Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Edmonds: "Yankee Autumn in Acadiana: A Narrative of the Great Texas Overland Expedition Through Southwestern Louisiana, October - December 1863"

(Reprinted with the permission of North and South Magazine, originally appeared in vol. 8 #7, pp. 85-86 , reviewed by Andrew Wagenhoffer)

[Yankee Autumn in Acadiana: A Narrative of the Great Texas Overland Expedition Through Southwestern Louisiana, October - December 1863 by David C. Edmonds. (Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 2005). Pp. 464, $24.95 (shipping included), Softcover, photos, maps, illustrations, notes, appendices. ISBN 1-887366-62-8)]

Although it was one of the largest operations conducted in the Trans-Mississippi theater during the Civil War, the 1863 Texas Overland Expedition remained an obscure subject for study until relatively recent times. Sandwiched between the more celebrated battle at Sabine Pass and the Red River campaign, the autumn expedition lacks the signature battle or the compelling figures that serve to burn events into historical memory. Beyond Richard Lowe’s brief but excellent introductory monograph, the only book length study available was David Edmonds’ exhaustive but rare and long out-of-print book Yankee Autumn in Acadiana. Fortunately, Edmonds’ work has now been reprinted in paperback and is available to a wider audience. The breadth and scope of research for Yankee Autumn, the vast majority of which is unpublished primary sources, is impressive, providing the reader with a comprehensive examination of the campaign and its dire consequences for the local civilian population.

The large federal force participating in the Texas Overland Expedition (XIII and XIX Corps, augmented by an ad-hoc cavalry division) was under the overall leadership of General Nathaniel Banks but under the operational command of General William Franklin. The opposing Confederate army under General Richard Taylor was vastly outnumbered and fought a delaying action over the bayous and prairies of southwest Louisiana. Franklin, with only vague instruction from Banks, advanced his army up the Teche region in fits and starts, fighting numerous skirmishes with Taylor’s cavalry under Tom Green. The Union army’s forward progress ended in Louisiana at Opelousas and Barre’s Landing. Still lacking clear orders from above, Franklin chose to withdraw closer to his base, effectively ending the campaign without ever seriously threatening Texas. A sharp rear guard action at Bayou Bourbeux occurred during this time and was the campaign’s only conflict large enough to be really considered a battle. The fight resulted in a clear Confederate victory, although wins in several minor skirmishes subsequently helped the Union forces to restore the balance to some degree.

Beyond harassing the civilian population with undisciplined looting and foraging, the Union expedition accomplished little if anything. It is these social and economic aspects of the campaign that comprise much of the focus of the book. The author mined vast numbers of domestic and foreign claims commission documents and numerous newspaper, church, and courthouse records in order to provide for the reader an incredibly detailed account of the campaign’s ruinous effects on the local multi-ethnic population.

The military features of the campaign are fully examined as well and are supplemented by numerous and highly detailed maps of both march routes and battlefields. My only complaint in this regard is that many of the maps are poorly copied and so shrunken as to make it difficult and sometimes impossible to read the labels. This, combined with the numerous misspellings, makes the reader wish for a stronger editing hand. Issues of presentation aside, however, this lengthy and definitive work admirably fills a historical void and is highly recommended for readers interested in Civil War Louisiana and its people and Trans-Mississippi operations in general.

1 comment:

  1. One explanation for the vague instruction from Banks is that the camapign was nothing more than a large demonstration. After the Sabine Pass expedition failed, Banks still preferred a coastal approach to Texas. But his information about the coast of Texas was sketchy, his transportation was limited, and his knowledge of the enemy incomplete. He sent a staff officer on a with a naval vessel to explore the southern coast of Texas. Meanwhile, directing Franklin to move forward would provide additional knowledge of the conditions of land routes in western Louisiana and would attract the attention of the enemy. He then organizes an amphibious move consisting of a division of the 13th Corps. It sails at the end of October and lands near the mouth of the Rio Grande in early November and during November he occupies most of the southern coast of Texas.

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