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Will's Red River V: Steele’s Failure

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  • Will
    Will s Red River V: Steele s Failure Chad waved off Steele s failure by blaming it on logistics. Yet logistics are part of the responsibility of a field
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2002
      Will's Red River V: Steele's Failure

      Chad waved off Steele's failure by blaming it on logistics. Yet
      logistics are part of the responsibility of a field commander. In
      examining this campaign, I don't understand at all how why Steele
      seems held to a lesser standard than Banks. As I see it, Steele's
      campaign was a failure and Steele is responsible for a large part of
      the reason why.

      Despite Halleck's presentation of the plan as stemming from a need to
      cooperate with Steele, Steele was reluctant to be a part of it. So
      much so, that at almost the last moment [March 12] he proposes that
      he only make a demonstration [OR 34/2 576]. However, Grant puts his
      foot down and orders Steele to make a serious move to the Red River.
      Banks had written to Steel recommending that he come down to Monroe,
      LA and advance along the north side of the Red River within
      cooperating distance of Banks. This makes sense from the point of
      view of a combined movement up the Red River, but from Steele's point
      of view it would uncover central Arkansas. Sherman had written
      recommending a more direct march on Shreveport.

      Steele adopts Sherman's proposal and plans to have two converging
      columns meet at Arkadelphia. Two weaknesses with this plan: first,
      the old converging column trick rarely goes as planned; second
      supplying an army along this route is going to be hard. Even if
      there was zero opposition and even if everything went like clockwork,
      it is probable [see Johnson's book] that Steele would be out of food
      by the time he arrives at Shreveport. In other words, for his part
      of the campaign to succeed there must be no enemy in the way, no
      delays in marching, and Banks must be waiting for him in Shreveport
      with food. It looks to me like the seeds of failure were sown well
      before the first soldier marched out of Little Rock.

      Delaying slightly to deal with his local political responsibilities,
      Steele sets out on March 23rd moving southwest from Little Rock with
      2/3 of his force [Salomon's infantry division and Carr's cavalry
      division] while at the same time Thayer is supposed to lead the other
      1/3 [Thayer's Frontier division] southeast from Fort Smith. Steel
      gets to Arkadelphia and waits for Thayer, and waits...

      On April fools day, Steele moves forward from Arkadelphia without
      Thayer. However, Thayer catches up on the 6th. Though it is great
      to now have greater numerical superiority, Steele also now has more
      mouths to feed since Thayer doesn't have any extra food either.
      There are skirmishes [Elkins' Ferry, April 3-4; Prairie D'Ane, April
      10-11] in which Steele is successful in pushing forward, but his
      supplies are dwindling, the enemy is concentrating, and the advance
      is slowing down.

      On the 12th, Steele gives up and turns east toward Camden. On the
      13th, the enemy falls upon his rearguard at Prairie D'Ane but Steele
      pushes on and by the 16th is securely in Camden. He enjoys numerical
      superiority over the enemy around him, but due to logistical failure,
      it is as if he were besieged. In an effort to gather supplies,
      Steele sends out expeditions into the surrounding countryside and
      sends a detachment to escort a supply train from Pine Bluff. By
      dividing his force like this, Steele throws away his numerical
      advantage and hands two victories to the enemy: on the 18th at Poison
      Springs and on the 25th at Mark's Mill. At Poison Springs, Steele
      lost around 300 men and almost 200 wagons. At Mark's Mill, Steele
      lost close to 1,500 men (around 12% of his available manpower) and
      lost over two hundred more wagons. Steele convenes a council of war
      and decides to begin a retreat to Little Rock the next day.

      On April 30 at Jenkins Ferry, Steele fights a desperate battle to
      hold off the enemy while crossing the Saline river. He succeeds,
      mostly due to Kirby Smith's terrible tactical planning and the bad
      weather. Because Kirby Smith had no bridging equipment, Steele is
      ably to pull way, though in his rush Steele has to leave his wounded
      and a lot of equipment behind. He staggers into Little Rock a few
      days later.

      To me, this is a disaster and Steel deserves a significant amount of
      blame for the plan, the logistical problems, and the heavy losses in
      men and material. The idea that gave birth to the campaign was
      cooperation between Steele, Banks and Sherman. But Steele's choice
      of march made his ability to cooperate with Banks essentially
      nonexistent. Steele's part in the campaign had no supporting effect
      on the movement up the Red River. In a five week campaign, Steele
      looses more than 20% of his men, hundreds of wagons and thousand of
      mules. Furthermore, rather than achieving greater control of
      Arkansas as was desired, Union control of Arkansas is weakened. At
      the beginning of 1864 it looked like Arkansas was going to come
      completely under Union control, but by midyear Union control is
      limited to a string of isolated posts along the Arkansas River and
      Price is able to use the state as a base from which to launch an
      invasion of Missouri.
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