Tag Archives: Army of Arkansas

Arkansas: The Prairie d’Ane Engagement

April 10, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas clashed with Confederates while trying to move south and join forces with the Federals at Shreveport.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele’s 8,500 Federals had left Little Rock to support the Red River campaign, but Confederates in Arkansas tried to stop them. After failing to prevent the Federals from crossing the Little Missouri River, Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederate cavalry fell back to the rugged wilderness of Prairie d’Ane. The troopers were joined by Major General Sterling Price, commanding the District of Arkansas, and two infantry brigades.

Following the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Price had decided to send no more troops to Louisiana and instead turn his full attention to the Federals in Arkansas. Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederates in Louisiana, deeply resented this move because he wanted to pursue and destroy Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf and reclaim his home state.

Price reported that the Confederates were “drawn up in line of battle at the west end of the prairie, where some rude and imperfect entrenchments had been thrown up.” Brigadier General Jo Shelby’s brigade patrolled the Confederate front for several days; Shelby wrote that the time “was spent in desultory skirmishing, with now and then an alarm, in which I formed my command in battle line.”

Steele had been waiting for reinforcements from Fort Smith, led by Brigadier General John M. Thayer, and he finally received word that they had been sighted. Steele opted to wait for Thayer and fortify his position before advancing against the Confederates.

Rain washed the Federal defenses away on the 7th, as Steele’s chief engineer wrote, “Corduroying and bridges were afloat, the whole bottom nearly was under water, and the Little Missouri was no longer fordable, having risen three feet.” With no forage in this unforgiving region of Arkansas, Steele’s men and animals went from half to quarter-rations.

The Federals built a pontoon bridge that Thayer used to join Steele on the 9th. However, the arrival of Thayer’s men only added to Steele’s supply shortages and did nothing to relieve him from the constant harassment by nearby Confederate troopers. Steele therefore decided to push through the Confederates in his front to get to Camden, where he could receive supplies via the Ouachita River.

Steele’s men clashed with Shelby’s pickets that night, and Shelby reported, “For three hours more the fight went on, the whole heaven lit up with bursting bombs and the falling flames of muskets.” The Confederates fell back toward Washington, and by the morning of the 10th, the Federals held the road from Washington to Camden.

Steele could not turn east toward Camden without risking being attacked from the Confederates in his rear to the west. Thus, he directed Brigadier General Frederick Salomon’s division to confront the enemy on the western edge of Prairie d’Ane. Salomon reported at 1 p.m., “I commenced to move forward and advanced some four miles or more to the prairie, closing the day with a severe skirmish…”

The Confederates fell back, but as they did they drew the Federals further into the forbidding wilderness of the prairie and away from their potential supply base at Camden. Skirmishing continued for the next several days that cost Steele valuable time, men, and materiel.

The Federals finally disengaged and turned east toward Camden on the 12th. Price’s Confederates advanced into Prairie d’Ane the next day and clashed with the Federal rear guard under Thayer. Steele feinted toward Washington while continuing toward Camden; Price had pulled his troops out of Camden because he believed that Steele would target Washington.

Camden had been a strong Confederate base in Arkansas, and when Price realized that Steele was heading there, he scrambled to get his troops back to the town first. Price dispatched Marmaduke’s cavalry and Brigadier General Thomas Dockery’s infantry brigade to race the Federals to Camden. Steele reported:

“When they found we had turned this way, they tried to beat us here. Marmaduke got in our front and Dockery in our rear, by the middle and north roads, and endeavored to hold us until Price could get into the fortifications by the south road with his infantry and artillery.”

The Federals hurried east, “driving Marmaduke before us from position to position.” Price was receiving reinforcements from the Indian Territory, and three divisions from Taylor in Louisiana were on their way. However, the Federals won the race, with the vanguard reaching Camden on the 14th and the rest of the army getting there the next day.

According to Steele, “There are nine forts on eminences, and they seem to be well located. Strategically and commercially, I regard this as the first town in Arkansas.” Steele acknowledged that he was still expected to continue south and capture Shreveport, but he stated that it was “all important to hold this place.”

