Will's Red River VI: The Crossroads
- Will's Red River VI: The Crossroads
Banks lingered in Grand Ecore for almost a week, organizing, planning
and also dealing with his non-military responsibilities. To get from
Grand Ecore to Shreveport, he was faced with a question: what route
to take. There were essentially three possible route choices: 1)
along the river, 2) east of the river via Campti and Minden 3) west
of the river via Mansfield.
A river route was promising because the gunboats and the army could
mutually support each other. Some authors claim there was a good
road along the river and use a statement by Porter as evidence. I am
not convinced. Maps of the time show roads along the river, but not
a continuous route for the entire stretch from Grand Ecore to
Shreveport. In addition, such a route would entail several critical
water crossings which may not have been bridged. The road east of
the river was apparently of good quality but was longer and swung
farther from the river. The route west of the river offered several
points for connection with the fleet (Blair's Landing and
Springfield) and it led to Mansfield at which several roads converged
providing multiple lines of approach to Shreveport. But possibly the
most important reason to take thatroute was that the enemy was
thought to be around Mansfield and Banks wanted to fight.
Therefore, Banks directed that army to advance on the road to
Mansfield with Franklin leading Banks command out first followed by
AJ Smith's force, except TK Smith's division which would move up the
river with Porter. Franklin was given the following order [OR 34/3
"GENERAL: The major-general commanding desires that you advance to-
morrow morning with your command on the roads to Shreveport. The main
force of the enemy was at last accounts in the vicinity of Mansfield,
on the stage road between Natchitoches and Shreveport, and the major-
general commanding desires to force him to give battle, if possible,
before he can concentrate his forces behind the fortifications of
Shreveport or effect a retreat westerly into Texas. You will
therefore please march your column with this object always in view,
and in such order as to be able to throw as much as possible of your
force into battle at any time on the march. The march should be from
the first as rapid as possible consistently with keeping your troops
in good fighting condition."
As I see it, the key points in this order are: 1) Banks knows the
enemy is near Mansfield; 2) Banks desires to give him battle; 3)
Banks desires the column be marched with the goal of battle in mind;
4) Banks desires the march be "so as to concentrate forces at any
time". As we shall, Franklin does not follow this order.
Chad wrote: "Although Franklin may have arranged the order of march
with the wagon train separating the advance and the main body, Banks
was obviously fully aware of those dispositions, and did nothing to
correct them." Was Banks "obviously fully aware of thoe
dispositions"? When did Banks become so aware? and what did BanKs do
when he became aware of it?
Franklin directed the head of the army out of Grand Ecore on the
6th. Meanwhile Banks remained in Grand Ecore until late on the 7th
when he rides out to join Franklin, arriving at Franklin's HQ at
Pleasant Hill that night. At that time he would not yet have seen
how the cavalry and its train were arranged. However, he did learn
that A. Lee had sent a message back requesting infantry support.
Franklin had replied in the negative, but Banks overruled him and
directed that Franklin send infantry support to Lee. Thus, upon
arriving on the scene Banks started making changes in the
dispositions Franklin had created. Unfortunately Franklin only sent
one of his smallest brigades (Emerson of Landram's Division)
On the morning of the 8th, Lee sent back more messages indicating
growing enemy resistance and requesting additional support. Banks
directed Franklin to support him. Landram's other brigade (Vance)
was sent forward. Banks then decided he would ride to Lee's
positions to see what is happening. Franklin supposedly stated that
that wouldn't be necessary as there won't be any fight. To which
Banks replied that he will see for himself.
It should be noted that Lee also reported that, prior to Banks
arriving at Franklins HQ, he had made requests that his cavalry train
be sent back so that the infantry would be directly behind him and
that Franklin refused this request.
Obviously, I hold Franklin responsible for the dispersion of Banks
army at that point. So before what happened at Sabine Crossroad, a
few words about Franklin are in order. Chad said "although Franklin
did very well at West Point, his record to this point in the War had
been abominable." I agree, but I think the list of people who felt
this way in 1864 was quite short. Besides Burnside, everyone else in
the upper levels of the army seemed to think Franklin was capable.
Thus I don't think it is true that "Banks was undoubtedly aware of
this." Chad sees Banks employment of Franklin as evidence of "Banks'
incompetence and lack of responsibility." Yet Franklin was a senior
general who had been assigned to Banks by the War Department.
Halleck, Stanton and Lincoln all share the responsibility of
assigning Franklin to serve under Banks. It is also not clear that
in March/April of 1864 Banks attributed the problem at Sabine Pass to
Franklin. Chad concludes that "Accepting Franklin as his second-in-
command for the expedition is just further evidence of Banks'
ineptitude and lack of leadership." I disagree. Franklin was the
senior commander (after Banks) in the department and Banks was not
aware of reasons to think Franklin was anything but capable and
Anyway, back on the road to Mansfield, Banks arrives at Lee's
position at 1pm. Lee briefs him on the situation, stating that
either they must fall back or be reinforced. Banks was looking for a
fight, so he decides to make a stand here. He directs Landram to
concentrate his division at Lee's position and sends back to tell
Franklin to bring up the remaining divisions as fast as possible.
