Category Archives: Arkansas

Federals Target Little Rock

August 12, 1863 – A Federal force led by Major General Frederick Steele advanced westward from Helena, Arkansas, to capture the state capital of Little Rock.

After the Federals gained control of the entire Mississippi River, the pro-Confederate governors of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas issued a joint proclamation to the people of their states. They declared that although each separated section of the Confederacy would now have to rely “mainly on its own resources… We now are self-dependent, but also self-sustaining.”

The governors further asserted that they were “able to conduct a vigorous defense, and seize occasions for offensive operations against the enemy… there is everything to incite us to renewed efforts, nothing to justify despondency.” This was largely due to the efforts of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, who had proven “active, intelligent, and with the prestige of uniform success in his undertakings.” Smith deserved “the zealous support of every patriot.”

The Federals were “powerful and haughty,” and determined not just to “coerce us into submission, but to despoil us of our whole property, and subject us to every species of ignominy.” To stop them, every man, woman, and child had to do their part. The governors announced, “Western skill and valor will prepare a San Jacinto defeat for every invading army that pollutes the soil of this department.” They concluded:

“In the darkest hours of our history, the protection extended to us by Almighty God has been so manifest, as even to be acknowledged by candid foes. Their victories have been to them as fruit turning to ashes on their lips; our defeats have been chastenings to improve us and arouse our energies. On His help and our own right arms we steadfastly rely; counting on aid neither from the policy of neutral nations, nor from the distractions in the midst of our enemies, we look confidently forward to the day when thirteen confederate States will in peace and safety occupy their right position among the great powers of the earth.”

The proclamation failed to acknowledge that soldiers were deserting the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi, largely stationed at Little Rock under Major General Sterling Price (within Smith’s department), in droves. Federal spies in Little Rock reported that the troops were “fleeing like rats from a falling house; they give the rebellion up, and express a determination to return to their homes.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In early August, Steele took command of the Federal forces at Helena. Now that Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Nathaniel P. Banks had opened the Mississippi, Steele was able to take the offensive in Arkansas. His “Army of Arkansas” consisted of about 7,000 infantry and Brigadier General John W. Davidson’s 6,000 cavalry troopers. The force began moving out of Helena on a mission to “break up Price and occupy Little Rock.”

Price reported that he had 19,000 troops ready to not only defend the city, but to take the offensive and achieve his ultimate goal of regaining Missouri for the Confederacy. This news reached Steele, who responded by advancing cautiously, even though scouts assured him that Price did not have half the number of men he claimed.

As the main Confederate force built defenses outside Little Rock, Price dispatched some infantry to Clarendon and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry division 100 miles northeast to Jacksonport. Davidson’s Federal troopers bypassed Marmaduke, forcing the Confederates to give up both Jacksonport and Clarendon and fall back toward Little Rock. Steele joined Davidson at Clarendon, where the Federal advance would resume.

Price called for reinforcements, but none were available. He pulled Marmaduke back to Des Arc, on the White River about 50 miles east of Little Rock. Marmaduke then received orders to send one of his brigades to the other cavalry division in the department, led by Brigadier General Lucius M. Walker. Marmaduke and Walker despised each other, and even though Marmaduke had proven a more able cavalry leader in the department, most of his superiors favored Walker. Marmaduke complied with orders while staying with his lone remaining brigade at Des Arc.

Meanwhile, Steele’s Federals continued advancing “through a country almost destitute of water,” which caused nearly 1,000 men to drop from the ranks. When Steele learned that just one Confederate cavalry brigade guarded the White River, he directed his men to set up a field hospital at Devall’s Bluff, “a more healthy location” about 10 miles upstream. According to Steele, the path from Devall’s to Little Rock “possessed many advantages over the other as a line of operations.”

Steele sent Davidson’s cavalry “to ascertain the position and intention of the enemy” around Devall’s on the 19th. Confederate deserters falsely claimed that Smith and Price were gathering reinforcements at Little Rock. This prompted Steele to ask his corps commander, Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut at Memphis, to send him more men. Hurlbut responded by sending a brigade to Helena, and then on to join Steele’s main force.

After a respite to allow his men to hydrate, Steele continued the advance toward Brownsville, 25 miles from Little Rock. On the 23rd, Price ordered Marmaduke to join forces with Walker, with Walker the ranking officer, at Brownsville. This enraged Marmaduke, who prided himself on having an independent command, but he complied.