Steele became even more hesitant to leave Camden when he learned that Banks had retreated after the Battle of Pleasant Hill. However, Price was gathering his Confederates to either force Steele out or cut off his supply line.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 391; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 588-90; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 1109-19, 1416-46; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 416-17, 420; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 485

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Arkansas: The Elkins’ Ferry Engagement

April 4, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas encountered resistance while trying to cross the Little Missouri River en route to their rendezvous point at Shreveport, Louisiana.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele had left Little Rock in March to link with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Red River expeditionary force. Steele had resisted joining with Banks due to a large Confederate cavalry presence and a lack of adequate forage in southern Arkansas. But he complied with orders nonetheless, advancing to Arkadelphia unopposed.

Steele expected to link with Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s cavalry force heading east from Fort Smith. But when there was no sign of Taylor after three days, Steele’s Federals resumed their southwestern movement toward Washington. The supply shortage began taking its toll, just as Steele had feared, and his men and animals went on half-rations. From Washington, Steele hoped to move east to Camden to collect more supplies via the Ouachita River.

Part of Steele’s mission was to keep the Confederates in Arkansas from moving south to oppose Banks. Steele seemed to succeed when Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke brought his Confederates out of winter quarters at Camden to confront the Federals. Marmaduke had been ordered by Major General Sterling Price, commanding the Confederate District of Arkansas, to prevent the Federals from crossing the Little Missouri River on their way to Washington.

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

Marmaduke moved out with three cavalry brigades under Brigadier Generals Jo Shelby and William L. Cabell, and Colonel Colton Greene. Marmaduke planned a three-pronged assault on Steele’s front, flank, and rear. On the 2nd, Shelby’s Confederates attacked the Federal rear guard but were repulsed.

While Marmaduke’s other two brigades tried getting into position, Steele fortified his flank by securing Elkins’ Ferry on the Little Missouri. The bulk of Steele’s army advanced via Elkins’, and a detachment under Colonel Adolph Engelmann moved down the road to Washington before halting for the night at Okolona.

The next morning, a Federal brigade moved north from Okolona toward Spoonville to try finding Thayer’s lost cavalry. The Federals ran into Confederate horsemen, and fierce skirmishing ensued. Colonel John Garrett of the 40th Iowa reported:

“At 9 a.m., as the brigade was about ready to start back to Spoonville, a sharp fight was opened on our picket-line. My regiment was ordered into line by direction of Colonel Engelmann, commanding brigade… Advancing a short distance they met the enemy in the brush and behind logs, and by a few well-directed shots drove them back, following cautiously and firing as opportunity offered.”

Colonel Conrad Krez of the 27th Wisconsin wrote:

“We cleared the rise of the ground, which was covered with an almost impenetrable thicket of hawthorn. The enemy fell back to the other side of a clearing on high ground, and the ravine dividing that clearing from another hill running parallel with the road, where they maintained a heavy fire immediately in front of the three companies deployed by me, and at that time opened with artillery and threw grape and canister to the right of Company G… a heavy thunder-storm broke out and interrupted further operations.”

The fight ended with the Confederates falling back in the rain and the Federals holding their ground. Other skirmishing occurred along the Little Missouri, as Marmaduke traveled with Cabell in an effort to get between Steele’s main force and Washington.

Marmaduke’s Confederates tried stopping the Federals from crossing the Little Missouri at Elkins’ Ferry on the 4th. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Drake was assigned to lead several companies from the 36th Iowa and the 43rd Indiana in guarding the road from the ferry crossing to the Federal camp. Drake reported:

“Soon after daylight, the enemy engaged the cavalry pickets, and almost simultaneously made a determined effort to turn my left flank. The engagement was now becoming very warm, and my men were falling wounded on my right and left, but by a very determined effort we finally succeeded in driving back the rebel column into the woods in front of the orchard.”

