August 1864: Southern Generals Fued

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

Richard Taylor (Library of Congress)

In August 1864, Gen. Richard Taylor was spitting nails. He had successfully stopped the Yankee's Red River Campaign that spring, but his relationship with his superior, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, was in ruins.

During the campaign, Smith and Taylor disagreed on how best to beat the enemy and then Smith took most of Taylor's troops after the victory at Mansfield and sent them to Arkansas to stop another Union thrust from that direction. Taylor, believing the transfer prevented him from destroying the Union army as it retreated, bitterly criticized Smith in his memoirs, calling his decision "sheer stupidity and pig-headed obstinacy."

Smith, in turn, claimed Taylor had agreed to the move and that Smith's victory at Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, had ensured the Confederate victory in the Red River Campaign. Taylor seethed at Smith's comparing Jenkins' Ferry to Mansfield. "I am at a loss to conceive what connection the fruits of Mansfield have with the fight at Jenkins' Ferry. We do not today hold one foot more of Arkansas than if Jenkins' Ferry had ever been, and we have a jaded army and 1,000 less soldiers."

In the weeks following the Red River Campaign, Taylor's feud with Smith intensified. He criticized the general's administration for being incompetent and called it "all ruffles and no shirt." Taylor claimed his request for supplies and payroll for his men had been lost in a "maze of red tape and circumlocution." Giving way to his anger, Taylor finally wrote Smith, "After the desire to serve my country, I have none more ardent than to be relieved from longer service under your command."

Smith granted Taylor's request and forwarded his insubordinate letters to Taylor's former brother-in-law, President Jefferson Davis. Smith explained, "I would have arrested General Taylor on the receipt of his first letter, but acknowledging his merits as a soldier and feeling kindly disposed toward him, I passed it by." Smith must have been shocked at Davis' response. Rather than dismissing Taylor, the president promoted him to lieutenant general and ordered him to cross the Mississippi River and take command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Davis also ordered Smith to send the infantry divisions of generals John G. Walker and Camille Polignac to join Taylor on the other side of the river.

The new orders reignited the Taylor-Smith feud. In August the two generals exchanged a series of terse communiques regarding how best to make the move across the Mississippi. Both proposed plans that the other regarded as impractical or too slow. When Smith refused to allow Taylor to take with him certain staff officers, Taylor's patience snapped and he requested permission to cross over to Mississippi without the accompanying troops. Smith refused.

While the generals waged their petty feud, Walker's Texans and Polignac's Louisianians heard rumors that they were to leave Louisiana. Few looked forward to moving farther away from their families, but the Texans particularly objected to the orders.

Felix Poché, a Louisiana soldier stationed at Sicily Island, wrote in his diary on August 18, "I understand that the troops generally do not like the idea of crossing and the Texans in particular are violently opposed and it is feared that those cads will give us trouble." The next day Poché added, "We learn today that because of our contemplated move, the infamous Texans have deserted in great numbers yesterday and last night. Two hundred out of Walker's Division returned of the four hundred that had deserted. . . .I am proud to see that we did not have one deserter in our Brigade. . . ."

When several more Texas companies left camp to head home, they were arrested and brought back. To nip the mutiny in the bud,Taylor had one Texas captain and ten of the enlisted men arrested, court-martialed, and executed.

In late August, Smith cancelled the order for the troops to cross the river and told Taylor to proceed alone. A relieved Taylor lost no time in leaving his camp on the Black River near modern-day Jonesville and trekking through the swamp to the Mississippi. He later wrote, "On a dark night, in a small canoe, with horses swimming alongside, I got over without attracting the attention of a gunboat anchored a short distance below." Taylor, who had skillfully defended Louisiana for two years, remained east of the river until war's end.