Richard Taylor (general)
photo taken between 1860 and 1870
January 27, 1826|
present-day St. Matthews, Kentucky
|Died||April 12, 1879
New York City, New York
|Place of burial||Metairie Cemetery
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Confederate States Army|
|Years of service||1861–1865|
|Commands held||9th Louisiana Infantry
|Other work||Louisiana State Senate (1855-1861)|
Richard "Dick" Taylor (January 27, 1826 – April 12, 1879) was an American planter, politician, military historian, and Confederate general during the American Civil War. He was the son of Zachary Taylor, a general in the United States Army and later President of the United States, and his wife Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor.
Richard Taylor was born at Springfield, the family's plantation near Louisville, Kentucky. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Richard Lee Taylor, a Virginian who had served in the American Revolutionary War. Dick Taylor had three older sisters, whose given names were Ann Mackall, Sarah Knox, and Mary Elizabeth. (Two other girls died in childhood before Richard was born.) Much of his early life was spent on the American frontier, as his father was a career military officer and commanded several forts; and the family lived with him. As a youth, Richard was sent to private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts.
After starting college studies at Harvard College, Taylor completed them at Yale, where he graduated in 1845. He was a member of Skull and Bones, a social club. He received no scholastic honors, but he spent the majority of his time reading books on classical and military history. During the Mexican-American War, Taylor served as military secretary to his father.
Having to leave the war because of rheumatoid arthritis, Richard Taylor agreed to manage the family cotton plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi. In 1850, he persuaded his father (then President after being elected in 1848) to purchase "Fashion," a large sugar cane plantation in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. After his father's death in July 1850, Taylor inherited Fashion.
On February 10, 1851, Richard Taylor married Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier (d. 1875), a native of Louisiana and daughter of a wealthy French Creole matriarch Aglae Bringier. Richard and Marie had five children, two sons and three daughters: Richard, Zachary, Louise, Elizabeth, and Myrthe. Their two sons died of scarlet fever during the American Civil War, for which both parents suffered deeply.
Steadily Taylor added acreage to the plantation. He improved its sugar works (at considerable expense) and expanded its labor force to nearly 200 slaves. He became one of the wealthiest men in Louisiana for his holdings. Then the freeze of 1856 ruined his crop, forcing him into heavy debt with a large mortgage on the plantation. His mother-in-law Aglae Bringier aided Taylor and his wife at the time.
In 1855, Taylor entered local politics; he was elected to the Louisiana Senate, in which he served until 1861. First affiliated with the Whig Party, he shifted to the American (Know Nothing) Party, and finally joined the Democratic Party. He was sent to the Democratic Convention of 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina, as a state delegate and witnessed the splintering of the Democrats. While in Charleston, he tried to work out a compromise between the two Democratic factions, but his attempts failed.
When the Civil War erupted, Taylor was asked by Confederate General Braxton Bragg to assist him, as a civilian, at Pensacola, Florida. Bragg had known Taylor from before the war, and thought his knowledge of military history could help him to organize and train the Confederate forces. Taylor had been opposed to secession, but accepted the appointment. Confederate President Jefferson Davis would later comment that the soldiers being sent from Pensacola were some of the best trained soldiers in the Confederacy.
While serving there, Taylor was commissioned as a colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry, and served at the First Battle of Bull Run. The members of the 9th Louisiana voted for Taylor because they thought that with Taylor's connections to President Davis, widower of his late sister Sarah, the unit would be sent out sooner and see battle more quickly.
On October 21, 1861, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general. He commanded a Louisiana brigade under Richard S. Ewell in the Shenandoah Valley campaign and during the Seven Days. when Taylor was promoted over three more senior regimental commanders, they complained of favoritism. Davis noted Taylor's leadership capabilities and promise, and said that he had been recommended by General Stonewall Jackson. During the Valley Campaign, Jackson used Taylor's brigade as an elite strike force that set a rapid marching pace and dealt swift flanking attacks. At the Battle of Front Royal on May 23, the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, and finally at the climactic Battle of Port Republic on June 9, Taylor led the 9th Infantry in timely assaults against strong enemy positions. Afterward, he traveled with the rest of Jackson's command to the Peninsula Campaign.
