The official intent of the early 1864 Red River Campaign was to forcibly restore the US flag to Texas soil and thus serve as a warning to Louis-Napoleon and Maximilian, though the real motivation was the seizure of vast quantities of Southern cotton needed by New England mills and export to England at high profit. As prior to the war, neither New England mill owners, Manhattan banks nor the British, the latter being firmly responsible for planting African slavery upon American shores, experienced any moral qualms regarding cotton produced by the labor of African bondsmen. In the words of historian E. Merton Coulter: “Business morality reached a very low ebb.” The C.A. Weed Company below has been described as “either commission merchants or US Treasury agents, acting for several others.” General Banks was reportedly offered a $100,000 bribe to ensure maximum cotton bale acquisition.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Cotton Profiteering on the Red River
“Interest in upper Louisiana cotton and an expedition up the Red River was reignited [in January 1864] by the arrival of three thousand bales of cotton in [occupied] New Orleans from upriver Natchez, Mississippi. Michael Hahn, who would soon be elected governor of the Lincoln-loyal Louisiana State government, wrote the president that the arrival from Natchez “produced such a sensation as to cause a large number of persons to take the oath of allegiance in order to resume their business.”
Within a few months, a US marshal in Louisiana wrote Lincoln, “Commerce is still King. You have it in your power to reduce the price of gold, pacify the clamor for cotton from abroad, make friends for yourself and country and put into the exchequer from this department some $30-$40 million.”
On January 23, 1864, General [Nathaniel] Banks replied to a letter from General in Chief Halleck that [he] had completely accepted Halleck’s view regarding the merits of an advance up the Red River [to seize additional Southern cotton]. Earlier that month, Banks learned that two Confederate officers were willing to be bribed in order to ensure that massive quantities of cotton were not burned ahead of an advancing Union army, as otherwise required by Confederate law.
Banks was an ambitious politician with eyes on the White House. He knew that if he could deliver sizable quantities of cotton to England, powerful politicians would be influenced to look favorably on a Banks candidacy. As described by author Robert Kerby [Kirby Smith’s Confederacy, 1972]:
“[In the Trans-Mississippi theater, whenever] a river steamboat churned from Shreveport or Alexandra, Louisiana, with a cargo of cotton consigned to New Orleans, it was fairly obvious that responsible people were permitting trade across the lines. Rebel customs officials collected the duties due on smuggled shipments . . . while New York financiers openly dealt in shares of Confederate cotton.
Swarms of Northern cotton buyers, bearing licenses signed by Lincoln himself, endured the rude hospitality of Shreveport, while agents dispatched by [General] Kirby Smith . . . became accustomed to the amenities of New Orleans and Washington.
Banks gathered a total of only about four thousand cotton bales, of which twenty-five hundred went to C.A. Weed & Company in New Orleans. Earlier, Weed had been a business partner of General [Benjamin] Butler’s shady older brother, Andrew. [Also, Northern Admiral David] Porter is estimated to have collected over $90,000 before [the US Congress altered cotton seizure protocols].”
As Confederate Major-General Richard Taylor, whose army pursued Banks, remembered: “In [the enemy’s army’s] rapid flight from Grand Ecore to Monette’s Ferry, a distance of forty miles, the Federal burned nearly every house on the road. In pursuit we passed the smoking ruins of homesteads, by which stood weeping women and children.”
(Trading with the Enemy; The Covert Economy During the American Civil War, Philip Leigh, Westholme, 2014, excerpts pp. 112-113; 122)