Dead-end at the crossroads: the battles of Mansfield (Sabine Crossroads) and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, 8 and 9 April 1864
Kiper, Richard Leslie
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
On 8 April 1864 a Union army commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was defeated by a Confederate army commanded by Major General Richard Taylor at the small town of Mansfield, Louisiana. In Union records the engagement was recorded as the battle of Sabine Crossroads, and the defeat signaled the "high-water mark" for the Union advance toward Shreveport. General Banks, after repeated urging by Major General Henry Halleck, General-in-Chief of the Union Army, had launched a drive up the Red River through Alexandria and Natchitoches to capture Shreveport, the industrial hub of the Trans-Mississippi Department. From New Orleans and Berwick, Louisiana, and from Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Federals converged on Alexandria. From Little Rock, Arkansas, a Union column under Major General Frederick Steele was to join Banks at Shreveport. Three major infantry forces and the Union Navy under Admiral David D. Porter were to participate in the campaign, yet no one was given supreme authority to coordinate the forces. Halleck's orders were for the separate commands only to co-operate with Banks -- a clear violation of the principle of unity of command. Delays because of low water at Alexandria and Grand Ecore allowed General Taylor to concentrate his Confederates at Mansfield where he engaged the head of the Union column. A faulty march formation placed the separate infantry units where they could not adequately support each other. The result was that those units were defeated in detail before reinforcements could be brought forward to assist them. An excessively long wagon train, placed between the cavalry advance and the main body of infantry, effectively blocked both the advance guard from retreating and other infantry units from reinforcing. Because of a series of tactical mistakes, therefore, the Union forces were defeated. Banks withdrew his army to Pleasant Hill and established a defensive position, while sending those portions of his force which had been routed during the battle back to Grand Ecore. The Union position at Pleasant Hill was faulty. Several regiments were unsupported and the flanks of brigades were "in the air." Taylor's plan was to envelop the Union left with two fresh divisions while launching supporting attacks to fix the Federal front line in position. Taylor's flanking force destroyed one Federal brigade and a portion of another, but, having failed to reach the Union rear prior to the assault, soon found its own right flank exposed to attack. The Federals took advantage of the opportunity and drove the Confederates back. Taylor's army, however, camped near the battlefield, while Banks withdrew the remainder of his army to Grand Ecore about 2 a.m. General Ulysses Grant, appointed as General-in-Chief on 11 March 1864, ordered the expedition terminated so that Banks could prepare his army for an attack on Mobile. Delays again plagued the Union force, and the campaign was not concluded until 17 May. The attack on Mobile had to be postponed, and 1, troops who were to accompany General Sherman on his march through Georgia arrived at Vicksburg too late to join that advance. General E. R. S. Canby superseded Banks who returned to Washington. The Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department continued as a minor thorn in the Union flank and was the last Confederate department to surrender.