Confederate Struggles in the Trans-Mississippi

October 27, 1862 – Federal forces pushed from Missouri into northwestern Arkansas, as Confederates in Arkansas were asked to provide support east of the Mississippi River.

The Federals under Brigadier General James G. Blunt and Major General John Schofield united at Sarcoxie, Missouri, where the Federals had retreated after the Battle of Newtonia on September 30. This combined force drove the Confederate cavalry forces of Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Jo Shelby out of Missouri, with Cooper leading his men back to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and Shelby heading to the Boston Mountains in southwestern Arkansas.

Schofield’s and Blunt’s Federals became known as the Army of the Frontier, with Schofield commanding and the three divisions led by Generals Blunt, James Totten, and Francis J. Herron. This new army numbered about 14,000 men, and its mission was to pursue the retreating Confederates into Arkansas.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit:

The Federals crossed the state line on the 17th and camped on the Pea Ridge battlefield. They spent the next three days resting and gathering supplies. Meanwhile, Major General Thomas C. Hindman returned from Confederate headquarters at Little Rock to command the 6,000 Confederates falling back. Hindman divided the force in two, moving one portion south of Pea Ridge and sending the other to join Cooper west.

Schofield answered by leading two divisions against Hindman and sending Blunt’s division in pursuit of Cooper. Schofield’s pursuit stopped at Huntsville, where he learned that Hindman was heading toward the sanctuary of the Boston Mountains. Blunt moved to Maysville, where he learned that Cooper camped at Old Fort Wayne, seven miles south in the Indian Territory. Blunt resolved to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

The next day, Blunt attacked as planned, but due to a mix-up, Blunt advanced with only the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. Cooper ordered a retreat nonetheless because his main goal was to protect his supply train. A Confederate rear guard formed as a portion of Blunt’s force in the Federal center charged without authorization. Even so, the Federals overwhelmed the Confederates, consisting mostly of Indians under Stand Watie. This motivated the rest of the Federals to charge as well, and soon the rest of Blunt’s force came up in support.

The Confederates left their camps behind as they fled, but they made off with their supply train. Cooper fell back over 50 miles, south of the Arkansas River. While this was just a minor skirmish, it marked the first successful Federal foray into the Indian Territory, and it convinced many pro-secession Indians to switch sides. Blunt’s Federals set up camp near Old Fort Wayne.

Farther east, Hindman’s Confederates continued falling back into the Boston Mountains, and Schofield fell back toward Bentonville to protect his supply line. Schofield reported to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, the overall Federal commander of the department, that organized Confederate resistance had been cleared out of Missouri and Kansas. He then suggested that Blunt advance 80 miles south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to keep up the pressure on Cooper, while Schofield remained in northern Arkansas. Curtis, under pressure from Halleck to send troops east for the drive on Vicksburg, ordered Blunt to stay at Old Fort Wayne and Schofield to continue falling back to Springfield, Missouri.

Hindman countered by moving his Confederates to Fayetteville, a town from which he could advance or defend against Federals in any direction. When Schofield learned of this, he directed his Federals to confront the enemy. After a brief skirmish, Hindman ordered his Confederates to fall back to the Boston Mountains once more, and the Federals entered Fayetteville.

By month’s end, Schofield feared a Confederate attack and fell back to Osage Springs. Blunt came up to join forces with him, reuniting the Army of the Frontier.

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, outlining a plan for Holmes’s troops to aid in efforts to take back Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. The ultimate objective would be to expel all Federal troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Davis turned to Holmes after Braxton Bragg failed to secure Kentucky and the Confederates failed to expel the Federals from Mississippi. Davis hoped Holmes could coordinate efforts with Bragg in Tennessee and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Mississippi. A week later, the Confederate secretary of war sent a message to Holmes reiterating Davis’s plan:

“Cooperation between General Pemberton and yourself is indispensable to the preservation of our connection with your department. We regard this as an object of first importance, and when necessary you can cross the Mississippi with such part of your forces as you may select, and by virtue of your rank direct the combined operations on the eastern bank.”

Davis hoped to secure Tennessee and Mississippi before heading west to secure Missouri and Arkansas. But to Holmes, this seemed like Davis wanted to abandon Missouri and Arkansas altogether. This made Holmes reluctant to go along with the administration’s plan.

Also this month, Federal naval forces continued pushing up various rivers in Arkansas from their base at Helena on the Mississippi. Federal landing parties from the U.S.S. Louisville and Meteor burned the towns at Bledsoe’s and Hamblin’s landings in retaliation for a guerrilla attack on a Federal mail steamer. The naval commander reported that “the people along the river bank were duly informed that every outrage by the guerrillas upon packers would be similarly dealt with.”

A Federal landing party from U.S.S. Baron de Kalb clashed with Confederate scouts at Hopefield. The Federals captured the scouts after a nine-mile pursuit that included “impressing” local horses.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225-26; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 530-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 224; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 280; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356

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