At the Headquarters of
the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith stood
looking at a large map of Louisiana on the wall behind his desk. Seated in
front of the desk, sipping brandy and nibbling peanuts, were two well-dressed
men in civilian clothes, and a man wearing the uniform of a Confederate full
colonel. All three were spies, agents for various orders of Northern wealth and
power. Their primary motive, however, was greed; military intelligence was
merely a secondary means to that end. One of the men in civilian clothes was
Samuel Casey, a former U.S. congressman from Kentucky. He had just paid
$200,000 in Yankee greenbacks for 20,000 bales of cotton. The other man was
Frank Butler, a cotton speculator for Skinner Textile Mills of Massachusetts.
He’d also just made a very large purchase with U.S. dollars. The man dressed as
a Confederate colonel was actually a Union major named Andrew McMillan. He was
currently head of purchasing in the Trans-Mississippi’s Cotton Bureau, secretly
slipped into the position early in the war. His older brother was a personal
friend of both Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.
McMillan had just brokered the two transactions and was guaranteed twenty percent
of the cotton once it arrived safely in Union-controlled territory. The man was
so brash he hadn’t even bothered to change his name.
Standing off to the side was a one-armed lieutenant colonel, his left coat sleeve folded neatly at the elbow, pinned to his lapel. He had listened to the entire proceeding, a bit surprised at its brazenness.
Confederate spies in New Orleans had recently sent word that a large Union expedition would soon be underway to capture Shreveport. General Smith and his staff had been expecting such a campaign for nearly a year. Shreveport offered an excellent staging ground for the invasion of Texas, which Lincoln desperately wanted before the November elections. It was now known that the Red River Expedition, as it was being called, would be launched within a week. The main objective was still to occupy Shreveport and prepare for the invasion of Texas. Of equal importance as noted in a primary executive order was the confiscation of the huge stores of cotton on the many plantations of Northwest Louisiana. Textile mills throughout New England had sat dormant for nearly two years due to the lack of cotton, causing a staggering rise in unemployment. The value of the cotton just purchased by Casey and Butler would easily quadruple once it reached New England.
The two men would receive no bill of sale of course, or a receipt. They would, however, have in their possession an official U.S. document signed by President Lincoln ordering all military commanders to provide safe passage for them with any cargos they may bring. They would also have an affidavit signed by McMillan swearing to the authenticity of their specific claim. Casey and Butler would be traveling with the Union expedition, along with dozens of cotton speculators. As the other speculators haggled over the cotton, Casey and Butler would simply produce their papers to a certain brigadier general, another confidant of the McMillans’, who would then see to the procurement of their product. If all went as planned and the expedition made it to Shreveport, Andrew McMillan would change into his Yankee uniform for the return trip back down the Red River. As stated in Lincoln’s document they would be taken unmolested with their cargo up the Mississippi all the way to Illinois. And they would be allowed as many return trips as they pleased until the end of hostilities with the Confederacy.
“Even if Banks fails to get this far,” said McMillan, reassuring his two cohorts, “there’s plenty of cotton between here and Alexandria. Isn’t that right, General?”
“Yes,” said General Smith, after a slight hesitation as if in deep thought, turning from the map to face the men. “There is plenty of cotton.”
“We thank you for your hospitality, General,” said Casey, standing with his brandy. “I’m sure you’re right. There’ll be more than enough cotton. However, we are pressed for time.”
“How right you are, Samuel,” replied Butler, also standing. “We must be off, General. So nice doing business with you. Perhaps in the future we will have more opportunities like this.”
“I hope so,” said the General Smith in a monotone voice that seemed to be hiding something; but only the one-armed lieutenant colonel would have detected this. “I truly do.”
After a short round of small talk the three men left the general’s office. Butler and Casey had travel passes to get them down to Baton Rouge. McMillan would see them off, after another drink of course, showing them his office at the Cotton Bureau, telling them to hurry back.
“What will you do with all the cotton here, General,” asked the young lieutenant colonel with one arm, “if the Yankees do get this far?”
