Will's Red River IV: The Advance
The campaign was supposed to kick off the second week of March, but
everyone is a little delayed [see next part regarding Steele's
AJ Smith sets out from Vicksburg on March 10, only a couple days
behind. His force consisted of 2 brigades of his own division, 3
brigades of Mower's Division and 2 brigades of TK Smith's division.
He meets up with Porter at the mouth of the Red River. Landing his
men at Simmesport (which they promptly burn down) he moves inland on
the 14th moves to Marksville where Mower is directed to assault
nearby Fort De Russy. After successfully capturing the fort, Mower
is then sent on to Alexandria, which he enters on the 16th. The rest
of the force (AJ and TK Smith) follow after destroying Fort De Russy.
AJ Smith had a slight problem destroying the fort. The magazine was
primed to be blown up, but it was accidentally set off early, killing
two men and wounding several others. In "Red River Campaign;
Politics and Cotton in the Civil War", Johnson quotes from Edmund
Newsome's "Experiences in the Great War of the Rebellion" (1880)
that Smith was hissed at and taunted by his men after this incident.
I bring this up to illustrate that Banks would not be the only
commander on this campaign so treated by the men.
Banks has to linger in New Orleans but he directs Franklin to lead
the army to Alexandria ahead of him. Rains (and possibly Franklin's
personal style) delay the overland march of the force and Banks (by
boat) actually gets to Alexandria before Franklin. Albert Lee's
Cavalry division gets to Alexandria on the 19th, but Franklin with
the four infantry divisions [Landram, Cameron, Emory and Grover]
doesn't get there until a few days later.
However, these army delays don't amount to much when it is found that
the water is too low at Alexandria for Porter to pass. Even if the
army had gotten an earlier start, they still would have been stuck in
Alexandria while the Navy worked to get above the rapids. One of the
river pilots advises Porter not to take the Eastport, the largest
gunboat, further than Alexandria. Porter doesn't listen and in fact
decides to send the Eastport up the falls first, also against the
pilot's advice. Unsurprisingly, the Eastport gets stuck on rocks and
three days are spent getting her off.
While working on getting his ships above the rapids, Porter takes
time to write a note [Naval ORs v26 p35] happily reporting that he
has captured 2,021 bales of cotton and lists the ships entitled to a
share of the proceeds. Also while hanging around Alexandria, Mower,
with a part of Lee's cavalry, successfully defeats a detachament of
enemy cavalry at Henderson's Hill.
On March 26th Banks receives a message from Grant [OR 34/2 p610].
Recently made general-in-cheif, this is Grant's first opportunity to
issue orders to Banks. In my opinion this would have been the
perfect time for Grant to have cancelled the campaign. Steele hasn't
started yet and Banks, Porter and Smith have only moved a short way.
Cancel it, call it a minor but successful raid and tell everybody to
start getting ready for the real campaign in May. Instead Grant
sends banks the opposite message: the campaign is very importance but
he is under a tight time constraint. Banks must press on and do it
Grover's division is left to guard Alexandria because it is an
important point in the supply line because of the rapids. The rest of
the force moves forward, Lee's cavalry starting out on the 26th
followed by the rest of Banks men the next day while AJ Smith's men
move by boat with Porter on the river. Banks men reach Natchitoches
on April 2. The Eastport runs aground again, slowing the navy, but
during the first week of April the army concentrates at Natchitoches
and nearby Grand Ecore. Lee's cavalry is sent out in different
directions, skirmishing with the enemy on the 2nd at Crump's Hill, on
the 4th at Campti, and on the 5th near Natchitoches.