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Red River Campaign


RED RIVER CAMPAIGN (1864). Early in 1864, Union General Henry W. Halleck ordered an invasion of the cotton-growing sections of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. The thrust, to be under the command of General Nathaniel P. Banks, was to move up the Red River. Banks planned to begin the exedition in March to take advantage of the spring rise in the river.

Banks's command and a force from Mississippi under Union General Andrew Jackson Smith, together with a river fleet, were to converge on Alexandria, Louisiana, after which the combined force would move on to a junction with troops under General Frederick Steele coming southward from Arkansas. The two armies would then sweep up the Red River valley to Shreveport, the Confederate headquarters, and on into eastern Texas. Scattered Confederate troops—half the size of the Union army—under General Edmund Kirby-Smith, were available to oppose the invasion.

By the middle of March, the fleet and Banks's army had taken Fort DeRussy (14 March) and occupied Alexandria (16 March) to await the arrival of reinforcements marching overland from the Mississippi River. The retreating Confederate troops under General Richard Taylor—receiving reinforcements as they went—halted at Mansfield, south of Shreveport. Posted in good defensive positions, Taylor's force, with less than half his opponents' numbers, sustained Banks's attack on 8 April. The Union forces were defeated and driven back in confusion. The next day Taylor's troops advanced against Banks's army posted in a strong position at Pleasant Hill, southeast of Mansfield, and were repulsed. Banks failed to follow up his success. During the night, the Union army retreated to Grand Ecore near Natchitoches, and then to Alexandria. The withdrawal of the army placed the Union fleet in jeopardy. The river did not rise as anticipated, and it was uncertain if the ships could pass the rapids at Grand Ecore. Engineering skill and resourcefulness saw the ships safely through in time to escape capture or destruction.

When the threat of Banks's advance was removed, Kirby-Smith, at Shreveport, undertook both to pursue Banks and to crush Steele. On 30 April he attacked at Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas, on the Saline River. Steele retreated to Little Rock. Kirby-Smith then turned southward to join Taylor for a final blow against Banks, but Banks had already reembarked and started back to the Mississippi, where the troops were dispersed. The defeat of Banks's expedition brought important operations in the trans-Mississippi to a close. The Confederate forces held out until 26 May 1865, when Kirby-Smith surrendered, thus ending the war in that area.


Brooksher, William R. War Along the Bayous: The 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1998.

Johnson, Ludwell H. Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1993.

Thomas RobsonHay/a. r.

See alsoCivil War ; Mississippi Plan ; Mississippi River .

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