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The Role of the Trans-Mississippi Region

by Anne J. Bailey

The Confederate government created the Trans-Mississippi Department in 1862 after recognizing problems associated with trying to govern a region more than a thousand miles distant from the capital at Richmond. The original district included more than 400,000 square miles of land, some sparsely settled, some not settled at all. The region, which made up about one-half of the entire Confederate landmass encompassed Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Indian Territory, and those parishes of Louisiana west of the river (thirty-one complete parishes and parts of six others). Even though much of the area was frontier, the population of Texas had increased 184 percent in the decade before the war. Arkansas had expanded 107 percent in the same period, and Missouri came in third with a growth of 73 percent. In comparison, Virginia's population had changed only 12.3 percent and South Carolina barely 5 percent.(1)
    Of the nearly nine million individuals in the Confederacy, around one-fifth lived west of the Mississippi River. In fact, 20 percent of the Confederate nation's white population resided in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.2 Yet the Confederate government ignored the region early in the war. Unionists soon had the upper hand in Missouri, Arkansas became vulnerable after Earl Van Dorn's Rebel army abandoned the state in the spring of 1862 to join Confederates in the Western theater, and Texas, except as a resource for cattle and manpower, seemed to stimulate little interest in Richmond. The Trans-Mississippi even became a dumping ground for officers who failed in other theaters, and military leaders across the river looked to it for reinforcements and supplies for armies fighting elsewhere. Because of its proximity to the Western theater, Trans-Mississippi soldiers frequently found themselves in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.3
    Washington and Richmond viewed the region's assets differently. Abraham Lincoln understood the unique advantages the Trans-Mississippi offered. Texas was the gateway to the far west; it bordered on a neutral foreign nation, Mexico; and it was the only state that touched an international waterway, the Rio Grande. In addition, cotton grew abundantly in parts of Louisiana and Texas. While Jefferson Davis also recognized these advantages, he never saw the Trans-Mississippi as important enough to detour resources and manpower to its defense. Lincoln, on the other hand, fretted about his inability to mount a successful military operation along the lower Gulf Coast west of the Mississippi River.
    The Trans-Mississippi was a vast untapped region. Texas led the nation in cattle, with an estimated three and a half million head, while Virginia and Georgia, the next largest Confederate cattle-producing states, counted slightly more than one million each. While stock from Virginia and Georgia went to feed Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the herds of Texas fed the men in the Western theater. Texas ranked behind only Tennessee in the number of horses and mules, fourth in the number of sheep, and seventh in the production of swine. Clearly, Texas was a significant source of livestock for armies in the west, but that could only remain the case so long as those animals could cross the river safely.4
    Few Confederate officials recognized the significance of the land west of the river. George W. Randolph, appointed Confederate secretary of war in March 1862, understood the importance of united action from one end of the Confederate nation to the other, but he was unable to convince the president. Randolph wanted to coordinate the armies across the river with those to the east, and believed that one overall commander could direct military movements more effectively. Using the Mississippi River to divide the Confederate nation made little sense to him, and he pointed out the necessity of having commanders in the Western theater work toward a common goal with those in the Trans-Mississippi.5
    True, there were problems. There were few significant towns west of the river (San Antonio had 8,235 people; Galveston, 7,307; Little Rock, 3,727; and Shreveport, 2,190) and the scattered population was thus mainly rural. Railroad connections were scarce, as were factories and telegraph lines. Moreover, in Texas the Indian frontier ran from the Red River in the north to the Rio Grande in the south. Throughout the war, Texas governors complained about Richmond's lack of attention to raiding Kiowas and Comanches. One of the complaints that Texans had listed in its ordinance of secession was Washington's inability to protect the settlers from Indians. Much to the dismay of many Texans, the Confederate government had been unable to improve the situation along the frontier. As a result, Texas soldiers, who might have reinforced units in the Western theater, preferred not to cross the river and leave their families unprotected.