“I’ll burn it, Grady,” said Smith, looking out the window. “I’ll burn it. Now, please, go and put that money in a safe place.”
At least a dozen nervous-looking men waited to see the general as Lieutenant Colonel Grady Hackwith walked through the crowded corridor that led from Smith’s office. In his only hand he carried a large carpetbag, obviously with some weight to it. He turned left and just outside his office he saw a major, an old familiar friend, arguing with one of his lieutenants.
“No, I don’t have an appointment,” said the major. “He’s a personal friend.”
“David?” said Hackwith, dropping the carpetbag to the floor.
Hawkins turned in surprise.
The two embraced, then Hawkins noticed Hackwith’s missing arm.
“Aw, don’t worry,” said Hackwith. “I’ve got it on ice. They’re making huge strides in medicine these days. By the time the war’s over, I’ll be able to get it reattached. If I can afford it, that is.”
Hawkins forced a smile, glad to see his friend had kept his sense of humor. Hackwith reached down for the carpetbag.
“Here, let me get that, Grady,” said Hawkins, also reaching for the bag.
“Indeed, no,” replied Hackwith, lifting the bag. “I lost my arm, not my dignity.”
He showed Hawkins to a small office with a single window view of the street. After securing the carpetbag in a large safe behind his desk, Hackwith produced a bottle and two glasses.
“Sorry, all I’ve got is this Arkansas sour mash,” he said. “But it’s better than the moonshine we got last month. Killed one man and blinded four others.”
“Too many twigs in the pot?” asked Hawkins.
“More like a railroad tie,” replied Hackwith, lifting his glass. “Well, here’s to the cavalry. The first and the most.”
“The first and the most, indeed,” said Hawkins. After swallowing his drink, his eyes momentarily glanced at his friend’s missing arm.
“Port Hudson,” Hackwith said, noticing Hawkins’s eyes. “Yankee bullet caught me right in the elbow. I knew it was gone the moment it happened.”
Hawkins pressed his lips together, slowly nodding.
“Funny thing about it, though,” said the young lieutenant colonel as he looked out the window.
“What’s that?” asked Hawkins.
“Didn’t hurt nearly as bad as when they cut it off.”
Hawkins said nothing, just looked at his empty glass, fumbling with it in his hands.
“I’m so sorry about your wife, David,” said Hackwith, after a few moments’ hesitation.
Again Hawkins said nothing. He looked out the window at a column of troops marching down Market Street, the setting sun turning their gray uniforms to a brownish-orange. The afternoon love-making with Amy Bolton had definitely improved his mood. But in the back of his mind he wondered if he’d committed adultery, fornication or both. How would he justify this to the Lord? He couldn’t and he knew it. He also thought of Emily. He knew she would want him to be happy. But in the context of all that had happened to him, he was at a loss to put a moral justification on his recent moment of sexual intimacy. The experience had been wonderful, but his heart still ached for Emily. And his conscience? What about his conscience? What about God? This caused him to think even more of Emily. He wanted so badly to hold her while she nuzzled her face in his neck like she always did. Or chase her playfully across one of the clearings, gently tackling her to the ground to lie for hours gazing up at the fluffy clouds. Even to hear her complain about fixing the leak in the roof over the upstairs guestroom. Or how Jacko, who she always referred to as “that dog,” had gotten into her perennials again. Anything, just to have her at his side.
“David,” Hackwith finally said, “is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, thank you,” Hawkins said coming out of his reverie, “I’m alright, Grady.”
“Well, then. Have you heard anything about this Red River Expedition?”
“Is that what they’re calling it?”
“Very fit’n, I think.”
“Sure,” said Hawkins. “Steve Jenkins, my first sergeant mentioned something about it.”
“Aw, yes. I met him. Seemed like a decent fella.”
“He is,” Hawkins said. “Told me the Yankees might be trying to take Shreveport.”
“Who’s in command?”
“Banks. Porter’s giving him a ride.”
“About forty thousand men.”
