JULY 2017

JULY  2017
Greed and Monopolies Take Over the Ship


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Friday, July 21, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Twenty-One

When it was all over 47 year old politician turned Major General Nathaniel Banks (above) would claim the salt was his idea. But the salt was a strategic goal, and Bank's was never a strategic thinker. The Vice President of the United States, 53 year old Hannibal Hamlin of Paris, Maine, , called the man "wonderfully cold and self (assured)".   And he did not mean that as a complement. A modern historian - Allan Nevins -  has described Banks as  "clever (and)...showy...without much depth or purpose,”  As if to prove these charges, "General" Banks was obsessed with learning tactics. 
The strategic thinker was 25 year old Brigadier General Geoffrey "Gottfried" Weitzel, a brilliant staff officer under the corpulent and corrupt Bay State politician turned Major General Benjamin Butler. In 1862 Butler, commanding  31,000 men,  was lord of the captured city of New Orleans. It was his aide General Weitzel who dreamed up the Bayou Teche operation, because,....well for several good reasons but strategically because of 144 acres of solid high ground in the middle of a Louisiana swamp called Avery Island or more traditionally, Ile Petite Anse - "the small cove".
See, in antebellum America sodium chloride was the only available food preservative. Drawing moisture out by salting beef and pork made them inhospitable to bacteria, slowing their decomposition.  The problem in the 2 centuries prior to 1860 was that there were only a few places on dry land in North America where salt could regularly be obtained in quantity, The largest and most dependable were "The Salt City" of Syracuse, New York (above), where brine springs of 78% salt fed into Nine Mile Creek...
...and Saltville, Virginia (above)  on the North Fork of the Holston River near the Tennessee state border.  In 1840, just outside of Saltville, a gold mine was sunk 210 feet deep and struck halite - solid rock salt, like that mined in Europe.  But it was never exploited because it was far cheaper and faster to evaporate salt out of either the ocean or the brine springs.
Then in May of 1860 pure rock salt was discovered by John Marsh Avery, just 16 feet below his Louisiana sugar cane plantation. Suddenly the Confederacy had 7 million pounds of cheap salt a year which had merely to be pried from open pits, and transported 10 miles north to New Iberia, on the shores of the Bayou Teche. General Butler ordered General Weitzel to plan the destruction of this valuable resource, but in October of 1862 General Butler was relieved.
His replacement was the shallow, ambitious General Nathaniel Banks, commander of the brand new 25,000 man Army of the Gulf.  He had recruited these green troops himself, and their training was not yet complete. Almost one third were 90 day volunteers whose enlistments were already half up. Much of their equipment had never been delivered, Some had even been issued muskets that could not fire. After struggling to get this mess straightened out - he was only partially successful -  in January of 1863, Banks sent General Weitzel and a couple of thousand men into southwestern Louisiana as far as Bashear City, on Bayou Teche and on the southern shores of Grand lake - an aneurysm near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River.
What Weitzel discovered was that in 1861 Louisiana had been stripped of young white males to fill out the Army of Northern Virginia. Two years later, only 3,500 effectives could be scrapped together to defend the southern half of the richest state in the Confederacy. 
They were formed into two brigades under the command of Major General Richard Scott "Dick" Taylor (above).  Like Banks,  Richard Taylor had never attended West Point, but was smart and willing to learn. Butt Taylor's only objective qualification for command was that he was the only son of the 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor. 
One of his two brigades was named for its commander, 34 year old Cajun Brigadier General Jean - Jacques Alfred Alexander Mouton (above). He was the West Point trained son of an ex- Louisiana Governor. 
And commanded by the alcoholic 44 year old Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley (above), was the Arizona Brigade. This was a melange of Texas cavalry regiments which never set foot in Arizona, rarely had enough horses to operate as cavalry and never operated as an entire brigade. The one regiment which did have horses was commanded by 49 year old Texan, Colonel Thomas Green. According to Yankee Admiral David Dixon Porter, when drunk Green was so fearless he was worth 5,000 men in battle.
