@Book{ kerby1972,
	author = {Robert L. Kerby},
	title = {Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans-{M}ississippi South, 1863--1865},
	address = {New York},
	publisher = {Columbia University Press},
	year = 1972,

Notes taken here are from the University of Alabama Press paperback reprint, published in 1991.

Chapter 1: The Trans-Mississippi South

After an opening section detailing census data about the Trans-Mississipi Department, Kerby notes that “the extent of the Department’s actual authority” over the territory it claimed was minimal by 1863:

In 1861 and 1862 the war west of the Mississippi had gone poorly for the Confederacy. By the time General Kirby Smith arrived in the region, the Confederate “Territory of Arizona” had been lost to the enemy; the Confederate state of Missouri consisted of an exiled civil government, an exiled army, some refugees, some guerillas, and a star on the rebel flag; most of the Cherokee Nation and most of Arkansas above the Arkansas River were no-man’s-lands; Confederate West Louisiana was little more than a single crowded river valley; and only Texas, less the Llano Estacado (one-third of the state) and a substantial chunk around Franklin, bore much resemblance to a viable social organism (12).

He notes, however, that after April 1863, the Texas coastline was relatively secure from Union attack thanks to Magruder’s efforts at fortifying the cost with Confederate Slave Impressment. In contrast, though “the Louisiana coastline was full of bluecoats” (20), General Richard Taylor’s troops were meager and dispersed, and the network of easily navigable bayous and rivers could allow the Union navy to send boats deep into the sugar parishes. As evidence of the demoralization in West Louisiana, Kerby mentions that “many frightened planters began sending their slaves to Texas, or even to the imagined security of the Federal lines. This exodus of slaves from the Gulf and Mississippi River parishes left millions of dollars’ worth of sugar cane and cotton untended” (23).

Remainder of chapters surveys the vulnerability of other Confederate lines in the department at the time of Smith’s arrival in March 1863, noting that little except for the activities of Missouri irregulars kept the Union army from sweeping through Arkansas and on into Texas.

Chapter 2: The Home Front, 1861–1863

Kerby takes an internalist position on the Confederacy’s collapse, focusing on the inability of the home front to support military operations; “in a very real sense, the Confederacy was an eighteenth-century country trying to support a nineteenth-century army in an effort to win the first twentieth-century war” (57).

Signs of internal weakness:

  • the epidemic of draft dodging and desertion in the Trans-Mississippi Department, argues Smith, since every such act of evasion or desertion was “a silent vote against the prolongation of the war” (58).
  • “popular antipathy for many of the exemption provisions of the conscription acts” (58).
  • raids by troops on civilian stores for supplies
  • “inflation of the currency” (61): “By the end of 1862 a Confederate dollar was worth no more than twenty-five cents in gold. A year later, the national currency was worth five cents on the dollar; by July, 1864, only three cents; and by December, 1864, two cents” (61). Meanwhile, private bills (“especially in Texas”) in circulation increased confusion. “By early 1863, no ordinary citizen could even be sure that the money in his pocket was genuine” (61).
  • rise in speculation: “the superabundance of dubious money encouraged the development of a large class of speculators, who exploited the unfortunate by manipulating the erratic relationship between the values of currency and goods” (63), a cycle only exacerbated by the “inflationary fiscal policies” of states in the department, who printed large amounts of bonds and treasury notes in the early years of the war. Texas, for example, entered the war debt free but left the war with $15 million worth of debt.

Kerby also notes the failure of early efforts to stimulate new industry by the Confederate states, focusing particularly on Texas, which had few working textile firms. After the fall of New Orleans, “General Taylor’s District of West Louisiana contained no weaving or cloth fabrication plants,” and both Arkansas and Texas were forced to rely on penitentiary firms:

In the year ending August 1, 1862, the mills of the Huntsville prison produced over one million yars of cloth, more than the rest of the Confederate Southwest’s textile works put together. Yet, as Governor Lubbock complained, Huntsville’s output was not sufficient to meet one-fifteenth of the requisitions submitted to himself and to the prison superintendent by military and civilian consumers. And instead of increasing production, Huntsville’s shops manufactured progressively smaller amounts of cloth as time went on … (66)


Among the other “infant industries” that tried to meet the Department’s considerable supply needs, Kerby spends a few pages on Salt Works:

The war increased the demand for salt, since thousands of dislocated soldiers and refugees were removed from their own farms and obliged to depend upon shipments of preserved commodities. Consequently, the state governments, the army, and numerous entrepreneurs made efforts to increase the output of known salines and to discover and develop new sources of salt (68).