Drake’s six companies of 300 men were heavily outnumbered by about 2,000 Confederates closing in on him. The rest of the 36th Iowa came forward, and the Federals made a brave stand that finally drove the Confederates off, despite still being outnumbered. More Federal reinforcements arrived after the Confederates had fallen back. Colonel Charles Kittredge of the 36th Iowa reported, “Drake especially deserves honorable mention for the gallant manner in which he performed his duties.”

This engagement enabled the rest of Steele’s forces to cross the Little Missouri. The Federals sustained about 30 casualties, while the Confederates lost 68 (18 killed and 50 wounded). When Steele received news of the fighting, he opted to hold his positions while continuing to wait for Thayer.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, expressed dismay that Steele had been allowed to cross the Little Missouri. Steele’s Federals were now more than halfway to their goal of reaching Shreveport. Smith had originally planned to defeat Banks and then turn to defeat Steele, but this compelled him to focus on Steele first.

The Confederates fell back to defensive works between Washington and Elkins’ Ferry, on the western fringe of Prairie d’Ane.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 389, 391; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 773-83, 1367-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414, 416; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 480

Red River: The Federal Two-Pronged Advance Finally Begins

March 24, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federals finally began moving out of Little Rock, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals finally reached Alexandria.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele reported that his Army of Arkansas (officially the 3rd Division of VII Corps) numbered about 7,000 men, and that it was inadequate to support the Red River campaign as ordered. Steele argued that Banks’s Army of the Gulf, which numbered about 27,000 men, was strong enough to take care of itself, and moving through southern Arkansas would be treacherous due to lack of forage.

Finally, after repeated orders from his superiors, Steele agreed to move south. He told Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on the 18th that he planned “to concentrate my forces at Arkadelphia, about 10,000 strong, move from there on Camden and open communication back to Pine Bluff, and then move on Shreveport in time to co-operate with Banks at that point.”

When Steele requested more horses for transportation, Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, replied, “It is now too late to make preparations for the expedition which should have started on the 7th.” Sherman would not provide Steele with any horses until he explained “the cause of this delay.”

Finally, Steele assembled his army and prepared to move out of Little Rock on the 23rd, a week and a half after being ordered to move by Grant. He planned to link with Federals from Fort Smith under Brigadier General John M. Thayer at Arkadelphia, which would increase the force to about 10,400 men. Steele continued complaining that he lacked food for his men and horses, and Confederate cavalry regularly assailed his flanks.

In Louisiana, Banks arrived at Alexandria on the 24th, a week behind schedule. Banks learned that water levels on the Red River were lowering, which could potentially hamper naval operations. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal naval squadron, reported that his vessels had seized over 2,000 bales of cotton, along with vast amounts of molasses and wool, since entering the Red. All goods had been sent to Federals downriver or destroyed.

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

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, did not believe that Louisiana could be held. He therefore ordered Major General Richard Taylor to withdraw his Louisiana forces to Shreveport and await reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas. These forces would then move north and join with Major General Sterling Price’s troops opposing Steele in Arkansas. Smith had previously told Taylor, “The only field for great results in this is the District of Arkansas, and a concentration must be made there this summer for the recovery of the Arkansas Valley.”

Price’s Confederates were stationed near Washington, Arkansas, about 120 miles southwest of Steele’s Federals at Little Rock. Price urged Smith to send him all troops from Texas and Louisiana so he could move north, defeat Steele, and then continue north to regain his home state of Missouri. Smith explained to Price that the numbers needed for such a campaign were not available.

As more intelligence was received, Smith came to believe that Steele posed no major threat, and Taylor’s assertion that Louisiana could be saved was correct. Smith therefore pulled 5,000 Confederates from Price’s army under Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill to reinforce Taylor. Smith then began arranging for the rest of Price’s men to join Taylor at Natchitoches, and if the Federals moved north from Alexandria to confront them, “bring matters to an issue.”

Smith resolved to defend Shreveport, the military, political, and economic center of his Trans-Mississippi Department. This would involve defeating the strong Federal force coming up the Red River first, and then turning north to defeat Steele’s weaker force in Arkansas.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 473-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20604-13; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 387-88; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 609-19, 1348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 411; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51, 54, 63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 476-77