Hawkins raised his eyebrows and looked back out the window.
“Porter’s got at least twelve ironclads,” said Hackwith. “Maybe more.”
“Ironclads?” Hawkins looked back at Hackwith. “When are they due to set out?”
“Any day now.” Hackwith looked at the calendar on the wall. “If the rains come early, those boats could be here by the end of March.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Nothing for now. I want you to rest. We may need you later. How’s the leg, by the way?”
“It’s making progress. Lucky to still have it. Five months after I broke it, I took a bullet in the thigh at Sharpsburg. A doctor in Richmond told me all the riding may be cutting off the flow of blood, slowing the healing process. So I do a lot of walking every chance I get. Seems to help.”
“How are things on the farm?”
“Great. Things look good. Gonna be look’n to buy me a plow horse soon.”
“You own a few slaves, right?”
“Three adults and three young’uns.”
“If you need any help with’m, I could send a man out to watch over’m.”
“No, Grady,” Hawkins said, standing to leave. “They work just fine, thank you.”
“You’re sure? Won’t cost you a penny. Just give the man something to eat and he’ll make sure your slaves are good’n busy.”
“Yes, I’m sure, Grady. Thank you.”
“Well, you don’t have to leave, David. At least have another drink with me.”
“No, thanks, Grady. I really gotta be go’n. Heard ya were here and just wanted to say howdy, old friend. Drop by the farm some time.”
The two men shook hands, chatting a bit more as Hackwith walked Hawkins out to the street.
“Where on earth did you get this fine piece of horse flesh?” asked Hackwith, immediately taking notice of Jackson.
“He’s a beauty, ain’t he?” said Hawkins, stroking Jackson’s thick jaw muscle. “Got’m in Virginia, at Chancellorsville. Best horse I’ve ever had.”
“What about that dark brindle you had out West?” Hackwith asked, still admiring Jackson, petting the animal’s black mane. “The one that saved us from those Apaches. Wasn’t as pretty as this, but that was one helluva horse. Tempest, I think ya called’m.”
“Tempest was a great horse,” said Hawkins. “And here is the only one that could’ve ever bested’m.”
“What happened to Tempest?” asked Hackwith, turning to Hawkins.
“Lost’m at Shiloh. Died a good warhorse’s death. Quick and bloody.”
“Shiloh? Good God, David. You’re not just lucky to still have your leg. You’re lucky to be alive.”
Hawkins didn’t respond, just kept looking at Jackson, caressing his exquisite neck. He wanted to tell Hackwith about the other horrible engagements, or at least he thought he did. But the words wouldn’t come.
“I tell ya what,” Hackwith said, looking back at Jackson. “I’ll give ya a thousand Yankee dollars for’m right now.”
“I wouldn’t sell this horse for all’a God’s green earth.” Hawkins mounted Jackson. “Where ya get’n Yankee dollars from, Grady?”
“Oh, they’re everywhere, my friend,” Hackwith said with a grin. “They’re everywhere.”
Hawkins nodded goodbye, then turned Jackson down the street, falling in behind a line of wagons packed with supplies.
There was much work to be done on the farm and he was on recuperative leave. Because of Emily’s passing, his wounds, and all the campaigning he’d seen, he could easily put in for an early discharge. But that was unthinkable now knowing the enemy could soon be upon his very own hometown. He had seen what war did to hometowns, a thought that did not sit well with him. He’d had enough of war. But if the Yankees came he would fight them once again.
As he approached his farm Hawkins thought of Johnny, an eerie dusk bidding its welcome. Giving the boy his father’s cap seemed more than just a good deed. Keeping this important promise gave him a unique sense of accomplishment. It seemed to have set him on a course that otherwise would have eluded him. Whiskey and spirits had been a problem time and again for Hawkins. While gone he had abstained from sex, but not from alcohol. He rarely drank socially anymore. During lulls in the fighting, he would go on long benders lasting days, even weeks. Had he not rummaged through his saddlebags and found Adam McRay’s cap, surely he would have taken to the bottle and daily, round-the-clock drinking. His thinking would have dwindled away, his identity thwarted, staggering headlong into oblivion. But now he could work, regain his health and plan for his new future. If the Yankees would let him.