    Lincoln appreciated that Union control of the Mississippi River would be a terrible blow to Confederate independence. He focused on operations along the river from St. Louis to New Orleans, while Jefferson Davis drained the states west of the river of available manpower thus removing a vital source of protection. In October 1862, Samuel Cooper instructed Theophilus Holmes, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, to send reinforcements to Virginia. Holmes protested, but it was clear that Davis considered the Confederate capital more important in his strategic thinking than the Arkansas state capital at Little Rock. While no one disagreed with his decision to protect Richmond, Trans-Mississippians questioned the wisdom of depleting the region of its defenders.6
    Some military commanders also agreed that uniting the commands on both sides of the river made sense. Braxton Bragg had suggested in October that Joseph E. Johnston "be assigned to the whole command in the Southwest with plenary powers." General Johnston agreed. He believed that since "the Federal troops invading the Valley of the Mississippi were under one commander," the Confederates should do the same. He had already considered using Bragg against William Rosecrans's Federal army in Tennessee, and joining Pemberton and Holmes for an assault on Ulysses S. Grant.7
    But not all Confederate leaders in Richmond fully appreciated the situation in the west. In the spring of 1862 the administration failed to regard the Union threat to Arkansas as serious, and refused to concede that Holmes could not furnish manpower elsewhere. Nonetheless, in mid-October Secretary Randolph instructed Holmes, "After providing for the defense of Arkansas and the Indian Territory, neither of which I presume will be seriously menaced from Missouri, your next object should be speedy and effective co-operation with General [John C.] Pemberton for the protection of the Mississippi Valley and the conquest of west Tennessee." He confidently added, "An opportunity offers, therefore, of converging three armies (General Bragg's, Pemberton's, and your own) upon some central point, and of regaining Tennessee and the Mississippi Valley." He authorized Holmes, who had been promoted to lieutenant general, to cooperate with Pemberton in the defense of Vicksburg, "and by virtue of your rank direct the combined operations on the eastern bank."8
    Davis disagreed. He wrote Randolph on November 12 that "The withdrawal of the commander from the Trans-Mississippi Department for temporary duty elsewhere would have a disastrous effect, and was not contemplated by me"   and reminded the secretary he should go through "established channels" before making such decisions. On November 13 Randolph resigned, and any plans for coordinated actions went with him.9
    Holmes, who struggled with conflicting orders from the War Department and the nation's chief executive, did little. Davis thought he should retake Helena, on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River. The president also wanted to used Trans-Mississippi soldiers for reinforcements "as circumstances might require and warrant" elsewhere. But Samuel Cooper told Holmes to send 10,000 men to Pemberton early in November and reiterated that order a week later. Cooper even argued that "this movement will greatly add to the defense of Arkansas." Holmes pointed out that a march to Vicksburg was impossible, and therefore, did not comply. He believed that stripping Arkansas of its soldiers would be disastrous, and would even leave the backdoor to the Confederacy open. Furthermore, there would be no way to obstruct a Union advance down the west bank of the Mississippi River through Arkansas and Louisiana. Over the next few months, exchanges of correspondence between Richmond and Little Rock revealed the differences in strategic thinking.10
    Not everyone in the Trans-Mississippi agreed with Holmes's decision to defend Arkansas at the expense of other areas. Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, in command of the District of Louisiana, had complained that Holmes, "far to the north in Arkansas," had abandoned Louisiana. Taylor argued that Holmes focused too much on Arkansas, to the detriment of the other states in the department. The people of Louisiana were "apathetic if not hostile from disaster and neglect," noted Taylor, "Such was the military destitution that a regiment of cavalry could have ridden over the State." This was not just idle observations of a disgruntled commander (and a man who lived in Louisiana), for New Orleans surrendered to the U.S. Navy in April 1862, and Federal troops quickly occupied the southern part of the state.11
    Such disorganization could not be overlooked in Richmond, and eventually resulted in a change in department commander in Little Rock. Early in 1863, Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith took over the Southwestern Army, including the Departments of West Louisiana and Texas. But it was not long before Smith replaced Holmes as commander of the department, relegating Holmes to the district of Arkansas. Historian Albert Castel has observed that "A soldier Holmes was, but not in the full sense of the word a general. As his performance in Arkansas ultimately revealed, he was unfit for a high command involving combat operations." In fact, James Seddon told Kirby Smith in March 1863: "The army is stated to have dwindled, by desertion, sickness, and death, from 40,000 or 50,000 men to some 15,000 to 18,000, who are disaffected and hopeless, and are threatened with positive starvation from deficiency of mere necessaries." At this point the Army of the Trans-Mississippi could hardly make a significant difference in the war along the Mississippi River.12
    While Confederates squabbled, Union strategists made plans. Control of the Mississippi River was a major objective of northern thinking, for it serviced states of the Old Northwest and Midwest. Even William T. Sherman commented that "the Valley of the Mississippi is America . . . the spinal column" of the nation. People living along the rivers that flowed into it—the Ohio, Monongahela, Allegheny, Illinois, Minnesota, Yellowstone, and Osage--watched with interest Union efforts to open the waterway. Moreover, Confederate efforts in the Trans-Mississippi to thwart Union designs along the river came to naught. In Texas, for example, the governor worried more about threats to the Gulf Coast than to the defense of the far away Mississippi River.13
    Still, Kirby Smith spent the spring of 1863 trying to figure out how to assist the Confederate defenders along the Mississippi River. But Smith faced the same problems that Holmes had encountered before him. While the number of soldiers in the Trans-Mississippi looked impressive on paper, Holmes had pointed out in December 1862 that at no time did he have "more than 22,000 effective men in this State "and some of those men were Indians, "upon whom no reliance can be placed." Sickness and desertion reduced the number to 16,000, and he had to rely on these men "to resist largely superior forces of the enemy threatening us in the north, west, and east."14
