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Battle of Pleasant Hill

April 9, 1864

The Battle of Pleasant Hill, fought on April 9, 1864, convinced Union General Nathaniel Banks to abandon his goal of capturing Shreveport, Louisiana during the Red River Campaign.

By the spring of 1864, Confederate Louisiana had shriveled to the northwestern area of the state. The capital had moved to Opelousas in 1862 and then to Shreveport in the spring of 1863. At the urging of Union Army Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck, President Abraham Lincoln approved an offensive against the remaining Confederate forces in Louisiana in the spring of 1864. Named the Red River Campaign, Halleck's plan consisted of a three-pronged assault.

  1. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks would march twenty thousand troops from the area around New Orleans across southern Louisiana and occupy Alexandria, Louisiana near the center of the state, before moving on to Shreveport.
  2. Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter would ascend the Red River and join Banks at Alexandria with over thirty warships and an accompanying supply fleet. A land force of ten thousand soldiers, commanded by Brigadier-General Andrew Jackson Smith and detached from William T. Sherman's Army of the Tennessee, would protect Dixon's flotilla.
  3. After Banks and Porter joined forces and continued upriver toward Shreveport, Major General Frederick Steele would lead another ten thousand Union soldiers out of Little Rock, Arkansas and approach Shreveport from the north or east.

The campaign began on March 12, as Porter's fleet entered the mouth of the Red River from the Mississippi River. Events went well for the Federals initially. On March 14, Smith's soldiers overran Fort DeRussy and captured a Rebel garrison of approximately three hundred men. On the next day, Porter and Smith moved upriver and occupied Alexandria unopposed. Banks was behind schedule, and the forward elements of his army did not reach Alexandria until March 23. Banks himself did not arrive until the next day. At last united, the combined Federal forces moved upriver to Grand Ecore.

On April 6, Banks chose to leave the Red River and the protection of Porter's fleet to travel up an inland road toward Shreveport. As the Union cavalry, led by Brigadier-General Albert L. Lee, approached Sabine Crossroads on April 8, they encountered approximately fourteen thousand Rebels, commanded by Major General Richard Taylor. Throughout the morning, Lee probed the Confederate lines, while Taylor hoped for a Union assault. When Lee did not attack, Taylor's men advanced. The Battle of Mansfield (also called the Battle of Sabine Crossroads) was an astonishing Confederate victory that sent the Yankees reeling back down the road. After inflicting heavy casualties on the Federals and capturing vast stores of supplies, Taylor called off the assault at nightfall to rest his men and to prepare for battle the next day.

During the night, Banks ordered his army to fall back nearly fourteen miles and to regroup at the village of Pleasant Hill. Taylor pursued the next day, hoping to destroy the Union army. After marching to Pleasant Hill, Taylor rested his men before engaging the Federals. At approximately 5 p.m., Taylor attacked the Union center as he simultaneously tried to flank both ends of the Federal line. The flanking movement on the Union left succeeded, but the right held. What Taylor did not know was that Banks had many infantrymen at his disposal who were not engaged on the previous day. Union counterattacks gradually regained what had been lost in the early stages of the battle. Four hours of bloody fighting resulted in little more than high casualties for both sides.

Tactically the Battle of Pleasant Hill was a Union victory because the Federals repulsed the Confederate attack and because the Northerners inflicted nearly twice as many casualties on the Rebels than they suffered. Estimated casualties totaled roughly 1,300 men for the Union and 1,600 soldiers for the Confederacy. Nonetheless, the battle was a strategic success for Taylor, because Banks lost his nerve, abandoned his plan to capture Shreveport, and began a full-fledged retreat down the Red River and back to southern Louisiana.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Pleasant Hill included:

Infantry units:

16th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

56th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

83rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

96th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

2nd Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery

Sensing an opportunity to destroy the retreating Union army, Taylor requested reinforcements from his commanding officer, General Kirby Smith, along with permission to pursue the fleeing Yankees. Smith, however, had other concerns. Rather than sending reinforcements, Smith reassigned approximately one-half of Taylor's army to Major General John George Walker, with orders to check Major General Frederick Steele's Federal army, which was moving south toward Shreveport from Arkansas. Denied of his opportunity to defeat a large Union army, Taylor was relegated to harassing Banks for the remainder of the campaign. Smith's decision created everlasting rancor between the two Confederate generals.

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