Civil War Wiki
Red River Campaign
Part of the American Civil War
Halleck's Plan for the Red River Campaign
Location Louisiana
Result Confederate victory
United States of America Confederate States of America

The Red River Campaign or Red River Expedition consisted of a series of battles fought along the Red River in Louisiana during the American Civil War from March 10 to May 22, 1864. The campaign was a Union initiative, fought between the 30,000 Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, and Confederate troops under the command of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, whose strength varied from 6,000 to 12,000.

The campaign was primarily the plan of Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, and a diversion from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's plan to surround the main Confederate armies by using the 30,000 soldiers in Banks's Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. It was a dismal Union failure, characterized by poor planning and mismanagement, in which not a single objective was fully accomplished. Taylor's successful defense of the Red River Valley with a smaller force is considered one of the most brilliant Confederate military accomplishments of the war. However, the decision of Taylor's immediate superior, General Edmund Kirby Smith to send half of Taylor's force north to Arkansas rather than south in pursuit of the retreating Banks after the Confederate victory at the Battle of Mansfield, led to bitter enmity between Taylor and Smith.

Union objectives[]

The Union had three goals at the start of the campaign:

  1. To destroy the Confederate Army commanded by Taylor.
  2. To capture Shreveport, Louisiana, Confederate headquarters for the Trans-Mississippi Department, control the Red River to the north, and occupy east Texas.
  3. To confiscate as much as a hundred thousand bales of cotton from the plantations along the Red River.

Union strategists in Washington thought that the occupation of east Texas and control of the Red River would separate Texas from the rest of the Confederacy. Texas was the source of much needed guns, food, and supplies for Confederate troops.

There was also some concern that the 25,000 French troops in Mexico sent by Napoleon III and under the command of Emperor Maximillian might join forces with Confederate troops in Texas and use the Red River Valley as a point of entry to reinforce Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi Department. This later fear proved to be unfounded, but was thought to be a factor considered by Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck as well as President Abraham Lincoln in the planning of the campaign.


Halleck's plan, finalized in January 1864, called for Banks to take 20,000 troops up from New Orleans to Alexandria, on a route up the Bayou Teche (in Louisiana, the term bayou is used to refer to a slow moving river or stream), where they would be met by 15,000 troops sent down from Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's forces in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and under the command of General A.J. Smith. Smith's forces were available to Banks only until the end of April, when they would be sent back east where they were needed for other Union military actions. Banks would command this combined force of 35,000, which would be supported in its march up the Red River towards Shreveport by Union Navy Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet of gunboats. At the same time, 7,000 Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele would be sent south from Arkansas to rendezvous with Banks in his attack on Shreveport, and to serve as the garrison for that city after its capture.

This plan was ready to be set in action in early March 1864, after somewhat belated communication initiated by Banks to inform Sherman and Porter of their roles in Halleck's strategy. Banks sent Sherman, Halleck, and Porter a report prepared by Major David Houston clearly showing the near impossibility of maintaining an occupation in Shreveport and east Texas without major resources.

Most of Banks's men, accompanied by a large, poorly trained, cavalry force would march north toward the middle river. Banks would allow cotton speculators to come along, and Porter was bringing barges to collect cotton as lucrative naval prizes.

The Confederate senior officers were confused as to whether the Red River, Mobile, Alabama, or coastal Texas was the primary Union target for the spring 1864 campaign. The commander of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, General Edmund Kirby Smith, nevertheless started moving many of his men to the Shreveport area.


Banks had overall command of army forces, but he delegated march operations to Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin. The Franklin component had available around 15,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and possibly 40 guns. Sherman, now in charge of the impending Georgia campaign, loaned 15,000 men (in three divisions) and a river brigade from his Army of the West under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith. Steele was bringing about 7,000 from Arkansas. Accompanying the river movement was Porter's 23-ship flotilla, with 13 gunboats, 6 of them ironclad. It was the largest Union operation west of the Mississippi River during the war.

