American Civil War: Battle of Mansfield

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Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, CSA. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Mansfield - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Mansfield was fought April 8, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders

Union

Confederates

Battle of Mansfield - Background:

Following his capture of Port Hudson in July 1863, Major General Nathaniel Banks hoped to strike southeast and mount a campaign against Mobile, AL.

  Overseeing the Department of the Gulf, he instead received orders to conduct operations along the Texas coast as a deterrent to the French who were seeking to install Maximilian on the Mexican throne.  Banks' initial efforts at Sabine Pass in September failed to obtain a toehold, but a subsequent effort against Brownsville in November saw Union troops capture the city and surrounding area.  During this time, Union general-in-chief Major General Henry Halleck pressured Banks conduct a campaign up the Red River to capture Shreveport, LA, eliminate enemy forces in the region, and seize cotton.

This campaign called for Banks to drive up Bayou Teche to Alexandria, LA where he would unite with 15,000 men under Brigadier General A.J. Smith. This combined force, aided by Rear Admiral David D. Porter's gunboats, would then push on Shreveport. To assist these efforts, Major General Frederick Steele was ordered to advance south from Arkansas.

 Commencing in March 1864, the campaign moved slowly much to the anger of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Having assumed overall command of the Union Army that month, he viewed the Red River Campaign as a distraction from preparations for the coordinated offensives he had planned for May. Rendezvousing with Smith on March 26, Banks led the united force upstream.

Encountering poor roads and a lack of camp sites, Union forces became increasingly strung out.

Battle of Mansfield - Taylor's Response:

Opposing Banks was Major General Richard Taylor who commanded the District of West Louisiana.  The son of Mexican-American War hero President Zachary Taylor, he had seen extensive service with Lieutenant General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during the Valley Campaign of 1862.  Having transferred west for health reasons in 1862, his command was part of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department.  Badly outnumbered, Taylor withdrew in the face of Banks' advance and worked to gather troops with the goal of making a stand.  Though Smith desired him to avoid a general engagement, Taylor continued to seek a position where his smaller numbers could win a victory.  Concentrating his forces at Mansfield, he found an ideal location approximately three miles south of town where a large clearing was surrounded by dense woods.

Battle of Mansfield - Setting the Stage:

Seeking to deploy his army in crescent along the western, northern, and eastern edges of the clearing, he ultimately placed Major General Thomas Green's cavalry on the left, Brigadier General Alfred Mouton's division in the center, and Major General John G.

Walker's division on the right.  An independent brigade of Louisiana cavalry led by Colonel William G. Vincent supported Green.  These units arrived through the day as Taylor prepared to spring his trap.  Pushing north from Natchitoches, Banks' army was strung out with Brigadier General Albert L. Lee's cavalry division in the lead followed over 300 wagons and elements of Brigadier General Thomas Ransom's XIII Corps and Major General William B. Franklin's XIX Corps.  Pressing up the Natchitoches-Shreveport Stage Road, the Union column was hemmed in by heavy woods on both sides of the road.

Battle of Mansfield - Fighting Begins:

Needing time to complete his preparations, Taylor directed Green to dispatch troops to slow Lee's advance.  Meeting at Wilson's Farm, the two cavalry forces skirmished for some time before the Confederates withdrew.

  As a result of the engagement, Lee requested reinforcements from Banks.  Nearing the clearing on April 8, Lee spotted a Confederate cavalry regiment atop Honeycutt Hill.  This had been placed there by Taylor with the goal of drawing Union forces into the clearing.  Attacking, Lee drove off the enemy cavalry and occupied the hill.  Quickly spotting Confederate forces in the woods to his right, Lee formed an L-shaped defensive line and again requested aid.  This was slow in coming due to the wagons clogging the road (Map).

Battle of Mansfield - A Union Disaster:

Help finally arrived in the form of Colonel William J. Landrum's division from XIII Corps.  Forming on Lee's left, it was supported by some artillery.  Concerned about the situation, Banks finally rode forward to survey the field in person.  Around this time, Walker's division completed its deployment on Taylor's right.  To the Confederates' advantage, the bulk of the Union position was aligned towards Mouton and Green.  Having obtained a numerical advantage on the field, Taylor's men began advancing around 4:00 PM.  Led by Mouton's men on the left, they slammed into the Union position.  While Mouton's men were initially halted, Walker's troops quickly enveloped the Union left leading it to break.

This led the entire Union position to collapse and a stream of blue fled southeast down the road.  In the fighting Ransom fell wounded while trying to rally his men while Mouton was killed during the assault.  The retreating Union soldiers quickly encountered Brigadier General Robert A. Cameron's advancing XIII Corps division which attempted to form a new line.  These efforts failed and Cameron's men soon were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw.  Confederate forces pursued the beaten enemy until encountering a third line which had been formed by Brigadier General William Emory's division from XIX Corps.  Attacks against this line failed and night soon brought an end to the fighting.

Battle of Mansfield - Aftermath:

In the fighting at the Battle of Mansfield, Banks lost 113 killed, 581 wounded, and 1,541 captured/missing while Confederate casualties numbered around 1,000.

  In addition, Union forces lost 20 guns and 156 wagons.  That night, while Taylor attempted to reassert control over his victorious forces, Banks withdrew further south to Pleasant Hill.  Consolidating his position, he turned back several assaults by Taylor the next day at the Battle of Pleasant Hill.  Despite this success, Banks elected to break off the campaign and retreat down the river citing a issues of supplies and water.  Reaching Grand Ecore, Banks received orders from Grant to return the army to New Orleans.         

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