    Although Smith sent both infantry and cavalry to Louisiana, he never had enough soldiers to make a difference in the fighting along the river. A return for April 1863 indicated that he had approximately 30,000 men scattered across the department. In any case, the number he was actually able to divert to the Mississippi riverbank across from Vicksburg was very small. But in an attempt to draw Federal troops away from Vicksburg, Smith ordered a raid into Missouri in April, and sent Confederate infantry and cavalry from Arkansas and Texas to reinforce Richard Taylor in Louisiana.15
    With Union general Nathaniel P. Banks outside Port Hudson and Grant threatening Vicksburg, Taylor had reason to worry. He had only around 9,000 soldiers to garrison and defend his district. Hoping to aid the defenders in Vicksburg, Taylor sent an infantry division to attack Milliken's Bend and Young's Point, both Union supply depots on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi early in June. Taylor also sent cavalry to the Louisiana bayous opposite Port Hudson, but none of his attempts to relieve the two ports worked. Smith also ordered Confederate soldiers to raid plantations operated by the Federal government, destroy their crops, and capture former slaves. Smith told Taylor that "public opinion would condemn us if we did not try to do something" to help the Rebel defenders in Mississippi.16
    But Confederate efforts in Louisiana proved futile. There were just not enough men to make a difference, nor a real focus for the military actions. Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, in command of Texas infantry, told Kirby Smith on July 3: "If there was the slightest hope that my small command could relieve Vicksburg, the mere probability of its capture or destruction ought not, and should not, as far as I am concerned, weight a feather against making the attempt, but I consider it absolutely certain, unless the enemy are blind and stupid, that no part of my command would escape capture or destruction if such an attempt should be made." He pointed out that at no time did his force number more than 4,700 men, but with the bad weather and "deleterious effect of the climate" the effectives only amounted to 2,500. Although reinforced by an Arkansas brigade, Walker never had more than 4,200. As a diversion, Holmes authorized an attack on Helena, Arkansas, on July 4. But both the spring raid into Missouri and the assault on Helena failed, and there was even fear that after Vicksburg surrendered on July 4 that Louisiana and Arkansas would not be far behind.17
    The loss of the Mississippi River made contact between Confederates in the Western theater and Trans-Mississippi difficult. After the Union navy opened the river to shipping, political, economic, and diplomatic motives favored a Union offensive into Texas. Lincoln again showed his interest in the Trans-Mississippi, while Davis continued to focus on states to the east. In August Henry W. Halleck pointed out to General Banks, who commanded the Union Department of the Gulf, that there were "important reasons why our flag should be restored" upon the soil of Texas. Although most of the attempts failed, the Union army did establish a base at the mouth of the Rio Grande.18
    Lincoln could now concentrate on bringing Arkansas back into the Union, and planning began for a move to reclaim the capital at Little Rock. Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, commanding the Department of the Missouri, wrote that the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson "opened the way for active operations in Arkansas, and enabled General Grant to return to me the troops I had sent him." Without enough defenders, Little Rock fell in September 1863, and Lincoln initiated his plan to reconstruct the state. With northern Arkansas and southern Louisiana under Federal control, the morale of civilians in the Trans-Mississippi dropped. There was little public sympathy for sending soldiers across the Mississippi.19
    The loss of the river separated the states to the west from the seat of the Confederate government in Richmond in a tangible way that even Davis could not ignore. Early in the war Davis had slighted Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas in favor of areas of the Confederacy to the east. After the Union gained control of the river, the Trans-Mississippi, suffering from isolation, became almost semi-independent, and was known as "Kirby Smithdom." While Jefferson Davis turned his attention to events in the Eastern theater, Lincoln continued to work for a foothold in Louisiana and Texas, knowing full well the value of both states. New Orleans was the key to shipping throughout the midwest, but control of the Texas coast—all the way to the Rio Grande—opened the way to foreign markets through Mexico. Although Union invaders failed to take Sabine Pass on Texas' eastern border in September 1863, Lincoln continued to work on schemes to occupy the coast and prevent Mexico, and Napoleon III in France, from becoming involved in the Confederate war effort.
    Lincoln knew Napoleon was pro-southern, and he was afraid that the French ruler would take advantage of the Union's weakened condition and encourage the puppet monarchy of Maximilian in Mexico, an Austrian archduke whom French soldiers escorted to Mexico City in 1864. Lincoln understood New England's economic interest in the cotton fields of Louisiana and Texas. Throughout 1863 and 1864, Federal troops continued to pester Confederates along Texas' coastal islands, but with limited success.
    The Union government also made several attempts to occupy Louisiana's Red River valley in 1863 and 1864 since an estimated 100,000 bales of cotton could be found growing in the fertile fields. Once moving up the river valley and taking Shreveport, it would be simple to move into Texas thus strengthening the Union position against the French invasion of Mexico. It seemed to Lincoln that thwarting the French (while at the same time securing cotton for New England mills) was an excellent idea. But the Confederate victories at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill in April 1864 halted Federal ambitions, and the Union columns retreated.
    After the Confederate successes in the Red River Campaign, Jefferson Davis no longer gave the region much thought; large-scale Union offensives in the spring of 1864 drew the president's attention elsewhere. In the Western theater Sherman began his campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta, and Grant attacked Lee in Virginia. The Trans-Mississippi again became a possible source of manpower for armies east of the river. Early in July Federal general E. R. S. Canby moved on Mobile, Alabama, and the Confederate president ordered Richard Taylor, with two infantry divisions and any other infantry that Kirby Smith could spare, to cross the river. But Smith protested that the loss of these units would seriously damage the safety of his department. By sending men to reinforce units in the Western theater, the Trans-Mississippi would be left with few soldiers in Louisiana, and Texas would be virtually undefended.