To counter Union operations, Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder sent mostly cavalrymen from his East Texas Department. Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor of the Army of Western Louisiana, son of President Zachary Taylor, would fight most of the battles in the campaign. He started the campaign with 15,000 men. Magruder's men were slow to arrive in Louisiana. Kirby Smith also ordered two divisions, numbering 7,000 men each, to northwestern Louisiana to support Taylor. The Confederate Navy also sent 4 ironclads, 10 gunboats, 14 cottonclad rams, along with 23 transport ships to ferry soldiers and supplies.


File:Red River campaign.svg

Map of the Red River campaign

Franklin's march from southern Louisiana began March 10. Meanwhile, A. J. Smith and his two corps traveled via boat from Vicksburg down to Simmesport. After an all-night march, Smith's men surprised and captured Fort de Russy on the Red River on March 14, capturing 317 Confederate prisoners and the only heavy guns available to the Confederates. This signaled the beginning of the campaign. Admiral Porter was then able to remove a giant raft blocking the river without much difficulty.

Taylor was forced to retreat, abandoning Alexandria, Louisiana, and ceding south and central Louisiana to the Union forces.

A.J. Smith's force arrived at Alexandria on March 20, 1864, intending to rendezvous with Banks's forces, under the immediate command of Franklin. However, Franklin did not arrive at Alexandria until March 25, 1864, and Banks himself, travelling separately from his troops, did not arrive at Alexandria until March 26, 1864. Banks's failure to arrive in a timely manner for his rendezvous with Smith was the first of many logistical miscues that caused much acrimony between Banks and his subordinates during the campaign.

While he waited for Banks to arrive, Smith sent Brigadier General Joseph Mower on a successful mission to capture much of Taylor's cavalry and his outpost upriver from Alexandria at Henderson's Hill on March 21.

When he arrived at Alexandria, Banks found an important message waiting for him. Two weeks earlier, on March 12, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant had been named General-in-Chief of the Union Army, replacing Halleck. In Grant's message, he told Banks it was "important that Shreveport be taken as soon as possible" because A.J. Smith's command must be returned to Sherman by the middle of April "even if it leads to the abandonment of the main object of your expedition."[1]

Kirby Smith had nearly 80,000 men to call upon but was yet undecided where to move them to counter the three Union forces now known to be moving toward Shreveport. Taylor would never fight with more than 18,500 men throughout the entire campaign.

By March 31, Banks's men had reached Natchitoches, only 65 miles south of Shreveport. Franklin's men had been delayed most of a week by rain, but it had not mattered because Admiral Porter had a similar delay trying to get his heaviest gunboats over the falls at Alexandria, which was covered with mines because the river had failed to achieve its seasonal rise in water level. Porter had also spent time gathering cotton in the interior, and Banks conducted an election in the interim.

Taylor now stationed himself 25 miles northwest at Pleasant Hill, still with fewer than 20,000 men. Once Banks had assembled more supplies, he continued advancing a week later.

Constant cavalry and naval skirmishing had been going on since March 21. On April 2, Brig. Gen. Albert Lee's division of Union cavalry collided with 1,500 arriving Confederate Texas cavalrymen. These Confederates would continue to resist any Union advance. Union intelligence, meanwhile, had determined that there were additional forces besides Taylor and the cavalry up the road from them. All the senior Union officers expressed doubts that there would be any serious Confederate opposition, except for the naval flotilla. Banks' army followed Taylor and the cavalry into a dense pine forest area away from the river, probably to keep them in their front. Approaching Pleasant Hill, the Union army was excessively long due both to the existence of only a few camping areas with water, and there was no monitoring of the position of the rear elements. Taylor kept moving back toward Shreveport.

