Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Red River is Rising (or is it?)

Last night, I finished reading Shelby Foote’s discussion of the Red River campaign, the Union’s attempt to seize Shreveport. Undertaken more for political reasons than strategic military concerns, the campaign proved a dismal failure and essentially ended the military career of Nathaniel P. Banks.

Three items caught my attention while reading about Red River:

1) The incredible aggression of Confederate General Richard Taylor. Badly outgunned, Taylor bided his time until Banks foolishly split his force. Taylor then pounced on Banks and thrashed him at the battle of Sabine Crossroads. Less wisely, he followed up this victory with another attack at Pleasant Hill, where he was beaten back. Despite this loss, Richard Taylor’s aggressive tactics forced a superior enemy force to abandon the campaign and retreat.

2) The most fascinating part of the campaign wasn’t on the battlefield, but was actually a feat of engineering by Union engineer Joseph Bailey. During the retreat, it became clear that the Red River was rapidly falling and the Union river fleet was trapped on the wrong side of a heavy falls. Faced with the threat of abandoning the entire fleet, former lumberman Joseph Bailey proposed building a dam to raise the river. In the end, he had to build two dams, but he managed to save the fleet.

3) Among the heroes of the Confederate victory at Sabine Crossroads was General Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac, better known to his men as ‘Prince Polecat’. One wonders exactly how a French prince ended up fighting for the Confederacy, but I¹m thinking that perhaps the Confederate Army of Oxford might need a member of the French Nobility serving in its ranks, a flash of color amongst the butternut!

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