Davidson’s 5,000 troopers confronted Marmaduke’s 1,100 horsemen within the Brownsville defenses on the 25th. Before the Federals could launch a full-scale attack, Marmaduke pulled back and formed a new line at a crossroads needed for Walker’s supply train, about four miles closer to Little Rock. Marmaduke reported, “The enemy came upon me, and were handsomely repulsed.”

The Federals reformed and attacked again, this time enveloping both of Marmaduke’s flanks. He pulled back to Bayou Meto, about 12 miles from Little Rock. As night fell, the Federals returned to Brownsville, and Marmaduke and Walker put up defenses south of Bayou Meto.

Both sides prepared on the 26th, and when Davidson’s Federals resumed their advance the next day, the Confederates came out across Reed’s Bridge to meet them. The Confederates put up a stiff fight, then fell back, burning the bridge to keep the Federals from pursuing. Davidson reported:

“A dash of the First Iowa Cavalry, under fire of the enemy’s battery and sharpshooters lining the opposite bank, failed to save the bridge, which had been set on fire by the enemy, everything having been prepared beforehand for that purpose. Our batteries engaged those of the enemy, and the skirmishers on both sides were busy for about an hour and a half.”

According to Marmaduke, the Federals, “failing to occupy the river, returned after a heavy loss, leaving a number of their dead on the ground.” Davidson reported losing 45 (seven killed and 38 wounded); Confederate losses were not reported. Price ordered Marmaduke and Walker to fall back toward Little Rock that night.

Farther west in Arkansas, Brigadier General William L. Cabell withdrew his Confederates from Fort Smith after receiving intelligence that advancing Federals outnumbered him and he could expect no reinforcements from Brigadier General William Steele (no relation to Frederick Steele) in the Indian Territory.

After another day of preparation, Davidson’s Federals resumed their patrol and pursuit on the 29th. Price dispatched his cavalry to block all possible approaches to Little Rock from the northeast. The most important was the Shoal Ford Road, which led to Terry’s Ferry, several miles down the Arkansas River from Little Rock. If the Federals gained control of this road, they could flank Price and force him to abandon the capital.

Federals and Confederates clashed on this road on the 30th, trading fire for about five hours. The Confederates finally fell back to another defensive position, which the Federals did not want to attack due to the approaching nightfall. As the Federals fell back, Marmaduke brought up reinforcements. Both sides continued probing each other’s lines into September as Little Rock tentatively remained in Confederate hands.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 339; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 702; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 396

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Confederate Reorganization in the Trans-Mississippi

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.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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References

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.

The Fall of Fort Hindman: Grant Disapproves

January 16, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant disapproved of Major General John A. McClernand’s unauthorized capture of Fort Hindman, and McClernand tried going over Grant’s head to justify his actions.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Grant did not receive notice that McClernand’s “Army of the Mississippi” was moving up the Arkansas River to attack Fort Hindman (also known as Arkansas Post) until the day the Federals captured the fort. Grant, who was McClernand’s immediate superior, quickly responded:

“I do not approve of your move on the Post of Arkansas while the other is in abeyance. It will lead to the loss of men without a result… It might answer for some of the purposes you suggest, but certainly not as a military movement looking to the accomplishment of the one great result, the capture of Vicksburg… From the best information I have, Milliken’s Bend is the proper place for you to be…”

Grant then reported to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “General McClernand has fallen back to White River, and gone on a wild-goose chase to the Post of Arkansas. I am ready to reinforce, but must await further information before knowing what to do.”

Halleck responded the next day: “You are hereby authorized to relieve General McClernand from command of the expedition against Vicksburg, giving it to the next in rank or taking it yourself.” Grant had initially planned to send his army south to take Vicksburg while he remained at headquarters in Memphis. But this would mean that McClernand, the ranking commander under Grant, would be in charge in the field. Grant therefore opted to lead the army himself to prevent McClernand from making any more unauthorized movements.

Meanwhile, McClernand submitted his report on the victory at Fort Hindman. When it reached the northern press and public, it was met with great enthusiasm because it was a much needed Federal victory after a series of military failures (including Grant’s own failure to take Vicksburg in December). With McClernand now hailed as a hero, Grant did not act upon Halleck’s authorization to relieve him.

Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant also held back on relieving McClernand because he learned that his close friend Major General William T. Sherman, not McClernand, had proposed capturing Fort Hindman in the first place. And pressure from Washington to send reinforcements to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks in Louisiana slackened, thus giving Grant more autonomy.

Grant began planning to attack Vicksburg from the water since Sherman had been repelled from land. However, a waterborne approach seemed just as difficult because of the countless “bends” in the Mississippi River above the city. Moreover, as Grant learned on the 16th, the navy would not be able to support him for another 10 days due to their participation in capturing Fort Hindman. He ordered McClernand to meet him at Milliken’s Bend to discuss the situation personally.

McClernand responded that he would “immediately return with my command” to the Mississippi, even though “I would sail from here to Little Rock, and reduce that place but for want of sufficient water in the channel of the Arkansas River.” Then he shirked Grant’s order and informed the Federal commander at Helena, “I shall delay a day or two in order to threaten Little Rock and Pine Bluff as a diversion in your favor.”

As Grant prepared to leave Memphis for Milliken’s Bend, Confederate prisoners from Fort Hindman began arriving on transports. Since McClernand sent no word on what should be done with these men, Grant appealed to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri (which included Fort Hindman): “As I am leaving Memphis and can take no orders for the disposal of these prisoners, I hope that you will have the kindness to take charge of them…”

Meanwhile, McClernand received Grant’s message refusing to authorize the Fort Hindman expedition and admonishing him for capturing the fort without permission. McClernand angrily responded that he had expected “approval of the complete and signal success which crowned it rather than your condemnation.” Responding to Grant’s claim that the expedition detracted from the goal to capture Vicksburg, McClernand shot back, “From the moment you fell back from Oxford, and the purpose of a front attack upon the enemy’s works near Vicksburg was thus deprived of co-operation, the Mississippi River Expedition was doomed to eventuate in a failure.”

McClernand then wrote directly to President Abraham Lincoln, who had authorized him to conduct an independent operation against Vicksburg last fall. McClernand complained, “I believe my success here is gall and wormwood to the clique of West Pointers who have been persecuting me for months,” and these West Pointers (such as Grant) were “chagrined at the success of your volunteer officers (i.e., McClernand).”

Although no threat of dismissal had been given yet, McClernand pleaded, “Do not let me be clandestinely destroyed, or, what is worse, dishonored, without a hearing.” He then argued that Grant could not effectively command his (McClernand’s) force: “The Mississippi River being the only channel of communication, and that being infested with guerrillas, how can General Grant at a distance of 400 miles intelligently command the army with me? He cannot do it.”

McClernand’s response to Grant and his letter to Lincoln indicated that he considered himself Grant’s equal, even though the War Department order of late December clearly stated that McClernand would merely command a corps within Grant’s army. But McClernand hoped that Lincoln would override that order, writing that his “army” “should be made an independent command, as both you and the Secretary of War, as I believe, originally intended.”

Lincoln did not respond to McClernand’s request for independence, but he did respond to a prior letter from McClernand complaining about Halleck micromanaging his affairs:

“I have too many family controversies, (so to speak) already on my hands to voluntarily, or so long as I can avoid it, take up another. You are now doing well–well for the country, and well for yourself–much better than you could possibly be, if engaged in open war with Gen. Halleck. Allow me to beg, that for your sake, for my sake, & for the country’s sake, you give your whole attention to the better work.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 341-42; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 137

The Fall of Fort Hindman

January 11, 1863 – Major General John A. McClernand reorganized his Federal forces and acted upon Major General William T. Sherman’s recommendation to attack a Confederate fort on the Arkansas River.

As the new year began, Sherman’s 30,000-man XIII Corps remained at Chickasaw Bayou. He learned that the Confederates on the bluffs were being reinforced, and his men could hear trains continuously rolling in and out of Vicksburg, indicating that even more troops were on the way. He therefore abandoned his plan to take the bluffs, loaded his troops back onto their transports, and headed back down the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McClernand, who had arrived at Memphis too late to join the Chickasaw Bayou expedition, met up with the Federals at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, to take command of the corps. Apparently disregarding the War Department order placing him under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, McClernand split his four divisions into two corps and renamed XIII Corps the Army of the Mississippi.