About 3:30 Landram has his entire division (a total of 9 regiments)
in position across the road. From what is visible, the enemy appears
to be concentrated more to the right of the road, so Landram places
2/3 of his force on that side. Lee places one of his brigades on
each side of Landram: Dudley on the left, Lucas on the right. Banks
force of four brigades numbered a little less than 5,000. Taylor,
with 8,000 at hand, had a significant numeric edge. Lee's third
brigade, the smallest, was back with his wagon train (he had a fourth
brigade that was way back with the infrantry wagon train). Franklin
was approaching with Cameron's small division (5 regiments total less
than 2,000 men). If Cameron arrived in time, the numbers would be
close to even. Emory's larger division (around 5,500--more than
Cameron and Landram combined) was still several miles back.
Chad claimed that "Also, there remains the issue of Banks' complete
lack of initiative when his advance guard stumbled upon Richard
Taylor's prepared Confederates at Sabine Cross Roads." As I have
tried to show, Banks showed initiative. Once he was aware of the
situation he took measures to concentrate a force to face the enemy.
Chad used flowery language to blast Banks as having "exercised
criminal neglect in failing to rectify the sloppy arrangement of his
march", though actual events present a contradictory picture of Banks
taking steps to rectify the situation. Chad went on the say that "he
then did nothing for three hours. He was content to sit still, with
a minimum of defensive preparations, awaiting Franklin's arrival with
the remainder of the army." Disagree. Banks had organized the force
available in a defensive line.
Chad states that "Eventually Banks apparently grew restless and
ordered Albert Lee to what would have likely been a suicidal attack,
but when Lee expressed strong disagreement with these orders Banks
backed down " This comes from Lee's testimony before Congress. But
his Official Reports tells a different story. In the ORs [34/1 p.
457] he states that a staff officer directed him "to dispose my
troops to advance to Mansfield". He says that he reported to Banks
that his men were disposed in that fashion and Banks then directed
him to hold his position. It is only when appearing before Congress,
in the politically charged atmosphere (what could be called a witch
hunt against one if its former members) that Lee turns this story
into what Chad decribed.
At around 4pm Taylor began his assault by sending half his force (the
brigades of Polignac, Mouton and Randall plus Major's cavalry)
against the union right. Contrary to Chad's claim that
Banks "preparations were virtually non-existent", the union defensive
line stopped Taylor's attack cold, inflicting heavy casualties.
However, Taylor then threw the rest of his force (the brigades of
Waul and Scurry plus Bee's cavalry) against the union left. The bulk
of the union line was still engaged against the force on its right
and was unable to shift any support to meet the new assault on the
opposite flank. Taylor's two stage assault worked, as superior
numbers overwhelmed the union left and began wrapping around the
union line. Ransom (Landram's Corps commander) was wounded and both
of Landram's brigade commanders were lostEmerson, wounded, was
captured and Vance was killed. The order to withdraw was given but
it became a panic.
Almost at the same time, Franklin was approaching with Cameron's
division. This small division set up a second line near Lee's wagon
trains in an attempt to contain the rout and halt Taylor's advance.
Franklin and Banks rode about in the thick of things trying to rally
men, succeeding in collecting a small portion of Landram's men and
portions of Lee's cavalry to fill out Cameron's line. Taylor was
checked for close to an hour, but then the second union line broke
under the pressure of superior numbers.
During this time, an order had been sent back to Emory directing him
to select a strong defensive position and form a new line, behind
which the shattered elements of the 13th Corps could shelter. About
6pm, with darkness approaching, Taylor threw his force against
Emory's line, hoping to complete the rout of Banks army. But Emory's
line held and Taylor was repulsed. The day drew to a close.
The main cause of the union disaster at Sabine Crossroads was the
inability to concentrate sufficient force quickly enough: if Cameron
had arrived prior to Taylor's attack, I think the line could have
held and if Emory had been close behind Taylor would have lost.
Taylor did an excellent job handling his assualt and attacking before
Banks as able to concentrate. Banks shoulders some of the blame for
the disaster. I see the problem as resulting from Franklin's
handling of the march in a way contrary to the orders issued by Banks
at a time prior to Banks arrival on the scene. Banks can be faulted
for not supervising Franklin better, but then he expected that
Franklin was more competent.
Lee wrote in his report [OR 34/1 p.458] with regard to the wagon
train "I desire, in explanation of its presence and continued
presence, to call attention to the order of General Franklin, cited
in this report and received by me about 5 p.m. of the preceding day,
directing me to proceed that night as far as possible with my whole
train to give the infantry room on the following day." The report of
Chandler, the Chief Quartermaster [OR 34/1 p238] contains an
interesting tidbit: "To account for the unusual position of the train
I will further add that General Franklin and General Lee both wanted
the cavalry train to move in rear of the infantry force, but both
generals disagreed as to the precedence of position when the trains
should be joined. General Lee desired that his train should precede
General Franklin's infantry train, and the laytter-named general
insisted that the infantry trains should move in the rear of the
infantry force. Because of this disagreement no change was made on
this day of the engagement."