How much of a missed opportunity was the Camden Expedition?

OldReliable1862

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Author Michael J. Forsyth in his book on the Camden Expedition (which I don't own at the moment) asserts that it presented a massive missed opportunity to the Rebels, even a war-winning one. From what I can tell, Forsyth makes a case that, had Grant not urged Steele south, there was a chance for the Rebel forces to pursue Banks' forces. In reality, Steele was nearly forced to surrender himself, and Porter nearly lost his fleet at Alexandria. The idea is that if Banks' and Steele's forces had been defeated, only Canby's forces would have been left, meaning the Union would have been forced to send forces from other theaters to stabilize the Trans-Miss.

I try to not overestimate the capabilities of forces, but I will admit it is an interesting concept.
 

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Having read the book, I'm suitably convinced by the author it was a missed opportunity. In of itself, the loss of 30,000 troops and Porter's fleet would be a devastating reversal for the Union cause at a time when Union morale was already low heading into the 1864 election due to the high casualties of the Overland Campaign. However, the issue does not end there, as the author points out how the Army of the Gulf would go on to provide critical actions throughout the year that thus mean ramifications for other battles. To quote from the book directly:

By mid-June 1864 all the Federal offensives had stalled. In the east, the Army of the Potomac had suffered more than 50,000 casualties in its campaign against the Army of Northern Virginia. In spite of the bloodletting, Robert E. Lee had confounded the Federals at every turn. Not satisfied to remain on the defensive, Lee launched his 2nd Corps under Lieutenant General Jubal Early on a foray down the Shenandoah Valley in early June. Lee’s purpose was to clear remaining Federals from the Valley to secure its fertile farms as a source of sustenance for his army. Also, he wanted to relieve pressure on the Army of Northern Virginia now holed up on a defensive belt covering Richmond and Petersburg. The opportunistic Early not only cleared the Valley in an aggressive drive, but he kept right on going across the Potomac into Maryland. After brushing aside a scratch force on the Monocacy, Early marched to the very gates of Washington panicking the Lincoln Administration. 43 The government now demanded that Grant respond to this threat by sending troops to bolster the depleted Washington defenses.

Grant dispatched the VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac and directed the XIX Corps arriving from New Orleans after taking part in the Red River Campaign. The XIX Corps helped save the capital and went on to play a prominent role in driving the Confederates out of the Shenandoah. In October, the XIX Corps proved pivotal to defeating and practically destroying Early’s army at Cedar Creek. 44 The battle of Cedar Creek permanently closed off the Valley from Confederate control. Had the XIX Corps been captured or destroyed in Louisiana, Cedar Creek in all likelihood would not have happened.

In the west, Sherman’s army found itself frustrated in its drive to Atlanta. The wily Joseph Johnston proved a master of defensive warfare always keeping one step ahead of his foe. Of greater concern, in Sherman’s opinion, were the operations of the elusive Rebel general Nathan Bedford Forrest. “I was disturbed by a bold raid made by the rebel General Forrest,” Sherman stated in his memoirs. Forrest spent his spring raiding through west Tennessee and was threatening to cut Sherman’s tenuous supply line between Nashville and Chattanooga. Should Forrest enjoy success in this endeavor, Sherman feared he would have to abandon the Atlanta campaign. With this in mind he pressured Banks to return the 10,000 troops of the XVI and XVII Corps on loan for the Red River Campaign. 45 Upon A. J. Smith’s arrival at Memphis from the Red River Valley, Sherman dispatched him to keep Forrest busy and “off our roads”—the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. Smith, a tenacious fighter, did this in superb fashion by occupying all of Forrest’s attention and fighting him to a draw at Tupelo in mid-July. Meanwhile, Sherman kept the pressure on Johnston by constantly forcing him back toward Atlanta. Smith’s efforts against Forrest made Sherman’s eventual capture of Atlanta in September possible. 46 However, if Sherman’s veterans had been captured in Louisiana, where would Sherman have found the troops to occupy Forrest? The absence of these men could have caused a disheartening setback in the Atlanta campaign for Federal arms.