    During the early summer, while uncertainty plagued the department, rumors kept soldiers on edge. Word came that Sherman had advanced into north Georgia, the port of Mobile appeared threatened, and Grant was heading for Richmond. Thus when the Confederate government petitioned Kirby Smith to send reinforcements east, many Trans-Mississippi soldiers feared they might be ordered to cross the river. A Texas soldier observed, "It is reported, and I believe it is true, that this Army is ordered over the Mississippi, and I am sorry to say that a great many [men] will desert before they will go." Faced with mass desertion, Smith ignored the request to send reinforcements to the western armies.20)
    The next few months sealed the fate of Confederates in the Western theater. Admiral David G. Farragut closed the bay at Mobile and Sherman took Atlanta. Although Trans-Mississippi soldiers probably could not have made much difference in the ultimate outcome, they shared the blame for the Confederacy's collapse in the Western theater. Taylor claimed that no attempt had been made to cross the Mississippi River in the summer because of the increase in gunboats. Even Jefferson Davis observed that no provision had ever been designed for such a feat as crossing the river with such a large number of troops. Taylor later admitted that many soldiers threatened to desert rather than cross the river. But Smith argued this was not true, and was just part of Taylor's scheme to discredit him.
    The feud between Taylor and Smith was a major impediment to united action in the Trans-Mississippi and influenced any assistance the department might offer elsewhere. Their relationship deteriorated dramatically as they tried, unsuccessfully, to work together, and their disagreements shaped events through the spring and summer of 1864. By damaging the department from within by their bickering, the two generals isolated the region even more as it tried to deal with problems in Arkansas and Louisiana. Smith had decided to trade territory for time, but when it was Taylor's territory in Louisiana that Smith intended to sacrifice during the Red River Campaign, the Louisiana general balked. The two men clashed over everything, including the best strategy (Taylor had even disobeyed Smith's orders during the Red River campaign). Although Taylor was reassigned to the command of the Department of East Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in August, their war of words continued to the end of the conflict, and beyond.21
    Still, Kirby Smith mounted one more campaign in late 1864, hoping he could change the balance of power in his department while at the same time make a difference to the overall war effort and the beleaguered Confederate armies in the Western theater. He and Sterling Price, a former Missouri governor, planned another raid into Missouri. Price, who had succeeded Holmes as commander of the District of Arkansas, hoped to take control of his home state before the autumn elections. The governor-turned-general had wanted to capture Missouri from the war's outset, and he still believed that Missourians would rally to the Rebel flag if men in gray invaded the state.
    President Davis wanted Trans-Mississippians to do something to help the Confederate Army of Tennessee in Georgia. If Kirby Smith could not spare reinforcements from his army, then he needed to keep the Federal armies busy so reinforcements for Sherman could not head east. When the Union commander of the Department of the Missouri, Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, realized that the Confederates had something more than a small raid into Missouri in mind, he diverted troops on their way to join Sherman at Atlanta to St. Louis. Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith's force of more than 9,000 men was detained at Cairo, Illinois. A frustrated Sherman told Smith, who commanded a detachment from the Army of the Tennessee, that he had tried, without success, to have Smith's troops transferred to Georgia. "General Halleck asks for you to clean out Price," he complained. "Can't you make a quick job of it and then get to me?" But even Sherman was not above a little pettiness when he added, "Your command belongs to me, and is only loaned to help our neighbors, but I fear they make you do the lion's share." Although he admitted that Smith had to do what Halleck requested, Sherman closed with the instruction: "as soon as possible come to me."22
    But Halleck wanted A. J. Smith in Missouri more than in Georgia. Even Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, who commanded the Department of Kansas, feared what could happen if the Confederates proved successful in Missouri. He mobilized all the Union soldiers available, and then asked the state governor for the use of the Kansas militia. Volunteers rallied to the call, and an army assembled on the Kansas-Missouri border. Price knew that A. J. Smith was in St. Louis, so he headed for Kansas City instead. But Price failed to reconnoiter, and had no idea he was between two armies, either of which outnumbered his own command.
    About halfway between Independence and Lexington, Price encountered Union soldiers. In late October, while Sherman pondered his march south and Hood envisioned a march through Tennessee, Price discovered the enemy force poised along the Kansas border. The result was the battle of Westport on October 21-23. Smith, who had been delayed from joining Sherman when his army was halted at Cairo, Illinois, marched his army across the state to join Curtis near the Missouri-Kansas border. In the fighting around Westport, some 23,500 Union troops outnumbered Price's Confederates by more than two to one, and before the struggle ended, a total of 3,500 men on both sides had been killed or wounded.23
    Price's raid, which covered 1,500 miles and took three months, was a disaster. Price and his badly beaten army returned to Arkansas in early December. The men, completely demoralized, could no longer prevent the Union soldiers from crossing the Mississippi River and reinforcing the Federal army in the Western theater. After A. J. Smith helped defeat Price, he headed for Nashville. He was too late to join Sherman on his march across Georgia, but George Thomas counted on his reinforcements. Thomas needed the Trans-Mississippi troops if he was to defeat the Confederate army under John Bell Hood closing in from the south. Therefore, the arrival of Smith's corps on November 30 was a heralded event.
