Richard Taylor - by Edward A. Pollard

Confederate General Richard "Dick" Taylor        Richard Taylor - or "Dick" Taylor, as he was popularly known Чhad the accident of birth and a peculiar advantage to favor his career in the late war. A son of Zachariah Taylor, the tenth President of the United States, and the popular hero of the Mexican war, he bore a name already dear and familiar to the public. A brother-in-law of President Davis-who had married his sister after a romantic elopement from her father's house - he had an extraordinary access to the fountain of office and honor: was in close relationship to a ruler who was notoriously governed by his personal affections in dispensing his official patronage, and distributing the gifts of rank and fortune.

        Gen. Taylor's first remarkable service in the war was in Stonewall Jackson's famous campaign in the Valley of Virginia. It was at Port Republic that the Louisiana Brigade, commanded by Gen. Taylor, decided the day by an attack on the enemy's artillery, responding with cheers to Jackson's stern command, "That battery must be taken! " This attack, by which the enemy's artillery was dislodged and the field secured for a general advance of the lines of infantry, was perhaps the most brilliant incident of the resplendent and fruitful campaign; and at Port Republic the line has been generally drawn when the fortunes of the Confederacy passed from their first great shadow of disaster and mounted to a new illumination of hope. It was the beginning of that remarkable series of victories in which Richmond was saved, the war put back on the frontier, and Lee's guns bellowed for peace almost at the portals of Washington.

        Gen. Taylor was afterwards transferred to another and distant field of operations, and, with the rank of Major-General, placed in command of the District of West Louisiana. Here transpired the chief interest of his military life. It had a remarkable connection with the city of New Orleans; and twice he indulged the vision of relieving or recapturing that city, which appears, indeed, to have been the aim of all his operations and the summit of his hopes. At one time the prospect of such a prize was reasonable, and kindled public expectation. In an active campaign in the Lafourche country in the summer of 1863, Gen. Taylor, by an admirable operation, captured Brashear City and its forts, and the position thus obtained, with that of Thibodeaux, gave him command of the Mississippi River above New Orleans-enabled him in a great measure to cut off Gen. Banks' supplies, and, it was hoped, might eventually force that Federal commander to the choice of losing New Orleans or abandoning his operations against Port Hudson. But the unexpected fall of Vicksburg, which involved so many other operations, and carried down with it so much of Southern fortune, was fatal to Gen. Taylor's plans, and robbed him even of the success he had already obtained. It exposed Port Hudson, compelled its surrender, and left Gen. Taylor's position in the Lafourche country extremely hazardous, and not to be justified on military grounds. He was clearly unable to hold it, with an active force less than 4,000 men, not including the garrison at Berwick's Bay, against the overwhelming forces of the enemy released from the siege of Port Hudson; and he was compelled to abandon the campaign, to disappoint the hopes it had excited, and to mortify an ambition that had sought so great an opportunity of success and glory. Gen. Taylor's second occasion of notable service in the Trans-Mississippi was in the famous Red River campaign in the spring of 1864, in which, acting under the orders of Gen. E. Kirby Smith, the department commander, he encountered Banks' army moving from Alexandria, and gained two of the most important victories of the war.

        The events of this campaign were thus summed in an address he made to his victorious troops: "At last have your patience and devotion been rewarded. Condemned for many days to retreat before an overwhelming force, as soon as your reinforcements reached you, you turned upon the foe. No language but that of simple narrative should recount your deeds. On the 8th of April you fought the battle of Mansfield. Never in war was a more complete victory won. Attacking the enemy with the utmost alacrity when the order was given, the result was not for a moment doubtful.Ф The enemy was driven from every position, his artillery captured, his men routed. In vain were fresh troops brought up. Your magnificent line, like a resistless wave, swept everything before it. Night alone stopped your advance. Twenty-one pieces of artillery, 2,500 prisoners, many stands of colors, 250 wagons, attest your success over the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Army Corps. On the 9th instant you took up the pursuit, and pressed it with vigor. For twelve miles, prisoners, scattered arms, burning wagons, proved how well the previous day's work had been done by the soldiers of Texas and Louisiana. "The gallant divisions from Missouri and Arkansas, unfortunately absent on the 8th instant, marched forty-five miles in two days, to share the glories of Pleasant Hill. This was emphatically the soldier's victory. In spite of the strength of the enemy's position, held by fresh troops of the Sixteenth Corps, your valor and devotion triumphed over all. Darkness closed one of the hottest fights of the war. The morning of the 10th instant dawned upon a flying foe, with our cavalry in pursuit, capturing prisoners at every step. These glorious victories were most dearly won. A list of the heroic dead would sadden the sternest heart. A visit to the hospitals would move the sympathy of the most unfeeling. The memory of our dead will live as long as noble deeds are cherished on earth. The consciousness of duty well performed will alleviate the sufferings of the wounded. Soldiers from a thousand homes, thanks will ascend to the God of battles for your victories. Tender wives and fond mothers will repose in safety behind the breastworks of your valor. No fears will be felt that the hated foe will desecrate their homes by his presence. This is your reward; but much remains to be done. Strict discipline, prompt obedience to orders, cheerful endurance of privations, will alone insure our independence.Ф R. TAYLOR, Major-General Commanding.

