Richard Taylor was born January 27, 1826 at the family plantation near Louisville, Kentucky. Richard was named after his paternal grandfather, Richard Lee Taylor, a Virginian who had served in the American Revolution.
Much of Richard’s early life was spent on the American frontier, as his father Zachary was a career military officer. As a youth, Richard was sent to private schools in Kentucky and Massachusetts.
Richard began college studies at Harvard College, then switched to Yale, where he graduated in 1845. At Yale, Richard became a member of Skull and Bones, an elite social club.
During the Mexican-American War, Richard served as a military secretary to his father.
When Richard came down with rheumatoid arthritis, he left his father and agreed to manage the family cotton plantation in Mississippi.
In 1848, Richard’s father Zachary Taylor was elected President of the United States.
In 1850, Richard persuaded his father to purchase a large sugar cane plantation in Louisiana.
When his father, President Taylor died July 9, of 1850, Richard inherited the family sugar plantation named “Fashion.”
In 1851, Richard married into the family of a wealthy French Creole matriarch. Richard bought up more land for the plantation, expanded his labor force to nearly 200 slaves and became one of the wealthiest men in Louisiana.
In 1855, Richard Taylor followed in his fathers footsteps by entering local politics; he served in the Louisiana Senate until 1861.
Richard was first affiliated with the Whig Party, then shifted to the American (Know Nothing) Party, and finally joined the Democratic Party.
When the Civil War erupted, Richard 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, and thought his knowledge of military history could help him to organize and train Confederate forces. Richard had been opposed to secession, but accepted the appointment.
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.
While serving in Florida, Richard was commissioned as colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry, and fought at the First Battle of Bull Run.
On October 21, 1861, Richard Taylor was promoted to brigadier general.
When Richard Taylor was promoted to the rank of major general on July 28, 1862, he was the youngest major general in the Confederacy.
Richard was then ordered to Opelousas, Louisiana, to conscript and enroll troops in the District of Western Louisiana, part of the Trans-Mississippi Department.
Historian John D. Winters wrote that Richard 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.”
During the spring of 1862, Union forces had came upon the Taylor family sugar plantation ‘Fashion’ and plundered it.
Richard Taylor found Louisiana almost completely devoid of troops and supplies. However, he did the best he could with 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 Richard Taylor’s upcoming campaigns in the state of Louisiana.
During 1863, Richard 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 Richard Taylor’s Army of Western Louisiana aside, he continued on his way to Port Hudson via Alexandria, Louisiana.
After these battles, Richard 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, capturing the Union’s lightly defended outposts and supply depots, and then capturing New Orleans, which would cut off Nathaniel P. Banks’s army from their supplies.
Although Richard’s 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.
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.
Richard then 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 of New Orleans and preparing for his attack against the city, he learned that Port Hudson had fallen.
Richard withdrew his forces all the way up Bayou Teche to avoid the risk of being captured.
Red River Campaign
In 1864, Richard 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.
Taylor 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, Richard 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 Civil War
Richard Taylor was given command of the Department of Alabama and Mississippi and commanded the defenses around the city of Mobile, Alabama.
After John Bell Hood’s disastrous campaign into Tennessee, Taylor was also given command of the Army of Tennessee.
Richard Taylor surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama, the last major Confederate force remaining east of the Mississippi, to Union General Edward Canby on May 8, 1865.
Richard Taylor was paroled three days later.
After the war, Richard Taylor wrote his memoirs, Destruction and Reconstruction, which is one of the most credited reports of the Civil War.
Richard 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.
Richard Taylor died April 12, 1879 in New York City and is buried in Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans.
Now WE know em
- This Confederate brigadier general commanded his “Army of Liberation” at the Battle of Belmont November 7, 1861 against a superior force commanded by Ulysses S. Grant for what is considered a Confederate victory. Now WE know em (nowweknowem.com)
- The first Confederate General captured during the American Civil War was born today in 1817. Now WE know em (carl-leonard.com)