Army living off the land

Sep 2012
Tarkington, Texas
In the Red River Campaign in 1864, the Yankee Army lived off the land. General Taylor, in charge of the Rebel Army, set up forage stations along the way up the Red River. The Yankees had a problem getting enough forage. Food was not a problem as the Red River has great farmlands. A second problem is General Butler had a choice of roads to get to Shreveport. He chose the road through Mansfield, which was mostly woods and had few farms. There was also a shortage of water along this road for the size of the Yankee Army (over 10,000 or so). Another problem was Banks sent many of his supply wagons forward, behind his Cavalry Division. When the battle began, the Yankee Infantry had to sprint forward through abandoned supply wagons and woods in temperatures of 100 degrees. The Yankees ran until they met Troops under General Smith near Pleasant Hill. Banks was able to earn a draw here, but Banks was stuck up a river in North Louisiana and was in danger of being trapped as the river was falling.

The problem is Banks' army stripped the farms he went through on his march up the river! By the time he neared Alexandria, the river was so low they had to jettison all the loot they had seized and the cannon! Banks' army retreated to the Mississippi and took ship away. If you don't plan carefully, you run the risk of losing your army!



Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
They all give some interesting information, but there is not much discussion of the details of foraging on the march. Most surviving ancient sources show that able commanders like Caesar and Alexander always tried to send ahead to arrange for food and forage to be gathered before their armies marched thru a district, rather than relying exclusively on foraging.
It's something that I've been giving a bit of thought to.* In theory, one should be able to create a simple model in a region in which palynological data can be combined with modern satellite ground cover data. A GIS can then be used to model movement (and foraging) possibilities within a hypothetical marching route. It's not a perfect solution, but then again Engels wrote his book using WWI British field army manuals and then plugged in as much data from ancient sources as he could and his estimate has basically become the gold standard for pre-modern logistics in the Mediterranean for the last half century.

*I've started, and most of the data has been collected in the process of writing my dissertation. But articles take a long time to prepare, and it's in line behind a few other pieces.
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