Mansfield State Historic Site

Location: Mansfield, Louisiana

Webpage: Louisiana State Park

General Description: With the fall of Vicksburg and Port Arthur in 1863, the Union controlled all of the Mississippi River and had effectively split the Confederacy.  The next step was to isolate Texas from the rest of the Confederacy.  In the spring of 1864, the Union initiated the Red River campaign, whose objective was the capture and occupation of Shreveport.  During the later half of March, 1864 a combined force of the Union Army of the Gulf and navy under the command of Major General Nathaniel Banks, supported by Admiral David Porter’s gunboats, moved north up the Red River towards Shreveport. By April 1, he had occupied Grand Ecore and Natchitoches with little resistance.  While the gunboat fleet continued north on the Red River, Gen Banks’ main force continued on land towards Mansfield where he knew the Confederates were amassing.  Major General Richard Taylor, was in command of the Confederate forces in Louisiana and had been retreating up the Red River to connect with reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas.  Taylor selected a clearing a few miles south of Mansfield to meet the Union.  He sent his cavalry to harass the Union and slow them down to give him time to prepare.  On the morning of April 8, Gen Banks was stretched out along a single road heading north.  Once his cavalry determined that Gen Taylor was preparing his troops across the road, he called up his infantry to come forward as quickly as possible.  It became a race to see who could get their forces in position the fastest.  At the start of the battle, Gen Taylor had about 9,000 troops, with an additional 5,000 arriving late in the afternoon after the battle had started.  Gen Banks had about 5,000 troops in position when the battle started with an additional 1500 showing up during the battle and another 5000 still moving up the road.  Since it was obvious that Gen Taylor had the numerical advantage to begin the battle, he ordered a massive charge at 4 pm.  Even though the Confederates suffered very heavy losses during the charge, these soldiers were defending their homes and did not stop.  They overran the initial Union line and continued to charge into the retreating Union and overran a second line.  For several miles the Confederates continued to pursue the Union until the encountered a third line late in the evening.  Several attempts to break the line failed and nightfall ended the battle.  The next morning the Confederates lined up to continue the attack only to find the Union had withdrawn during the night and continued retreating to the Red River with only minor skirmishes during the retreat.  Thus the Confederates won their last major battle of the Civil War and the Union never succeeded in capturing Shreveport before the war ended.  The Union lost nearly 700 killed or wounded and 1500 captured, however, the Confederates lost over 1000 killed and wounded.  So it was an expensive victory for the Confederates.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) For those, like myself, unfamiliar with the Red River Campaign, this battlefield was a nice find.  The battle only lasted a few hours in the late afternoon and evening of April 9, 1864 and was a decisive, if expensive, Confederate victory.  They were able to catch the Union still strung out along a single muddy road coming north from Natchitoches.  They were able to overrun the Union lines and caused a mass retreat and would have likely been able to destroy the entire army if night had not fallen.  It was a major battle with over 10,000 troops involved.  I suppose since it was so late in the Civil War and lasted only a few hours, it is not considered a major battle?  The Visitor Center is well worth spending time in with detailed exhibits about the lead up, the battle itself, and the aftermath of the battle.  There are a lot of exhibits of artifacts found on the battlefield.

2) Very little of the battlefield is actually included in the park, since much of it was actually along the road heading south as the Confederates chased the Union.  There is a nice walk around the perimeter of this part of the Confederate and Union positions at the beginning of the battle.