Gen. Banks’ Red River Campaign

The Yankees occupied New Orleans and its surrounding environs from April, 1862 until the end of the Civil War. In 1863, Gen. Nathaniel Banks left New Orleans to start an advance toward Shreveport. He followed the Red River, then a busy inland commercial waterway. He was defeated and had to retreat. On the way back, his troops burned and looted their way back south. They burned literally every farm house and plantation between Shreveport and Alexandria, Louisiana. Alexandria, about midway between Baton Rouge and Shreveport was then a prosperous river town. The Unionists appeared to take particular delight in firing the town.

Of course, Gen. Banks issued orders that no looting or burning would occur,. But the orders were not enforced. As one Union soldier would write years later, “We were like the Israelites of old, accompanied by a cloud [of smoke] by day, and a pillar of fire by night.” One resident of Alexandria watched as the invaders poured in, helpless to stop them. They forced their way into every store, every house on Front street. The cases, windows, iron chests, shelves, and more were broken into and smashed. Officers and enlisted alike participated in the melee, grabbing whatever they could carry. The resident, E.R. Blossat watched, helpless to intervene, as two Federal privates grabbed the silver watch from his black servant. He then saw two Marines and a naval officer enter the Second Street home of Mrs. Caleb Taylor, grab the clock off her mantle, wrap it in her quilt and then dart out the door. Two other marines plundered the Episcopal church.

Still a Rebel

A little boy of four years old, son of a Confederate captain, loudly proclaimed before a crowd of Yankees that he was a rebel. One of the soldiers then wrapped a rope around his neck and drew him up, choking the boy and asked if he was still a rebel. Gasping for breath, the toddler insisted he was indeed still a rebel. He was again drawn up. Some by-standers then insisted the soldier release the boy.

The Catholic church, St. Francis Xavier, it is said, was almost burned during this infamous campaign. It was the only river front building that was not burned. The story is that the priest, Father J.P. Bellier, saw the Federals approaching his church to set it afire. Disguising his voice to impersonate Gen. Banks, he ordered that the church be spared. The soldiers then left the church alone. See waymarking post here.

Twenty two blocks of the river port were burned. Yes, the Federal troops violated the rules of war as they existed then and now.

See history of Alexandria here.


Walter Brian Cisco, War Crimes against Southern Civilians (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publ. 2016), p. 96.

The Irish as Troublesome Troops

The Irish were often seen as good soldiers, but as not the best disciplined soldiers. After the rebellion of the 1640’s ended in defeat for the Irish and then after the Williamite wars of the 1690’s again ended in defeat for the Irish, a great many emigrated to European countries. Many Irish served in the armies of Catholic countries, including Spain, France and Austria. In Spain and in France, these Irish soldiers became known as the “Irish Brigade.” In the 18th century, a regiment generally included about 1,000 soldiers. The regiment was commanded by a colonel. A brigade would include two or more regiments.

Before the wars in the 1600’s, the Dillon family owned tens of thousands of acres in County Meath and Roscommon. The Dillon family attained considerable fame in the French military. But, they were forced out of their country like thousands of other Irish. They contributed over 70 family members to the French army. Serving in the French army, these exiled Irish became known as the “Wild Geese.”

Like many Irish descendants, the cause of Irish freedom was always close to the heart of the Dillons. General Arthur Dillon spoke in 1792 to a meeting in Paris about the enslaved condition of the Irish. He said he hoped the time would come soon when he could devote his sword to the service of his own home, one day. He told the story how King Louis had once complained to him that of all his troops, the Irish gave him the most trouble. Arthur Dillon replied, “the enemy make the same complaint, Your Majesty.”

The Louisiana Sixth Regiment

So, it is perhaps not surprising that in the Louisiana Sixth Regiment, the most Irish of the many Confederate regiments, the new general, Richard Taylor felt it necessary to execute two Irishmen. Two of their comrades had been placed in the stockade. One night, Michael O’Brien and Dennis Corkeran, got drunk and tried to break out their fellow soldiers. Gen. Taylor, even though a new commander, decreed they must be executed. They were the first executions in the Army of Northern Virginia. The regiment was drawn up in a square and all were required to watch. They were shot by a firing squad. Half the members of the firing squad had blanks, so no one would know if they shot killed their comrade. One soldier recorded

“They fired, the two poor men fell down dead. They were picked up

and put in there [sic] coffin and buried at once. Most every fellow that was

standing around cride.”

The punishment struck many as an over-reaction to drunken behavior. One Northern newspaper said the incident showed the prejudice held by Confederate officers toward the Irish-born soldiers. As time would show, whatever bias Gen. Taylor may have held at the outset of the war all changed by the end of the war.