    "Smith's guerrillas" added a distinct western air to Thomas's army at Nashville. "We have been to Vicksburg, Red River, Missouri, and about everywhere down South and out West," boasted one of the soldiers, "and now we are going to Hell, if old A. J. orders us!" Andrew Jackson Smith, who was nearly fifty, carried the name of the renowned Indian fighter, and like Jackson was quick to action and easy to rile. (He had wanted to arrest the incompetent political general Nathaniel P. Banks after he heard the army planned to retreat following the battle of Pleasant Hill in April 1864, but was talked out of it when told that such action would cause a mutiny.) A native of Pennsylvania and an 1838 graduate of West Point, he had fought Indians on the frontier in the Old Army. Smith was described by one officer at Nashville as "a grizzled old veteran but a soldier all through."24
    Smith was well known in the western Union army. He had taken part in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863 and the Red River campaign in the spring of 1864, but his fame rested on a battle at Tupelo in July 1864 where he had routed Forrest. A biased account noted that Smith "had defeated Forrest as he had never been defeated before." A Louisiana Rebel had claimed that when Federal soldiers set fire to Alexandria earlier in 1864, Smith had ridden through the streets yelling "Hurrah, boys, this looks like war!" His arrival at Nashville, with the detachment from the Army of the Tennessee could not have been more welcome. "Thomas (undemonstrative as he was) literally took Smith in his arms and hugged him; for he now felt absolutely sure of coping with Hood, and defeating him duly," commented Col. James F. Rusling.25
    When it became clear that the Union army in Tennessee might outnumber the Confederates outside of Nashville, talk of Trans-Mississippi soldiers crossing the river again resurfaced. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, who commanded Confederates armies from Tennessee to Georgia, asked Jefferson Davis if he could order Kirby Smith and his Trans-Mississippians to reinforce the Confederate Army of Tennessee as it marched toward Nashville. Davis agreed, but warned Beauregard that since Smith had "failed heretofore to respond to like necessities" that he should not now count on Smith's assistance. The secretary of war repeated the warning almost word-for-word, saying in the past Smith had not responded "to like emergencies, and no plans should be based on his compliance."26
    As frustration with Kirby Smith mounted on the east side of the Mississippi River, George Brent told Beauregard that he thought "It would be well to recommend [...] that General Bragg be sent at once to relieve Smith, and organize and administer [the] trans-Mississippi, and General R. Taylor [be sent] to command troops. This would be a strong concentration and secure prompt action." But nothing was done to change the command structure in the department, and Smith continued to stall when asked to send reinforcements to the Western theater.27
    As soon as Hood's soldiers fortified their position outside Nashville in early December, the general again requested more men. Hood had around 23,000 actually fit to fight, but only slightly more than 18,000 infantry. On December 2, Beauregard told Kirby Smith that it was "absolutely necessary, to insure the success of Hood, either that you should send him two or more divisions, or that you should at once threaten Missouri, in order to compel the enemy to recall the re-enforcements he is sending to General Thomas." In an effort to impress on Smith the importance of his words, he added, "The fate of the country may depend upon the result of Hood's campaign in Tennessee."28
    Hood's Army of Tennessee desperately needed reinforcements. In an effort to bolster his numbers, Hood had asked Thomas to exchange prisoners, and when Thomas declined, Hood again turned to the Trans-Mississippi as a source of manpower. He told the secretary of war on December 11 that he hoped he could obtain men from the west, and pointed out that since Union troops had come from Missouri, it seemed only logical that Trans-Mississippi soldiers could now join his small army. "I hope," he wrote, that the movement of Federal troops out of Missouri "would enable us to obtain some of our troops from that side in time for the spring campaign, if not sooner."29
    But Smith never wavered, and continued to ignore the requests. It was January 1865 before he replied to Richmond, saying that he could neither aid Hood nor order another diversion into Missouri. "The heavy rains which have fallen, unusual even at this season," he wrote, "with the exhausted condition of the country and our limited transportation, make it impossible, before early summer, either to attempt crossing troops or to renew operations against the enemy." He repeated this reasoning to Beauregard, adding "I am powerless to assist you either by crossing troops or by operating in North Arkansas and Missouri." Smith went into more detail to Beauregard saying, "The swamps on the Mississippi are at this season impassable for conveyances, the bayous and streams all high and navigable for the enemy's gunboats. The country has been so devastated by the contending armies and is so exhausted that the troops would require transportation for supplies for near 300 miles from the interior to the Mississippi." He continued to elaborate his point, and finally concluded with an empty apology, "Trusting you appreciate the difficulties under which I labor and believe in an honest desire on my part to assist you, I remain your friend and obedient servant."30
    Smith was not just making lame excuses. From his headquarters in West Louisiana, Confederate general Simon Buckner said he thought it was "impracticable at this season of the year to cross any considerable body of men." Since the troops would come primarily from his district in West Louisiana, he also had to explain his reluctance to comply with order. Even Richard Taylor had encountered many difficulties the previous summer, finally abandoning the "enterprise as hopeless, expressing the opinion that it was impracticable." And Maj. Gen. John A. Wharton, who commanded the Trans-Mississippi cavalry, had said "that a bird, if dressed in Confederate gray, would find it difficult to fly across the river." Moreover, Buckner concluded that conditions had deteriorated greatly since Taylor and Wharton had assessed the situation. After Beauregard read these telegraphs, he complained that he still did not see why troops could not be crossed, "even if it be in canoes constructed by the troops near the points selected for them to cross." He thought a movement should be made against New Orleans to draw Union soldiers. Nonetheless, as late as January 31, 1865, Davis was still trying to persuade Smith to order troops across the river.31