The XIII Corps formed the nucleus of the force that would finally make Grant’s desired move to close Mobile. In August a combined army and naval force stormed the harbor forts and land face protecting the city. It was this battle that brought Admiral David G. Farragut lasting fame with his well- known quote, “**** the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” The XIII Corps stormed and took the fortifications protecting the mouth of the bay in support of the naval force. 47 Once again the question arises: Where would the Federals have scraped together enough troops to take Mobile if the Rebels had destroyed the XIII Corps in the Red River Valley?

Finally, the loss of the Army of the Gulf in Louisiana would have translated into the destruction or capture of a large chunk of Admiral Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron. Low water in the Red had trapped the gunboats above the rapids at Alexandria. Therefore, without protection from the army the precious fleet would have been lost. 48 Infinite possibilities were available to the Rebels if they could have gotten their hands on a few good boats. At best they might have challenged Federal dominance of the Mississippi or at the very least the Confederates could have reopened communications with their brethren east of the Mississippi. This would have nullified the results of the great victory at Vicksburg the year before.
 

OldReliable1862

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Having read the book, I'm suitably convinced by the author it was a missed opportunity. In of itself, the loss of 30,000 troops and Porter's fleet would be a devastating reversal for the Union cause at a time when Union morale was already low heading into the 1864 election due to the high casualties of the Overland Campaign. However, the issue does not end there, as the author points out how the Army of the Gulf would go on to provide critical actions throughout the year that thus mean ramifications for other battles. To quote from the book directly:
Thanks for explaining this, I had wondered if this was yet another case of "Confederate super-soldiers."

Were Steele and Banks the only large forces between the Rebels and Little Rock? I can't seem to find any others beside the Department of Kansas. It seems the Union really will have to start pulling forces from further east if things go pear-shaped in the Trans-Miss.

Banks had about 6 infantry divisions in his army, two divisions each from the XIII, XVI, and XIX Corps. I'm not sure, but I think Sherman will have to give a few divisions to help stabilize the situation in Arkansas and Tennessee.
 

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Thanks for explaining this, I had wondered if this was yet another case of "Confederate super-soldiers."

Were Steele and Banks the only large forces between the Rebels and Little Rock? I can't seem to find any others beside the Department of Kansas. It seems the Union really will have to start pulling forces from further east if things go pear-shaped in the Trans-Miss.

Banks had about 6 infantry divisions in his army, two divisions each from the XIII, XVI, and XIX Corps. I'm not sure, but I think Sherman will have to give a few divisions to help stabilize the situation in Arkansas and Tennessee.

Basically, the author's idea comes down to decisions made on the 14th and 15th of April, following the Battle of Mansfield. Richard Taylor wanted to go for the kill on Banks, but Kirby Smith was uneasy about Steele and ultimately committed to fruitlessly chasing after him and thus letting Banks get away. This was a bad choice, as information arrived on the 15th Steele was already in full retreat but Taylor failed to persuade Smith despite the latter's earlier promises to focus on Banks should Steele retreat.

In terms of a PoD? Delay their meeting until the 15th or have the information arrive earlier than OTL, which would give Taylor the leverage he needs. In terms of effects, the Union would have to send forces to secure New Orleans and the Mississippi, but they could write off the Red River area in terms of resuming a campaign. Far more critical is the fact that Early could probably take Washington in July here or, at the very least, win Cedar Creek. If Grant commits other Corps, it weakens his position at Petersburg; Lee with control of the Valley and the Sheldon Railway is in a much better state for the siege. Mobile, likewise, isn't going to happen or requires the draining of Union forces from elsewhere. I think the author might be reaching a bit with Sherman and Atlanta (Unless serious "drainage" occurs), but I do think it prevents the March to the Sea at the least.

One thing the author doesn't cover, at least from what I recall, is the Sterling Price raid into Missouri. If the Federals don't commit to sending substantial reinforcements to the Trans-Mississippi, there is a good chance Price will (re)claim Missouri for the Confederacy, and right before the election too.....
 
