Steamer Diana, Below Vicksburg
I wrote the following to General Steele:
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE, Steamer Diana, March 4, 1864.
Major General FREDERICK STEELE,
Commanding Department of Arkansas, Little Rock:
DEAR GENERAL: I am now going from New Orleans to Vicksburg. I went down purposely to see General Banks about the Shreveport movement. I found all his preparations complete, and he will positively leave on the 7th instant, and promises to be at Alexandria on the 17th. His line of march is by Opelousas. I have undertaken to send 10,000 men by water, in concert with the gunboats, from Vicksburg to Alexandria by the same date. I understand you also have undertaken to act in concert, but the route and manner are not clear to me.
General Banks says you move via Monroe. When three armies start from distant bases, by the science of war they should meet at some point agreed on sooner than there is a possibility of the enemy (supposed to be superior to either one of the opposing armies) being able to reach it; but in this case rapidity of movement and the enemy’s tenderness for Shreveport would warrant each column (supposed to be over 10,000) to move straight on Shreveport, for I don’t believe Kirby Smith would risk Shreveport to go out and meet either of your armies; but I won’t make any opinion, but as a friend and brother officer I advise you to move with great rapidity and not stand too much on preliminary preparation.
You may safely rely on the country for forage, meat, and partial supplies of corn meal. General Grant will need on the Tennessee every man he can collect in all April, and this Shreveport movement, like mine on Meridian, is only justified on the ground of rapid execution and to result in setting free the troops hitherto held to defend points. By destroying Meridian and the railroads centering there I make it impossible for our enemy to threaten our river by anything but cavalry, and therefore we can draw from the garrisons of Columbus, Memphis, and Vicksburg full 15,000 men to re-enforce the armies in Tennessee. If in like manner you destroy by a rapid movement the enemy’s force on Red River, you also could give us from 5,000 to 8,000 men. Of course you will need all your cavalry, and were I you I would move toward Shreveport by the most direct route with all your force, and after passing Arkadelphia would send back a part with the feeble and foot-sore to swell the garrison deemed necessary for Little Rock. The moment Kirby Smith sees three columns all tending to Shreveport he will call for every man he has, and then decide to fight at Shreveport or save his army by retiring on Marshall, Texas. I believe he will do the latter.
In my Meridian move my cavalry failed me. It did not leave Memphis till February 11, when it was appointed to reach Meridian February 10, and the force did not go south of Columbus, Mississippi. Had it started on time it would have reached me, and I could have prevented Polk’s army escaping across the Tombigbee. As it was, Polk got across on the 17th, three days after I entered Meridian. Either Hurlbut or A. J. Smith will command the forces I send up Red River.
Your friend, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General