    While Smith ignored telegrams pleading for men, the Confederate Army of Tennessee fell to defeat at Nashville in mid-December. Hood later wrote that the Tennessee campaign failed because of the "unfortunate affair"at Spring Hill on November 29, the shortness of the day at Franklin on November 30, and Kirby Smith's refusal to send reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi. Ignoring his own role in the Confederate disaster, Hood placed the blame on the fortunes of war, and on General Kirby Smith.32
Jefferson Davis was more critical. He believed that the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had not kept Union troops occupied long enough in Missouri, and blamed Kirby Smith for consistently refusing to order reinforcements across the river. The president believed that Kirby Smith should have done more to keep A. J. Smith, whose 10,000 hardened veterans had arrived at Nashville just in time to make a difference, from leaving Missouri. If Kirby Smith could have prevented A. J. Smith's veterans from reaching the Tennessee capital and at the same time forwarded Confederate reinforcements to Hood, Davis believed the result might have been different.
    Davis even castigated Kirby Smith for not following up the victories in the Red River and Arkansas campaigns in the spring of 1864. Historian Richard McMurry pointed out: "Had Banks's forces been moving eastward against Mobile rather than westward toward Texas, it seems highly unlikely that the Confederate Government would have dared to send [Leonidas] Polk's Army of Mississippi and some of the garrison troops from Mobile and Florida to reinforce Johnston's army in Georgia. " If the 20,000 men under Polk had not joined Johnston, and had Sherman never loaned 10,000 troops to Banks, the Union army could have pressed the Confederates back toward Atlanta much more rapidly. Davis thought that Smith should have done more to prevent Banks from escaping, for many of Sherman's loaned troops eventually joined him outside Atlanta. By failing to help the Western theater, Smith had not acted in the best interest of the Confederate nation. Smith had repeated this error in December, for the Battle of Nashville signaled the end of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. "We have one cause, one country, and the States have been confederated to unite their power for the defence of each other," Davis concluded as he chastised Smith for his lack of effort.33
    Perhaps overall Confederate strategy was at fault. In October 1862 the War Department had ordered seven regiments from the Trans-Mississippi to the army in Virginia, but General Holmes, who commanded the department at that time, complained that he was in no position to offer aid, as he had no troops to spare and even fewer qualified commanders. Still, turning a deaf ear, the War Department had petitioned for 10,000 reinforcements for Vicksburg in November. Again, Holmes pointed out his inability to provide the men. "Solemnly, under the circumstances," he wrote, "I regard the movement ordered as equivalent to abandoning Arkansas."34
    While the states of the Trans-Mississippi were not as important to the Confederate president as those along the East Coast, there were factors that made them vital to the overall war effort. Certainly Davis considered defending Richmond more critical than defending Little Rock, Shreveport, or Houston, and that priority was based on common sense. But by writing off Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, he also wrote off the valley of the Mississippi River, for when Grant moved through the latter two states in late 1862 and early 1863 there were not enough soldiers to challenge his advance. And the resulting loss of the Mississippi River was disastrous to the Confederate cause.
    Until the surrender of Vicksburg, the Trans-Mississippi offered many important resources. The department contributed significant numbers of men to the armies east of the river, and Texas cattle kept those armies fighting. War goods came into the Confederacy through Mexico, and Texas and Louisiana cotton went out to markets through Mexico. And the small Army of the Trans-Mississippi forced Abraham Lincoln to keep a military presence in the region, thus tying up men who could have been used elsewhere.
    After the summer of 1863, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas no longer made a significant contribution to the Confederacy. As a result, the states along the east bank of the Mississippi River suffered too. Tennessee, with its capital under Union control, could offer little to the Confederate war effort but men. Even within the Army of Tennessee, Trans-Mississippi Confederates from Texas occasionally deserted to go home to protect family and friends from marauding Indians. By ignoring the needs of the western Confederacy, and allowing the isolation of the Trans-Mississippi, Jefferson Davis forced leaders in the region to rely on their own resources and manpower. Both politicians and military commanders knew that by 1864 the region's inhabitants had become less willing to send their soldiers elsewhere, and that many soldiers would refuse to go. It is true that Trans-Mississippians failed to provide the needed diversions for the fighting in late 1864, and as a result A. J. Smith helped destroy Hood's army at the Battle of Nashville, but the failure of Confederate leaders to see the Trans-Mississippi as an asset in 1861, or even as a source of manpower to protect the Mississippi River valley in Arkansas and Louisiana early in the war, ranks as one of the major failures of Confederate strategic thinking. It can also be argued that the manpower to cover all the states from the Carolinas to Texas was simply not there, and when Davis set his priorities, he decided to sacrifice the Trans-Mississippi in order to use the soldiers to defend important cities in the Western theater.
