Tag Archives: Army of the Trans-Mississippi

The Fall of Little Rock

September 10, 1863 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas entered the state capital after Confederates retreated.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As the month began, Steele’s Federals closed in on Major General Sterling Price’s Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi northeast of Little Rock. The forces clashed over control of the Shoal Ford Road, which the Confederates needed to avoid being flanked and forced to abandon the capital.

Steele spent the first week of September slowly preparing his 12,000 men to launch a full-scale attack. Four gunboats at Devall’s Bluff on the White River supported Steele’s operation. Price, who took command of the district when General Theophilus H. Holmes fell ill in July, defended Little Rock with 8,000 men entrenched on the north bank of the Arkansas River.

Meanwhile, a second Federal force in Arkansas under Brigadier General James G. Blunt captured Fort Smith, 125 miles west of Little Rock near the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) border. Brigadier General William L. Cabell, commanding the Confederates in the fort, evacuated without a fight. The loss of Fort Smith meant that the Confederates also lost the Indian Territory.

Back outside Little Rock, Price’s Confederates strengthened their defenses and awaited the impending Federal assault. Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, urged Price to commandeer local slaves to build fortifications:

“The urgency is immediate. The temper of the people is now favorable for such a step; there is a feeling of distrust in the loyalty of their slaves, and an anxiety to have the able-bodied males in the service of the Government; especially is this the case in the exposed portions of the country, and I think… large numbers could be obtained without difficulty.”

Smith maintained that “a large number of men would by this measure be added to the effective force in your district.” But many worried that impressing local slaves to build defenses still might not be enough to keep the Federals out of Little Rock.

After several reconnaissance missions, Steele determined that the Confederate right flank, anchored on the Arkansas River, could be bypassed. On the 6th, Brigadier General John Davidson led his 6,000 Federal cavalrymen south to access the Arkansas below Price’s Confederates. Davidson hoped to outflank the Confederates by crossing the river, but he struggled to find a suitable crossing point.

The Confederate right flank consisted of cavalry led by Brigadier General Lucius M. “Marsh” Walker. Part of Walker’s command had once belonged to Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke, and the longstanding feud between these two commanders finally came to a head.

Maj Gen J.S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke had accused Walker of cowardice and resented his superiors for seemingly favoring Walker. Marmaduke demanded to be transferred or relieved, but while Price was trying to accommodate him, Walker wrote him demanding that he withdraw his accusation. Marmaduke repeated his charge that Walker “avoided all positions of danger.” The two men resolved to settle their differences in a duel on the nearby Le Fevre Plantation.

When Price heard about the duel, he ordered the generals to stay at their respective headquarters. But Walker headed to the dueling site before the order arrived, and Marmaduke simply ignored it. At dawn on the 6th, the men took 15 paces and fired their Colt revolvers. Neither man hit their mark on the first shot, but Marmaduke quickly fired a second and hit Walker in the abdomen.

Walker’s aides were allowed to load their general into one of Marmaduke’s wagons and take him to Little Rock for medical care. For this generosity, Walker instructed, “See General Marmaduke and tell him that before taking the sacrament, I forgive him with all my heart, and I want my friends to forgive him and neither prosecute nor persecute him.” Walker died the next day.

Price initially ordered Marmaduke arrested but then, according to his report:

“Feeling, however, the great inconvenience and danger of an entire change of cavalry commanders in the very presence of the enemy, and when a general engagement was imminent, I yielded to the urgent and almost unanimous request of the officers of General Marmaduke’s division and his own appeal, and suspended his sentence, and ordered him to resume his command during the pending operations. I did this in spite of the apprehension that such leniency toward General Marmaduke might intensify the bitter feelings which had been already aroused in General Walker’s division by the result of the duel.”

Marmaduke took over Walker’s troops and was never disciplined for killing his fellow officer.

The Federals spent the next few days trying to lay a pontoon bridge across the Arkansas River. Confederate cavalry under Colonel Archibald Dobbin, Walker’s replacement, tried contesting the bridge-building, but it was completed nonetheless by the end of the 9th. Steele’s infantry would demonstrate against the Confederate defenses north of the river while Davidson’s cavalry would cross the river and attack Little Rock from the south.

The Federals feigned a crossing farther downriver, prompting Dobbin to cover that area and leave his force too small to contest the actual crossing. Davidson slowly pushed the Confederates back until they made a stand at Bayou Fourche, five miles below Little Rock. Marmaduke’s men arrived to reinforce Dobbin, but they could only temporarily halt the Federal momentum. Price ordered his remaining forces to abandon the north bank of the Arkansas.

The Confederates stubbornly tried to hold the south bank, but they were slowly forced to fall back. According to Davidson, “Every advantageous foot of ground from this point onward was warmly contested by them, my cavalry dismounting and taking it afoot in the timber and cornfields.” Steele’s infantry and artillery on the other side of the Arkansas fired on the Confederates as they passed.

Price ordered Little Rock evacuated at 5 p.m. Two squadrons of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry charged through the Confederates and entered the city, which was formally surrendered at 7 p.m. Little Rock joined Nashville, Baton Rouge, and Jackson as captured Confederate state capitals.