Weitzel's mission was cut short because President Lincoln's patience began to run short. He wanted Banks (above) to assist Grant in taking Vicksburg. And as January 1863 drew to a close,  48 year old General of the Army Henry Wager Hallack passed along Mr. Lincoln's frustration to General Banks. Wrote Halleck, "Nothing but absolute necessity will excuse any further delay on your part." So, in February, Weitzel was rejoined Bank's little half trained army in New Orleans.  They then sailed 130 miles up river to Baton Rouge, occupied since May of 1862.  They then marched the 25 miles north to invest the isolated southern outpost of Vicksburg, the fortress of Port Hudson.
It was an impressive fort.   Behind high packed earthen walls were 15,000 soldiers and 21 heavy cannon, blocking any advance further north up the Mississippi on land or water. After tapping lightly at the fortress, Banks, sheepishly retreated back to Baton Rouge, with nothing to show for the effort. Which is when Weitzel dusted off his Bayou Teche proposal. And in selling it to Banks, the Prussian born Weitzel must have echoed Mister Lincoln's own thinking.
A year earlier, the 54 year old Abraham Lincoln (above) had reminded his jubilant commanders, celebrating the capture of New Orleans,  of what still needed to be done. Recalling his own two Mississippi River flat boat trips, Lincoln lectured them, "I am acquainted with that region and...as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg...is the key." 
Sweeping his arms across a map of Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, the 16th American President explained, "Here is the Red River (above), which will supply the Confederates with cattle and corn to feed their armies....From Vicksburg these supplies can be distributed by rail all over the Confederacy. It means hog and hominy without limit...The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket." And, added Weitzel, there was now the salt.
In mid-March, Banks pulled 2 of his 3 divisions out of the Baton Rouge defensive lines and returned them to New Orleans. He garrisoned that city with about half his force. Banks then ferried the best trained and armed 10,000 men across the Mississippi to Algiers, Louisiana, where they were loaded aboard cars of the New Orleans and Opelousas Central Railroad (above). This line ran 80 miles due west through swamps to the line's temporary termination just beyond Bashear City, at Pattersonville, Louisiana. 
Here elements of the 4th Division under 34 year old Brigadier General Cuvier Grover (above) were loaded onto transports and barges on the Atchafalaya River.  They then sailed up this river into Grand Lake and past the rebels at Fort Brisland. 
Their plan was that on Thursday, 11 April, they would land 15 miles north and cut off the rebel retreat by capturing the town of Franklin, Louisiana. They would then crush Taylor's entire army between them and elements of the 1st division under 41 year old Major General Christopher Columbus Agur, who would be attacking Fort Brisland.
It was not until Wednesday, 10 April, 1863 that Banks finally notified General Grant that he was no longer laying siege to Port Hudson. Banks assured Grant that the operations up Bayou Teche would be brief and productive.  By destroying Taylor's little army, he would be protecting New Orleans, and by outflanking and capturing the rebel fort up the Atchafalaya River, he would be cutting the Red River supply line and isolating Port Hudson. Having achieved all of this, Banks assured General Grant, he would be back before the gates of Port Hudson, ready to take the place by direct assault, with or without Grant's assistance, by 10 May.  It was a bold program, and it would take luck and speed to make the effort worth the effort.
Banks' artillery opened fire on Fort Brisland at 9:00am, on Friday 12 April. But General Agur's men did not emerged from the knee high sugar cane until 11:00am.  Still after a lot of long distance cannon fire and musketry and some marching back and forth, there was no direct assault on the fort. After nightfall word arrived that General Grover had finally landed a day late, and as of Saturday, 13 April, would be advancing on Franklin. General Banks ordered a dawn assault on the rebel fortress.
