À Confederate general with no
formal military education, Richard Taylor served with distinction and in
1865 surrendered the last organized Confederate force east of the
near Louisville, Kentucky, on January 27, 1826,
the son of President Zachary Taylor, Richard studied at Harvard, Edinburgh,
and Yale, before becoming a Louisiana sugar planter. Elected colonel of the
Ninth Louisiana Infantry at the war’s outset, he and his regiment reached
Virginia too late for the First Battle of Manassas. Taylor was a
brother-in-law of President Jefferson Davis, and rumor had it that in the
fall of 1861 he was offered the post of quartermaster general of the
Confederate army. If so, he declined it, but from time to time throughout
the war he continued to be the beneficiary of Davis’s favoritism. In October
he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a Louisiana
brigade that became part of Richard S. Ewell’s
His brigade proved vital to Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign during the spring of 1862. Jackson used Taylor's brigade as an elite strike force that set a crippling marching pace and dealt swift flanking attacks. At Front Royal on May 23, again at Winchester on May 25, and finally at the climactic battle of Port Republic on June 9, he led the Louisianans in timely assaults against strong enemy positions. General Taylor was kept out of the Seven Days’ Battles by rheumatoid arthritis. Recovering within a few weeks, he was promoted to major general, at thirty six years of age the youngest Confederate officer to attain such rank to date, and was assigned to command of the District of Western Louisiana in August 1862. Although dreaming of retaking New Orleans, he generally found himself falling back before Federal forays such as Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s April 1863 Bayou Teche expedition. At the urging of Trans-Mississippi commander E. Kirby Smith, who was himself under pressure from Richmond, Taylor moved against Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines on the west bank of the Mississippi opposite Vicksburg. The attempt was a failure, and Grant’s campaign culminated in the capture of that key Confederate stronghold.
Richard Taylor was forced to fall back before Banks’s Red River expedition in the spring of 1864 but defeated Banks at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, south of Shreveport, on April 8, 1864. Outnumbered twelve thousand to nine thousand in troops engaged, Taylor inflicted double his own casualties and captured twenty cannons and two hundred supply wagons. Although defeated the next day at Pleasant Hill and ordered by Smith to fall back temporarily on Shreveport, he had succeeded in forcing the withdrawal of Banks’s ill-fated expedition.
Rewarded with a promotion to lieutenant general, Taylor was nevertheless bitter toward Smith, blaming him for Banks’s escape. He thus welcomed orders to take his troops across the Mississippi for service in the East. Finding the river too heavily patrolled by the U.S. Navy, he had to remain in the Trans-Mississippi until August 22, 1864, when he was ordered to go east personally to take command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana.
On January 23, 1865, Taylor was named as successor to John Bell Hood as commander of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee, which had been wrecked by the Federals at Franklin and Nashville. As such, Taylor’s prime role was shipping his units off to the Carolinas to oppose Sherman. On May 4, 1865, he surrendered to General E.R.S. Canby at Citronelle, Alabama.After the war, Richard Taylor was active in Democratic party politics in Louisiana, opposing the Reconstruction regime. In 1879, the year of his death, he published his reminiscences of the war, Destruction and Reconstruction, one of the best of the memoirs of the conflict’s participants.
General Richard Taylor was one of the most literate of the Confederate generals. He was also one of the most talented "cussers" in the Southern armies. During the rearguard action around Pleasant Hill, Taylor met some of Tom Green's Texans who told him, "We'll ride with you, general, if you won't cuss us." Taylor often cursed his Texans because of their lack of discipline and the familiarity between officers and enlisted men. Taylor said, "Distinctions of rank were unknown among my Texans. Officers and men addressed each other as Tom, Dick, or Harry, and had no more conception of military gradations than of the celestial hierarchy of the poets."
Late in the war, General Richard Taylor visited the camps of the slaves who were working on the fortifications of Mobile. During a conversation with a slave leader, Taylor commented to the man that the men had worked very well. The slave then stated, “If you will give us guns we will fight for these works too. We would rather fight for our own white folks than for strangers.”
Stonewall Jackson was beside Richard Taylor as the Louisiana Brigade advanced under heavy artillery fire near Winchester. When some of the troops ducked, Taylor rasped at them, “ What the hell are you dodging for?” Jackson stared reproachfully at Taylor, saying there was no excuse for such language, especially on Sunday. He placed his hand on Taylor’s shoulder and commented, “I am afraid you are a wicked fellow”.
Taken from SIDELIGHTS AND LIGHTER SIDES OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES: A Feast of History in Small Bites Cooked Up by Ralph Green, Past Commander-in-Chief Sons of Confederate Veterans. Used with permission.