Battle of Mansfield[]

Battle of Mansfield

Heavy cavalry fighting, often dismounted, had continued on April 7, at Wilson's Farm and Tenmile Bayou. On April 8, Lee boldly charged a small force of Confederate cavalry at the Moss Plantation, three miles south of Mansfield, Louisiana. He pushed the Confederate horsemen off Honeycutt Hill with the help of two infantry brigades. Taylor had stationed one infantry division in the woods along one of the few fields along the heavily wooded route. Taylor brought up a second division to the woods on the other side of the road in the middle of the day. Banks arrived at the front, and both sides were probably not fully aware of how many men they were facing. Kirby Smith was absent from the scene. Seeing no arrival of Union reinforcements, someone on the Confederate side ordered an attack about 4 p.m. Brig. Gen. Alfred Mouton and his infantry marched across an 800-yard wide field and attacked the Union forces behind a rail fence in several bloody charges. Meanwhile, the Confederate fleet under Admiral Henry Mutton attacked Porter's fleet.

As Mouton continued his assault, Taylor advanced his entire line, including Walker's division, in support. Confederate dismounted cavalry went to the Union flanks. The time that Banks called for support is controversial, but these men did not arrive in time to stop the front from being surrounded. Franklin set up a second line with artillery at the back of the initial fighting. These men, too, were eventually put to flight when faced with superior numbers. Some wagons overturned on the narrow road in the Union rear, and the Union artillery was captured. Confederate soldiers halted to loot some of the Union wagons.

The Battle of Mansfield was over. In all, the Federals suffered 2900 casualties, the Confederates about 1500. Brig. Gen. Mouton was one of these casualties, dying on the battlefield late in the day. The Union fleet was also defeated by the Confederate fleet.

As Confederate command and control was reestablished for the pursuit, the men ran into a third Union force under General William Emory of about 5,800 men sitting atop a ridge overlooking Chatman's Bayou. as ordered there by Banks and Franklin. The Union side called this Pleasant Grove. As night fell, it was clear that Banks's men had repulsed the attempts to take this location, but the Federals did not have control of the precious water. April 9, the next day, Taylor learned that Banks had retreated back to Pleasant Hill. The lack of water and questions as to whether General A. J. Smith could bring up his men were probably the principal reasons for the withdrawal.

Battle of Pleasant Hill[]

Battle of Pleasant Hill

At 4 p.m. the next day Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Churchill's arriving infantry started the attack on the Union forces. Taylor thought he was sending them into the Union flank, but it was actually the center. Confederate cavalry also miscalculated positions and suffered heavily from flank fire. Churchill's men did succeed in collapsing this Union center position, but this also brought his men into the middle of a U-shaped position, with A. J. Smith's unused divisions forming the base of the "U". Though part of the advanced Union right had also collapsed, the forces of Smith and Mower next launched a counterattack, and joined by neighboring regiments they routed Taylor's men from the vicinity of Pleasant Hill. Some cannon were recaptured.

Short of water and feed for the horses, not knowing where his supply boats were, and receiving divided opinions from his senior officers, Banks ordered a rapid retreat downriver to Natchitoches and Grand Ecore. Both sides at the Battle of Pleasant Hill suffered roughly equal casualties of 1,600. It was a tactical victory for the Federals but a strategic Confederate victory because the Union effort would be wasted, unless the Federals could occupy something upriver.

Smith splits the Confederate forces[]

General Steele would never make it to Shreveport, due to supply difficulties and fights with Confederates, but Banks could not establish contact with him. The Camden Expedition ended with Steele retreating to Little Rock.

On the river, the Confederates had diverted water into a tributary causing the already low Red River level to fall further. When Admiral Porter, slowly heading upriver, learned that Banks was retreating, he followed suit. There was a brief engagement en route in which Confederate cavalry chief, Tom Green, was decapitated by a naval shell.

At Grand Ecore near Natchitoches, Banks received confidential orders from Grant to move the army to New Orleans. The river also continued to fall, and all the supply boats had to return downriver. Sensing that they were involved in a perceived defeat, Banks's relations deteriorated with the cantankerous A. J. Smith and the navy and with most of the other generals as well.

