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Richard Taylor (general)

Richard Taylor (January 27 1826April 12 1879) was a Confederate general in the American Civil War. He was the son of United States President Zachary Taylor and First Lady Margaret Taylor.

He was the descendant of Edward III of England.

Early life

Richard Taylor was born at the "Springfield" family estate near Louisville, Kentucky. The estate was named for Taylor's grandfather, a Virginian who had served in the American Revolution. Much of his early life was spent on the American frontier with his father Zachary, a U.S. Army officer. As a young man, he attended private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts. Although starting his college studies at Harvard University, he graduated from Yale in 1845. He received no scholastic honors, but spent the majority of his time reading books on classical and military history. During the Mexican-American War, Taylor served as the military secretary to his father.

His father sent Taylor away during the war because of his rheumatoid arthritis. He agreed to manage the family cotton plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi, and, in 1850, he persuaded his father (now President Taylor by virtue of his election in 1848) to purchase Fashion, a large sugar plantation in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.

On February 10 1851, Richard Taylor married Louise Marie Myrthe Bringier (d. 1875), a native of Louisiana, daughter of a wealthy French creole matriarch Aglae Bringier, who would soon help them out financially after the freeze of 1856. Taylor and Marie Bringier would go on to have five children, two sons and three daughters; Richard, Zachary, Louise, Elizbeth, and Myrthe. His two sons, Richard and Zachary, both died during the war after contracting scarlet fever, the loss of which hurt the elder Richard Taylor deeply.

After Zachary Taylor's untimely death in July 1850, Taylor inherited Fashion. Steadily he increased its area, improved its sugar works (at considerable expense), and expanded its labor force to nearly 200 slaves, making him one of the richest men in Louisiana. But the freeze of 1856 ruined his crop, forcing him into heavy debt with a large mortgage on the plantation.

Politics

In 1855, entered local politics when he was elected to the Louisiana Senate, in which he served until 1861. He was first affiliated with the Whig Party, then the American (Know Nothing) Party, and then finally the Democratic Party. He was sent to the Democratic Convention in Charleston, South Carolina as a delegate from Louisiana and witnessed the splintering of the Democrats. While in Charleston, he tried to make a compromise between the two Democratic fractions, but his attempts ultimately failed.

Civil War

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, when the two had become friends. Bragg also was aware of Taylors knowledge of military history and was eager to give him a job to help him organize and train the Confederate forces that were being sent there. Even though Taylor had been opposed to secession, he accepted. Confederate President Jefferson Davis would later comment that the soldiers being sent from Pensacola were some of the best trained soldiers in the Confederacy. It was while he was serving there that Taylor was appointed 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 his connections with his brother-in-law Jefferson Davis, that the unit would be sent out sooner and see battle more quickly.

On October 21 1861, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a Louisiana brigade under Richard S. Ewell in the Shenandoah Valley campaign and during the Seven Days. Taylor was promoted over three more senior regimental commanders, and those commanders immediately thought that favoritism was involved because of Taylor's relationship with Jefferson Davis. Instead, Davis cited Taylor's leadership capabilities and the promise he showed, and that he was recommended for the promotion by General Jackson himself. During the Valley Campaign, Jackson used Taylor's brigade as an elite strike force that set a crippling marching pace and dealt swift flanking attacks. At the Battle of Front Royal on May 23, again at the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, and finally at the climactic Battle of Port Republic on June 9, he led the Louisianans in timely assaults against strong enemy positions.

His brigade consisted of various Louisiana regiments as well as Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheats "Louisiana Tiger" battalion. The assortment was an undisciplined lot that was known for its hard-fighting on the battlefield, but also for its hard-living outside of the battlefield. Taylor instilled discipline into the Tigers and although Major Wheat did not agree with how he did so, he nonetheless respected Taylor.

Taylor was promoted to the rank of major general on July 28 1862, the youngest major general in the Confederacy at the time, and after a brief assignment as a recruiting officer in Louisiana, he was given command of the tiny District of West Louisiana. He was sent to Louisiana after Governor Thomas O. Moore had insistently requested a capable and dedicated officer to assemble the state's defenses and to help counter Federal forays into the state. Another reason for sending Taylor to Louisiana was attacks of rheumatoid arthritis which would leave him crippled for days at a time. During the Seven Days, Taylor was so incapacitated that he was unable to leave his camp and command his brigade.

Before Taylor returned to Louisiana, Federal forces in the area had their way with much of southern Louisiana. During the spring of 1862, Union forces came upon Taylor's plantation, called Fashion, and plundered it.

A Vermont soldier wrote down all that transpired:

Taylor enjoyed the appointment, and the fact that he was to return to Louisiana, but 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 Major General Nathaniel P. Banks for control of the Bayou Teche region in southern Louisiana and his ultimate objective of Siege 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 for recaptured Bayou Teche, along with the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and also 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 then moved within the outskirts of New Orleans, which was only 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 it was then that he received word that Port Hudson had fallen. He then withdrew his forces all the way back up Bayou Teche to avoid the risk of being captured.

Red River Campaign

In 1864, Taylor humiliated Union General Nathaniel P. Banks by defeating him 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 then pursued Banks back to the Mississippi River and for his efforts received the Thanks of the Confederate Congress. It was at these two battles that the two commanders Taylor had come to trust, respect, and rely on during his tenure in Louisiana, 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 of 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, the last Confederate force remaining east of the Mississippi, to Union General Edward Canby on May 8 1865, and was paroled five days later.

Postbellum life

After the war, Richard Taylor wrote his memoirs, Destruction and Reconstruction, which is one of the most credited reports of the Civil War. 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 and is 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 and impressed with the amount of information Taylor possessed.

Family

Richard Taylor was the only son of Margaret Mackall Smith and future President Zachary Taylor. His sister Sarah Knox Taylor was the first wife of Jefferson Davis for three months in 1835. His other sister, Mary Elizabeth Bliss, who had married William Wallace Smith Bliss in 1848, served as her father's White House hostess.

Although Richard chose to serve the Confederacy, his uncle, Joseph Pannell Taylor, served on the opposite side as a Brigadier-General in the Union Army.

References

  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Parrish, T. Michael, Richard Taylor, Soldier Prince of Dixie, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
  • Prushankin, Jeffery S., A Crisis in Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, 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.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.

Notes

External links

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