Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mansfield Battlefield

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. 

The approach to the Visitor Center is flanked by the
Texas (right) and Louisiana monuments, while two
artillery pieces are sheltered at right.
The pink granite Texas monument
was emplaced in 1964, the
centennial of the battle.
The Mansfield Civil War Battlefield is located in Louisiana, more than 20 miles outside the border of Texas. But even though the battle was fought in Louisiana, it was very much a Texas event, worthy of a visit by history-minded Texans.

At right is a 3-inch rifled cannon, and the other
artillery piece is a 6-pounder field gun.
Early in 1864, with the Mississippi River controlled by Union forces, Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks launched a campaign to march through western Louisiana, capture Shreveport (at that point the state capital), then invade East Texas. Banks assembled an army of 36,000 men at New Orleans, while Admiral David Porter readied a large flotilla of gunboats and supply vessels. The combined force marched and steamed up the Mississippi, then angled northwestward up the Red River toward Shreveport. This "Red River Campaign" hoped to confiscate perhaps 150,000 bales of cotton for resale to northern textile mills. Upon entering East Texas west of Shreveport, other targets would include the vast munitions plant outside Marshall, the quartermaster depot at Jefferson, and the arms factory at Tyler, where Camp Ford also held a few Union prisoners.
The renovation of the display exhibition
should be completed by the time this
blog is posted.

Major General Richard Taylor put together a Confederate force to oppose the invasion. Taylor was the son of President Zachary Taylor and the son-in-law of President Jefferson  Davis. Well educated and experienced in military matters, Taylor was a competent leader during the war. To halt the Union invasion,
Taylor assembled an army of
10,500 men comprised of
Texas and Louisiana units.

Taylor's army was outnumbered three to one, but Banks marched away from the Red River - and from his naval support - northward into western Louisiana. Banks did not feel threatened by Confederate forces, and he allowed his column to spread out to great length along the narrow Mansfield road. When Taylor confronted the Union column early in April 1864, his Confederate troops actually outnumbered the Yankees facing them. There was a two-hour cavalry fight on April 7, and the following day Taylor arrayed his army in battle formation four miles south of Mansfield. The advance column of Union troops, numbering only 6,400 men, quickly formed a battle line along a rail fence and an adjoining ridge.

Taylor ordered Gen. Alfred Mouton to lead his division in attack. At the head of his troops Mouton, who had been severely wounded at Shiloh, was killed instantly by a Union bullet. Promptly assuming command was Brigadier General Camille Armand Jules Marie de Polignac, a French nobleman who was called the "Lafayette of the South." He also was called "General Polecat," by Texans who had trouble with the pronunciation of his last name. General Polignac continued the charge, overwhelming the Union line. Driving home their attack, the Confederates soon encountered another battle line formed by 2,000 fresh Union troops. The Confederates routed this line, too, capturing a great many prisoners, small arms, and abandoned wagons.

Union forces established a new position at Pleasant Hill, a few miles to the south, where fierce combat took place throughout April 9. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the entire Union column began a withdrawal the next day. Reuniting with Admiral Porter's flotilla at Natchitoches, the Union expedition engaged in a compete retreat, and the Red River Campaign ended disastrously. Camp Ford swelled rapidly and became the largest POW camp west of the Mississippi. The Prince de Polignac was promoted to major general.
These monuments are near the park entrance.
The large monument at left marks the spot
where Gen. Mouton was killed leading
 a charge, and where Prince de Polignac
took command.

The Mansfield Historic Site is a 177-acre park featuring a museum that has just undergone a major renovation. There are handsome monuments, and an interpretative trail and a long rail fence. During the Civil War Centennial, 1961-65, the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission conducted a program to place monuments across the nation to honor the contributions of the Lone Star State's military units. The monuments were of native pink granite, cut from historic Texas quarries, and in 1964 one was placed at the Mansfield site. And in April 2014 a weekend-long reenactment will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Confederate victory at Mansfield.

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