When Sherman passed command to McClernand on the 4th, he shared an idea to avenge the Chickasaw Bayou defeat by capturing Fort Hindman, also known as Arkansas Post, about 120 miles northwest of Vicksburg on the Arkansas River. Some 5,000 Confederates garrisoned the fort, which threatened Federal communications on the Mississippi. McClernand was reluctant but finally agreed to conduct the expedition when Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter assured him that his Mississippi River Squadron would provide gunboat support.

However, McClernand never asked Grant for permission to proceed, and nobody in the Federal high command knew that such an action was even being considered. Moreover, Arkansas was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, outside the jurisdiction of McClernand or even Grant. However, McClernand had discussed the threat Fort Hindman posed with Curtis late last year, so Curtis at least had an idea that McClernand might attack the fort when he told Curtis that he was proceeding on the 5th.

McClernand’s force headed out by water on the 8th. The fleet consisted of three ironclads, 10 rams and gunboats, and 50 transports conveying 30,000 soldiers. McClernand finally informed Grant about the expedition, explaining that one of the objectives was “the counteraction of the moral effect of the failure of the attack near Vicksburg and the reinspiration of the forces repulsed by making them the champions of new, important, and successful enterprises.” Grant did not receive this message until the 11th, long after the Federals had gone up the Arkansas.

Fort Hindman sat atop a hill overlooking a bend in the Arkansas, about 120 miles below Little Rock. It was a strong but unfinished Confederate work used to disrupt Federal navigation on the nearby Mississippi. Three Confederate brigades of mostly Texans manned the garrison and its outlying area; the one brigade in the fort was led by Colonel John W. Dunnington, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded the other two outside the fort. They numbered about 3,300 effectives, or one-tenth of the enemy force heading their way.

The Federal fleet arrived within gun range of Fort Hindman on the afternoon of the 9th, and the troops began landing under cover of Porter’s warships. The next day, the Federals finished landing and McClernand deployed his artillery, which joined with Porter’s vessels to bombard the fort as the flotilla slowly made its way up the river.

The Federal troops blocked the road to Little Rock to prevent the garrison from escaping or reinforcements from arriving. Churchill’s Confederates returned fire from their entrenchments until about 4 p.m., when the Federal guns cleared them out. McClernand’s troops seized high ground north of the fort and began positioning guns to fire down into the work.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships continued pounding the enemy works, with the ironclads in the lead. A soldier on the U.S.S. Montauk described the bombardment:

“Such a terrific scene I have never witnessed. The fort was riddled and torn to pieces with the shells. The ironclads, which could venture up closer, shot into their portholes and into the mouths of their cannon, bursting their cannon and dismounting them. When most of their batteries were silenced, two of the light draft boats and our boat was ordered to run the blockade to cut off the retreat of the rebels above the F(or)t.”

The Confederates tried answering with their 11 cannon but were outgunned. Also, Porter had ordered his men to grease their ships with tallow so that enemy shots hitting them at an angle would slide off. This practice was soon adopted throughout the Federal navy.

McClernand planned a ground attack the next day. That night, Churchill received a message from General Theophilus Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock, directing him “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.”

Federal troops assumed their positions at noon on the 11th, and a ferocious artillery barrage began an hour later. It took the Federals three hours to silence all the Confederate guns except one. The Confederates continued firing from the trenches and rifle pits, but they were surrounded by infantry on three sides and the gunboats on the river. The white flag went up.

The Federals sustained 1,061 casualties (134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing), while the Confederates lost 4,900 (28 killed, 81 wounded and 4,791 mostly captured). The Federals captured the most men since taking New Madrid in the spring of last year. They also seized seven stands of colors, all the Confederate guns, and large amounts of commissary, ordinance, and other supplies. Porter later wrote:

“The fight at Ft. Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock, which could have caused the Federal Navy in the west a great deal of trouble…”

He added, “No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay to those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: ‘You can’t expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.’”

While this victory did little to affect any of the major campaigns at the time, northerners celebrated it as a rare success following a string of failures. It also stopped Confederate commerce between the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, it cleared the way for Federal ships to continue on to Little Rock, and it served as the preface to a new campaign against Vicksburg.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 252-53, 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 77-78, 133-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 250-51, 253; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 307-08, 310-11; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 156-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 569-70; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39

The Battle of Prairie Grove

December 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Francis J. Herron’s Federals about 12 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas, sparking a confusing but brutal 12-hour battle.