Inside the fort, "Dick" Taylor found himself in the role of King Leonidas at Thermopylae, except, Taylor chose the better part of valor, He saved his army to fight another day  by ordering a retreat under cover of night.  Bank's carried the abandoned works at dawn, That afternoon -  Sunday, 14 April, General Taylor fought a strong delaying action at Irish Bend (above), a mile and a half north of Franklin, which covered his army's escape..  
Taylor did not stop his retreat up Bayou Teche (above) until he reached the little town of Opelousas, 70 miles further north. After the fall of Baton Rouge in May 1862, this town of 1,000 had become the state capital - at least until the January raid by General Weitzler,  when Governor Morton had ordered the government removed even further north to Shreveport, on the Atchafalaya River.
To his credit, Banks pressed his advantage, and 30 miles north of Irish Bend, captured the town of New Iberia. And on Thursday, 18 April, 2 regiments of Federal troops arrived at Ile Petite Anse. They destroyed 18 buildings and all the mining equipment. Henceforth, General Taylor would have to get his salt - when he could - from Texas. The eastern Confederacy would now have to pay $100 for a  75 pound barrel of the precious mineral. And with each month of the war, that price would go up.
Two days later, on Saturday 20 April, General Banks achieved two more of his objectives. Tactically,, he captured Opelousas, Louisiana, The town's business leaders surrendered before the first Federal troops even entered the village. But of strategic importance was the capture on that same day of the fort Bank of the Rose - Butte a'-la-Rose - on the Atchafalaya River. This gave Banks direct access to the Red River, which joined the Mississippi above Port Hudson. Federal ships could now interdict all rebel river traffic,  No more pork or hominy would reach Vicksburg. To all intents the objectives of the entire Vicksburg campaign had been achieved, even without Vicksburg being captured.
The problems was Bank's 10,000 men could not hold the ground he'd won. The single railroad - nor the Federal Navy - could not supply his men in these swamps indefinitely. The countless bayous of Cajun country meant raiders could easily outflank every fort or town, burning Federal supplies. And the further north he allowed himself to be tempted, the worse General Bank's predicament became.
It was no accident that this region was the original source of the tale of "Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby." Although Banks would press his advantage 70 miles further north - capturing Alexandria, Louisiana, on Thursday, 7 May, 1863 - he finally realized he had already over stayed his welcome.
Over the next 4 weeks, as they slowly withdrew, the Federal troops stripped Cajun country of everything that might be of use. Colonel Thomas Edward Chickering, the 38 year old piano maker from Boston and commander of the Federal garrison of Opelousas, would "virtually denude" the region, taking or destroying all "cotton, sugar, fodder, corn, livestock, implements, wagons, slaves and anything else of value." 

By the time Banks returned to the Mississippi, the Cajun counties would need at least a year to recover enough so they could support even Taylor's small army. Bank's also brought to New Orleans 5,000 "freedmen", none of whom would ever supply the Confederacy with food or equipment again, and many of whom would be wearing Union Blue within a year, fighting and dieing for their right to be free.
So the salt quarry was destroyed, and the bounty of the rich land was denied to the rebels,, and thousands of recruits added to the Federal armies by what General Halleck called "these eccentric movements" by General Banks.  But Major General Nathaniel Banks did not return to capture Port Hudson until long after 10 May, of 1863, which he had promised. And as far the single minded Abraham Lincoln was concerned, that was all that really mattered.
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Twenty

On Sunday, 5 April, 1863, about 50 old men and boys of the Tensas Parish mounted militia - AKA the 15th Independent Louisiana Cavalry - were on a "training patrol" along the eastern shore of Bayou Vidal, in one of the richest cotton growing parishes of cotton rich Louisiana. 
The parish had 118 plantations,  a third of which held more than 100 humans in bondage. After two full years of war slaves in the parish now outnumbered white males by two to one, heightening white fears of a slave revolt. 
 Late that afternoon the militia spotted a couple of Negroes paddling a flatboat across the bayou. With Yankees at Richmond, Louisiana,  all boats had been ordered held on the eastern shore. The whites ordered the slaves to halt. And when the command was ignored the militiamen fired on their disobedient servants. 
