Tag Archives: Douglas H. Cooper

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

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Confederate Struggles in the Trans-Mississippi

October 27, 1862 – Federal forces pushed from Missouri into northwestern Arkansas, as Confederates in Arkansas were asked to provide support east of the Mississippi River.

The Federals under Brigadier General James G. Blunt and Major General John Schofield united at Sarcoxie, Missouri, where the Federals had retreated after the Battle of Newtonia on September 30. This combined force drove the Confederate cavalry forces of Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Jo Shelby out of Missouri, with Cooper leading his men back to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and Shelby heading to the Boston Mountains in southwestern Arkansas.

Schofield’s and Blunt’s Federals became known as the Army of the Frontier, with Schofield commanding and the three divisions led by Generals Blunt, James Totten, and Francis J. Herron. This new army numbered about 14,000 men, and its mission was to pursue the retreating Confederates into Arkansas.

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

The Federals crossed the state line on the 17th and camped on the Pea Ridge battlefield. They spent the next three days resting and gathering supplies. Meanwhile, Major General Thomas C. Hindman returned from Confederate headquarters at Little Rock to command the 6,000 Confederates falling back. Hindman divided the force in two, moving one portion south of Pea Ridge and sending the other to join Cooper west.

Schofield answered by leading two divisions against Hindman and sending Blunt’s division in pursuit of Cooper. Schofield’s pursuit stopped at Huntsville, where he learned that Hindman was heading toward the sanctuary of the Boston Mountains. Blunt moved to Maysville, where he learned that Cooper camped at Old Fort Wayne, seven miles south in the Indian Territory. Blunt resolved to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

The next day, Blunt attacked as planned, but due to a mix-up, Blunt advanced with only the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. Cooper ordered a retreat nonetheless because his main goal was to protect his supply train. A Confederate rear guard formed as a portion of Blunt’s force in the Federal center charged without authorization. Even so, the Federals overwhelmed the Confederates, consisting mostly of Indians under Stand Watie. This motivated the rest of the Federals to charge as well, and soon the rest of Blunt’s force came up in support.

The Confederates left their camps behind as they fled, but they made off with their supply train. Cooper fell back over 50 miles, south of the Arkansas River. While this was just a minor skirmish, it marked the first successful Federal foray into the Indian Territory, and it convinced many pro-secession Indians to switch sides. Blunt’s Federals set up camp near Old Fort Wayne.

Farther east, Hindman’s Confederates continued falling back into the Boston Mountains, and Schofield fell back toward Bentonville to protect his supply line. Schofield reported to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, the overall Federal commander of the department, that organized Confederate resistance had been cleared out of Missouri and Kansas. He then suggested that Blunt advance 80 miles south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to keep up the pressure on Cooper, while Schofield remained in northern Arkansas. Curtis, under pressure from Halleck to send troops east for the drive on Vicksburg, ordered Blunt to stay at Old Fort Wayne and Schofield to continue falling back to Springfield, Missouri.

Hindman countered by moving his Confederates to Fayetteville, a town from which he could advance or defend against Federals in any direction. When Schofield learned of this, he directed his Federals to confront the enemy. After a brief skirmish, Hindman ordered his Confederates to fall back to the Boston Mountains once more, and the Federals entered Fayetteville.

By month’s end, Schofield feared a Confederate attack and fell back to Osage Springs. Blunt came up to join forces with him, reuniting the Army of the Frontier.

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, outlining a plan for Holmes’s troops to aid in efforts to take back Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. The ultimate objective would be to expel all Federal troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Davis turned to Holmes after Braxton Bragg failed to secure Kentucky and the Confederates failed to expel the Federals from Mississippi. Davis hoped Holmes could coordinate efforts with Bragg in Tennessee and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Mississippi. A week later, the Confederate secretary of war sent a message to Holmes reiterating Davis’s plan:

“Cooperation between General Pemberton and yourself is indispensable to the preservation of our connection with your department. We regard this as an object of first importance, and when necessary you can cross the Mississippi with such part of your forces as you may select, and by virtue of your rank direct the combined operations on the eastern bank.”

Davis hoped to secure Tennessee and Mississippi before heading west to secure Missouri and Arkansas. But to Holmes, this seemed like Davis wanted to abandon Missouri and Arkansas altogether. This made Holmes reluctant to go along with the administration’s plan.

Also this month, Federal naval forces continued pushing up various rivers in Arkansas from their base at Helena on the Mississippi. Federal landing parties from the U.S.S. Louisville and Meteor burned the towns at Bledsoe’s and Hamblin’s landings in retaliation for a guerrilla attack on a Federal mail steamer. The naval commander reported that “the people along the river bank were duly informed that every outrage by the guerrillas upon packers would be similarly dealt with.”

