Louisiana Maneuvers

BY Scott Dearman, Mansfield State Historical Site

Here is a look back at the Louisiana Army Maneuvers of 1941: Mansfield Plays a Role (Again) in Halting a Blue Army Advance on Shreveport

This fall marks the 80th anniversary of the U.S. Army’s massive General Headquarters (GHQ) Maneuvers of 1941. These army-level exercises took place in Louisiana from late August (build-up) to late September 1941, and in the Carolinas from early October to late November 1941. They were preceded by corps-level (corps vs. corps) maneuvers in Tennessee (June 1941), and Arkansas (August to mid-September 1941).

It may be surprising to know that large-scale army maneuvers actually took place in Louisiana each year from 1940-1944, the largest and most well-known (by far) being the GHQ Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Interestingly, the 1940 exercise, which saw 70,000 troops of the IV and IX Army Corps battle each other between the Calcasieu and Red Rivers, was the first corps-versus-corps maneuvers in U.S. Army history. General Walter C. Short, later of Pearl Harbor infamy, commanded IV Corps during this exercise (movie buffs will recall that General Short is portrayed by Jason Robards in the 1971 Pearl Harbor docu-movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!”)

The army-level exercises in Louisiana and the Carolinas were the largest conducted in the Western Hemisphere. The largest of these, the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers, would involve some 472,000 soldiers and support personnel, making it the “densest military concentration in United States history.”

Soldiers of the Second or “Red” Army (160,000 troops) and the Third “Blue” Army (240,000 troops) maneuvered against each other throughout Central and Northwest Louisiana—and partially through Deep-East Texas— from mid to late September in two distinct and separate wargame scenarios (Phases I and II). The 1864 Mansfield battlefield would once again see soldiers marching over its fields, watering from its streams, and bivouacking in its shaded pine stands. In fact, the town of Mansfield played a key role in the maneuvers, serving as Second (Red) Army headquarters in both phases. 

In Phase II, the Third (Blue) Army’s offensive against Shreveport, Mansfield was not only selected as Second Army’s HQ, but as a “keystone” position of its covering defense of Shreveport against the larger Blue force.  Sound familiar? Seventy-seven years earlier Richard Taylor and the Army of Western Louisiana would choose Mansfield as a concentration point to stop Nathaniel Banks and the Army of the Gulf’s advance on Shreveport. Fortunately for Taylor, he did not have to contend with a rapid armored flanking force and George Patton; unfortunately for Banks, he had neither.

During the Phase II battle for control of Mansfield, major elements of both armies would go head to head for the first time during the maneuver. Soon after this clash Phase II was ended, due in part to an armored flanking force (George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division) that threatened urban warfare in Shreveport, and of more immediate concern, large-scale street fighting that was imminent in the town of Mansfield, concepts (large-scale urban warfare) that were not intended for the maneuvers. Planners also knew that the safety of towns and their citizens simply would not permit such encounters. Thus, the Louisiana Maneuvers ended, to be followed by army-level maneuvers in the Carolinas shortly thereafter.

Top picture:

Mounted cavalry elements move along a dusty road in Northwest Louisiana during the 1941 U.S. Army General Headquarters Maneuvers. Note plane disguised as a German aircraft and smoking grasshopper mascot painted on its side

Bottom picture:

Soldiers of the First Cavalry Division conduct a river crossing during the U.S. Army’s General Headquarters Maneuvers in Central and Northwest Louisiana, September 1941.