An amalgamation of troops assigned to the Department of the Gulf from 1862 through 1865, the Army of the Gulf served as an occupation force in New Orleans (1862-1863) and as the main Union command during the Red River Campaign during the American Civil War.
On February 23, 1862, the United States War Department issued General Orders No. 20, creating, "A new military department, to be called the Department of the Gulf." The new department consisted of "all of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico west of Pensacola harbor, and so much of the Gulf States as may be occupied by the forces under Major General B.F. Butler." On March 20, 1862, Butler arrived at Ship Island, Mississippi and issued General Orders No. 1 (Department of the Gulf) assuming his new command.
Shortly after Butler assumed command, U.S. naval forces, led by Admiral David G. Farragut, captured the port city of New Orleans on April 29, 1862. As commander of Union troops in the Department of the Gulf, Butler assumed the role of military governor of New Orleans after his soldiers marched into the city on May 1, 1862. During Butler's tenure, the forces under his command, now known as the Army of the Gulf, functioned primarily as an army of occupation.
Butler's hardline rule over the next five months engendered the enmity of citizens throughout the South and earned him the nickname of "the Beast." His harsh policies eventually forced President Lincoln to recall the controversial general. On November 9, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued General Order No. 184, replacing Butler with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in command of the Department of the Gulf.
When Banks assumed control of the department, the Army of the Gulf consisted of only the 19th Corps. In 1863, the Army of the Gulf participated in three major engagements, the Battle of Fort Bisland (April 12, 1863–April 13, 1863), the Battle of Irish Bend (April 14, 1863), and the Siege of Port Hudson (May 22, 1863 – July 9, 1863)—all Union victories.
Beginning in August 1863, the number of troops available to Banks began to swell. The 13th Army Corps moved down the Mississippi River to various parts of the Department of the Gulf. In February 1864, two divisions from the 16th Army Corps were also dispatched to the Department of the Gulf.
With more than thirty thousand soldiers at Banks' disposal by the spring of 1864, Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck ordered Banks to launch a campaign against the remaining Confederate forces in Louisiana. Despite Banks' reservations about the operation (as well as those of Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman) the Army of the Gulf, supported by Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter's U.S. Naval forces, embarked upon the Red River Campaign on March 12, 1864. Two months later, Banks limped back to Louisiana after suffering decisive defeats at the Battle of Mansfield (April 8, 1864), and the Battle of Pleasant Hill (April 9, 1864).
The Red River Campaign was a Federal fiasco, perhaps the biggest of the war. In addition to casualty totals that topped 8,700 soldiers, the expedition siphoned men and material away from other operations, perhaps extending the war. Porter's reputation was somewhat sullied by the campaign, but Banks was ruined militarily by the debacle. Shortly after Banks returned to southern Louisiana the U.S. War Department issued General Orders No. 192, on May 7, 1864. The order placed the Department of the Gulf under the dominion of the newly created Division of West Mississippi, commanded by Major General Edward Canby. Reduced to an administrative role, Bank would never again command troops in the field.
Following the Red River disaster, many of the troops in the Army of the Gulf were dispersed. On June 11, 1864, the 13th Corps designation was discontinued, and the troops were transferred to other commands. In July 1864, the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the 19th Corps were sent to Virginia to participate in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864.
Units remaining in the department saw some further action during the summer of 1864. On August 3, U.S. Naval vessels put nearly 1,500 troops from the Army of the Gulf ashore near Mobile, Alabama. The soldiers from those units, which included the 96th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, then participated in the siege and capture of Fort Gaines (August 3-8, 1864) and the siege of capture of Fort Morgan (August 9-23).
On November 7, the 16th and 19th Corps, Army of the Gulf, were discontinued. On November 25, 1864, the units of the old 19th Corps still in Louisiana were transferred to the Reserve Corps, Army of the Gulf. Two divisions of the 16th Corps travelled to Nashville, Tennessee in time to participate in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign.
On February 18, 1865, the 13th and 16th Corps were reorganized. Under the command of Major General Edward Canby, those troops participated in the siege and capture of Fort Spanish (March 27-April 8, 1865) and Fort Blakely (April 2-9, 1865), which eventually led to the occupation of Mobile, Alabama. The storming of Fort Blakely is often cited as the last major infantry action of the Civil War east of the Mississippi River. Both corps were officially discontinued on July 20, 1865.
Ohio units that served with the Army of the Gulf included:
Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiments:
16th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (3 years)
42nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
48th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
56th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
72nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
77th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
83rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
95th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
96th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
114th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
120th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Ohio Volunteer Artillery Batteries:
2nd Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery
16th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery
17th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery
Cite this Entry
"Army of the Gulf," Ohio Civil War Central, 2020, Ohio Civil War Central. 12 Aug 2020 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1344>
"Army of the Gulf." (2020) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved August 12, 2020, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1344
- Battle of Mansfield
- Battle of Pleasant Hill
- Benjamin F. Butler
- Edward Canby
- Edwin M. Stanton
- Franklin-Nashville Campaign
- General Orders, No. 184 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 192 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 20 (Headquarters of the Army)
- Henry W. Halleck
- Nathaniel P. Banks
- Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Red River Campaign
- Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864
- Siege of Port Hudson
- Ulysses S. Grant
- William T. Sherman
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