A Federal landing party from U.S.S. Baron de Kalb clashed with Confederate scouts at Hopefield. The Federals captured the scouts after a nine-mile pursuit that included “impressing” local horses.

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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. 225-26; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 530-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 224; 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. 280; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356

The Battle of Newtonia

September 30, 1862 – Confederates tried reentering southwestern Missouri from Arkansas, resulting in a fierce skirmish.

Since the Battle of Pea Ridge in March, General Theophilus H. Holmes had superseded Major General Thomas C. Hindman in command of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department due to Hindman’s unpopular and allegedly dictatorial rule over both the department and the people within it.

The Confederates were primarily based in Arkansas, while the Federals were mainly in Missouri. The Federals launched occasional incursions into Arkansas, while Holmes envisioned regaining Missouri for the Confederacy.

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

In September, Hindman, now serving under Holmes, moved about 6,000 Confederates to Fort Smith to reenter Missouri and capture Springfield. Hindman advanced into southwestern Missouri and occupied Pineville, but Holmes recalled him to help manage affairs at the department’s Little Rock headquarters. Hindman left General James Rains in command at Pineville and returned as ordered.

Federal officials responded by reinstating the Department of the Missouri, which absorbed the jurisdictions of the Departments of Kansas and the Mississippi, both of which were disbanded. The new department consisted of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and Alton, Illinois.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis was assigned to command the new department, headquartered in St. Louis. Under Curtis, the Confiscation Acts were stringently enforced by Federal provost marshals, and hundreds of Missourians were jailed under martial law. Curtis’s force consisted of three divisions:

  • Major General Frederick Steele’s at Helena, Arkansas
  • Major General John Schofield’s in southwestern Missouri
  • Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s in Kansas

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Curtis directed Schofield to stop the Confederate threat in southwestern Missouri while Blunt provided support from Fort Scott, Kansas, if needed. Blunt sent Schofield two brigades. From Pineville, Rains dispatched Confederate cavalry north to reconnoiter around Newtonia. About 200 Confederates under Colonel Trevesant C. Hawpe established a base at the town.

On the 29th, Colonel Edward Lynde’s 150 Federals and two howitzers reconnoitered around Newtonia, where Confederates had established a base. That afternoon Lynde’s superior, Brigadier General Frederick Salomon (under Blunt), heard firing from Federal headquarters at Sarcoxie, 15 miles from Newtonia. He sent another two Federal companies and three howitzers to support Lynde.

The Federals arrived the next morning, increasing the force to about 4,500 men. Lynde drove the Confederates into a cornfield, where an artillery duel took place until the Confederates ran out of ammunition. The Federals pushed Hawpe’s men into the town until they were reinforced by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper’s Texas and Indian cavalry. Cooper’s men helped knock Lynde back about three miles.

During that time, Salomon arrived on the scene and directed his men to move around the enemy flank and take Newtonia from the rear. The Confederates fell under murderous enfilade fire until reinforced by Colonel Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby’s 5th Missouri Cavalry. Salomon pulled his men back to a wooded ridge as Cooper massed for a counterattack.

The Confederate reinforcements ultimately crumbled Salomon’s flanks, forcing his men to fall back. Confederate artillery panicked the troops, with some running all the way to Sarcoxie. Cooper pursued until nightfall. The Federals sustained about 400 casualties. Cooper reported losing 12 killed, 63 wounded, and three missing. Although the Confederates were victorious, they could not stay in southwestern Missouri much longer because Blunt was about to join forces with Schofield.

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References

Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08, 502, 530-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 213, 215-16; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 149-50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 269-71; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 8, 500, 747; 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), Q362

The Battle of Chustenahlah

December 26, 1861 – Confederate Texans and Native Americans defeated Unionists a second time this month in the Indian Territory.

Colonel Douglas Cooper | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Colonel Douglas Cooper | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Since the skirmish at Round Mountain in November, Unionist Creeks led by Chief Opothleyahola had withdrawn northeast into the Cherokee Nation to Chusto-Talasah (Bird Creek or Caving Banks), near Tulsey Town (present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma). Following them was a pro-Confederate force of about 1,100 Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and the 9th Texas led by Colonel Douglas Cooper.

As Cooper prepared to confront the Unionists, Colonel John Drew, commander of the 1st Cherokee Mounted (Confederate) Rifles and a nephew of Cherokee Chief John Ross, met with Opothleyahola to try brokering a peace agreement. The Chief agreed to send a messenger to Cooper seeking peace coexistence. Cooper replied that “we did not desire the shedding of blood among the Indians,” and proposed a conference to work out peace terms. However, by that time many Unionist Creeks had resolved to stop fleeing and fight, and they prevented Cooper’s envoy from meeting with Opothleyahola.