Stephen McGarry, Irish Brigades Abroad, (History Press, Ireland 2013), p. 216

James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers, (DaCapo Press 1998), p. 14-15.

The Beast Butler of the Shenandoah Valley

Benjamin “Beast’ Butler was not the only Union commander who imposed harsh discipline on Southern civilians beneath his boot. Robert Huston Milroy was the Southerner’s worst nightmare. His brand of abolitionism was fanatical. Certainly, today, we can appreciate his zeal for freeing persons who had long been enslaved. Burt, his zeal also marked him as an extremist in his time period. Milroy, raised in Indiana, graduated from Norwich Military Academy in Vermont. The young Robert Milroy’s earnest desire was to attend West Point. But, his farther would not support his goal. Even though the Milroys had for two generations been involved in the military, they had served in volunteer or militia units. Robert’s father may have had an aversion to a professional military. Norwich University still exists today as a military college. [1]

Robert Milroy served in the Mexican war without particular distinction. Although, even at this early stage, he demonstrated a zeal for combat and a strong irreverence toward authority. After the Mexican war, he returned home to Indiana, practiced law, became a judge and became an ardent abolitionist. [2]

“Known” Confederate Sympathizers

In early 1861, Milroy started recruiting a regiment. He was gung-ho for the war from the very start. By 1862, he was serving under Gen. McClellan, In 1862, he was now a Brig-General overseeing the war in West Virginia. In that new state, the Southern partisans were very active. It was a closely divided state. Unable to catch the partisans, Milroy devised a new strategy. Focusing on the “known” Confederate sympathizers. He decided that Union supporters who suffered from the partisan raids would present a bill for the value of lost property. Local commanders would then apply that bill to “known” Confederate supporters in their area. If the Confederate supporter failed to pay, the sympathizer’s house would be burned and the Confederate supporter shot. Thus, one West Virginian had to pay $1,000. Another 82 year old German immigrant – who was crippled and infirm – had to pay $285. Brig-Gen. Milroy’s scheme order produced some $6,000 within just a few months.

So, the Virginia government sent a protest through Gen. Robert Lee to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Halleck found Milroy’s order to violate the rules of war and that Milroy lacked the authority for such measures. Thus began long antagonism between Brig-Gen.Milroy and Halleck. Milroy had little patience for military etiquette or for West Point officers. [3]

Brig.-Gen. Milroy was promoted to Maj.-Gen. and to command of the Second Division, Eighth Army Corps headquartered in Winchester, Virginia. It has been estimated that the town of Winchester changed hands some 70 times during the war. But, for many months in 1863, it was held by one ardent abolitionist, Maj.-Gen. Robert Milroy. The Emancipation Proclamation had just been issued in January, 1863. But, it had not yet been enforced in Winchester. Milroy rectified that oversight immediately. Even on the road to Winchester on Jan. 1, 1863, he would excitedly proclaim to the marching troops that today was “Emancipation Day, when all slaves will be made free.” [4]


But, like any fanatic, he did more than just enforce this critical Presidential decree. Milroy also ruled the city with an iron fist. As he said to his wife, his will was “absolute law” in Winchester. He required Winchester citizens to swear a loyalty oath if they wished to buy supplies from the Union Army sutlers. They had to swear an oath if they simply needed a pass with which to leave town. He exiled Winchester families for violating his rules. He exiled folks who provided goods or information to Confederate forces. And, he also exiled folks who simply voiced support for the Confederate forces in which their sons, fathers and neighbors served. He exiled folks who wore a ribbon for the deceased Stonewall Jackson in May, 1863. Stonewall was from the nearby town of Lexington and was much mourned throughout the Shenandoah Valley. But, Milroy did not care. He exiled “scores” of families. [5]

In practical terms, exile meant the Union soldiers would transport a Winchester family with little notice in a wagon to some place 20 miles south of town. The family would then be deposited by the side of the road, sometimes in bad weather.

Maj.-Gen. Milroy exiled the Logan family at the corner of Braddock and Picaddilly streets because they harassed a “Jessie Scout” – a Union soldier dressed as a Confederate. But, the Winchester residents say he exiled the Logans mainly because his wife wanted their house. He saw himself as fulfilling the role of an Old Testament prophet ending slavery and he would brook no opposition. [6]

The Rules of War

Serving under Maj.-Gen. Milroy was Brig.-Gen. Gustave P. Cluseret. French-born, Cluseret objected to “fighting for Negroes.” But, he also objected to arresting women. And he believed that it violated the rules of war to refuse to feed prisoners – in which belief he was correct. And, he believed that maintaining some accommodation with the locals would assist in the Federal occupation. Milroy reversed Cluseret’s more accommodating policies. Cluseret would eventually resign. While, at the same time, Milroy was seeking leave to relieve Cluseret. [7]

