With the Confederate surrenders of Vicksburg to Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Port Hudson to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks by the second week of July 1863, and the orderly evacuation of Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor’s forces in the Lafourche district (following the Battle at Kock’s Plantation) the following week, Banks hardly was in a position to throw his arms up in celebration and rest upon his laurels. Though the Mississippi River (for the first time in the war) was totally under Union control, there was still much left to be done to defeat the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department operating west of the river.
Even though Taylor’s army was regrouping in the southern portion of the Teche region that lay adjacent to the Lafourche district and posed a danger to Banks’ organization in Lafourche, both Banks and Grant collectively turned their eyes eastward instead, toward the port city of Mobile, Alabama. Both men viewed the capture of that Rebel city as a vital part in the overall strategy to sever the Confederate’s ability to funnel war materials from Europe and the Caribbean via the Gulf into the heart of the South. By the summer of 1863, Mobile was one of only a few deepwater ports still under Confederate control. It was further thought that once Mobile was captured, Union forces could move northward and cut one of the last connecting east-to-west rail lines in the Confederacy and capture one of the great munitions-industrial complexes of the South at Selma, Alabama.
Both generals urged President Lincoln and General-in-Chief H. W. Halleck to authorize a move toward Mobile by land and sea. But Lincoln was looking more westward toward Texas, the only Confederate state by 1863 still completely free of Federal control. Lincoln strongly believed that planting the Stars and Stripes upon Texas soil would prompt the formation of a loyalist government from among a large number of non-slaveholding German immigrants in the Lone Star State, bringing Texas back into the fold.
There were other considerations that prompted Lincoln to direct his energies toward the occupation of Texas. Mill owners in New England, whose looms had been idle for lack of Southern cotton, might be a political force to be reckoned with in the upcoming 1864 presidential election. The capture of eastern and coastal regions of Texas, where cotton was plentiful, might garner votes from New Englanders who otherwise might not have been inclined to support the President in the fall election.
There was also the issue of Confederate arms traffic across the Rio Grande from Mexico into eastern Texas. Bagdad, a Mexican port immune to the United States Navy’s blockade, was busy trading European arms for Texas cotton. Only by controlling the Texas side of the Rio Grande could the Union hope to break Confederate links with Mexico and its European allies.
But by far the most pressing concern for Lincoln by the summer of 1863 had to do with what was occurring south of the Rio Grande, particularly the involvement of French Emperor Napoleon III in the political affairs of the Republic of Mexico. Napoleon’s interest in the Western Hemisphere had far-reaching consequences for the United States and its immediate enemy, the Confederacy. For these reasons, Lincoln would have to forgo capturing Mobile, as a Federal presence in Texas was politically paramount.
Christopher G. Peña is associate professor of nursing at Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, Louisiana, and a registered nurse at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center. He is currently pursuing a degree in history at Nicholls State University. He has written three books related to the Civil War in Louisiana, Touched By War: Battles Fought in the Lafourche District (1998), The Times and Journal of Alice Farmer: Yankee Visitor to Acadiana-New Orleans (2001), and General Butler: Beast or Patriot – New Orleans Occupation May-December 1862 (2003). He is a contributing author to America’s Civil War and has edited two Civil War related correspondences that were published in the periodical Louisiana History. He resides in Thibodaux with his wife and youngest daughter.