His brigade consisted of various Louisiana regiments, as well as Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat's "Louisiana Tiger" battalion. The undisciplined lot was known for its hard fighting on the battlefield, but also for its hard living outside. Taylor instilled discipline into the Tigers and, although Major Wheat did not agree with his methods, Taylor won his respect.
When Taylor was promoted to the rank of major general on July 28, 1862, he was the youngest major general in the Confederacy. He was ordered to Opelousas, Louisiana, to conscript and enroll troops in the District of Western Louisiana, part of the Trans-Mississippi Department. The historian John D. Winters wrote that Taylor was to
command all troops south of the Red River and was to prevent the enemy from using the rivers and bayous in the area. Troops were to be gathered and sent to fill up the ranks of Louisiana regiments serving in Virginia. After this, Taylor was to retain as many recruits as would be needed in the state. Light batteries of artillery were to be organized to harass passing enemy vessels on the streams. ... The enemy was to be confined to as narrow an area as possible, and communications and transportation across the Mississippi River were to be kept open.
After his service as a recruit officer, Taylor was given command of the tiny District of West Louisiana. Governor Thomas Overton Moore had insistently requested a capable and dedicated officer to assemble the state's defenses and to help counter Federal forays into the state. Attacks of rheumatoid arthritis had left him crippled for days at a time and unable to command in battle. For instance, during the Seven Days battles, Taylor was unable to leave his camp and command his brigade. He missed the Battle of Gaines Mill, and Col. Isaac Seymour, commanding the brigade in his absence, was killed in action.
Before Taylor returned to Louisiana, Federal forces in the area had raided throughout much of southern Louisiana. During the spring of 1862, Union forces came upon Taylor's Fashion plantation and plundered it.
Taylor found the district almost completely devoid of troops and supplies. However, he did the best with these limited resources by securing two capable subordinates, veteran infantry commander (Jean Jacques Alexandre) Alfred Mouton, and veteran cavalry commander Thomas Green. These two commanders would prove crucial to Taylor's upcoming campaigns in the state.
During 1863, Taylor directed an effective series of clashes with Union forces over control of lower Louisiana, most notably at Battle of Fort Bisland and the Battle of Irish Bend. These clashes were fought against Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks for control of the Bayou Teche region in southern Louisiana and his ultimate objective of Port Hudson. After Banks had successfully pushed Taylor's Army of Western Louisiana aside, he continued on his way to Port Hudson via Alexandria, Louisiana. After these battles, Taylor formulated a plan to recapture Bayou Teche, along with the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and to halt the Siege of Port Hudson.
Operations to recapture New Orleans
Taylor's plan was to move down the Bayou Teche, capturing the lightly defended outposts and supply depots, and then capturing New Orleans, which would cut off Nathaniel P. Banks's army from their supplies. Although his plan met with approval from Secretary of War James A. Seddon and President Jefferson Davis, Taylor's immediate superior, Edmund Kirby Smith, felt that operations on the Louisiana banks of the Mississippi across from Vicksburg would be the best strategy to halt the Siege of Vicksburg. From Alexandria, Louisiana, Taylor marched his army up to Richmond, Louisiana. There he was joined with Confederate Maj. Gen. John G. Walker's Texas Division, who called themselves "Walker's Greyhounds". Taylor ordered Walker's division to attack Federal troops at two locations on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi. The ensuing Battle of Milliken's Bend and Battle of Young's Point failed to accomplish the Confederate objectives. After initial success at Milliken's Bend, that engagement ended in failure after Federal gunboats began shelling the Confederate positions. Young's Point ended prematurely as well.