Sidney Brooks had been waiting over two hours outside of General Nathan Bank’s temporary headquarters in Opelousas, one of the larger towns on the Bayou Teche where very little English was spoken. Brooks was a reporter from New York City, commissioned to cover the campaign by Harper’s Weekly. He was having trouble securing the proper papers to travel with the Army. Instead he’d lagged behind tagging along any way he could. He had brought with him three different two-piece suits, changing them out every day. But the constant traveling, sleeping wherever and whenever he could, and the Louisiana humidity had them each looking rumpled and stained with sweat. Normally clean-shaven, he now sported a month-old beard offset by a pair of round spectacles fronting weary eyes. Although his spirits were still high and his wits intact, he now looked much older than his twenty-five years.
Three weeks ago he’d been in New Orleans, arriving from New York after a nine-day ocean voyage. He found buying information there quite easy and soon learned Banks’s army was at Morgan City, a busy port in the Atchafalaya Basin. After a long series of ferry and coach rides through the swamps crossing water, then land, then water again, over and over until he lost count, Brooks finally arrived in Morgan City. But the army had moved inland by then, plodding along the Bayou Teche. He caught up with them at Grand Coteau, but was constantly hassled by soldiers for not having a travel pass. Almost out of money, he gave five of his last twenty dollars to a master sergeant who allowed him to enter the town hall-turned-Yankee Headquarters at Opelousas.
Just as he was about to step outside for some fresh air, the huge set of double doors that had been closed since he first arrived opened wide. At least a dozen Union officers filed passed him from out of the room. None of them even looked at him. A young major finally stepped out and glanced around the foyer. Brooks felt his heart beat faster, knowing it was now time for him to put on a show and lay it on thick.
“Hello!” he said in a loud, clear voice, stepping into the doorway. “I’m Sidney Brooks reporting for Harper’s Weekly. I’d like to speak to General Banks, please.”
“Let’m in,” said a voice from the room.
Banks was standing at a long table with two other generals, looking over some maps when Brooks entered the large conference room. At another table off to the side were five other men, colonels and majors, also studying maps while they smoked cigars, drank tea, cursed and spat on the floor.
Brooks got straight to the point, explaining his problem to the three-time Massachusetts governor. He also told the general that he could help with his future political aspirations. It was no secret that Banks wanted to be president. If successful in his summer campaign to capture Shreveport he would be a prime candidate against Lincoln in the fall.
“You see, General,” said Brooks. “I’m having trouble traveling with your army. I cannot get the access I need to do my work. One of your officers even accused me of espionage.”
“My apologies, Mr. Brooks,” said General Banks with attempted aplomb. At first glance he appeared quite dapper, cavalier even. But on closer examination he possessed the aspect of a worried man, a man out of place. His hair was a bit ruffled and he had dark circles and bags under his eyes, adding to a slight hangdog expression. “Reporters are often considered spies. Tell me who it was and I’ll see that he’s reprimanded.”
“Oh, that’s not important, General,” replied Brooks, waving off the thought. “And there’s no sense telling tales if it’s just hearsay. Besides, the man was obviously drunk at the time. What’s really important is documenting the Red River Expedition.” Brooks paused and removed his spectacles, breathed on them, then began to polish the glass with a handkerchief as he continued to sell himself. “I can also be most beneficial in letting the public know the true heart and character of the great General Nathaniel Banks.”
Brooks said the last words as if he were running for office, a tone of challenge in his voice. For a moment Banks almost seemed to forget himself. The effect Brook’s words had on him were not unlike a child being handed a large multi-colored lollipop. His eyes grew open wide, his lips pressed tightly together in a grotesque pucker. His hands seemed to be strangling one another with glee.
“I will take care of your problem, Mr. Brooks,” said Banks, his subordinates looking at him strangely. “Don’t worry. You will have all the access you need.”
