The Red River Campaign
This muddled and distracting campaign was devised in early 1864 as a Union attempt to capture Shreveport, La., the headquarters for the Confederates in the trans-Mississippi. In doing that, Federal forces would open the door to Texas and, along the way, confiscate tons of cottons desperately needed by Northern mills.
To accomplish all this, two Union columns were to converge on Shreveport. One, under Gen. Frederick Steele, was to move southwest from Little Rock, Ark. The other, under Gen. Nathaniel Banks, was to march with strong gunboat support up the Red River from the Baton Rouge area.
Virtually no Union military commander in the field favored the idea. The plan drew troops from Gen. William T. Sherman, who was making plans to march on Atlanta. Gen. U.S. Grant thought Banks’s troops could be better used in a campaign against Mobile, Ala. But the politicians, including Lincoln, favored the idea, and the Union columns moved forward toward Shreveport in mid-March 1864.
Neither column made it. Banks stumbled northwest through the Louisiana bogs, while the gunboats fought the fickle Red River. A strong group of Confederates under Gen. Richard Taylor finally confronted and defeated Banks near Mansfield April 7-9. The Confederates then pursued Banks back down the Red River. The flotilla of Union gunboats was nearly lost in the retreat.
Meanwhile Steele’s column, bedeviled by Confederates raiding his supply lines, got as far as Camden Ark. Unable to move farther without supplies, he returned to Little Rock.
The whole affair was a dismal Union failure.
Fort DeRussy Road, 4 miles north of Marksville
Built by Confederates to protect Union incursions up the Red River, this fort was the site of several important actions during the war. The well-traveled Union ram “Star of the West” of Charleston fame was captured here in February 1863 and refitted to Confederate use. On May 14, 1864, the fort surrendered to an overwhelming Union force after a four-hour siege, clearing the river for Union gunboats.
The fort is being developed and is open to the public with trails leading to the different features. Limited interpretation on site. Open daylight hours.
Mansfield State Historic Site
15149 Highway 175, Mansfield LA 71052
Park commemorates a series of events April 7–9, 1864, that ended the ill-fated Union Red River Campaign. The site itself preserves a portion of Confederate Gen. Richard Taylor’s position at the opening of the battles. A museum/visitor center describes the action here and the Red River Campaign. Trails take visitors to key points. Open daily 9 am–5 pm. $4/adult.
Forts Randolph & Buhlow State Historic Site
135 Riverfront St, Pineville LA 71360
A visitor center and interpreted trails focus on the Red River Campaign. Trails connect the two forts, constructed by Confederates following the Battle of Mansfield. A military buildup in the area was intended to repel any future Union attacks. The historic site also contains the remains of Bailey’s Dam, which “saved” the Union ironclad fleet during the retreat from Mansfield. Site open Tuesday-Saturday 9 am-5 pm. $4.
See also Alexandria/Pineville area
Links to the websites of places: Louisiana Links