Richard Taylor (general)
photo taken between 1860 and 1870
January 27, 1826|
(now St. Matthews, Kentucky)
|Died||April 12, 1879
New York City, New York
|Buried at||Metairie Cemetery
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
|Service/branch||Confederate States Army|
|Years of service||1861–1865|
|Rank||Lieutenant General (CSA)|
|Commands held||9th Louisiana Infantry
|Other work||Louisiana State Senate (1855-1861)|
Richard Scott "Dick" Taylor (January 27, 1826 – April 12, 1879) was an American planter, politician, military historian, and Confederate general. Following the outbreak of the American Civil War, Taylor joined the Confederate States Army, serving first as a brigade commander in Virginia, and later as an army commander in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. He was the only son of Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States.
Richard Taylor was born at Springfield, the family's plantation near Louisville, Kentucky to Zachary Taylor, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army at the time, and Margaret Mackall Smith Taylor. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Richard Lee Taylor, a Virginian who had served in the American Revolutionary War. Richard Taylor, nicknamed Dick, had three older sisters, whose given names were Ann Mackall, Sarah Knox, and Mary Elizabeth; two other siblings 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 frontier forts, and the family followed 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, Yale's social club. He received no scholastic honors, as he spent the majority of his time reading books on classical and military history. In the beginning of the Mexican-American War, Taylor visited his father at the Mexican town of Matamoros in July 1846; there are reports that for some time he served as his voluntary aide-de-camp.
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 sudden death in July 1850, Taylor inherited it.
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. Steadily Taylor added acreage to the plantation and 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 financially aided Taylor and his wife.
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 aide-de-camp without pay, 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.
While training recruits, Taylor received news that he was commissioned as a colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry. The members of the 9th Louisiana voted for Taylor because they thought that with Taylor's connections to President Davis, who was widower of his late sister Sarah, the unit would be sent out sooner and see battle more quickly. On July 20, he arrived in Richmond with his regiment and received orders from LeRoy Pope Walker, Confederate States Secretary of War, to board the train and move to Manassas to take part in the First Battle of Bull Run; the 9th Louisiana arrived to Manassas Junction only hours after the battle was won by the Confederacy.
On October 21, 1861, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general. Now 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 wrote them a letter which 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 "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, overcoming 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. The Congress of the Confederate States issued a joint resolution, which officially thanked Taylor and his soldiers for their military service during Red River Campaign.
Last days of the war
Taylor was given command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. 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 4, 1865, and was paroled three days later. The rest of his company was paroled on May 12, 1865 in Gainesville, Alabama.
Taylor did not have any military experience until the Civil War broke out. However, most of Taylor's contemporaries, subordinates, and superiours mentioned many times of his military prowess as he proved himself capable both in the field and in departmental command. Nathan Bedford Forrest commented about Taylor, "He's the biggest man in the lot. If we'd had more like him, we would have licked the Yankees long ago." Charles Erasmus Fenner, an officer in the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department and post-war Louisiana Supreme Court justice, asserted that, "Dick Taylor was a born soldier. Probably no civilian of his time was more deeply versed in the annals of war, including the achievements and personal characteristics of all the great captains, the details and philosophies of their campaigns, and their strategic theories and practice.":125 Major General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Major General Richard S. Ewell frequently commented on their conversations with Taylor about military history, strategy and tactics. In particular, Ewell stated that he came away from his conversations with Taylor more knowledgeable, impressed with the amount of information Taylor possessed. It was Stonewall Jackson who recommended to promote Taylor to major general and put him in command of Confederate forces in western Louisiana. There were only three lieutenant generals in the Confederacy who did not graduate from West Point, and Taylor became one of them.
As for Taylor himself, he modestly attributed his progress as commanding officer during the war to two habits:
I early adopted two customs, and adhered to them throughout the war. The first was to examine at every halt the adjacent roads and paths, their direction and condition; distances of nearest towns and cross-roads; the country, its capacity to furnish supplies, as well as general topography, etc., all of which was embodied in a rude sketch, with notes to impress it on memory. The second was to imagine while on the march an enemy before me to be attacked, or to be received in my position, and make the necessary dispositions for either contingency. My imaginary manoeuvres were sad blunders, but I corrected them by experience drawn from actual battles, and can safely affirm that such slight success as I had in command was due to these customs. 
War resulted in destruction of Taylor' home and property including much prized library. He moved his family to New Orleans at the end of war and lived there until his wife died in 1875. After that, he relocated with his three daughters to Winchester, Virginia making travels to Washington, D.C. and New York City. He worked on his memoir, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War, which is one of the most credited reports of the Civil War. The book was published in April 1879. The historian T. Michael Parrish wrote that in his book, "Taylor finally gave enhanced dignity to defeat and surrender.":501 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 in the house of his friend and political ally Samuel L. M. Barlow I of dropsy (edema related to congestive heart failure) on 12 April 1879 and was buried in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans.
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. Although Taylor chose to serve the Confederacy, his uncle, Joseph Pannell Taylor, served on the opposite side as a Brigadier-General in the Union Army.
Richard and Marie Taylor had five children, two sons and three daughters: Richard, Zachary, Louise, Elizabeth, and Myrthe. Their two sons died of scarlet fever during the War, for which both parents suffered deeply.
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.
The former Louisiana State Senator Jackson B. Davis of Shreveport is the author of a Taylor's biography. Complete biography was written by T. Michael Parrish, Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie (1992).
- 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.
- Works by Richard Taylor at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Richard Taylor at Internet Archive
- 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."
- Hughes, Nathaniel C. Yale's Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008, p. 205-206.
- T. Michael Parrish. Taylor, Richard, American National Biography Online, February 2000. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
- Winters, John D. The Civil War in Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, p. 152.
- Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 7 vols. Washington, D. C., 1904-1905, Volume IV, p. 49.
- Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001, p. 523.
- Terry L. Jones. Gen. Taylor said a 'born soldier': Led Southern resistance in South Louisiana
- Dufour, Charles L. Nine Men in Gray. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 2015.
- Parrish, T. M. Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
- Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. General Richard Taylor as a military Commander, Louisiana History, Volume XXIII, No. 1, Winter 1982, pp. 35-47.
- Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War. J.S. Sanders & Co., 2001. pp. 41-42.
- General Richard Taylor, CSA, Historycentral.com
- The Louisiana Tiger (Monthly Newsletter of the Lt Gen. Richard Taylor Camp #1308), Volume 16, Issue 1, January 2016.
- Davis, Jackson Beauregard. The Life of Richard Taylor. Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 24 (January 1941), pp. 49-126.
- 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.
- 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.