Since the Battle of Pea Ridge in March, Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes had superseded Major General Thomas C. Hindman in command of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department. Hindman had been unpopular due to his alleged dictatorial rule over both the department and the people within it. For the past six months, the Confederates had been primarily based in Arkansas, while the Federals were in Missouri. The Federals occasionally invaded Arkansas, and Holmes envisioned regaining Missouri for the Confederacy.
In September, Hindman, now serving under Holmes, moved about 6,000 Confederates to Fort Smith as the opening move for reentering Missouri and regaining Springfield. Hindman advanced into southwestern Missouri and occupied Pineville, but Holmes recalled him to help manage affairs at the department’s Little Rock headquarters. Hindman left Colonel James Rains in command at Pineville and returned as ordered.
Federal officials responded by reinstating the Department of the Missouri, which absorbed the jurisdictions of the Departments of Kansas and the Mississippi, both of which were disbanded. The new department consisted of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel R. Curtis was named department commander, with headquarters in St. Louis. Under Curtis, the Confiscation Acts were stringently enforced by Federal provost marshals, and hundreds of Missourians were jailed under martial law.
Curtis’s force consisted of three divisions:
- Major General Frederick Steele’s at Helena, Arkansas
- Major General John Schofield’s in the District of Southwestern Missouri
- Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s in Kansas (formerly the Army of Kansas)
Curtis directed Schofield to not only stop the Confederate threat in southwestern Missouri but to drive the Confederates out of the Arkansas Valley as well. Blunt sent two brigades from Fort Scott, Kansas, to support Schofield. Meanwhile, Rains sent Confederate cavalry north from Pineville to reconnoiter around Newtonia. About 200 Confederates under Colonel Trevesant C. Hawpe established a base there.
On September 29, a Federal force of 150 troops and two howitzers under Colonel Edward Lynde approached Newtonia. Lynde’s superior was Brigadier General Frederick Salomon (under Blunt), headquartered 15 away at Sarcoxie. Salomon heard cannon fire in the direction of Newtonia and sent another two Federal companies and three howitzers to support Lynde.
The next morning, Salomon sent two more regiments toward Newtonia, increasing the force to about 4,500 men. Lynde drove Hawpe’s Confederates into a cornfield, northeast of town, where an artillery duel began. The Confederates ultimately ran out of ammunition, and the Federals pushed them into Newtonia. Colonel Douglas H. Cooper’s Native Americans and Texans came up to reinforce Hawpe, and the Confederates knocked Lynde back about three miles.
During that time, Salomon arrived on the scene and directed his men to move around the enemy flank and take Newtonia from the rear. The Confederates fell under murderous enfilade fire until they were reinforced by Colonel Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby’s 5th Missouri Cavalry. Salomon pulled his men back to a wooded ridge as Cooper massed for a counterattack.
The Confederate reinforcements ultimately crumbled Salomon’s flanks, forcing his men to fall back. Confederate artillery panicked the troops, with some running all the way to Sarcoxie. Cooper pursued until nightfall. The Federals sustained about 400 casualties. Cooper reported losing 12 killed, 63 wounded, and three missing. This was one of the few battles of the war in which Native Americans played a key role on both sides.
Although the Confederates were victorious, they had only beaten one brigade. Once Blunt and Schofield joined their two divisions, the Confederates would face overwhelming numbers and be forced to once again abandon southwestern Missouri.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), Never Call Retreat: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 3. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1965.
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Sommers, Richard J. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Stanchak, John E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.