And to the white men's shock, somebody shot back. One militiaman was killed and another wounded. They rushed back to inform their commander, Major Isaac F. Harrison that the Yankees had come to Tensas Parish.
Major Harrison's first responsibility was to notify his superior officers, up the ladder to the deaf and cranky 59 year old Lieutenant General Theophilus Hunter Holmes (above).  But that seemed a pointless exercise because Holmes owed his exalted appointment to his incompetence, which had driven General Robert E. Lee to demand his removal from the eastern theater, and his long friendship to Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, who had made his incompetent friend Commander of the Trans Mississippi.  Besides, Holmes was far away in Little Rock, Arkansas, obsessed with guarding the few resources his department had. So Major Harrison sent notice not only to General Holmes but also to the nearest commander in the neighboring Department of Mississippi - 32 year old Georgian, Major General John Stevens Bowen.
Bowen (above)  was a competent field commander, but his division at Grand Gulf, Mississippi actually numbered little more than 5,000 men. Still, he told his boss, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, in far off Jackson, Mississippi, he wanted to send some men across the river to find out what Grant was up to. 
General Pemberton had suspicions about Bowen. After the battle Corinth the previous year, the Georgia native had filed charges of incompetence against his superior, General Earl Van Dorn. The General was found not guilty, but the stink of betrayal lingered over Bowen and made him suspect. Besides, Pemberton doubted the Yankees were moving south.  Earlier - on Friday, 3 April, 1863 - all but 7,000 men of General Nathaniel Bank's 35,000 man Federal Army of the Gulf had disappeared from lines defending Baton Rogue, on the east bank of the Mississippi. Pemberton had no idea where those 28,000 blue coated soldiers had gone, but it seemed unlikely Grant would be moving south to cross the river if Banks was no longer there to reinforce him. Also, scouts reported there was heavy steam boat traffic on the Mississippi between Milliken's Bend and Memphis. This seemed to indicate Grant was shifting his army for another invasion of northern Mississippi. No, the Yankees at New Carthage were just a raiding party - at least that's what it looked like from Pemberton's perspective in Jackson. So he told Bowen to go ahead with a reconnaissance of Louisiana, but to remain ready to re-call those men if they were needed in Jackson.
On Thursday, 9 April, the 1st and 2nd under strength rebel Missouri regiments, under 28 year old lawyer and politician, Colonel Francis Marion Cockrell, crossed the river to Hard Times Landing. Cockrell was to find out what the Yankees were doing in Louisiana and if they were serious about it. So he pushed his infantry 6 miles north up the levee road beyond the head of the crescent Lake St. Joseph, south of New Carthage. There they bumped into the advance party of the 49th Indiana Volunteers.
Among the Hoosiers was Doctor John Ritter, and from his perspective the Yankees were not so much a threat, as threatened. "The Rebs", Dr. Ritter wrote his wife, had "occupied the high land down (to) the river. Their pickets were in sight all the time...We threw up breast works across the levee below and by that means held them in check...but if they had planted their artillery they could have shelled us out..."  Except Cockrell had no field guns. So after staring at each other for 5 days Colonel Cockrell decided to provoke a response by falling on an isolated company of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry, occupying the central houses of a plantation owned by Judge William Dunbar, guarding the Yankee right flank along Mills Bayou.
On the afternoon of the Tuesday, 14 April, members of the 1st Missouri left their positions along Bayou Vidal and marched west, crossing Mill Bayou, before swinging north behind the Federal positions. After a few fitful hours of sleep, at 4:00am the next morning, they waded into the waist deep water of the bayou again, falling on the Yankees without warning. In the dark the Missourians were able to capture one sentry, and kill a second before the Yankee cavalrymen awoke and fell back from the main house in confusion.