General Francis J. Herron | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Herron led two divisions of 6,000 men and 30 guns to reinforce Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s 5,000-man division isolated at Cane Hill. Hindman had hoped to attack and destroy Blunt before Herron arrived, but when he learned that Herron was coming up fast, he decided to bypass Blunt, attack Herron first, and then turn back on Blunt. Hindman’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi consisted of 11,300 poorly equipped men and 22 guns.

Herron’s Federals reached Fayetteville, about 20 miles from Blunt, before dawn on the 7th. Hindman dispatched a small cavalry force under Colonel J.C. Monroe to keep Blunt occupied while the rest of the Confederates moved around Blunt’s flank to confront Herron. As Herron’s men continued marching toward Blunt, they were met by Confederate artillery near Illinois Creek, 12 miles down the road. Hindman’s army stood in line of battle at the village of Prairie Grove, between Herron and Blunt.

Hindman ordered an attack, led by Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry and William C. Quantrill’s partisans. Herron, fearing that Hindman had destroyed Blunt’s force, directed his men to stand firm. But the Federals, exhausted from marching nearly 100 miles in three days, began falling back. Hindman did not capitalize on this early advantage; he instead ordered his men to take defensive positions and wait for Herron to attack.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As both sides settled into defenses and traded artillery fire, Blunt heard the guns and realized that Hindman had outflanked him. “My God, they’re in our rear!” he exclaimed as he wheeled his troops around and hurried to Herron’s aid.

On the battlefield, Herron guessed that since the Confederates had stopped their advance, their numbers must be small. He therefore ordered an attack; the Federals charged twice but could not make headway. Hindman responded with a charge of his own, but Federal artillery beat it back.

Blunt’s Federals began arriving on the scene around 4 p.m., pouring enfilade fire into Hindman’s flank. Brigadier General J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate cavalry counterattacked, preventing Blunt from breaking the line. Nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates held their ground, but the weather turned bitter cold, the troops lacked ammunition for a second day of fighting, and the animals lacked forage to survive. Thus, Hindman ordered a withdrawal back toward Van Buren during the night. Men wrapped blankets around wagon wheels so the Federals could not hear the retreat. Thousands of soldiers, who had been reluctantly conscripted into the Confederate army, deserted along the way.

About 10,000 men on each side participated in the battle. The Federals sustained 1,251 casualties (175 killed, 813 wounded, and 263 missing), 918 of which were Herron’s. The Confederates lost 1,317 (164 killed, 817 wounded, and 336 missing).

The fight was a tactical draw, but the Confederate withdrawal made it a Federal strategic victory. Herron reported, “The fighting was desperate beyond description,” and accurately predicted, “I think this section is rid of Hindman.” This battle ended Confederate hopes of regaining Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, or the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The next morning, Hindman sent a request to Blunt under a flag of truce for his men to collect the wounded and bury the dead. Hindman asked for a 36-hour armistice, but Blunt believed this was a ruse to cover a Confederate escape and countered with just six hours. Hindman agreed; his army was already withdrawing, so six hours still gave him a day’s march ahead of his pursuers.

Both Confederates and Federals came out to the battlefield, along with nearby relatives of those in both armies. Some of the wounded had frozen to death, and hogs feasted on some of the corpses. Federal burial parties noticed that many Confederates had frozen to death without suffering any wounds. They also noticed that some Confederates had removed the bullets from the cartridges to fire blanks; this indicated that they had served against their will.

The Federals accused Marmaduke’s Confederates of taking weapons off the dead, prompting Blunt to end the truce and order those responsible captured as prisoners of war. But by that time, most of Hindman’s troops were well on their way to Van Buren, 45 miles south.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Frontier over Herron and Blunt, soon arrived on the scene and censured Blunt for not falling back to link with Herron’s reinforcements rushing his way. Schofield also censured Herron for attacking with troops so exhausted that many died of fatigue and exposure instead of combat.

Both the Lincoln and Davis administrations began attaching less importance to actions west of the Mississippi after this battle. President Jefferson Davis had asked General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department over Hindman, to send reinforcements to Vicksburg just before the battle occurred. The casualties sustained during the fight and the desertions afterward meant that Holmes had no reinforcements to spare.

