Lincoln’s commitment to black rights which culminated in the August 1862 Emancipation Proclamation after the Battle of Antietam continued into mid-March 1864. On March 13, the president suggested that both whites and some “very intelligent” Negroes should participate in an upcoming Louisiana state convention; on the issue of emancipation in Maryland, Lincoln on March 17 wrote that the end to slavery in Unionist Maryland “would aid much to end the rebellion” of the Southern states.
By Wednesday, March 16, 1864 Federal forces occupied Alexandria, Louisiana on the Red River. Their target was Shreveport, the capital of Confederate Louisiana and the headquarters for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.
The potential fall of Shreveport would render East Texas, especially Galveston and Sabine Pass, vulnerable to invasion. With both the Union army and navy involved on the Red River, a secondary force of Union troops from Little Rock, Arkansas would move south under General Frederick Steele with the intention of joining Banks’ expedition moving up the Red River.
Following his inauguration of governor of Union-held Louisiana on March 4, 1864, perhaps no governor was held in greater respect than was Michael Hahn. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives early in the war, Hahn had met and befriended Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States.
While General Nathaniel Banks was in charge of Louisiana, he favored moderation in the exercise of government; Hahn supported Banks’ views, while radical Unionists favored a less moderate, stricter rule for the state. When Hahn won election, a grateful Banks financed his inauguration.
Union General Nathaniel Banks was determined to invade East Texas via the Red River through Louisiana. Earlier in the war, Banks had seen Galveston, Texas seized but retaken by the Confederates in January 1863 and had then been repulsed at Sabine Pass in September 1863.
On March 12, 1864 the Union War Department announced major changes in the Union command structure. General Henry Halleck, at his request, was named to a subordinate Union staff position, while Ulysses Grant assumed the general in chief of all armies post.
In addition, General Sherman was assigned as overall Union commander in the West, while General J.B. McPherson replaced Sherman as head of the Department of the Tennessee. Halleck had once been Grant’s superior officer and could not administratively remain over Grant, if Grant was to lead the Union army to victory.
Ulysses Grant, the newly appointed lieutenant general in charge of all Union armies, became a supporter of the Anaconda Plan, first advocated by General Winfield Scott in early 1861. The Anaconda Plan involved striking the South simultaneously in several different areas, applying slow but steady pressure on the region, just as an Anaconda snake would do while attacking.
A day after President Lincoln hosted a reception for General Ulysses Grant in the White House, on Wednesday, March 9, 1864, in the presence of his Cabinet, Abraham Lincoln presented Ulysses Grant his congressionally designated commission as lieutenant general, which in effect made Grant commander of all Union armies.
On Tuesday, March 8, 1864 in a White House ceremony cheers and handclaps erupted as President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant met for the first time. Grant, in his disheveled general’s uniform, stood awkwardly by a sofa in the East Room of the White House as President Lincoln entered the room.
Both men appeared somewhat embarrassed by the solemnness of the occasion, and each spoke little during the reception. However, Lincoln and Grant would soon forge a strong, working relationship which would continue until Lincoln’s death in April 1865.
Jefferson Davis in a March 7, 1864 letter to General James Longstreet at Greeneville, Tennessee wrote, “It is needless to point out to you the value of a successful movement into Tennessee and Kentucky, and the importance—I may say necessity—of our taking the initiative.”
Davis was right in his desire for his generals to seek victories against the Union armies. However, he did not fully understand at the time that the high water mark of Confederate military action was in the past rather than in the present or future.
While the U.S. government acted optimistically to finish its conflict with the Confederacy, by March 1864 the Confederate government fully understood the precarious state of the southern war effort. On March 5, 1864 the Davis government ordered every Confederate ship to allocate one half of its freight capacity to government shipments.