These works include:

  • Saline Bayou in Arkansas near Arkadelphia, which used “military and slave labor” to process “hundreds of tons of salt for the army and for neighborhood civilian markets” (69). Also mentions the “Ashley Salt Works” on the Bayou.
  • Texas: Steens Saline in Smith County and Grand Saline in Van Zandt County, along with Brooks saline, were, “unlike Arkansas, … more than able to satisfy [Texas’s] needs” (69).
  • West Louisiana: Drake Salt Works on Saline Bayou, King’s and Rayburn’s in Bienville Parish, several on Lake Bisteneau: “By 1862 the Rayburn Works were processing 1,000 barrels a day, and more than 1,000 soldiers, civilians, and slaves were extracting over 6,000 barrels daily from the brine of Lake Bisteneau” (70).
  • Avery Island, where Kerby dates the discovery of the rock salt specifically to May 4, 1862, and dates the Federal destruction of the mine to April 17, 1863 (p. 70). According to Kerby, “five hundred Negroes—guarded by two companies of infantry and a section of artillery—were producing over 1,300 bushels of crystal salt per day,” before “Federal troops from Brashear City overran the saltworks and demolished the installation” (70).

Iron Works and Foundries

Kerby also discusses the production of pig iron at Nash’s Iron Works (aka Texas Iron Works) outside of Jefferson.


Kerby notes that there were only two factories, one in Little Rock penitentiary and one at New Iberia, that could produce wagons. So …

after 1861 the Department’s chronic shortage of transportation induced the military authorities to resort to the wholesale purchase, hire, or impressment of privately owned farm and freight vehicles. Impressments were not legal until March, 1863, but by January of that year various generals, and even the Secretary of War, had already authorized Trans-Mississippi quartermasters to seize vehicles needed to transport army stores, industrial materials, and cotton. Quartermasters’ advertisements, threatening to press wagons not offered for hire, frequently appeared in the newspapers (71).

In the end, while iron and wagon industries experienced “modest expansion,” none of the region’s “experiments in industrialization relieved the department from dependence upon home manufactures and ersatz goods. Not even the salt mines were prolific enough to satisfy every need” (72).

p. 75: Even munitions production was inadequate, and “private gunsmiths” were responsible for “a fair portion of the total output of small arms.” The largest such private rifle works was Yarbrough, Biscoe, and Short in Tyler, “which contracted—but failed—to supply the army with 5,000” weapons; it was later purchased by the Ordnance Bureau in autumn of 1863. Whitescarver and Campbell was an even smaller private arms maker in Rusk County. “As late as the autumn of 1863, the combined output of all the small-arms manufacturers in Kirby Smith’s Confederacy was still less than 800 weapons per month, far too few to go around.”

Agricultural output, according to Kerby, fared better, with a great yield of grains and foodstuffs in the spring of 1863. “Only the extreme scarcity of agricultural labor threatened to ruin the harvest. … Yet manpower was found in time to save the yield. Negroes from the coastal cotton plantations, or from refugee coffles driven into the interior to escape emancipation, were hired and put to work by upland farmers …” (79). Yet this harvest was the last good one for the Confederate Southwest.

The real problem was not agricultural shortage, however, but inferior transportation.


“The portion of the Trans-Mississippi still in Confederate control at the beginning of 1863 contained fifteen railroads, one in Arkansas, four in West Louisiana, and ten in Texas,” with the most “complex network of track” radiating from Houston.

  1. Eastern Texas R.R. hoped at beginning of war to connect Sabine City and Beaumont, but its few miles of track were torn up to fortify Sabine Pass.
  2. San Antonio and Mexican Gulf, the only one west of Houston. Had 27 mile line from Port Lavaca to Victoria, with an Indianola spur. But ripped up by Magruder in 1863 and 1864.
  3. Texas and New Orleans “was supposed to merge at Orange” with the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western, but only 88 miles from New Orleans to Brashear were completed by 1861, with a roadbead to New Iberia.
  4. Baton Rouge, Grosse Tete, and Opelousas unusable.
  5. Vicksburg, Shreveport, and Texas: the eastern third of it was 60 miles from Vicksburg (De Soto) to Monroe, but it was “washed out by the spring floods of 1862 and then torn up by Grant’s army.” Monroe never connected to Shreveport during the war.

Others, including the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, are classed by Kerby as “pathetic fragments going nowhere” (82).


The region’s “mediocre network of unpaved roads” wasn’t much better (83). See Texas Roads for more.

Chapter 3: Loss of the Mississippi Valley

Kerby details the extremely weak army of General Richard Taylor at the beginning of 1863, which was plagued with desertions to East Texas and could hardly hold itself together. “With only 9,000 soldiers to garrison and defend his entire District, he could afford to concentrate no more than 4,000 on the lower Atchafalaya and Teche, hardly enough to contain a determined enemy force moving northward from Brashear City. Pp. 98-106 covers engagements between Taylor’s and Banks’s forces as the latter moved up the Teche in March/April 1863.

p. 107 discusses Banks’s move on Alexandria, as well as his puzzling delay at Opelousas for two weeks, part of which Banks excused by saying “he needed time to muster and equip 4,000 ‘contrabands’ who took advantage of the proximity of Union recruiters to enlist in the Federal army.” Kerby also attributes the delay to the confiscation of abandoned cotton. By May 7, Banks had moved on and taken Alexandria (109), but “once again, Banks’s spastic campaign shuddered to a halt,” before withdrawing east of the Mississippi in preparation for the assaults on Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

This allowed Taylor to slowly move back into position, until “for all practical purposes, by the beginning of June the southern portion of the District of West Louisiana’s front was disposed almost exactly as it had been on the evening of April 11, before Banks began to kick it to pieces” (110). Yet if Taylor had regained ground, “the land behind [the Confederate front] had been reduced to a desert” (110) by confiscation of property, flight of slaves (110-112), and demoralization of civilians, including a large number who took the oath of allegiance while Banks was moving through the country. General Kirby Smith’s decision to divide his forces also weakened whatever momentum Confederate troops might have regained.