General Kirby Smith decided to send two divisions north into Arkansas to crush Steele's army, despite General Taylor's strong protests they should be used against Banks. Learning also that some of Taylor's 5,000 men were operating south of him, Banks ordered a rapid retreat south to Alexandria. At the Battle of Monett's Ferry on April 23, some of Banks's forces crossed the Cane River on the Confederate flank and forced a small opposing force to flee. The rest of the march to Alexandria was unremarkable, but Porter ran into a delaying ambush at the mouth of Cane River after he tarried to blow up the stuck USS Eastport.

Banks retreats[]

Porter could not get many of his ironclads over the falls at Alexandria. Colonel Joseph Bailey designed a dam, to which Banks soon gave night-and-day attention. Several boats got through before a partial dam collapse. An extra upriver dam provided additional water depth, allowing the march to resume. At Alexandria, relations between Banks and many of the others deteriorated further. Each side sent exaggerated accounts to friendly newspapers and supporters. General John McClernand arrived with reinforcements from Texas, and he had also previously had poor relations with A. J. Smith and Porter. Smith obeyed only those orders he wanted to obey. Taylor made excellent use of his forces to fool the Union command into believing many more men were present, but Taylor did not try to stop the dam construction. He did shut down the lower river by attacking boats. Because the Confederates had burned most of the cotton, many speculators at Alexandria were disappointed.

When the Federals left Alexandria, the town went up in flames, the origins of which are disputed. En route to the Mississippi, an engagement at Mansura, May 16, was fought with almost no casualties. Yellow Bayou, the final conflict, took place on May 18 with significant casualties in a burning forest. Transport ships were lashed together to allow Union forces to cross the wide Atchafalaya River. General Taylor had promised to prevent the return of the Federals, but he could not do so. He blamed Kirby Smith for lack of support. General Banks, on arrival near the Mississippi, was met by General Edward Canby, who replaced him as the field commander of the Army of the Gulf on the spot.


The Red River Campaign was a Union fiasco, the outcome of which did not have a major impact on the war. It may have extended the length of the war by several months as it diverted Union efforts from the far more important objective of capturing Mobile, Alabama. That event did not occur until 1865, and could probably have been accomplished by June, 1864 if not for the Red River Campaign.[2]

The failure of the campaign effectively ended the military career of Banks, and controversy surrounding profits from cotton confiscated during the campaign dogged his later political career. Admiral Porter realized a substantial sum of money during the campaign from the sale of cotton as prizes of war.

The Confederates lost two key commanders, Mouton and Green, and suffered casualties they could not afford. Perhaps more importantly, relations between the aggressive Taylor and cautious Smith were permanently damaged by their disagreement over Smith's decision to remove half of Taylor's troops at the most critical moment. The lost opportunity to capture the entire Union fleet as it lay helpless above the falls at Alexandria haunted Taylor to his dying day.

The coming of the Union into Central Louisiana created much civic unrest, explains the historian John D. Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963). Quoting Joseph H. Ransdell of the Elmwood Plantation south of Alexandria, the "Yankees turned the Negroes crazy. They became utterly demoralized at once. . . restraint was at an end. All business was suspended, and those that did not go with the army remained at home to do much worse. No work was done and the place swarmed with Negroes from other places."[3]

The 22nd Texas Cavalry Regiment [Dismounted], also known as the First Indian Regiment, led by Burton Allen Holder, a Chickasaw Indian, kept the Union forces out of the Red River and new areas of Texas for the rest of the war.


  1. Hollandsworth, page 180. The quotes come from the official Government Records of the Civil War, titled War of the Rebellion, A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate ArmiesVolume 34, pt. 2-494, 610-611, Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.
  2. Don D. Worth. "Camp Ford, Texas". Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  3. John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN: 0-8071-0834-0, p. 238

References (General)[]

References (Regimental Histories and Personal Narratives)[]

External links[]

fr:Campagne de Red River ja:レッド川方面作戦