Fought on April 8, 1864, the Battle of Mansfield was the deciding engagement of the Red River Campaign, and it was the last major victory by a Confederate army during the American Civil War.
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.
Initial Federal Successes
The campaign began on March 12, as Porter’s fleet entered the mouth of the Red River from the Mississippi River. Events went well for the Federals initially. On March 14, Smith’s soldiers overran Fort DeRussy and captured a Rebel garrison of approximately 300 men. On the next day, Porter and Smith moved upriver and occupied Alexandria unopposed. Banks was behind schedule, and the forward elements of his army did not reach Alexandria until March 23. Banks himself did not arrive until the next day. At last united, the combined federal forces moved upriver to Grand Ecore.
On April 6, Banks left the Red River and the protection of Porter’s fleet to travel up an inland road toward Shreveport. By the time his whole force was in motion, the column of cavalry, artillery, infantry, and supplies stretched over twenty miles along the narrow road. Unwisely, Banks had positioned his supply train between his vanguard cavalry unit and their infantry support.
Clash Near Mansfield, Louisiana
As the cavalry, led by Brigadier General Albert L. Lee, approached Sabine Cross-Roads on April 8, they encountered up to 14,000 Rebels, commanded by Major General Richard Taylor. Lee ordered his horsemen to dismount and requested reinforcements from Banks. Throughout the morning, Lee probed the Confederate lines, while Taylor invited a Union assault. When the Federals did not attack, Taylor’s men advanced in the late afternoon.
The assault began on the Confederate left and did not go well initially. Blistering rifle and artillery fire halted the Brigadier General Alfred Mouton’s Rebels almost immediately. Mouton died during a second charge Confederate charge that proved equally futile.
On the right, events went much better for the Rebels. Two Texas cavalry units outflanked the Federals, forcing a retreat that quickly turned into a rout along the entire Union line. As reinforcements arrived from Banks’s strung-out army, the Yankees set up a second line, which the Confederates also flanked, prompting a second retreat. This time, the fleeing Federals swarmed past their supply train on the narrow road, abandoning 150 wagons and twenty artillery pieces.
When the Rebel assault slowed because of fatigue and looting of the Union supply train, Banks restored restore some order and established a third line. The Yankees withstood several more Confederate charges during the afternoon before Taylor halted the action at nightfall to regroup.
Aftermath of the Battle
The Battle of Mansfield was a stunning Confederate victory. Throughout the engagement, Banks could never take advantage of his superior numbers because of poor troop deployment along the narrow road. Fewer than one-half of his soldiers took part in the battle.
The Rebels inflicted staggering losses on the Federals, including the loss of over 200 supply wagons, twenty artillery pieces, and 2,200 human casualties, with approximately 700 men killed and wounded and 1,400 captured. The Confederates reported 1,000 casualties.
During the night, Banks ordered his army to fall back and to regroup at the town of Pleasant Hill. The Rebel victory marked the beginning of the Union retreat from the Red River Valley, and it was the last major triumph by a Confederate army during the Civil War.