Governor Harris Flanigan fled to Washington, Arkansas, to avoid capture. Steele planned to pursue Price the next day, but the Confederates had already gotten a big head start on their way toward Rockport and Arkadelphia, 60 miles southwest.

With the captures of Little Rock and Fort Smith, three-fourths of Arkansas, including the vital Arkansas River, fell into Federal hands. This put the Federals in position to capture the remaining quarter of southwestern Arkansas, and then advance down to the Red River, which led into eastern Texas.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 321, 324-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 701-02, 706-07; 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 552-571; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 345, 349; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 403, 407-08; 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; 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. 190; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 798

Advertisements

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.

—–

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

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.

—–

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.

Marmaduke’s Raid: Hartville

January 9, 1863 – Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s Confederates clashed with Federals during their raid on Federal supply depots in southwestern Missouri.

One of Marmaduke’s two brigades under Colonel Joseph Porter approached Hartville in accordance with Marmaduke’s original order to take that town. Porter was unaware that Marmaduke had changed plans and instead unsuccessfully attacked Springfield. The Confederates took Hartville but were disappointed to find just 35 soldiers and 200 muskets there.

Porter’s troops camped for the night about six miles outside Hartville. Meanwhile, Marmaduke withdrew from Springfield with his main force and headed east down the Rolla road to join Porter. He split his forces again, sending Colonel Jo Shelby to burn a Federal fort at Sand Spring and Colonel Emmett MacDonald to Marshfield. MacDonald reported:

“Here we found rich stores, suitable to the wants of our men, consisting of boots, shoes, hats, caps, socks, gloves, &c. We also captured 6 prisoners, who were paroled on the succeeding morning, and a quantity of fine arms and ammunition.”

Brigadier General Fitz H. Warren learned of the engagement at Springfield on the 9th and dispatched 700 Federals under Colonel Samuel Merrill from Houston, about 90 miles east of Springfield. As the Federals moved west, the Confederates moved east. Merrill’s Federals arrived at Hartville on the 10th to find the Confederates already gone. They then proceeded as ordered to reinforce General Egbert Brown at Springfield.

Also on the 9th, Marmaduke’s three columns converged on Marshfield unbeknownst to Merrill. Marmaduke planned to move out that night and set up a base at Hartville. The next day, Marmaduke’s Confederates collided with Merrill’s Federals outside Hartville.

Col Jo Shelby | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals staged a fighting retreat, as Merrill feared the rumors that the Confederate force numbered 6,000 men. The force was much smaller than that, with only Porter’s brigade attacking. Porter could not break the Federal line, so he led his men to safety in Hartville. As they did so, Shelby’s brigade approached the Federals from south of the town. Shelby reported:

“Almost immediately after dismounting, I threw out skirmishers, and advanced the whole line upon the town and upon the woods beyond, knowing that within the dark shades of the timber the crouching Federals were waiting for the spring. After gaining the town, and just upon entering the woods, the brigade received a terrible and well-directed fire, which was so sudden that it almost became a surprise. The men stood all its fury well, and it was not until the tornado had passed did they begin to waver; some fell back, it is true; some stood firm, and others crouched behind obstructions that sheltered them…”

Both sides took turns charging each other, facing “death’s black banner,” but ultimately the Confederate “banner of the bars waves again high over the lurid light of the fight.” Merrill sustained 78 casualties (seven killed, 64 wounded, and seven missing), while Marmaduke lost 111 (12 killed, 96 wounded, and three missing). Among those killed was Colonel MacDonald, who was mourned by his second in command: “Let us drop one tear upon the grave of the departed hero, and pass on to renewed victories and to avenge his death.”

Marmaduke decided to end his raid. Moving in various directions, the Confederates finally recrossed the White River and returned to Batesville, Arkansas, on the 25th. Marmaduke had sustained about 250 casualties while inflicting the same number on the Federals and capturing and paroling about 300 more. He had destroyed vital Federal supplies and refit his men with much better arms and equipment than they had used to enter Missouri. But this operation ultimately did nothing to stop the strengthening Federal control over both Missouri and Arkansas.

—–

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. 140; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 252-53, 256, 258; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 310-11

Marmaduke’s Raid: Springfield

January 8, 1863 – Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke led a Confederate force from Little Rock, Arkansas, to raid Federal supply depots in southwestern Missouri.

Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi had retreated to Van Buren, Arkansas, after the Battle of Prairie Grove. When Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals advanced to threaten him, Hindman pulled back to Little Rock, with both sides trading artillery fire across the Arkansas River. Major General John Schofield eventually arrived to take command from Blunt, placing him under arrest for advancing without orders (Blunt was later exonerated and promoted).

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

At Little Rock, Hindman’s force dwindled to just about 6,000 effectives, or half its size before the fight at Prairie Grove. This left him unable to launch a new offensive to take back Missouri, which had been his ultimate goal. Hindman therefore dispatched Marmaduke and about 2,500 men in two brigades to go into Missouri and raid the Federal depot at Hartville.