In June, however, Taylor’s forces did capture Brashear City, and important federal outpost, netting “1,700 prisoners of war (including convalescents, whom he paroled), 2,000 Negro contrabands, 2,500 stand of small arms, more than 200 wagons and tents, one railroad train,” and an immense number of supplies that helped in the 1864 Red River Campaign (118).1 He failed, however, in a similar attempt to take Donaldsonville, where Confederate troops were forced to capitulate to a force of USCT at Fort Butler (118). And he was forced after fall of Vicksburg to retreat to Teche valley between New Iberia and Vermillionville, allowing Banks to return cautiously to Brashear City (120).

Kerby notes that on his return to the sugar districts, Banks found “thousands of dispossessed ex-slave, ex-contraband Negroes, some of whom had been shuttled back and forth between Reb and Yank overseers a half-dozen times in the preceding four months. Large bands of them roamed aimlessly from plantation to plantation, begging, stealing, suffering, searching for the freedom which their most recent liberators had promised them” (120).

Following the fall of Vicksburg, Kirby Smith faced the difficulty of defending the department militarily and maintaining political authority. On pp. 136ff, Kerby discusses the 1863 conference at Marshall, Smith’s meeting with Magruder at Rusk to plan strategy, and his announcement, on August 3, of a Cotton Bureau, whose operations were weakened by amendments made to the plan by governors hoping to prevent the military from cornering the cotton market (142). Smith also set up “semiautonomous western branches of most of the War Department’s bureaus,” whose staff were located in Shreveport or Marshall (143).

Kerby notes that most of the states acquiesced in Smith’s arrogation of military and civilian authority, but “down in Texas, the one Trans-Mississippi state whose sovereignty remained more or less undisturbed by the enemy, statesmen could afford to persevere through 1863 in devotion to the abstract ideal of states’ rights. Not until the spring of 1864, when Banks’s second thrust up the Red River Valley threatened East Texas, would the Texas government surrender to General Smith” (150).

Chapter 4: King Cotton

p. 161:

By the summer of 1864, the Mississippi Valley cotton trade had earned at least $30,000,000 (specie) worth of supplies and credit for the Trans-Mississippi Department. But by then the Department’s extant stores of government-owned cotton were practically exhausted. The exportation of cotton to the Federals and to Europe, the wholesale destruction and confiscation of cotton during the spring campaigns in Arkansas and West Louisiana, and a disappointing public response to the tax-in-kind tithe, all had served to deplete the Department’s stock of baled capital. The Trans-Mississippi’s economy, which had come to depend upon the proceeds of th cotton trade, was in danger of imminent collapse. Consequently, on June 1, 1864, Kirby Smith published one of the most drastic decrees of his reign. Without waiting for authorization from Richmond, he ordered the Cotton Bureau to buy or impress one-half of all the cotton within the limits of the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy. Since few planters offered to sell cotton at the artificial currency prices stipulated by the several state impressment boards, Smith’s order resulted in the wholesale confiscation of cotton throughout the extent of his empire. Although not even this expedient was enough to keep the Department’s books in the black, it did ensure that the cotton trade would continue to flourish without interruption until the end of the war.

Kerby also details Smith’s efforts to control the private blockade running that was selling cotton with no benefit to the government (see p. 164).

p. 16:

Although every section of the Confederate States profited to some degree from trade with the enemy and blocade-running, only the Trans-Mississippi Department shared a common border with a neutral nation, Mexico. After Vicksburg and Port Hudson fell, therefore, only the Trans-Mississippi Department enjoyed free access to the markets of the outside world.

By 1864, however, Trans-Mississippi generals and legislators had placed the Mexico commerce “under stringent control” (166).

p. 179 discusses the transient population of teamsters that began to concentrate in San Antonio in preparation for last leg of overland transportation to Bagdad, across the Mexican border, in exchange for import goods. “Because the records which survive are fragmentary,” Kerby notes, “it is impossible to estimate either the total amount or the sum value of the cargoes imported; nor is it possible to determine the proportion of the imports received by either government or civilian consumers. The only thing that is certain is that neither the demands of the military nor the wants of the population at large were ever adequately met” (182-183).

Remainder of chapter discusses capture of Brownsville and the continued conflict between Confederate military authorities and Texas state authorities over control of the state’s cotton.

  1. For a description of some of these recaptured slaves being taken to Texas, see this reprinted excerpt from the Galveston news.