|Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor|
[Excerpted from the war memoir Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War in the United States by Lt.Gen.RichardTaylor,1879,pages 152-155.]
The ensuing winter of 1863-4 was without notable events. Control of the Mississippi enabled the enemy to throw his forces upon me from above and below Red River, and by gunboats interfere with my movements along this stream; and as soon as the Lafourche campaign ended, steps were taken to provide against these contingencies. Twenty miles south of Alexandria a road leaves the Bœuf, an effluent of Red River, and passes through pine forest to Burr's Ferry on the Sabine. Twenty odd miles from the Bœuf this road intersects another from Opelousas to Fort Jesup, an abandoned military post, thence to Pleasant Hill, Mansfield, and Shreveport. At varying distances of twelve to thirty miles the valley of the Red River is an arc, of which this last-mentioned road is the chord, and several routes from the valley cross to ferries on the Sabine above Burr's. But the country between the Bœuf and Pleasant Hill, ninety miles, was utterly barren, and depots of forage, etc., were necessary before troops could march through it. With great expenditure of time and labor depots were established, with small detachments to guard them; and events proved that the time and labor were well bestowed.
Movements of the Federals along the west coast of Texas in November induced General Kirby Smith to withdraw from me Green's command of Texas horse, and send it to Galveston. This left me with but one mounted regiment, Vincent's 2d Louisiana, and some independent companies, which last were organized into two regiments—one, on the Washita, by Colonel Harrison, the other, on the Teche, by Colonel Bush; but they were too raw to be effective in the approaching campaign. Mouton's brigade of Louisiana infantry could be recruited to some extent; but the Texas infantry received no recruits, and was weakened by the ordinary casualties of camp life, as well as by the action of the Shreveport authorities. The commander of the "Trans-Mississippi Department" displayed much ardor in the establishment of bureaux, and on a scale proportioned rather to the extent of his territory than to the smallness of his force. His staff surpassed in numbers that of Von Moltke during the war with France; and, to supply the demands of bureaux and staff, constant details from the infantry were called for, to the great discontent of the officers in the field. Hydrocephalus at Shreveport produced atrophy elsewhere. Extensive works for defense were constructed there, and heavy guns mounted; and, as it was known that I objected to fortifications beyond mere water batteries, for reasons already stated, the chief engineer of the "department" was sent to Fort De Russy to build an iron-casemated battery and other works. We shall see what became of De Russy.
In the winter there joined me from Arkansas a brigade of Texas infantry, numbering seven hundred muskets. The men had been recently dismounted, and were much discontented thereat. Prince Charles Polignac, a French gentleman of ancient lineage, and a brigadier in the Confederate army, reported for duty about the same time, and was assigned to command this brigade. The Texans swore that a Frenchman, whose very name they could not pronounce, should never command them, and mutiny was threatened. I went to their camp, assembled the officers, and pointed out the consequences of disobedience, for which I should hold them accountable; but promised that if they remained dissatisfied with their new commander after an action, I would then remove him. Order was restored, but it was up-hill work for General Polignac for some time, notwithstanding his patience and good temper. The incongruity of the relation struck me, and I thought of sending my monte-dealing Texas colonel to Paris, to command a brigade of the Imperial Guard.
In the first weeks of 1864 the enemy sent a gunboat expedition up the Washita, and Polignac's brigade, with a battery, was moved to Trinity to meet it. The gunboats were driven off, and Polignac, by his coolness under fire, gained the confidence of his men, as he soon gained their affections by his care and attention. They got on famously, and he made capital soldiers out of them. General Polignac returned to Europe in 1865, and as he had shown great gallantry and talent for war while serving with me, I hoped that he might come to the front during the struggle with Germany; but he belonged to that race of historic gentry whose ancestors rallied to the white plume of Henry at Ivry, and followed the charge of Condé at Rocroy. Had he been a shopkeeper or scribbling attorney, he might have found favor with the dictator who ruled France.
All the information received during the months of January and February, 1864, indicated a movement against me in the early spring; and in the latter month it was ascertained that Porter's fleet and a part of Sherman's army from Vicksburg would join Banks's forces in the movement, while Steele would coöperate from Little Rock, Arkansas. This information was communicated to department headquarters, and I asked that prompt measures should be taken to reënforce me; but it was "a far cry" to Shreveport as to "Lochow," and the emergency seemed less pressing in the rear than at the front.
The end of February found my forces distributed as follows: Harrison's mounted regiment (just organized), with a four-gun battery, was in the north, toward Monroe; Mouton's brigade near Alexandria; Polignac's at Trinity on the Washita, fifty-five miles distant; Walker's division at Marksville and toward Simmsport on the Atchafalaya, with two hundred men under Colonel Byrd detached to assist the gunners at De Russy, which, yet unfinished, contained eight heavy guns and two field pieces. Walker had three companies of Vincent's horse on the east side of the Atchafalaya, watching the Mississippi. The remainder of Vincent's regiment was on the Teche.
Increased activity and concentration at Berwick's Bay, and a visit of Sherman to New Orleans to confer with Banks, warned me of the impending blow; and on the 7th of March Polignac was ordered to move at once to Alexandria, and thence, with Mouton's brigade, to the Bœuf, twenty-five miles south. Harrison was directed to get his regiment and battery to the west bank of the Washita, gather to him several independent local companies of horse, and report to General Liddell, sent to command on the north bank of Red River, whence he was to harass the enemy's advance up that stream. Vincent was ordered to leave flying scouts on the Teche and move his regiment, with such men as Bush had recruited, to Opelousas, whence he afterward joined me on the Burr's Ferry road. At Alexandria steamers were loaded with stores and sent above the falls, and everything made ready to evacuate the place. These arrangements were not completed a moment too soon.