April 9, 1864
Few Union commanders endured a defeat as monumental as the one Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was handed by Confederate Gen. Richard Taylor at Sabine Crossroads, La., on April 8, 1864. Banks had more men on the field, but suffered twice as many casualties as the Rebels and lost 20 cannon and 200 wagons of food and supplies.
At 10:00 P.M. Banks started his tired men marching the 14 miles to Pleasant Hill, where Gen. Andrew J. Smith’s two veteran Union divisions waited to offer support. An observer described the night march, “men without hats or coats, men without guns or accoutrements, cavalrymen without horses and artillerymen without cannon, wounded men bleeding and crying at every step, men begrimed with smoke and powder, all in a state of fear and frenzy.”
When Taylor found the next morning that Banks had withdrawn from his front, he immediately sent his command forward in pursuit and arrived at Pleasant Hill shortly after noon. After a two-hour rest, the Confederate soldiers began their deployment, and at about 5:00 they came screaming out of the woods in a devastating attack on the right of the Union line. The attack overwhelmed the line and uncovered the center, which also began to give way. Rebel units were making their way into the Union rear, and Banks was facing another disastrous defeat, when Union Gen. A.J. Smith’s soldiers charged from their hiding place in the woods into the flank of the Rebel assault.
Surprised by the attack and caught by the withering sheets of Union fire, the Rebels were halted and then gave way before the onslaught. Adjoining units resisted Smith’s assault, but gradually each regiment gave up the contest and fled to the rear. The Southern victory had turned into a Southern rout. By dark, Taylor had taken up a new line two miles in the rear. “God bless you, general,” a grateful Banks said to Smith. “You have saved the army.” Despite the victory, Banks abandoned his dead and wounded on the battlefield and resumed his retreat.
Fascinating Fact: Each side had around 12,000 men on the field. The Confederates suffered 1,626 casualties at Pleasant Hill and the federals 1,369.