November 1, 1862 – Federal and Confederate movements ultimately led to a confrontation in northwestern Arkansas.
By this month, Major General John Schofield had reunited his Federal Army of the Frontier at Osage Springs, Arkansas. Schofield thought Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates were pursuing him, but he soon learned that Hindman was actually moving in the opposite direction, toward the Arkansas River. Schofield wrote Brigadier General James G. Blunt, “I have hoped that the rebels would come back and give us battle where we could fight them together. But if they will not do this we must separate and follow our respective paths of duty.”
Thus, Schofield divided his army again, sending Blunt’s Federals back to Old Fort Wayne and leading the rest to Springfield in southwestern Missouri. Soon after, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri over Schofield’s army, received orders from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to assemble as many troops as possible at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River to either move against Little Rock or reinforce Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee driving toward Vicksburg.
Curtis resisted Halleck’s order because he feared sending troops to Helena would open a path for the Confederates in Arkansas to move north and invade Missouri. He directed Major General Frederick Steele to lead 10,000 Federals from Pilot Knob, Missouri, to Batesville, Arkansas. Steele protested Curtis’s order to Halleck and instead went to Helena, where he crossed the Mississippi and joined Grant’s offensive.
Meanwhile, Hindman and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke sought to reunite their forces with those under Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Stand Watie at Little Rock. Hindman wanted to attack Schofield’s Federals returning to Springfield, but he lacked the strength to do it. So he instead moved to Fort Smith on the Arkansas River and worked to strengthen his army. The troops lacked adequate food and shelter, and illness ran rampant. And General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, struggled to fill Hindman’s requests for supplies.
Hindman’s army was bolstered somewhat by the addition of William C. Quantrill’s partisans. They joined Marmaduke while Quantrill went to Richmond to try securing a rank and official recognition of his force. Quantrill had gained a notorious reputation operating against Federal supply trains in Missouri and Kansas, with Federal search parties moving through many Missouri counties in search of his partisans.
By late November, about 5,000 new British Enfield muskets and 7,000 new uniforms arrived for the troops. The force was renamed the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, which Holmes planned to name the Army of Missouri once the men reentered that state.
As Holmes balked at President Jefferson Davis’s request to send troops east to defend Vicksburg, Marmaduke’s Confederates advanced 50 miles north of Fort Smith to forage near Cane Hill. When Curtis learned of this, he ordered Schofield to reunite his Army of the Frontier once again. Hindman, thinking that Curtis was shipping Schofield east, only expected to face Blunt’s division in his front.
Hindman thought that Blunt had fallen back into Missouri, but Marmaduke soon learned that Blunt was about 20 miles north of Cane Hill in northwestern Arkansas. He wrote Hindman proposing that the entire Army of the Trans-Mississippi attack Blunt while he sat supposedly isolated. Hindman agreed. Neither Hindman nor Marmaduke knew that Blunt was preparing to move south against them instead.
Marmaduke had about 2,000 cavalry, and he believed that Blunt was too weak to give battle. Blunt’s force consisted of about 5,000 troops, mostly from Kansas, camped west of Bentonville. Marmaduke told Hindman, “General, I feel assured that you can bag this party in a short quick fight. Blunt and no one else dreams of such a move. I will surprise friend and foe, hence the better chance for secrecy and success.”
On the morning of the 25th, Blunt dispatched a scouting party to determine enemy strength around Cane Hill. After a skirmish, Blunt learned that Confederate cavalry were in his front, soon to be joined by Hindman’s army. If Hindman and Marmaduke joined forces, they would have about 11,000 men and a good chance of driving through Blunt’s small force and reentering Missouri.
Blunt rushed to gather a supply train and advance on Marmaduke before Hindman arrived. He was unaware that Hindman was still several days away.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 673-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-28, 233; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 551-52