Meanwhile, Drew reported to Cooper that 500 of his Cherokees had deserted the ranks due to a “misconception of the character of the conflict between the Creeks, and from an indisposition to engage in strife with their immediate neighbors.” Some Cherokees went home, while others joined the Unionists. Drew and his remaining 28 men stayed with Cooper, who prepared to defend against an attack he thought would take place on the night of December 8. The Unionists did not attack, so Cooper deployed skirmishers to find their positions the next morning.

The Unionists drove the skirmishers back and advanced at a place the Cherokees called Chusto-Talasah. Cooper formed a line of battle to meet them, with the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right, the Cherokees and Texans in the center, and the Creeks on the left. The line advanced as one; the Creeks engaged in vicious combat with their fellow Creeks, driving back the Unionists on that flank while the Choctaws and Chickasaws pushed back the opposite flank.

Pinned down near a house at a bend in Bird Creek, the Unionists knocked the attackers back with deadly fire. This gave the Unionists the chance to escape annihilation. The Confederates tried pursuing, but their movements were limited due to supply shortages. Nightfall ended the four-hour contest, with Cooper estimating that he inflicted 500 casualties while losing just 52 (15 killed and 37 wounded). The Unionists continued their withdrawal toward Kansas.

Col James McIntosh | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Col James McIntosh | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The lack of supplies and the fear of more Cherokee desertions prompted Cooper to plead with Colonel James McIntosh for reinforcements. McIntosh responded by leading a separate force in search of Opothleyahola’s Creeks on their way to linking with Cooper. On Christmas Day, McIntosh learned that Opothleyahola’s camp was at Chustenahlah, near the Kansas border. He planned to attack the next day without informing Cooper, whose forces remained near Chusto-Talasah.

McIntosh’s Confederates, though outnumbered 1,700 to 1,300, were better equipped and trained. The Unionist Creeks were camped along Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Verdigris River, when the enemy forces came upon them around noon. The Confederates launched three assaults on the Creeks’ right, center, and left. The Unionists gradually fell back to their camp, then broke and fled in the face of repeated charges. Some Confederates pursued the Unionists while others plundered their camp. McIntosh reported:

“We captured 160 women and children, 20 negroes, 30 wagons, 70 yoke of oxen, about 500 Indian horses, several hundred head of cattle, 100 sheep, and a great quantity of property of much value to the enemy. The stronghold of Opoth-lay-oho-la was completely broken up and his force scattered in every direction destitute of the simplest elements of subsistence.”

McIntosh stated that he lost just 40 men (eight killed and 32 wounded). Opothleyahola’s Creeks, who had been reluctant to leave their homes in the Indian Territory, now raced for sanctuary in Kansas, suffering severe hardships in the process.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 60; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 147-48, 151-52; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 266

Divisions in the Indian Territory

November 20, 1861 – The war threatened to divide the Native American tribes just as it divided North and South, with Unionist Natives fleeing toward Kansas and Confederate allies of the Five Civilized Tribes in pursuit.

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Confederate agents had secured peace treaties from the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). However, Confederate Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, an agent to the Choctaws who had been adopted by the Chickasaws, received intelligence that a band of Creeks under Chief Opothleyahola officially broke with Chief John Ross to join the Unionists. Rumors abounded that the Cherokee were dividing as well.

Cooper raised a force of about 1,400 men that included Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and the 9th Texas Cavalry. After asserting that he could not resolve the dispute peacefully, Cooper announced that he would drive the Unionist “hostiles” out of the territory. Opothleyahola’s “hostiles” consisted of about 1,000 civilians, freed slaves, and a few Creek warriors, seeking to flee from their pro-Confederate tribes. They had few provisions.

Cooper discovered where they were camped and advanced up the Deep Fork of the Canadian River, where they briefly skirmished with the Creeks as they retreated north toward sanctuary in Kansas. Some Unionists taken prisoner informed Cooper that the band was building a fort on the Red Fork of the Arkansas River in case they received no support from Federal forces in Kansas.

The Confederates crossed the Red Fork at 4 p.m. on the 19th and saw the smoke of a camp in the distance. Cooper’s men charged, with the Unionist Creeks making a stand until the civilians could withdraw. Both sides traded fire into the night, until the Creeks returned to their camp. The clash continued the next day, with the Unionists gradually abandoning their camp to flee toward Kansas. The Confederates advanced and found the camp abandoned, as the Unionists crossed the Arkansas River that evening from the Creek Nation to the Cherokee Nation.

Although the Confederates controlled the Indian Territory for now, many Native allies deserted the ranks to protest this pursuit of Opothleyahola’s Creeks. Many of them had joined on the premise that they would be fighting white Federals, not their fellow Natives. The Confederates tried strengthening their grip on the region by appointing Brigadier General Albert Pike to command the new Department of the Indian Territory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 142