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Will's Red River VI: The Crossroads

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  • Will
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2002
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      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 downÂ…" 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 lost—Emerson, 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."
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