Red River

The Red River Campaign, conducted from March 2 to May 20, 1864, was one of the largest Army-Navy operations of the war. After reenlisting in 1863, Edwards and the 29th Maine found themselves again assigned to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. They arrived in New Orleans after seventeen days on a transport ship, stopping once along the way in Key West to "coal up," but were not allowed off due to two cases of smallpox on board.

The Union's goals at the start of the campaign were to capture Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Confederate headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department was located; to eradicate the Confederate Army's control west of the Mississippi especially in Texas; and to confiscate thousands of bales of cotton from the plantations along the Red River. The Union's advance into Texas was in part to prevent feared invasion by France from Mexico.

The date of the campaign was dictated by the water levels in the Red River which were only navigable to Union gunships for a short period of time in the spring. The campaign began with three commanders, but no outright leader. Banks and his forces were to move northwest along the Red River to Shreveport, Louisiana. Major General Frederick Steele was to take his forces south from Little Rock, Arkansas. Major General William T. Sherman loaned BG Andrew Jackson Smith and 10,000 of his troops to RADM David Porter to protect his ninety gunships.


Banks made a crucial mistake in the execution of his part of the plan. Intentionally misguided by a Southern river pilot, Banks chose an inland road that ran through Pleasant Hill and Mansfield before heading north again to Shreveport. This decision led Banks directly into the path of the waiting Rebels. On April 8 Major General Richard Taylor's forces met Banks's men at the Sabine Crossroads outside of Mansfield. Though they were driven back by the Confederates, Abial Edwards and the 29th Maine fought well. The next day at Pleasant Hill, Edwards and the 29th found themselves again in the center of the action. When Union reinforcements failed to arrive from Arkansas, Banks decided to retreat.

In the end, the campaign failed to accomplish a single objective due to poor planning and mismanagement. It had been dictated by political agendas and party politics as well as commercial interests. Its failure led to a congressional investigation and effectively ended Banks's military career as well as his 1864 presidential aspirations. Sherman called the campaign, "one damn blunder from beginning to end."


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Illustration of the dam built on the Red River by Colonel Joseph Bailey at Alexandria. Bailey's Dam was built over a ten-day period utilizing 10,000 troops. The dam successfully allowed the retreat of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet of ten Federal gunboats. Bailey was voted the "Thanks of Congress" (one of only fifteen Army officers during the Civil War) by the United States Congress for his success. Illustration of Major General Nathaniel Banks's Army of the Gulf under Major General William Franklin, crossing the Cane River by bridges and pontoons, on March 31, 1864, on its advance on Shreveport. The crossing was made about fifty-four miles from Alexandria. Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet above the falls on the Red River at Alexandria, Louisiana. Map illustrating the campaign under Major General Nathaniel Banks during the Red River Expedition (March 10- May 22, 1864). After less than stellar accomplishments in the Peninsula Campaign, Banks was reassigned as commander of the Department of the Gulf in December 1862. In the spring of 1864, Banks launched the Red River expedition (plan of Major General Henry Halleck). Banks was routed at the Battle of Mansfield and barely carried the field the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill and was forced to retreat all the way back to Alexandria. Banks was relieved of field command by Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant on April 22, 1864. Son of United States President Zachary Taylor.  Even though superiorly outnumbered by Major General Banks's Union troops throughout the campaign, Taylor was able to rout Banks at the Battle of Mansfield on April 8 and only lost the Battle of Pleasant Hill, the next day,  because he ordered his troops off the field first. Pleasant Hill was declared a Confederate strategic victory.