    Yet this decision fostered resentment and frustration among Confederates west of the river. Once Vicksburg fell and the Trans-Mississippi became a semi-independent department, the region's leaders, both civilian and military, made no concentrated attempt to aid the overall war effort and essentially ignored Jefferson Davis's plea of "one cause, one country" fighting together "for the defence of each other." As a result, the Union ultimately proved more successful at combining its resources on both sides of the river, while the Confederacy maintained two distinct areas of operations west of the Appalachian Mountains—uncoordinated and separated—to the end.35


1.     When the war began, Louisiana belonged to Department No. 1, parts of Arkansas belonged to Department No. 2, and Texas was a separate department. The Trans-Mississippi District of Department No. 2 was created in January 1862. In May, the Trans-Mississippi Department was authorized to include Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Indian Territory, and that portion of Louisiana west of the river. Realistically the department included Texas, Arkansas, and the Louisiana parishes. In 1860, the population of these three states included about 908,000 whites, around 5,500 free blacks, about 543,000 slaves, and 600 Indians. For the creation of the department, see General Orders, No. 39, May 26, 1862, U.S. War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 9, 713 (hereafter cited as OR; citations are to series 1 unless otherwise noted). Districts within the department were defined in General Orders, No. 5, August 20, 1862, ibid., 731. One of the problems unique to the Trans-Mississippi was the 50,000 to 60,000 "hostile" Indians. Another concern was that the Texas frontier receded as the war progressed.
2.     The population of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas was roughly 2,929,000 with 2,165,000 whites (74 percent) and 763,000 blacks (26 percent). The total population of the seven other Confederate states was approximately 7,354,000 with 4,345,000 whites (59 percent) and 3,101,000 blacks (41 percent). The Statistical History of the United States from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1976), 24-37. Kentucky is not included, which would have added more than one million people.
3.     In 1860, the population of Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana was about 908,000 whites, around 5,500 free blacks, about 543,000 slaves, and 600 Native Americans. Additionally, the Indian Territory had about 58,000 Native Americans, whites, and free blacks and more than 7,000 slaves.
4.     Lewis Cecil Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860 (New York: Peter Smith, 1941), vol. 2, 1042. These figures do not include the border states of Missouri and Kentucky, both of which eclipsed Texas in the number of horses and mules, swine, and sheep.
5.     Archer Jones, Confederate Strategy from Shiloh to Vicksburg (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1961), 78-88.
6.     S. Cooper to T. H. Holmes, October 15, 1862, OR, vol. 13, 888. See also T. H. Holmes to T. C. Hindman, October 18, 1862, ibid., 888-89; T. H Holmes to T. C. Hindman, October 26, 1862, ibid., 898; T. H. Holmes to S. Cooper, November 2, 1862, ibid., 907; and S. Cooper to T. H. Holmes, November 6, 1862, ibid., 911.
7.     Jones, Confederate Strategy, 84-87.
8.     George W. Randolph to T. H. Holmes, October 20, 1862, OR, vol. 13, 889-90; Randolph to Holmes, October 27, 1862, ibid., 906-7.
9.     Jefferson Davis to George W. Randolph, November 12, OR, vol. 13, 914-15; and Jones, Confederate Strategy, 89-90. For more on Randolph's resignation, see George Green Shackelford, George Wythe Randolph and the Confederate Elite (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), 143-50.
10.   Jefferson Davis to George W. Randolph, November 12, OR, vol. 13, 914-15; S. Cooper to T. H. Holmes, November 11, 1862, ibid., 914; S. Cooper to T. H. Holmes, November 19, 1862, ibid., 921; and T. H Holmes to S. Cooper, December 5, 1862, ibid., vol. 17, pt. 2: 783-84; T. H. Holmes to S. Cooper, November 25, 1862, ibid., 13; 927-28; T. H. Holmes to John Pemberton, November 25, 1862, v. 22, pt. 1: 897-98; J. C. Pemberton to Jefferson Davis, November 28, 1862, ibid., v. 17, pt. 2: 767; Jefferson Davis to S. Cooper, Endorsement added to Pemberton's November 28, 1862 correspondence, ibid., v. 17, pt. 2: 767; S. Cooper to J. C. Pemberton, November 29, 1862, ibid., 768; S. Cooper to Joseph E. Johnston, December 3, 1862, ibid., v. 17, pt. 2:77; Joseph E. Johnston to S. Cooper, December 4, 1862, ibid., 780; S. Cooper to T. H. Holmes, December 6, 1862, ibid., 786; T. H. Holmes to T. C. Hindman, October 18, 1863, ibid., vol. 13, 888-89; T. H. Holmes to S. Cooper, December 5, 1862, ibid., vol. 17, pt. 2: 783-84; T. H. Holmes to Joseph E. Johnston, December 29, 1862, ibid., 810-11; T. H. Holmes to Jefferson Davis, March 6, 1863, ibid., vol. 22, pt. 2: 796-97; T. H. Holmes to S. Cooper, December t, 1862, ibid., vol. 17, pt. 2: 783-84.