Still in the dark, the Missourians gathered up the wives and children of the overseers and other white employees who had been left behind. They also rounded up the 100 slaves in their cabins, driving the frightened people like cattle back across Mill Bayou in the dark. They would also claimed to have discovered a chaplain of the 2nd Illinois "entertaining" a “young, full grown, athletic” slave woman in a back room of the big house. The truth of that situation can never be proven because no one's version of events can be taken as gospel.
By dawn additional federal units had been awakened, and part of the 10th Ohio Infantry regiment joined the remainder of the 2nd Illinois in driving on the plantation with artillery support. Shortly after dawn the rebels were all safely back across Mill Bayou, taking any of their dead and wounded with them, leaving the Federals to claim only one rebel captured, in exchange for 1 dead, 2 wounded and 2 missing. It was not much of an engagement, unless you unlucky enough to have been shot or killed. But the rapid counter attack by the 10th Ohio, told Colonel Cockrell that there was strength behind this move south, and that it was not likely these Yankees were a mere raiding party.
The nervous Dr. Ritter, feeling vulnerable and isolated atop the open levee south of New Carthage, was not as alone as he felt. Behind him Federal engineers were directing the work of the the 1st Missouri Federal and the 127 Illinois and 34th Indiana infantry regiments building a dam...
...and 4 bridges - one 200 feet long - across flooded countryside, and widening to 20 feet and improving and "corduroying" 40 miles of road from Richmond to New Carthage, and " the road from Miliken's bend to Richmond, Louisiana.
Soldiers have been building corduroy roads across swamps for 6,000 years, and the process is simple. It merely requires unlimited manpower, and vast quantities of young trees. First, you clear the roadway, not only of trees but of stumps. Ideally you dig out the roadbed to a depth of a few inches. Then you lay felled trees, each 4 to 6 inches in diameter, across the road, packing the trunks as tightly together as you can, using branches and mud to chock the logs and keep them from rolling under the pressure of a passing legion, a single horse or a wagon. Then you cover the "road" in the mud dug out earlier, to cushion the impact of traffic and to provide safe footing for  the horses.
During the American Civil War only the Yankees seemed to build corduroy roads. Observed a member of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, "...the roads might have been ‘corduroyed’ according to the Yankee plan...but timber was not to be procured for such a purpose; what little there might be was economically served out for fuel."  A corduroy road could strip a forest of a human generation worth of trees.
In fact the Federal armies got pretty good at it, learning that a fence stripped if its posts would provide enough wood to corduroy half its length in road.  But no corduroy road would survive long under the intense pressure of military use.  And marching 50,000 men over the 12 miles of corduroy road between Young's point and the Desoto Peninsula, would destroy the entire structure, even before the endless supply trains required to feed the men and horses which had marched down that same road. 

But Grant "doubled down" on this approach. Besides the 40 mile interior route to New Carthage,  he ordered the improvement of a second, shorter route, 8 miles long atop the levees directly from Young's Point to the shore of the Desoto Peninsula south of Vicksburg.  But then, Grant had no intention of supplying his army down either road he chose to march over.
Federal troops taking the shorter route would be fully visible to Confederates in Vicksburg, while the inland route was masked from enemy view.  Also, Grant discovered that altho the digging had not added enough depth to the bayous to make them usable for shipping, it had deepened them enough to form a flooded obstruction to any rebel infantry from the west wishing to interfere with the march south. 
So by 15 April, the day Colonel Cockrell's Missourians had poked at the Federal's right flank, Grant was ready to order the Hoosiers to push further south, toward Lake St. Joseph and beyond to Hard Times Landing, to make room for the remainder of General McClernand's Corps, and the rest of the army behind them.
Grant's goal seemed obvious, from his perspective at Millinken's Bend. But Pemberton was high and dry in Jackson, Mississippi. Pemberton did not awaken every morning to the sound and smell of the river. He had not been living next to it and on it for three months, as Grant had. Pemberton's perspective inclined him to look to Grant's army, when his eyes and ears should have been following Grant's brown water navy.
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