February 9, 1863 – Federal forces continued attacking Confederates in Arkansas, and a new commander was named to head the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department.
Federal troops forced Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates out of Batesville, Arkansas, following Marmaduke’s raid into southwestern Missouri in January. Federals also continued moving up the Arkansas River after capturing Fort Hindman last month. They burned Hopefield in retaliation for Confederate attacks on their shipping.
The Confederate high command reorganized the Trans-Mississippi Department, assigned Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith as the new department commander. This included all Confederate territory west of the Mississippi River, and it consisted of three districts:
- The District of Arkansas under General Theophilus H. Holmes
- The District of West Louisiana under General Richard Taylor
- The District of Texas under General John B. Magruder
Secretary of War James A. Seddon hoped that Smith could redeem the department’s “lamentable record of bad management and of failures.” The Arkansas delegation to the Confederate Congress had requested Smith’s services based on his supposedly effective performance during the Kentucky campaign last year.
President Jefferson Davis had initially appointed Smith to take charge “of the department to be composed of Louisiana and Texas,” but that was then extended to also include Holmes’s district in a subsequent order: “The command of Lieut. Gen. Kirby Smith is extended so as to embrace the Trans-Mississippi Department.”
Smith inherited about 46,000 total troops to defend against threats from almost every side:
- Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee operated in Arkansas along the Mississippi
- Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf pushed up the Mississippi in Louisiana
- Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Frontier (under Major General Samuel R. Curtis) threatened Arkansas from Missouri
- Federal bushwhackers threatened from Kansas
- Federal naval forces threatened the Texas coast
The Confederate troops lacked adequate food, clothing, or shelter. In addition, secession had never been as popular in this part of the Confederacy as it had in the east, making recruitment more difficult. Many men resented the draft, as well as the harsh penalties imposed for dodging it. And the economy was much worse west of the Mississippi, making the war even more unpopular among those suffering.
When Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi retreated after the Battle of Prairie Grove last December, thousands of men deserted and joined other marauders in pillaging the countryside in Arkansas and the Indian Territory, robbing citizens of their property and slaves.
General William Steele, commanding Confederates in the Indian Territory, warned the commander at Fort Smith, Arkansas, “Be specially careful in permitting no persons with negroes or otherwise to pass your lines. Many negroes have, no doubt, been stolen, and it will doubtless be attempted to send them to Texas under false pretenses.”
Due to Federal naval activity on the Mississippi, it would take Smith over a month to reach his new headquarters at Alexandria, Louisiana. During that time, Hindman was transferred to Vicksburg, replaced by General William Cabell, who led the remnants of Hindman’s army into the Indian Territory to join with Steele. Holmes raised a new Army of the Trans-Mississippi that included a division to be led by Major General Sterling Price, who had long asked to be transferred from Louisiana back west to try regaining his home state of Missouri. However, Price was forced to leave behind his Missouri troops, as they were needed to defend Vicksburg.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 262-64, 266; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163
Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 2, p. 787; Kerby, Robert L., Kirby Smith’s Confederacy; Prushankin, Jeffrey S., A Crisis in Confederate Command; Castel, Albert, General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West.