11.     Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction (London and Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1879), 129-30.
12.     Albert Castel, "Theophilus Holmes--Pallbearer of the Confederacy, Civil War Times Illustrated 16 (1977), 17; J. A. Seddon to E. Kirby Smith, March 18, 1863, OR, vol. 22, pt. 2: 802-3.
13.     William T. Sherman to Henry W. Halleck, September 17, 1863, OR, vol. 30, pt. 3:246; William T. Sherman to Henry Slocum, July 24, 1864, ibid., vol. 38, pt. 5:246.
14.     T. H. Holmes to Joseph E. Johnston, December 29, 1862, OR, vol. 17, pt. 2: 810-11.
15.     Abstract of returns of the Confederate Army on or about April 30, 1863, OR, ser. 4, vol. 2, 530. The returns indicate that five regiments of cavalry in the District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (John B. Magruder) were not included and the men in the District of Louisiana under Richard Taylor were not included. Those with Magruder were estimated at 3,500.
16.     For more on the Trans-Mississippi efforts in the Mississippi valley, see Robert L. Kerby, Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972), 97-154. Quote on page 112.
17.     J. G. Walker to E. Kirby Smith, July 3, 1863, OR, vol. 22, pt. 2: 915-16.
18.     Henry W. Halleck to N. P. Banks, August 6, 1863, OR, vol. 26, pt. 1: 672.
19.     Report of John M. Schofield, December 10, 1863, OR, vol. 22, pt. 1: 12-17.
20.     W. W. Heartsill, Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army, ed. By Bell Irvin Wiley (1876; reprint, Jackson, TN: McCowat-Mercer Press, 1954), 214; Kerby, Kirby Smith's Confederacy, 323-31.
21.     For an excellent analysis of the effect of the disagreements, see Jeffery S. Prushankin, "A Crisis in Command: Edmund Kirby Smith and Richard Taylor in the Trans-Mississippi West," Ph.D. diss., University of Arkansas, 2000.
22.     OR 39, pt. 2, 370.
23.     See Howard N. Monnett, Action Before Westport, 1864 (1964; reprint, Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995).
24.     "Smith's Guerrillas " is also seen spelled "Smith's Gorillas." For the quotes, see Wiley Sword, The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, & Nashville (1992; reprint, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993) 276; Ludwell H. Johnson, Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War (1958; reprint, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1993), 165.
25.     Johnson, Red River Campaign, 270; Mark M. Boatner III, Civil War Dictionary (New York: David McKay Co., 1959), 290, 768; Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), 454-55; Stanley F. Horn, Tennessee's War, 1861-1865, Described by Participants (Nashville, Tenn.: Civil War Centennial Commission, 1961), 322.
26.     G. T. Beauregard to Jefferson David, December 2, 1864, OR, vol. 45, pt. 2: 636; Jefferson Davis to James A. Seddon, December 4, 1864, ibid., 639; James A. Seddon to G. T. Beauregard, December 4, 1864, ibid., 647.
27.     George Wm. Brent to G. T. Beauregard, December 8, 1864, OR, 45, pt, 2: 665.
28.     G. T. Beauregard to E. Kirby Smith, December 2, 1864, OR, vol. 45, pt. 2: 639-40.
29.     J. B. Hood to James A. Seddon, December 11, 1864, OR, vol. 45, pt. 1: 658.
30.     E. Kirby Smith to S. Cooper, January 6, 1864, OR, vol. 45, pt. 2: 764; E. Kirby Smith to G. T. Beauregard, January 6, 1864, ibid., 766-67.
31.     J. F. Belton to S. B. Buckner, January 3, 1865, OR, 45, pt. 2, 765; S. B. Buckner to J. F. Belton, January 5, 1865, ibid., 765-66. Indorsement on Smith's January 6 telegram by G. T. Beauregard dated February 13, 1865. See also Jefferson Davis to E. Kirby Smith, January 31, 1865, ibid., 41, pt. 1, 123-24.
32.     John Bell Hood, Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate Armies (1880; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 304.
33.     Richard M. McMurry, "The Atlanta Campaign: December 23, 1863 to July 18, 1864," Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1967), 323; Jefferson Davis to E. Kirby Smith, December 24, 1864, OR, 41, pt. 1, 123-24. See also James A. Seddon to E. Kirby Smith, December 7, 1864, ibid., 123, and Dunbar Rowland, ed., Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers and Speeches, 10 vols. (Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1923), vol. 6, 428.
34.     T. H. Holmes to Samuel Cooper, October 19 and 26, 1862, OR, vol. 13, 898-99; Samuel Cooper to T. H. Hindman, November 19, 1862, ibid., 921; T. H. Holmes to Samuel Cooper, December 5, 1862, OR, vol. 17, pt. 2: 783-84; Samuel Cooper to T. H. Holmes, December 6, 1862, ibid., 786; T. H. Holmes to Samuel Cooper, December 8, 1862, ibid., 787-88.
35.     Jefferson Davis to E. Kirby Smith, December 24, 1864, OR, 41, pt. 1, 123-24.