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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Richard Taylor

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American Civil War: Lieutenant General Richard Taylor

Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, CSA

Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Richard Taylor - Early Life & Career:

Born January 27, 1826, Richard Taylor was the sixth and youngest child of President Zachary Taylor and Margaret Taylor. Initially raised on the family's plantation near Louisville, KY, Taylor spent much of his childhood on the frontier as his father's military career compelled them to move frequently. To ensure that his son received a quality education, the elder Taylor sent him to private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts. This was soon followed by studies at Harvard and Yale where he was active in Skull and Bones. Graduating from Yale in 1845, Taylor read widely on topics pertaining to military and classical history.

Richard Taylor - Mexican-American War:

With the rise of tensions with Mexico, Taylor joined his father's army along the border. Serving as his father's military secretary, he was present when the Mexican-American War began and US forces triumphed at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Remaining with the army, Taylor took part in the campaigns that culminated in the capture of Monterrey and victory at Buena Vista. Increasingly plagued by the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, Taylor departed Mexico and took over management of his father's Cyprus Grove cotton plantation near Natchez, MS. Successful in this endeavor, he convinced his father to purchase the Fashion sugar cane plantation in St. Charles Parish, LA in 1850. Following Zachary Taylor's death later that year, Richard inherited both Cyprus Grove and Fashion. On February 10, 1851, he married Louise Marie Myrtle Bringier, the daughter of a wealthy Creole matriarch.

Richard Taylor - Antebellum Years:

Though not caring for politics, Taylor's family prestige and place in Louisiana society saw him elected to the state senate in 1855. The next two years proved difficult for Taylor as consecutive crop failures left him increasingly in debt. Remaining active in politics, he attended the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Charleston, SC. When the party splintered along sectional lines, Taylor attempted, without success, to forge a compromise between the two factions. As the country began to crumble following the election of Abraham Lincoln, he attended the Louisiana secession convention where he voted in favor of leaving the Union. Shortly thereafter, Governor Alexandre Mouton appointed Taylor to lead the Committee on Louisiana Military & Naval Affairs. In this role, he advocated raising and arming regiments for the defense of the state as well as building and repairing forts.

Richard Taylor - The Civil War Begins:

Shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War, Taylor traveled to Pensacola, FL to visit his friend Brigadier General Braxton Bragg. While there, Bragg requested that that Taylor aid him in training newly-formed units that were destined for service in Virginia. Agreeing, Taylor commenced work but turned down offers to serve in the Confederate Army. Highly effective in this role, his efforts were recognized by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In July 1861, Taylor relented and accepted a commission as colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry. Taking the regiment north, it arrived in Virginia just after the First Battle of Bull Run. That fall, the Confederate Army reorganized and Taylor received a promotion to brigadier general on October 21. With the promotion came command of a brigade comprised of Louisiana regiments.

Richard Taylor - In the Valley:

In the spring of 1862, Taylor's brigade saw service in the Shenandoah Valley during Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's Valley Campaign. Serving in the division of Major General Richard Ewell, Taylor's men proved tenacious fighters and were often deployed as shock troops. Through the course of May and June, he saw battle at Front Royal, First Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic. With the successful conclusion of the Valley Campaign, Taylor and his brigade marched south with Jackson to reinforce General Robert E. Lee on the Peninsula. Though with his men during the Seven Days' Battles, his rheumatoid arthritis became increasingly severe and he missed engagements such as the Battle of Gaines' Mill. Despite his medical issues, Taylor received a promotion to major general on July 28.

Richard Taylor - Back to Louisiana:

In an effort to facilitate his recovery, Taylor accepted an assignment to raise forces in and command the District of Western Louisiana. Finding the region largely stripped of men and supplies, he commenced work to improve the situation. Eager put pressure on Union forces around New Orleans, Taylor's troops frequently skirmished with Major General Benjamin Butler's men. In March 1863, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks advanced from New Orleans with the goal of capturing Port Hudson, LA, one of two remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi. Attempting block the Union advance, Taylor was forced back at the Battles of Fort Bisland and Irish Bend on April 12-14. Badly outnumbered, his command escaped up the Red River as Banks moved forward to lay siege to Port Hudson.

With Banks occupied at Port Hudson, Taylor devised a bold plan to recapture Bayou Teche and liberate New Orleans. This movement would require Banks to abandon the siege of Port Hudson or risk losing New Orleans and his supply base. Before Taylor could move forward, his superior, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, directed him to take his small army north to aid in breaking the Siege of Vicksburg. Though lacking faith in Kirby Smith's plan, Taylor obeyed and fought minor engagements at Milliken's Bend and Young's Point in early June. Beaten in both, Taylor returned south to Bayou Teche and re-captured Brashear City late in the month. Though in a position to threaten New Orleans, Taylor's requests for additional troops were not answered before the garrisons at Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell in early July. With Union forces freed from siege operations, Taylor withdrew back to Alexandria, LA to avoid being trapped.

Richard Taylor - Red River Campaign:

In March 1864, Banks pressed up the Red River towards Shreveport supported by Union gunboats under Admiral David D. Porter. Initially withdrawing up the river from Alexandria, Taylor sought advantageous ground for making a stand. On April 8, he attacked Banks at the Battle of Mansfield. Overwhelming Union forces, he compelled them to retreat back to Pleasant Hill. Seeking a decisive victory, Taylor struck this position the next day but could not break through Banks' lines. Though checked, the two battles compelled Banks to abandon the campaign begin moving downstream. Eager to crush Banks, Taylor was enraged when Smith stripped three divisions from his command to block a Union incursion from Arkansas. Reaching Alexandria, Porter found that the water levels had dropped and that many of his vessels could not move over the nearby falls. Though Union forces were briefly trapped, Taylor lacked the manpower to attack and Kirby Smith refused to return his men. As a result, Porter had a dam constructed to raise the water levels and Union forces escaped downstream.

Richard Taylor - Later War:

Irate over the prosecution of the campaign, Taylor attempted to resign as he was unwilling to serve with Kirby Smith any further. This request was denied and he instead was promoted to lieutenant general and placed in command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana on July 18. Reaching his new headquarters in Alabama in August, Taylor found the department to possess few troops and resources. Earlier in the month, Mobile had been closed to Confederate traffic in the wake of the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. While Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry worked to limit Union incursions into Alabama, Taylor lacked the men to block Union operations around Mobile.

In January 1865, following General John Bell Hood's disastrous Franklin-Nashville Campaign, Taylor assumed command of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee. Resuming his normal duties after this force transferred to the Carolinas, he soon found his department overrun by Union troops later that spring. With the collapse of Confederate resistance following the surrender at Appomattox in April, Taylor attempted to hold out. The final Confederate force east of the Mississippi to capitulate, he surrendered his department to Major General Edward Canby at Citronelle, AL, on May 8.

Richard Taylor - Later Life

Paroled, Taylor returned to New Orleans and attempted to revive his finances. Becoming increasingly involved in Democratic politics, he became a staunch opponent of the Radical Republicans' Reconstruction policies. Moving to Winchester, VA in 1875, Taylor continued to advocate for Democratic causes for the remainder of his life. He died on April 18, 1879, while in New York. Taylor had published his memoir entitled Destruction and Reconstruction a week earlier. This work was later credited for its literary style and accuracy. Returned to New Orleans, Taylor was buried at Metairie Cemetery.

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