The Confederates began heading north in two columns on New Year’s Eve. Colonel Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby, commanding one of Marmaduke’s brigades, wrote:

“On the last day of December, 1862, when the old year was dying in the lap of the new, and January had sent its moaning winds to wail the requiem of the past…

“The day was auspicious; a bright red sun had tempered the keen air to pleasantness, and cheered the mounted soldiers with the hopes of a gay and gallant trip. The first two days’ march was long and comfortable; the third the rain commenced, cold and chilling, and continued without intermission for three days, the grand old mountains standing bare against the dull and somber sky, their heads heavy with the storms of centuries. The men suffered much, but, keeping the bright goal of Missouri constantly in sight, spurred on and on quite merrily.”

Shelby’s men scattered a small Federal force and arrived at Yellville, near the Missouri border, on the 2nd. According to Shelby, “The 4th, 5th, and 6th were spent in long and cold forced marches” as the troops entered Missouri. The Confederates approached the Federal garrisons at Fort Lawrence and Ozark on the morning of the 6th.

Marmaduke abandoned the plan to take Hartville in favor of taking the huge supply depot at Springfield instead. Marmaduke issued orders: “Shelby to move forward in the direction of Springfield, through Ozark, a fortified town, garrisoned by 400 militia; (Colonel Emmett) MacDonald by way of Fort Lawrence to Springfield.”

Marmaduke also notified Colonel Joseph Porter, who led the second column already on its way to Hartville, to instead join the drive on Springfield. However, Porter did not get the message until the 10th, four days after Marmaduke sent it.

The march during the night of the 6th “was attended with much suffering from cold. The men were, however, buoyed up and kept in excellent spirits in expectation of a fight on the coming morning.” When the Federal commander at Fort Lawrence received word that thousands of Confederates were approaching, he prepared to retreat to Ozark, 45 miles away. But MacDonald’s 300 troops attacked first, sending the Federals fleeing before burning the fort. The Confederates seized 14 prisoners and 300 stands of arms.

During this time, Marmaduke’s main force approached Ozark. The Federals who had fled from Fort Lawrence got there first and evacuated their supplies as they continued retreating north toward Springfield. As the Confederates approached, Shelby sent a regiment around the town to see if the Federals had evacuated. He wrote:

“I soon found that the nest was there and it was warm, but the birds had flown, and nothing remained to do but apply the torch to fort and barracks. Soon the red glare of flames burst out upon the midnight sky, and the cold, calm stars looked down upon the scene.”

The Confederates continued north toward Springfield that night, as Shelby wrote, “It was an intensely cold night, that of the 7th, the frost hung heavy and chill on the garments of my devoted brigade, marching onto the stronghold of the enemy with a determination in their hearts rarely surpassed.”

The Federal commander at Springfield, General Egbert Brown, received word that night that about 6,000 Confederates were approaching. Brown had just 1,500 men and did not know that the number of enemy troops was wildly exaggerated. He frantically called on nearby outposts to send reinforcements to help defend the town.

On the morning of the 8th, Brown dispatched scouts to find out how close the Confederates were. He then arranged to defend the town despite his belief that he would be vastly outnumbered. According to Shelby:

“The sun came up on the morning of the 8th like a ball of fire, and the day was gloomy and chill; but Springfield loomed up before us in the distance like a beautiful panorama, and the men, catching the inspiration of the scene, forgot all their trials and hardships, and were eager for the rough, red fray.”

Brown sent out cavalry to delay the Confederate advance. Shelby wrote, “With flaunting banners, and all the pomp and circumstance of war, the Federals had marched gaily out to meet us, and taken their position in our front.” He then reported:

“There lay the quiet town, robed in the dull, gray hue of the winter, its domes and spires stretching their skeleton hands to heaven, as if in prayer against the coming strife, and, drawing near and nearer, long black lines came gleaming on, while the sun shone out like a golden bar, uncurling its yellow hair on earth and sky, stream and mountain, and lent the thrilling picture a sterner and fiercer light. My skirmishers advanced steadily, and now continual shots in front tell that the enemy are found and pressed sorely.”

The Confederates repelled the Federal charges, with MacDonald’s cavalry coming up from Fort Lawrence in support. Early that afternoon, Shelby ordered an all-out attack before Federal reinforcements could arrive:

“Gallantly it was done, and as gallantly sustained. At the command, a thousand warriors sprang to their feet, and, with one wild Missouri yell, burst upon the foe; some storm the fort at the headlong charge, others gain the houses from which the Federals had just been driven, and keep up the fight, while some push on after the flying foe. The storm increases and the combatants get closer and closer.”

The fighting surged back and forth as Federal reinforcements joined the fray. Some of the Federals broke and ran, but others came up to take their place and finally push the Confederates back. Shelby reported:

“Night came down with weary, brooding wings, laid her dark brow across the cloudy sky, and threw her sable mantle over fort and wall and house and men, checking the bloody strife, and calming the furious passions that had been at war all day.”

The Federals sustained 231 casualties (30 killed, 195 wounded, and six missing), while the Confederates lost 292 (80 killed, 200 wounded, and 12 missing). The Federals maintained the hold on Springfield they had since just after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in August 1861.

—–

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. 140; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 251-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 309-10

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.

—–

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.

—–

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