report to Admiral Farragut. This gives him a strong naval fleet with which to co-operate. You can make your own arrangements with the admiral for his co-operation, and select your own line of approach. My own idea of the matter is that Pascagoula should be your base; but, from your long service in the Gulf Department, you will know best about the matter. It is intended that your movements shall be co-operative with movements elsewhere, and you cannot now start too soon. All I would now add is that you commence the concentration of your forces at once. Preserve a profound secrecy of what you intend doing, and start at the earliest possible moment.”
Here, at last, was concrete instruction about moving against Mobile. Grant has reviewed the recent force returns from the Department of the Gulf and figured out where to find the men needed for the Mobile campaign: removing forces from the Texas coast; reducing garrisons along the river; and withdrawing the troops from the Red River campaign. Grant envisioned a joint army-navy operation to Pascagoula, though he gives Banks the option of determining his own plan. No specific date is given, but Grant wants Banks to “lose no time”, “cannot now start too soon”, “commence the concentration of your forces at once”, and “start at the earliest possible moment.”
But it was really too late.
Written on March 31, this order would not reach Banks until April 18. At the point, Banks was about 100 miles up the Red River, where he had tangled with the enemy and was struggling with the low water in the river. In order to implement Grant’s instructions, he would have to to exit the river, redeploy troops from Texas and elsewhere, concentrate near New Orleans and coordinate with Farragut. He was to do all this while maintaining “a profound secrecy”, a vexing instruction as staging troops and collecting transports, etc for an amphibious operation would be challenging to hide. There was no reasonable way to expect these things could be accomplished in short order.
Though Grant had made a clear decision about Mobile, it was too late to reverse direction in time to coordinate with the campaigns in Virginia and Georgia. And Grant seemed to realize it, for he wrote to General Meade that Banks “cannot possibly get it together to leave New Orleans before the 1st of May, if so soon”. 3 Nonetheless, Grant’s anxiety about the timing of a Mobile campaign would intensify.