The son of United States President Zachary Taylor, Richard Taylor was a prominent Confederate general in the Eastern and Western theaters of the American Civil War
Richard Taylor was born on January 27, 1826, near Louisville, Kentucky, on his family's plantation, "Springfield." He was the youngest child and only son of General and later United States President Zachary Taylor and Margaret Mackall (Smith). Taylor was named after his paternal grandfather, Richard Lee Taylor, who served in the American Revolution.
Taylor spent much of his early life on the American frontier, where his father commanded several forts. He received his early education in private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts. When he was old enough to live abroad, Taylor studied classics for three years in Edinburg, Scotland. Upon completing his studies in Scotland, Taylor resided for one year in France. When he returned to the United States, Taylor enrolled at Harvard College in 1843. He later transferred to Yale College, where he graduated in 1845.
When the Mexican-American War began the next year, Taylor served as his father's military secretary. Taylor was forced to leave military service during the Mexican-American War because he suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. He next managed his family's cotton plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi. In 1850, Taylor moved to Louisiana to oversee his father's newly-purchased, sugar cane plantation, "Fashion." When President Taylor died unexpectedly on July 9 of that year, Taylor inherited the Louisiana plantation. Over the next decade, Taylor built "Fashion" into one of the larger plantations in Louisiana. He owned nearly two hundred slaves, making him one of the richest men in the state.
On February 10, 1851, Taylor married seventeen-year-old, Louisiana native, Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier. During their marriage, the couple produced two sons and three daughters. Both sons died of scarlet fever during their youth, while Taylor was serving in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.
Taylor became active in politics as a member of the Whig Party and was elected to serve in the Louisiana state legislature from 1855 until 1861. When the Whig Party disintegrated, Taylor joined the American Party (also known as the Know Nothing Party) and later, the Democratic Party. Taylor was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1860, where he unsuccessfully tried to temper talk of disunion. Nonetheless, after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president that fall, Taylor, like many other Southern moderates, reluctantly changed his views on secession. As a delegate to the Louisiana secession convention in January 1861, Taylor voted with the convention's majority for disunion.
When the American Civil War began, Taylor initially went to Florida, where he helped his friend, General Braxton Bragg, train Confederate soldiers. He soon returned to Louisiana and was elected colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry in July 1861.Taylor's regiment headed off to fight in Virginia and arrived at Manassas on the night following the Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run I (July 21, 1861).
On October 21, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was Taylor's brother-in-law, promoted Taylor to the rank of brigadier-general. In the spring of 1862, Taylor commanded a Louisiana brigade under Major General Richard Ewell at the Battles of Front Royal (May 23,1862), Winchester (May 25, 1862), and Port Republic (June 9, 1862) during Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Campaign. Taylor also participated in the Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862) during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.
On July 28, 1862, Davis promoted the thirty-six-year-old Taylor to major general, making him the youngest officer to hold that rank in the Confederate Army up to that time. Officials assigned Taylor to command the District of Western Louisiana in August 1862, serving under General Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department.
In the spring of 1863, Taylor tried unsuccessfully to disrupt Major General Ulysses S. Grant's supply lines west of the Mississippi River during the Vicksburg campaign. Throughout the rest of the year, Taylor sparred, to no avail, with Major General Nathaniel Banks's army to reestablish Confederate control of New Orleans and southern Louisiana.
On March 12, 1864, at the urging of Army Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck, Banks reluctantly initiated a Union offensive aimed at moving up the Red River to capture Shreveport and to place all of Louisiana under Federal control. On April 8, Taylor's army soundly defeated Banks at the Battle of Mansfield. Taylor's victory was the last major triumph by a Confederate army during the Civil War.
On the next day, the two adversaries met again at the Battle of Pleasant Hill. Four hours of fighting led to a stalemate, but Banks chose to withdraw during the night. While not as decisive as the Battle of Mansfield, the Battle of Pleasant Hill was a strategic victory for Taylor and the Confederacy. Banks abandoned his goal of capturing Shreveport and began retreating down the Red River, effectively ending the campaign.
Sensing an opportunity to destroy the retreating Union army, Taylor requested reinforcements from his commanding officer, General Kirby Smith, along with permission to pursue the fleeing Yankees. Smith, however, had other concerns. Rather than sending reinforcements, Smith reassigned approximately one-half of Taylor's army to Major General John George Walker, with orders to check Major General Frederick Steele's Federal army, which was moving south toward Shreveport from Arkansas. Denied of his opportunity to defeat a large Union army, Taylor harassed Banks for the remainder of the campaign. Smith's decision created everlasting rancor between the two Confederate generals.
Despite his rocky relationship with Smith, Taylor was promoted to lieutenant general, effective April 8, 1864, the day of his decisive victory at the Battle of Mansfield. On July 18, President Davis placed Taylor in command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. With few resources at his disposal, Taylor did his best to defend his department as the Confederacy was collapsing around him. On January 23, 1865, Taylor succeeded General John Bell Hood as commander of the tattered Army of Tennessee after it limped back south following Hood's disastrous Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Finally, on May 4, 1865, after learning of General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia and General Joseph Johnston's surrender at Bennett Place, North Carolina, Taylor surrendered all of the remaining Confederate forces east of the Mississippi River to Major General Edward Canby, at Citronelle, Alabama.
After the Civil War, Taylor moved to New Orleans. Union soldiers had destroyed and confiscated his plantation. Taylor divided his remaining years between Louisiana and Virginia, lobbying for the Democratic Party and against Reconstruction policies. He published his memoirs, titled Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War, in 1879. Shortly thereafter, on April 12, 1879, Taylor died at the New York home of his friend Samuel Latham Mitchell Barlow. Funeral services were held the next day at the Church of Transfiguration in New York. Taylor's body was taken to New Orleans and buried in Metairie Cemetery.
Cite this Entry
"Richard Strother Taylor," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 19 Oct 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=977>
"Richard Strother Taylor." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved October 19, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=977
- Abraham Lincoln
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Front Royal
- Battle of Mansfield
- Battle of Pleasant Hill
- Battle of Port Republic
- Battle of Winchester I
- Braxton Bragg
- Edward Canby
- Franklin-Nashville Campaign
- Henry W. Halleck
- Jefferson Davis
- John Bell Hood
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Kirby Smith
- Mexican-American War
- Nathaniel P. Banks
- Peninsula Campaign
- Richard Ewell
- Robert E. Lee
- Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862
- Surrender at Appomattox Court House
- Surrender at Bennett Place
- Thomas J. Jackson
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Vicksburg Campaign
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