        After the battle of Pleasant Hill, Gen. Taylor was for pursuing the enemy to his transports; and, contemplating the destruction of Banks and Porter, indulged the prospect of thus overthrowing the enemy's power, and perhaps opening the way to New Orleans. It was a brilliant vision and a stirring inspiration. But the Commanding-General did not favor this view; he did not share Taylor's exultation; and very properly looking to all points of his extensive department, and surveying the whole field of action, rather than being intent on éclat and the interests of a particular locality1 he decided upon a different campaign, which was to move against the Federal General Steele, who was threatening invasion of Texas and Louisiana from Little Rock. Indeed, it must be confessed that Gen. Taylor's idea of freeing the Department of the Gulf, by pursuing and overthrowing Banks' army, bordered on the visionary, and was not the wise choice in the alternative of campaigns presented after the battle of Pleasant Hill. However that battle was adorned in the words of the general order we have quoted, the truth is it was scarcely a Confederate victory-that three-fourths of Taylor's army had been actually worsted in the engagement, and that the enemy had ultimately retired rather from distress of supplies and timidity than from positive disaster to his arms. Banks was now entrenched at Grand Ecore, supported by gunboats; and the idea of annihilating in their entrenchments a force double that of the Confederates, and resting on gunboats, counting, too, the difficulties of transportation over 250 miles, was not among the probabilities to be entertained by a prudent commander. The country was destitute of supplies; it was impossible to dislodge the enemy by undertaking a sustained operation upon his communications; and a direct assault upon his position was scarcely to be thought of: Meanwhile, Steele was still advancing from Arkansas; he had crossed the Little Missouri with an excellent army of 15,000 men, having been joined by Thayer from Fort Smith. In view of all the circumstances, Gen. E. Kirby Smith decided to move against Steele, and to forego Gen. Taylor's plans against Banks; it being still possible that after Steele was disposed of, he might flank Banks, and, concentrating his forces, ultimately essay his capture or overthrow. The sequel was that Banks escaped before such a concentration could be formed. While Gen. Smith moved with the bulk of his army against Steele, Gen. Taylor, with a small force, was intent upon Banks, and followed the enemy very vigorously, capturing and destroying three gunboats and six or eight transports. He insisted that with Walker's, Parsons', and Churchill's divisions, he could overwhelm Banks, who was now at Alexandria, assisting Porter, who was trying to get his gunboats over the falls of the river. Some infantry in Arkansas was immediately put in motion to him, as it seemed possible the enemy might be compelled to abandon or destroy his fleet. But, by singular skill and energy, he had built a tree-dam across the Red River, by the aid of which he succeeded in getting all his boats off before any reinforcement reached Gen. Taylor, who was compelled, with little opportunity of action, to see the prize he had counted on slip from his grasp. The truth must be stated that Gen. Taylor was a passionate, high-tempered man, and had but little sense of subordination. He fought with admirable gallantry; he had, perhaps, more accomplishments of general education than any commander of equal grade in the Confederate army; but he chafed under the commands of his superiors and the formulas of rank; and it may be said that he was a very able, and a very imperious man. So violently did he resent Gen. Smith's interference with his plans against Banks and the diversion of the campaign, that he wrote to Richmond, requesting to be relieved from the command of the district of West Louisiana. Indeed, he had dissented from Gen. Smith, and almost defied him, in every incident of the campaign. It had been the design of the latter commander to draw Banks some distance beyond Mansfield, and to make a field against him only when he could concentrate all the Confederate forces; but Gen. Taylor took the responsibility of changing a reconnaissance into a battle, and on the commencement of the action, he had declared to Gen. Polignac, who commanded one of his divisions, "Little Frenchman, I am going to fight Banks here, if he has a million of men! ї 

