The Civil War, Day by Day

Battle for the Shenandoah (detail)

Red River Campaign Begins

This amphibious expedition, originating from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was devised by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck as a means to win Louisiana and Texas for the North. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a waste of time...and an inefficient use of some 40,000 trained soldiers.

Halleck’s elaborate plan called for General Nathaniel Banks’ and Admiral David Porter’s naval fleet to reach Alexandria, Louisiana by way of the Red River. Once in Alexandria, they were to be met by additional troops under William T. Sherman and Frederick Steele. Halleck appointed Banks to coordinate the mission.

The campaign got underway on March 12, 1864, as the troops started up the river on their navel transports. Although they had some successes along the way - namely, the seizure of Fort de Russy - the Union forces faced disaster by April. The Confederates positioned themselves along the river and attacked, forcing Banks to retreat near Mansfield, Louisiana. Porter was now left to evade enemy fire, as his thirteen ironclads and seven gunboats struggled through shallow waters.

Miraculously, a lieutenant colonel named Joseph Bailey proved his engineering expertise; he dammed the river so it was deep enough for the ships to speed safely through. As a result of this brilliant strategy, Bailey was promoted to Brigadier General. More importantly, Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to Halleck’s position…and the likes of the Red River campaign would never happen again.

Mort Künstler painted this tumultuous battle scene, a detail from Battle for the Shenandoah, which typifies the cavalry fighting which took place during the Red River Campaign.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.