This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 16: Freedom for African-Americans in Louisiana.
The New York Times reported on March 21 that African-Americans freed from the yoke of slavery by federal forces in control of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana consituted a “new success” for the Union government. The Times noted that many of those liberated by the advance of the federal army could not read or write previously. But in New Orleans alone, some 1,900 young African-Americans were already attending day schools and learning both reading and writing, according to the apper. The Times added that adults freed by the Union had also begun finding paid work. “Facts furnish the best proof of the success of any system; and, when we compare the condition of fifty thousand negroes in this State last year with their condition now, we need hardly allude to a thousand particulars,” The Times said.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March, 23: Lincoln clarifies his 1863 Amnesty proclamation.
President Abraham Lincoln, on March 26, 1864, issued a proclamation refining his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction issued in December 1863. Originally, Lincoln had offered a full pardon to all who had engaged in rebellion but had desisted and subsequently sworn an oath of allegiance to the Union — with the exception of ranking Confederate leaders and military officers. He also had said a new state government could be formed in areas reclaimed by the Union once a tenth of eligible voters in those areas had taken such a loyalty oath. The initial proclamation came after federal forces had begun recapturing several areas of the Confederacy. With his new proclamation of March 1864, the president made clear that his 1863 amnesty did not apply to anyone under military or civil confinement, nor to prisoners of war and those detained for crimes of any sort. Lincoln wrote: “On the contrary, it does apply only to those persons who, being yet at large, and free from any arrest … shall voluntarily come forward and take the said oath, with the purpose of restoring peace and establishing the national authority.”
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 30: Forrest’s Confederate raiders occupy Paducah, Ky.
Forces of legendary Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest swept into Paducah, Ky., on March 25, 1864 and briefly occupied the city — forcing a Union garrison of hundreds of troops to relocate to a fort there. The Union garrison, backed by two gunboats on the nearby Ohio River, refused surrender and shelling of the Confederates by the gunboats ensued. Forrest’s raiders destroyed supplies and rounded up horses, generating panic among civilians before they withdrew. The Associated Press reported on the raid in a detailed dispatch dated March 26, 1864. AP said an estimated force of 5,000 Confederates captured Paducah at 2 p.m. a day earlier, sacking the place and firing weapons. AP reported that a Union officer in charge of the garrison occupied the fort below the city with about 800 men. “The rebels made four assaults on the fort, and were repulsed each time. Three of our gunboats opened on the city during its occupation by the enemy, much of which was burned,” The AP reported. Some 3,000 civilians had fled the Confederate advance, AP noted, adding they returned home to considerable damages once the raiders pulled out. AP added “Twenty-five houses around the fort were destroyed .. as they were used by the rebel sharpshooters as a screen” during the incursion.
This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, April 6: The Red River Campaign.
Union forces in the spring of 1864 launched a joint Army-Navy incursion up the Red River in a bid for control of western Louisiana and Arkansas. It would be the last major campaign by the Union’s so-called Mississippi Squadron. The aim was to penetrate deep into the Confederacy and shut off a key Southern supply route from Texas. Thousands of Union soldiers marched inland from New Orleans toward northwest Louisiana with plans to join up with the naval fleet steaming upriver. The Union gunboats began gathering on the lower river in mid-March 1864 and moved upriver over coming weeks. But Union commanders encountered problems with low river levels and could only move 12 of their gunboats north of the falls near Alexandria, La. On April 8, 1864, Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor attacked federal forces at the Battle of Mansfield in Louisiana. Though outnumbered, the Confederates assaulted Union fighters on two flanks, pushing them back until a fresh Union division met the Confederate attack. Attempts by the Union to regain momentum failed and federal forces under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks were forced to retreat, ending the Red River Campaign and handing the Confederates a decisive strategic victory.