After the battles, Taylor marched his army, minus Walker's division, down to the Bayou Teche region. From there Taylor captured Brashear City (Morgan City, Louisiana), which yielded tremendous amounts of supplies, materiel, and new weapons for his army. He moved within the outskirts of New Orleans, which was being held by a few green recruits under Brig. Gen. William H. Emory. While Taylor was encamped on the outskirts and preparing for his attack against the city, he learned that Port Hudson had fallen. He withdrew his forces all the way up Bayou Teche to avoid the risk of being captured.
Red River Campaign
In 1864, Taylor defeated Union General Nathaniel P. Banks in the Red River Campaign with a smaller force, commanding the Confederate forces in the Battle of Mansfield and the Battle of Pleasant Hill. He pursued Banks back to the Mississippi River and, for his efforts, received the thanks of the Confederate Congress. At these two battles, the two commanders whom Taylor had come to rely on: Brigadier Generals Alfred Mouton and Thomas Green, were killed while leading their men into combat. On April 8, 1864, Taylor was promoted to lieutenant general, despite having asked to be relieved because of his distrust of his superior in the campaign, General Edmund Kirby Smith.
Last days of the war
Taylor was given command of the Department of Alabama and Mississippi and commanded the defenses around the city of Mobile, Alabama. After John Bell Hood's disastrous campaign into Tennessee, Taylor was given command of the Army of Tennessee. He surrendered his department at Citronelle, Alabama, the last major Confederate force remaining east of the Mississippi, to Union General Edward Canby on May 8, 1865, and was paroled three days later.
After the war, Richard Taylor wrote his memoirs, Destruction and Reconstruction, which is one of the most credited reports of the Civil War. The memoir was published a week prior to his death in New York City in April 1879. He was active in Democratic Party politics, interceded on behalf of Jefferson Davis with President Andrew Johnson, and was a leading political opponent of Northern Reconstruction policies. He died in New York City of dropsy (edema related to congestive heart failure) on 12 April 1879 and was buried in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans.
Most of Taylor's contemporaries, subordinates, and fellow generals make mention many times of his military prowess. Nathan Bedford Forrest commented that, "He's the biggest man in the lot. If we'd had more like him, we would have licked the Yankees long ago." "Dick Taylor was a born soldier," asserted a close friend. "Probably no civilian of his time was more deeply versed in the annals of war." Stonewall Jackson and Richard S. Ewell frequently commented on their conversations with Taylor. Ewell stated that he came away from his conversations with Taylor more knowledgeable, impressed with the amount of information Taylor possessed.
Richard Taylor was the only son of Margaret Mackall Smith and President Zachary Taylor. His sister Sarah Knox Taylor was the first wife of Jefferson Davis for three months until her death in 1835. Another sister, Mary Elizabeth Bliss who had married William Wallace Smith Bliss in 1848, served as her father's White House hostess.
The Lt. General Richard Taylor Camp #1308, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Shreveport, Louisiana, is named for General Taylor. The camp was chartered in 1971.
- Millegan, Kris (2003). "The Skeleton Crew". Fleshing Out Skull and Bones: Investigations into America's Most Powerful Secret Society. Walterville, OR: Trine Day. pp. 597–690. ISBN 0-9720207-2-1. "This list is compiled from material from the Order of Skull and Bones membership books at Sterling Library, Yale University and other public records. The latest books available are the 1971 Living members and the 1973 Deceased Members books. The last year the members were published in the Yale Banner is 1969."
- Winters, p. 152
- Eicher, p. 523.
- GENERAL RICHARD TAYLOR, CSA, Historycentral.com
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-8078-2032-2.
- Prushankin, Jeffery S. A Crisis in Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8071-3088-5.
- Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War. J.S. Sanders & Co., 2001. ISBN 1-879941-21-X. First published 1879 by D. Appleton.
- Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
- Winters, John D. The Civil War in Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963. ISBN 0-8071-0834-0.
- Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879.
- New Texas Handbook biography
- Works by Richard Taylor at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Richard Taylor at Internet Archive