150 Years Ago This Week: The Red River campaign

March 1864

President Abraham Lincoln received word from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler at his headquarters on the Peninsula below Richmond that two ladies had appeared there with a request to pass through the Union lines and go to southern Maryland. He responded that they could obtain a pass only if they took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

The next day, the president “barely” suggested to the new Union governor of Louisiana, Michael Hahn, that some of the “very intelligent Negroes could be seated in a convention, which would define the elective franchise.”

On Monday, March 14, in the Red River military campaign, Union troops commanded by Brig. Gen. Andrew Smith captured Confederate Ft. DeRussy near Simmesport, La. Another Federal force was moving toward Alexandria. The same day, President Lincoln issued a draft order for 200,000 men for the U.S. Navy, and “to provide an adequate reserve force for all contingencies in the entire military service of the United States.”

Continuing in his efforts to reconstruct certain areas of the South, the president passed on certain powers to Louisiana Gov. Hahn which had been previously held by the military governor. Lincoln also advised Gov. Hahn that he “should not take charge of any church as such in the city of New Orleans.”

Federal gunboats on the Red River in Louisiana arrived at Alexandria on March 15. There was a skirmish this Tuesday between opposing forces near Alexandria at Marksville Prairie. While Union troops occupied Alexandria on March 16, Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest took his cavalry on an expedition into Tennessee and Kentucky, lasting until the middle of April. Maj. Gen. Sterling Price took command of the Confederate Department of Arkansas the same day, replacing Lt. Gen. Theophilius Holmes.

The next day, St. Patrick’s Day, Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant, at Maj. Gen. William Sherman’s headquarters in Nashville, formally assumed command of the armies of the United States, and announced that “Headquarters will be in the field, and, until further orders, will be with Maj. Gen. George Meade and the Army of the Potomac.”

The last Sanitary Commission Fair closed in Washington on March 18; the Sanitary Commission had originated in 1861 for the benefit and welfare of the soldiers in the field, raising many thousands of dollars to benefit the troops. “If all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of woman applied to the women of America, it would do them justice for their conduct during this war.” Thus, President Lincoln saw the close of the fair and paid tribute to the thousands of women who had labored long and hard to support the men in the field.

As the week closed, the Georgia Legislature expressed its confidence in President Jefferson Davis and resolved that the Confederate government should, after each victory, make an offer of peace to the North based on independence of the South and self-determination of the border states. On Friday, March 18, the voters of Arkansas voted in favor of a pro-Union constitution which abolished slavery in the state.

The week saw increased fighting and skirmishes nearly everywhere in the war-torn sections of the nation: On the Eel River in California; in Sperryville; at Corpus Christi, Texas; New Madrid, Mo.; Batesville, Ark.; on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad near Tullahoma; near Palatka, Fla.; in Jones County, Miss.

At Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, Union guns fired another 143 rounds at the crumbling fortress, but still the Confederate flag flew defiantly from the ramparts. The defenders there showed no signs of surrender.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.