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NedBaldwin

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Basically, the author's idea comes down to decisions made on the 14th and 15th of April, following the Battle of Mansfield. Richard Taylor wanted to go for the kill on Banks, but Kirby Smith was uneasy about Steele and ultimately committed to fruitlessly chasing after him and thus letting Banks get away. This was a bad choice, as information arrived on the 15th Steele was already in full retreat but Taylor failed to persuade Smith despite the latter's earlier promises to focus on Banks should Steele retreat.
Given that he could easily outnumber Steele and, had Price's cavalry done their job, delay him from getting away, and once defeated the path to Little Rock would be wide open, going for Steele was a good choice.

Given that even if he brought everyone along, he could not outnumber Banks, and the pay off was not so big, since he would still not be able to get New Orleans, chasing Banks was the fruitless choice.
 

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Given that he could easily outnumber Steele and, had Price's cavalry done their job, delay him from getting away, and once defeated the path to Little Rock would be wide open, going for Steele was a good choice.

Given that even if he brought everyone along, he could not outnumber Banks, and the pay off was not so big, since he would still not be able to get New Orleans, chasing Banks was the fruitless choice.

Steele had a 100 mile advantage in his retreat compared to any advance by Kirby Smith, while Banks was already wounded and Porter's fleet largely trapped by low water levels on the river.
 

NedBaldwin

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While Porter may lose his ships, can it be assumed that the Confederates will then gain ships? I find it very difficult to believe Porter would not simply burn his ships before he abandoned them.
He would blow them up or sink them. When Gen David Hunter visited on a mission from Grant, he suggested that be done.
 

NedBaldwin

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Steele had a 100 mile advantage in his retreat compared to any advance by Kirby Smith, while Banks was already wounded and Porter's fleet largely trapped by low water levels on the river.
Steele was already wounded (Elkins Ferry, Praire D'Ane, Posin Spring, Marks Mill) and was low on food.
He left Camden on the 26th

Kirby Smith alrady had the cavalry divisons of Marmaduke and Fagan near Steele
He just needed to get the infantry form Louisiana, which he sent in toward Camden prior to Steele leaving, thuse cutting the head start distance
 
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It's really hard to see how anything "war winning" was missed.......or how a loss of either Union army could have altered much
 

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Steele was already wounded (Elkins Ferry, Praire D'Ane, Posin Spring, Marks Mill) and was low on food.
He left Camden on the 26th

Kirby Smith alrady had the cavalry divisons of Marmaduke and Fagan near Steele
He just needed to get the infantry form Louisiana, which he sent in toward Camden prior to Steele leaving, thuse cutting the head start distance

It was still a hundred miles for the infantry to advance from Louisiana, even if the cavalry was already there. The decision to abandon chasing Banks in favor of Steele was made on the 14th, and news that Steele was retreating was received on the 15th.
 

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It's really hard to see how anything "war winning" was missed.......or how a loss of either Union army could have altered much

See my post upthread, where I directly quote from the book about larger ranging strategic ramifications. There's also the blatantly obvious political question, given 1864 is an election year and the Union just lust 30,000 men and then such is followed by 50,000 in Virginia under Grant and another 30,000 by Sherman in Georgia...
 

OldReliable1862

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It's really hard to see how anything "war winning" was missed.......or how a loss of either Union army could have altered much
I believe the argument is that Banks receiving a very serious defeat is important in that it can lead to the same happening to Steele.

The Union can't leave the Trans-Miss in such a poor state, but the reinforcements would likely have to come from other theaters. The idea is that, somewhere, the Union will not have enough men. I'm not sure if this assessment is accurate, but I think it's worth pulling the numbers to analyse.
 
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Just thinking since there was around 62,000 Missouri Militia, Kansas had a standing militia as well because of guerrilla threats.......plus regular units being raised and stationed in the two states.......the rest of the midwest states like Illinois, Iowa, Indiana had large untapped reserves of manpower.......any setback could have been countered manpower wise fairly easy.

While the Trans-Mississippi Confederate manpower and supplies couldnt be.......by 64 the T-M as a theater of opportunity for the Confederacy had been lost.
 