In June, 1863, one Confederate Corps advanced upon Winchester. Gen. Halleck told Milroy to withdraw. But, Maj.-Gen. Milroy persuaded his superiors that he had built fortifications which would withstand any invasion. Milroy, ever sure of himself, said it was not possible for Lee to have moved so many troops to Winchester in such a short time. But, on June 13, a key defense was seized by Dick Ewell’s troops. And, on June 14, 1863, Milroy finally realized he was virtually surrounded by Gen. Jubal Early. He ordered an evacuation back to Harper’s Ferry. Leaving behind artillery and wagons, they started moving that night. But, his forces were ambushed during the retreat by Confederate forces. The surprise was complete. Milroy, ever brave in combat, rushed to the scene of the worst fighting and held his men together. Still, some 3,300 Union soldiers were captured. His army essentially ceased to exist. [8]

Milroy was relieved of command and arrested. It was not entirely his blunder. He was later found not guilty of malfeasance. And, he even obtained a new command later in the war. But, through that long process, Gen. Halleck for one always viewed him as an inferior officer – starting with those reckless orders in West Virginia.


[1] Cary C. Collins, “Grey Eagle: Major General Robert Huston Milroy and the Civil War,” Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 90, No. 1 (March 1994), p. 51-52.

[2] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 53-55.

[3] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 60-63.

[4] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 64; Jonathan A. Noyalas, Slavery and Freedom in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War Era (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2021), p. 88.

[5] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 64; Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District website, at, accessed Jan. 8, 2023; National Park Service website at, accessed Jan. 8, 2023.

[6] Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District website, accessed Jan. 8, 2023.

[7] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 65.

[8] Collins, “Grey Eagle,” p. 66-67.

The Final Goodbye

It was a scene played out all across the Northern and Southern United States during the Civil War: saying goodbye. Clara Solomon wrote a diary during the Civil War from her home in New Orleans. As I have discussed elsewhere, she admired a famous soldier, Maj. Roberdeau Wheat. See that post here. Maj. Wheat was a friend of her parents. Another close friend of the family was Capt. Obed Miller. Miller and Wheat both served in Wheat’s Battalion, known for hard-fighting and for wild conduct between battles. Capt. Miller was wounded in the first Battle of Manassas. In October, 1861, he came home to New Orleans, probably to recover.

From a mutual friend, the seventeen year old had heard that Capt. Miller and his wife were offended that they had seen Clara on the street and Clara ignored them. So, when Capt. Miller came to the Solomon home on Rampart, Clara thought he might be angry with her. But, no, he appeared “astonished” when she mentioned this. He assured her that he and his wife were not upset with the young schoolgirl. She recorded that Obed Miller was as handsome as ever. She often remarked on a person’s looks. He spoke of his impending departure to return to the war. He mentioned they would probably never see one another again. He asked her to sometimes think of him.

The Gift

Clara knew Cap. Miller was coming. She had considered what to give him. Knowing he had lost his little diary book, she consulted with her mother and asked if she could give him her diary book. Diary books were very important to Clara. She regularly exhausted her supply of paper and would yearn for additional paper. For the young Clara, this was no small gift.

Ma said yes. Clara presented the book, and expressed only the wish that he might at times write her name on the book in “sweet remembrance.” The captain thanked her. He said he would forever (emphasis Clara’s) keep it. He asked Clara to tell her sister, Alice that he could not see her that afternoon, but he would return in the evening. After some 45 minutes, he said he had to go.

“Oh . .  I felt so so sad, as I gazed upon him and thought that in all probability we would never meet again (emphasis Clara’s).” She bade her final good bye. As she gazed upon that “proud, manly form, an earnest prayer ascended from my soul that a Yankee bullet would never pierce his noble, generous heart (emphasis Clara’s).” The captain took her hand, “Clara, I have one favor which I wish you to grant. Think of me sometimes with kindness.” She replied, simply, yes.

Capt. Miller released her hand as he said, “God be with you.” In a moment, he was gone. Capt. Miller would later be killed in Virginia in 1863.

When I deployed to Iraq, I did say goodbye to close family friends. I did not do it as well as Capt. Miller. A Southern historian, whose name escapes me, once commented that the soldiers in the Civil War seem to have been so much more gallant than the heroes of WW I or WW II. He suggested that may have been because in the Civil War, especially in the South, the war was so close. The Confederate soldiers went to great lengths to protect the home folks from the dangers and terrors of the war. In truth, the Southern men essentially failed the home folks. They could not protect their homes from the predatory Union soldiers. Perhaps, the best the men could do was to pretend things would work out. And, the women may have pretended in turn that they believed their men.


Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 217.