Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Federal Department of the Missouri, had ordered the forces of Brigadier General James G. Blunt to join forces with Major General John Schofield, commanding the District of Southwest Missouri. One of Blunt’s brigades had been routed in the Newtonia engagement on September 30, and had fled northward to Sarcoxie, Missouri. There they united with Blunt’s remaining brigades and Schofield, who resolved to lead the 11,000 Federals in confronting the Confederates at Newtonia.
The Confederates consisted of the cavalry forces of Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. The Federals began heading south toward them on October 2, but they ambushed Blunt’s troops on the march. Blunt counterattacked, but Schofield was running late and could offer no support. The Confederates rode off before Blunt could bring his full force to bear. Blunt angrily wrote that Schofield had arrived only “after the bird had flown.”
On the 4th, Schofield’s combined force drove the Confederates out of Newtonia, and ultimately out of Missouri. Cooper led his troopers back to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and Shelby headed to the Boston Mountains in southwestern Arkansas.
With Missouri mostly free of Confederates, Curtis’s military department was expanded to include the Colorado and Nebraska territories. Schofield was given command of the new Army of the Frontier, consisting of forces from Missouri and Kansas. Schofield divided the force into three divisions led by Brigadier Generals Blunt, James Totten, and Francis J. Herron. This new army numbered about 14,000 men, and its mission was to continue the pursuit of the Confederates into Arkansas.
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 take command of the 6,000 Confederates falling back. Hindman divided the force in two, moving one portion south of Pea Ridge and sending the other west to join Cooper.
Schofield answered by leading Totten’s and Herron’s 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 on the 21st, where he learned that Cooper was camped at Old Fort Wayne, seven miles south in the Indian Territory. Blunt resolved to attack at dawn.
The next day, Blunt attacked as planned, but due to a mix-up, he 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 center charged without authorization. Even so, the Federals overwhelmed the Confederates, consisting mostly of Native Americans 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-Confederate 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 Curtis 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 pressing Cooper, while Schofield remained in northern Arkansas. Curtis, under pressure from Washington to send troops east for the drive on Vicksburg, ordered Blunt to stay at Old Fort Wayne and Schofield to fall 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, Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, received a message from Secretary of War George W. Randolph urging him to seize Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River, as a point to provide the “speedy and effective cooperation with General (John) Pemberton for the protection of the Mississippi Valley.” The administration was turning to Holmes after General Braxton Bragg had failed to secure Kentucky and the Confederates failed to expel the Federals from Mississippi.
President Jefferson Davis also wrote Holmes to outline a plan for Holmes’s troops to aid in efforts to take back not only Helena, but Memphis, and Nashville as well. The ultimate objective would be to expel all Federal troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Davis wanted Holmes to coordinate his movements with General Braxton Bragg in Middle Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi. The president wrote, “The concentration of two or when practicable all of the columns in the attack upon one of the enemy’s armies is so obviously desirable that it is needless to even state it.”
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.
- 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.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
- 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.
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