A hundred and twenty miles south of Shreveport, Major General Richard Taylor sat on a tree stump at the peak of a small hill, whittling a stick he’d found on the ground. He would occasionally stop and look up, his thoughtful eyes scanning the 8,000 Confederate soldiers camped at Hinestown, thirty miles west of Alexandria. General Smith, Taylor’s only superior west of the Mississippi, had recently sent written orders for him to concentrate his scattered troops and prepare for the Union invasion of Northwest Louisiana. Taylor had been expecting this invasion for over a year. After reading the order he’d quickly written back a formal compliance, attached with an informal request, “I’ll need more men, Edmund.”
Although he had no formal military training prior to the war, Richard Taylor was no stranger to the drama of strategic military administration. He was the son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor, ‘Old Rough-and-Ready.’ He was also brother-in-law to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Both a Harvard and a Yale man, Dick Taylor was made a colonel at the outbreak of war, commanding the 9th Louisiana Infantry. Six months later he was promoted to brigadier general. He campaigned under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, where he’d faced Nathan Banks at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. Union forces had surged early that day, overwhelming the Confederates along the base of the mountain, shooting and bayoneting many of the men who tried to surrender. As the Yankees pillaged the overrun Rebel works, Jackson and Taylor unleashed their reserves routing the Federals, handing Banks a humiliating defeat. Taylor was again promoted and sent back to Louisiana, where he was needed. Banks, the politician-turned-soldier, was sent to the Louisiana to get him out of the way.
Just as Taylor was putting a nice point on his stick, a young strapping lieutenant approached him with a piece of paper in his hand.
“Sir, we’ve received a dispatch from our man in Baton Rouge,” said the lieutenant, glancing at the paper. “Banks’s men are currently moving up the Bayou Teche. They’re to rendezvous with Admiral Porter and A.J. Smith’s division at the mouth of the Red.”
“A.J. Smith?” Taylor queried, raising his eyebrows.
“Yes, sir. Porter’s ferrying him down from Vicksburg. Sherman has apparently loaned Smith to Banks until late April. But he wants the division back for his summer campaigns, wherever they may be.”
“Any word of how many men?” asked Taylor.
“Yes, sir. It’s believed that Smith has about ten-thousand men. Banks has well over twenty-thousand that we know of, maybe more. Add that to Porter’s sailors and marines, and it will probably be over forty-thousand.” The lieutenant paused briefly, allowing his commander a moment to digest the information. “We’re also being told that Porter has over a dozen ironclads, and over a hundred large transports with enough horses, supplies and munitions to sustain a very long campaign.”
“Any good news?” Taylor asked as he continued to whittle.
“Oh, yes sir.” The lieutenant perked up a bit. “General Polignac will be arriving soon. Should be here by nightfall. And General Magruder’s cavalry has left Austin. In less than a week they’ll be here, sir. That should give you at least five-thousand more men.”
Taylor nodded, his blade sending a large chip of wood flying from the stick, arcing down to bounce off the lieutenant’s boot. “Find Mouton. Tell him to come see me once he gets his men settled. And also send a party to meet Polignac. See to it that his men get across the river post haste, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” said the lieutenant, holding up a finger. “There is one other thing, sir.”
Taylor stopped whittling and looked up.
“General Walker would like to know if he should continue with the work on Fort DeRussy?”
Taylor stood and turned looking south, arms at his side, knife in one hand, stick in the other. He was a short man who came up just past the lieutenant’s shoulders. He wiped the back of his knife hand across his thick mustache, then casually waved the blade in front of him. “Send word to General Walker to continue with the work on Fort DeRussy. And to increase patrols at the mouth of the river. I want three daily reports; morning, noon and evening.” He turned to the lieutenant, still keeping the knife pointed the other direction. “I wanna know beforehand when the enemy enters the Red. See to it, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant saluted, turned on his heel and marched down the hill into the encampment.
“Ironclad gunboats on the Red River,” Taylor said to himself, tossing the stick he’d been whittling back to the ground.