The Confederate high command later sent Hindman east and replaced him with Major General Sterling Price, a Missourian who had long sought to reclaim his state for the Confederacy. Holmes was reassigned from department command to just the District of Arkansas within the department.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 238; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 11, 49-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236-37; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 668; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 358; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93

A Race in Northwestern Arkansas

December 6, 1862 – Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals were isolated in northwestern Arkansas, and the race was on to see whether reinforcements or the Confederates could reach him first.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As December began, Major General Thomas C. Hindman was preparing to move his Confederate army north to join forces with Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke near Cane Hill, Arkansas. The combined force would then attack Blunt’s Federals before the rest of the Army of the Frontier could hurry from Springfield, Missouri, to reinforce them.

Blunt’s force was stationed at Cane Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville. His immediate superior, Major General John Schofield, was on the sick list, so command passed up to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri from St. Louis. The Federal commander at Springfield was Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, who recently resumed command from General James Totten.

General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Little Rock, initially supported Hindman’s plan to strike Blunt. But then he suddenly reconsidered. The men exchanged cables on the 1st, with Hindman stating, “With the infantry and artillery alone I can defeat the Union force at Cane Hill.” By sending cavalry around both the Federal flanks, Hindman “hoped to destroy them. I urge upon you to leave me to my discretion in the matter. I will not trifle with the great interests entrusted to me.”

Holmes answered, “If your army is destroyed or demoralized, ruin to us will follow.” He urged Hindman to either stay put until he could better organize his army or advance into the Indian Territory. Hindman insisted that he must “push right up at once and try to regain what has been lost.”

When Holmes suggested that the army might be better off reinforcing Vicksburg, Hindman replied, “If this is done, Arkansas is lost. Holding Vicksburg won’t save a foot of it. Whenever the enemy gets south of the Boston Mountains, and establishes himself, he can press you down to Louisiana or into Texas without difficulty.” Hindman also argued that sending his men east would cause mass desertions. Holmes finally relented, writing, “Use your discretion and good luck to you.”

Hindman proceeded to prepare his Army of the Trans-Mississippi to march 75 miles north from the Arkansas River to attack Blunt’s 5,000 Federals. Hindman’s force numbered 11,300 men with 22 guns. Hindman was confident that he could easily defeat the enemy, but for his assault to succeed, he needed total secrecy. He also needed support on his left flank, which he hoped would be provided by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper and his band of Natives and whites in the Indian Territory.

Unfortunately for Hindman, Cooper’s force had largely disbanded after its defeat at Old Fort Wayne in November. Cooper notified Hindman, “The Indians are not inclined to venture much alone, they need white support.” Cooper could only send 400 men under Brigadier General Stand Watie to support the offensive.

Hindman also could not rely on the element of surprise, as Blunt received word on the 3rd that Confederates were coming to attack him. Although scouts had erroneously guessed that 25,000 men were just 25 miles away (only 11,300 were almost 75 miles away), the alarm had sounded that an attack of some sort was imminent.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Blunt hurriedly wired Totten for help, unaware that Herron had taken back his command in southwestern Missouri. He next wired Curtis for help, and then he telegraphed Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, commanding the 1st Arkansas (U.S.) Cavalry, directing him to guard the Telegraph road to facilitate Herron’s line of march. Blunt then resolved to stay and fight, ordering his men to build defenses and guard all approaches to Cane Hill.

Curtis received Blunt’s dispatch and feared he was too isolated to hold his ground. Curtis wrote, “You are too far in advance for support and supplies. Had better fall back to meet Herron’s reinforcements…” Curtis also ordered Herron to support Blunt in northwestern Arkansas, over 100 miles away. A race began to determine whether Hindman or Herron would reach Blunt first.

Herron told Blunt that he would have his men in motion by noon on the 3rd, but Blunt was so far away “that it may be necessary for you to fall back a short distance, but I will do my best to make that unnecessary.” Blunt refused to fall back, confident he could repulse any Confederate attack at least until Herron came up with his reinforcements.

As Hindman led his force through the Boston Mountains, the highest in the Ozark chain, he issued a proclamation to his men:

“Remember that the enemy you engage has no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you. His ranks are made up of Pin Indians, free negroes, Southern tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country; stolen and destroyed your property; murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes, and defiled the graves of your kindred. If each man of you will do what I have here urged upon you, we will utterly destroy them. We can do this; we must do it; our country will be ruined if we fail. A just God will strengthen our arms and give us a glorious victory.”

