Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nathaniel Banks--a "Political General" and the War in the West


Western Louisiana and Texas were the site of several confrontations centered on the North’s attempt to invade Texas by way of Louisiana’s Red River and continue efforts to secure the Mississippi.
Northern forces were headed by Nathaniel Banks, a politically appointed general without military training. Banks and his men, under orders from Washington, and supported by the “Brown water” Navy, moved on Port Hudson below the mouth of the Red River on the Mississippi. Concerned about the strength of the Confederate forces there, Banks attempted to bypass the stronghold to the left. During this attempt, Banks encountered some resistance from Confederates under Richard Taylor but continued the advance to Alexandria on the Red River.
Asked by Grant to support his effort against Vicksburg, Banks decided that instead he would return to Port Hudson. At Port Hudson, things went poorly for Banks—taking huge casualties—but Port Hudson eventually surrendered after Vicksburg fell. Meanwhile Confederates forces under Taylor were getting organized taking a Union force of seven hundred at Brashear City Louisiana. Still though, after the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Confederate morale was low.
With the Mississippi under control the North decided to renew efforts to invade Texas. Banks would continue his campaign. Banks decided, against the orders of General Halleck who wanted the Red River route used, to launch his invasion by way of the Texas coast at Saline Pass. To begin this operation five thousand men were loaded onto ships and transported towards the invasion launch site. These transport ships were supported by light-draft gunboats.
The naval forces encountered stiff resistance at Fort Griffin with the Confederates actually pushing the naval force back out to sea. Banks now had to reevaluate his plan and now decided to invade overland from Beaumont under William Franklin. The advance at this point would take Union forces through the swampland of Louisiana where the Union forces settled in at New Iberia. Banks was organizing another expedition against the coast around the Rio Grande River. Not coordinating this move with Franklin, Banks’ opportunity for a pincer movement against Texas slipped away.
Banks was able to occupy Brownsville Texas securing the lower Rio Grande. Banks then moved farther down the coast securing Corpus Christi, Indianola, Port Lavaca, and Matagorda. This tied up most of his troops in garrison duty.
Still, the invasion of Texas down the Red River had not materialized. Gen. Halleck was displeased that it had not happened since he had ordered it. Banks was redirected to this original plan, and the invasion attempt down the Red River began again.