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Generic Username

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I believe the argument is that Banks receiving a very serious defeat is important in that it can lead to the same happening to Steele.

The Union can't leave the Trans-Miss in such a poor state, but the reinforcements would likely have to come from other theaters. The idea is that, somewhere, the Union will not have enough men. I'm not sure if this assessment is accurate, but I think it's worth pulling the numbers to analyse.

Have to add the impacts from the missing Corps elsewhere too. Imagine an 1864 election in which there is no Mobile or Cedar Creek victories, Washington has been raided, no March to the Sea, Lee is holding all the railways into Petersburg, and, most importantly, Missouri has been occupied. On top of that, between Sherman, Grant and Banks the Union has taken 110,000 casualties.
 

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Just thinking since there was around 62,000 Missouri Militia, Kansas had a standing militia as well because of guerrilla threats.......plus regular units being raised and stationed in the two states.......the rest of the midwest states like Illinois, Iowa, Indiana had large untapped reserves of manpower.......any setback could have been countered manpower wise fairly easy.

While the Trans-Mississippi Confederate manpower and supplies couldnt be.......by 64 the T-M as a theater of opportunity for the Confederacy had been lost.

Militia that have no capability to be deployed by law, no artillery, are largely old men and young boys and when confronted by trained troops in Pennsylvania in 1863, fled the field giving little opposition to Lee's regulars. Even ignoring that, if the Union was so foolish as to use them as deployable forces, said guerrillas would quickly take over much of Missouri. Raising fresh formations takes times, as they have to be recruited/drafted, trained and then equipped. There are also other issues to consider; Between July 1863 and December 1864, 161,224 men failed to report to service under the draft. See also the Battle of Fort Fizzle in Ohio in 1863, the Detroit Race Riots of 1863, the Charleston Riot in March of 1864 in Illinois, and the Fishing Creek Confederacy in Pennsylvania from July to November of 1864.
 
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It was largely militia that defeated Prices raid.

You seem to fail to realize a large portion of Confederate regulars in the T-M by this point were no better equipped or trained then militia.....as many of the early war regulars had been sent east of the river...because in fact they consisted of substantial numbers of hastily raised conscripts

Union had substantial artillery in Missouri doing garrison duty also
 
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The key to the T-M was always Missouri, without it nothing in La or Ark was going to change the balance much, or the ability of the side with it to be able recover. The Union was the only side to realize that from the start, which always has seemed surprising to me. But its rather simple math......

Ark, Tx, La--1,085,149 free whites 1860

IA, Mn, Ks, Ne, and Dakotas----1,032,172

Missouri alone had more then either 1,086,244

Whoever has MO had a 2-1 advantage in available T-M manpower........and balance of theatres agriculture and industry also tip with it.
 
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Generic Username

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It was largely militia that defeated Prices raid.

You seem to fail to realize a large portion of Confederate regulars in the T-M by this point were no better equipped or trained then militia.....as many of the early war regulars had been sent east of the river...because in fact they consisted of substantial numbers of hastily raised conscripts

Union had substantial artillery in Missouri doing garrison duty also

The militia skirmished with Price a lot but it came down to the regulars to defeat him. Price made the mistake of concentrating Pro-Confederate Bushwackers with his Army, instead of dispersing them as insurgents; this squandered their mobility and use in harming Federal logistics as well as allowed the Federals to concentrate their superior numbers against Price. Had Price dispersed them, besides doing logistical damage, the Federals would've been forced to disperse their own forces to chase after the insurgents, allowing Price to maintain parity or even superiority of the various Federal forces, defeating them in detail or endangering them so as to compel them out of Missouri by the threat of such.

Kirby Smith had been brought in to make the Trans-Mississippi self sufficient and effective and this he did. If the troops of the Department were that bad, then the Union would've had to have been absolutely atrocious to have things like the Battle of Mansfield or the Second Battle of Sabine Pass. The alternative is, of course, that the Confederates were not that bad off and I think the battles of the 1863-1864 timeframe prove this.
 
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