Prelude to the Battle
By the spring of 1864, Confederate Louisiana had shriveled to the northwestern area of the state. The capital had moved to Opelousas in 1862 and then to Shreveport in the spring of 1863. At the urging of Union Army Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck, President Abraham Lincoln approved an offensive against the remaining Confederate forces in Louisiana in the spring of 1864.
Red River Campaign
Named the Red River Campaign, Halleck’s plan comprised a three-pronged assault.
- Major General Nathaniel P. Banks would march 20,000 troops from the area around New Orleans across southern Louisiana and occupy Alexandria, Louisiana near the center of the state, before moving on to Shreveport.
- Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter would ascend the Red River and join Banks at Alexandria with over thirty warships and an accompanying supply fleet. A detachment of 10,000 soldiers from William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Brigadier General Andrew Jackson Smith would protect Dixon’s flotilla.
- After Banks and Porter joined forces and continued upriver toward Shreveport, Major General Frederick Steele would lead another 10,000 Union soldiers out of Little Rock, Arkansas and approach Shreveport from the north or east.
The campaign began on March 12, as Porter’s fleet entered the mouth of the Red River from the Mississippi River. The first major obstacle that the Union forces faced was Fort DeRussy, on the Red River roughly three miles north of Marksville, Louisiana, near the center of the state. Confederate soldiers originally built the earthen fort in 1862 and abandoned it in 1863. U. S. naval forces briefly occupied and partially destroyed the fort after the Rebels abandoned it. Southern troops returned to the fort in 1864 and rebuilt it. By March 1864, the complex included iron-plated water batteries designed to withstand artillery fire from the river.
Federals Advance Over Land
Possibly because of Fort DeRussy’s formidable batteries, Admiral Porter and General Smith decided to approach the complex from the land side. Porter transported Smith’s forces up the river as far as Simmesport, about thirty miles from the fort where they disembarked. On the morning of March 13, Smith’s reconnaissance patrols cleared the Fort DeRussy Road of Rebel pickets, and the main federal force of 10,000 soldiers advanced toward the fortification until nightfall.
As Smith’s large force continued to approach the fort the next morning, Confederate General John Walker withdrew his division, leaving behind only a skeleton garrison of 325 to 350 soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Byrd.
As the Federals arrived outside of Fort DeRussy during the day, Smith formed battle lines. Around 6:30 p.m., he ordered Brigadier General Joseph A. Mower’s division to storm the fort. The small garrison inside the structure offered only token resistance, and within twenty minutes, the battle was over.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Union victory resulted in casualties at the Battle of Fort DeRussy totaling forty-eight men killed and wounded and two missing. The Confederacy lost 324 men, including two killed, five wounded, and 317 captured. Although the battle was small, the Union victory enabled Porter and Smith to continue their trip up the Red River toward their target of Shreveport, Louisiana.