Herron led two divisions totaling 6,000 Federals and 30 guns into Arkansas the next day, marching along Pea Ridge’s granite slopes. The men reached Fayetteville on the night of the 6th. They had marched an incredible 110 miles through extreme cold in just three days.

Blunt closely watched the road from Van Buren, which he expected Hindman to use. He did not guard the Cove Creek road to the east, which Blunt believed the Confederates would be foolish to use because it would expose their supply lines to Federal destruction.

Hindman’s Confederates continued advancing on the 6th, clearing Federal pickets in their front and pushing Federal cavalry off Reed’s Mountain. Hindman planned to advance up the Van Buren road just as Blunt guessed and attack the next morning. However, scouts notified him that Herron’s reinforcements were approaching, and a frontal assault would only push Blunt back into Herron.

Refusing to retreat, Hindman instead planned to attack Herron first, hoping his Federals would be exhausted and not ready to fight. He would then turn and attack Blunt on Cane Hill. After midnight, Hindman directed his army to conduct a night march around Blunt on the Cove Creek road to an area south of Fayetteville around Prairie Grove.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 47, 49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 235-36; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600

The Cane Hill Engagement

November 28, 1862 – Federals led by Brigadier General James G. Blunt attacked Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s small Confederate cavalry force in a skirmish in northwestern Arkansas.

General John S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke had expected the Federals to advance from the northwest, but they came forward using the Fayetteville road to the northeast instead, which the Confederates had not guarded. The Federals quickly drove the pickets off and attacked Marmaduke’s unsuspecting flank.

The fight became a nine-hour running battle, with the Confederates being pushed back from position to position as Marmaduke scrambled to assemble a rear guard to protect his supply train. The Confederates retreated down the Van Buren road as their train hurried into the Boston Mountains.

Meanwhile, the chase scattered Blunt’s Federals, so he waited until they could be regrouped before resuming the offensive. Marmaduke continued falling back, with Blunt pursuing. As nightfall approached, the Federals ran into the Confederate rear guard, led by Colonel J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s “Iron Brigade,” which lay in ambush.

Shelby directed his men to form one column on each side of the road. The front line fired, raced to the rear to reload, and the next line fired to hold off the advancing enemy. This stopped the Federal pursuers and ended the engagement, enabling Marmaduke, his men, and his supply train to escape.

The Federals sustained 44 casualties (eight killed and 36 wounded), and the Confederates lost 80 (10 killed and 70 wounded or missing). During the night, Marmaduke fell back to Dripping Springs, eight miles north of Van Buren. This engagement shifted the initiative in Arkansas to the Federals.

Marmaduke sought to counterattack the next day, as Blunt took up headquarters at Cane Hill. The Federals were now over 100 miles from the rest of the Army of the Frontier and its support base at Springfield, Missouri. Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman hurried a regiment and a wagon train of ammunition to reinforce Marmaduke.

In his official report written that night, Marmaduke urged Hindman to come up with all “celerity and secrecy” to join in an attack. Hindman replied:

“The crossing will be completed to-morrow, and the command will move on Monday (December 1) at daylight. I shall march moderately, not above 12 or 15 miles a day, if it can be helped, so as not to break the men down before the fight commences.”

Believing that Blunt would stay at Cane Hill until he came up, Hindman added, “To prevent as far as practicable rumors of the movement getting to the enemy, spread the report that Little Rock is threatened, and I am ordered there. This can be done, I hope, without disheartening your men.” Meanwhile, Blunt’s isolated force remained at Cane Hill.

Hindman’s Confederates began crossing the Arkansas River on the 29th. His superior, General Theophilus H. Holmes commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, wrote him, “You must save the country if you can.” Hindman met with Marmaduke and his other commanders the following day. The Confederates only had enough ammunition for one day of fighting, so the attack needed to be quick and decisive. The leaders worked out a plan to divide the army into four columns, with one each attacking Blunt’s flanks, front, and rear.

In a sudden change of heart, Holmes warned Hindman, “You must not think of advancing in your present condition. You would lose your army. The enemy will either advance on you or for want of supplies will be obliged to return to Missouri.”

As the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi assembled near Van Buren, Blunt dispatched scouts to determine the enemy positions.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 233; 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. 290-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552