        A dispatch from Gen. Smith came to him in the midst of the battle, ordering him to withdraw near Shreveport. "Too late, sir," said Taylor, to the courier who brought it; "the battle is won. It is not the first I have fought with a halter around my neck." Happily, a victory was obtained. But when on the heels of his victories, Gen. Taylor was for giving chase to Banks, and risking the whole department for an improbable success against an enemy entrenched and resting on gunboats, it must be considered wise and fortunate that he was opposed by the prudence of his superior, and stayed at the point of success already accomplished. But when this difference between the two commanders went up to Richmond, and Gen. Taylor, ordered to Natchitoches, awaited there the pleasure of the government, President Davis did not take this view, and was prompt to adopt the cause and caprice of his relative-to such an extent, indeed, that he gave him increase of rank, and one of the most important commands in the Confederacy. The consequence of the disagreement between Gens. Taylor and Smith was that the former was made a Lieutenant-General, transferred east of the Mississippi, and given the command of what was popularly known as the Department of the Southwest, comprising East Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. This command Gen. Taylor surrendered to the enemy, in a convention with Gen. Canby, on the 4th May, 1865.

        Before the war Gen. Taylor had possessed a vast property; he was a munificent planter, surrounded by wealth and culture. He was one of the earliest and most conspicuous victims of the enemy's rapacity. It was in the second year of the war, shortly after the capture of New Orleans, that the enemy commenced. to a large extent, his career of atrocities against rights and properties which the arms of both belligerents had hitherto spared. They removed Washington's statue from the State House of Louisiana to New York; they took a large part of the State library; they liberated the convicts from the Penitentiary. It was in this period of vandalism that Gen. Taylor's plantation was plundered, one hundred and fifty of his slaves carried off and his private papers despoiled, even of tokens of affection from his illustrious father.

        The exploit was gleefully described by a Vermont soldier, and published in a Northern paper. The report is copied literally, for obvious interest and instruction. "It is one of the most splendid plantations that I ever saw. There are on it 700 acres of sugar-cane, which must rot upon the ground if the Government does not harvest it. I wish you could have seen the soldiers plunder this plantation. After the stock was driven off, the boys began by ordering the slaves to bring out everything there was to eat and drink. They brought out hundreds of bottles of wines, eggs, preserved figs, and peaches, turkeys, chickens, and honey in any quantity. I brought away a large camp-kettle and frying-pans that belonged to old Gen. Taylor, and also many of his private papers. I have one letter of his own hand-writing, and many from Secretary Marcy, some from Gen. Scott, and some from the traitor Floyd. I brought to camp four bottles of claret wine. Lieut. -- brought away half a barrel of the best syrup from the sugar-house, and a large can of honey. The camp-kettle and pans I intend to send home. They are made of heavy tin, covered with copper. I think I will send home the private papers by mail, if I do not let any one have them. The camp is loaded down with plunder-all kinds of clothing, rings, watches, guns, pistols, swords, and some of Gen. Taylor's old hats and coats, belt-swords-and, in fact, every old relic he had is worn about camp." How refreshing the innocence and exuberance of the Vermont spoiler; how evident that such outrages were not the unusual or hidden practices of Federal soldiers; how great the magnanimity that is called upon to forgive and forget such atrocities of the war! Gen. Taylor is now a comparatively poor man, struggling for a livelihood in commercial pursuits in New Orleans-the city his arms most sought to save; and when we find such a man, notwithstanding the grievous personal recollection of the war he bears, consenting to the enemy's terms of reconstruction, and heartily counseling their acceptance, we see an example of that magnanimity which has made the people of the South admirable in disaster, and proved their strength equal to suffer as to do.

From: Lee and his lieutenants; comprising the early life, public services, and campaigns of General Robert E. Lee and his companions in arms, with a record of their campaigns and heroic deeds, by Edward A. Pollard.

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