Tag Archives: Jo Shelby

Arkansas: The Marks’ Mills Engagement

April 25, 1864 – Confederates tried to intercept a force searching for supplies to feed the hungry Federal troops isolated at Camden.

Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal Army of Arkansas, had been ordered to move south and join forces with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf at Shreveport. However, Steele was holed up at Camden after being defeated at Poison Spring, and he was still unaware that Banks had ended his drive on Shreveport and retreated back down the Red River.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, reacted to Banks’s retreat by transferring three divisions from Lieutenant General Richard Taylor’s Confederate army in Louisiana to Major General Sterling Price’s force in Arkansas to increase the pressure on Steele. The arrival of Confederate reinforcements, which were positioned between Camden and Little Rock, indicated to Steele that Banks’s campaign had failed.

On the 20th, Steele’s Federals received much-needed supplies from Pine Bluff, which would keep the army going another 10 days. This convinced Steele that he could get even more supplies from Pine Bluff if he sent a wagon train to collect them. He dispatched 240 empty wagons, guarded by nearly 1,600 infantry and cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Francis M. Drake.

Three days later, Steele received a message from Banks written from Grand Ecore, urging Steele to join him there: “If you can join us on this line, I am confident we can move to Shreveport without material delay, and that we shall have an opportunity of destroying the only organized rebel army west of the Mississippi.” To Steele, this officially confirmed that Banks’s drive on Shreveport had failed.

Gen J.F. Fagan | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Steele replied, “Owing to contingencies, it is impossible for me to say definitely that I will join you at any point on the Red River within a given time.” As Confederates from Louisiana continued moving into Arkansas, Confederate Brigadier General James F. Fagan learned that Steele had sent out a wagon train, and, “I made quick preparations for a move against it.”

On the morning of the 25th, Fagan’s 4,000 cavalry under Brigadier Generals William L. Cabell and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby moved out. They took positions along the Saline River, overlooking a clearing called Marks’ Mill. Drake’s Federals entered this clearing at 8 a.m., and Fagan’s dismounted troopers attacked their front.

The Federals repelled the attack, but then Cabell’s Confederates hit their right flank. This sent the Federals reeling back toward their wagons, with both sides trading artillery fire in the process. Suddenly, Shelby’s troopers appeared and struck the Federal left, and Drake now faced assaults from three sides. After holding out for about four hours, the Federals surrendered. According to Fagan:

“The enemy’s lines could not sustain the combined attack. They wavered and showed signs of giving way. Our brave troops moved upon them with terrible and crushing effect. It was not long before the enemy’s forces broke in disarray and confusion, completely routed. Our victory was decided and complete.”

Fagan estimated that his men captured about 1,300 Federals, “their entire train of 300 wagons, a large number of ambulances, very many small-arms, and 150 negroes.” The remaining Federals were either killed, wounded, or escaped back to Camden. Many Federals accused Drake of “leading them straight into ambush by his dithering indecisiveness.”

Colonel Powell Clayton reported to Steele: “At that time our force, acting as escort for the train, was surrounded and over a hundred of the wagons in the hands of the enemy. The rebel forces were under Shelby and Fagan, and at least 5,000 strong. He thinks the entire train and artillery is captured, and the escort… are probably captured.”

This became known as “the slaughter at Marks’ Mills,” and it left Steele even more dangerously isolated. Ironically, had Fagan followed Smith’s orders and simply isolated the Federals at Camden, he might have starved Steele into surrendering his entire force. But instead he merely captured a detachment and left the bulk of Steele’s army intact.

Steele held a council of war that night, where he explained that without the Pine Bluff wagon train, supplies would soon run out. It was therefore decided to end efforts to get to Shreveport and turn back to Little Rock. As Steele’s chief engineer wrote:

“Our scouting parties in the front had succeeded in capturing prisoners who claimed to belong to infantry divisions of the enemy. Our spies, deserters coming into our lines, and stories told us by the residents of the country, all coincide that General Kirby Smith in person, with re-enforcements of infantry, had joined Price. Our position was by no means a safe one. It was evident that a crisis was at hand.”

The Federals began moving their remaining supply wagons and guns across the Ouachita on the 26th, and the troops began crossing that night. By next morning, they were marching through Princeton and crossing the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry, farther upstream from Marks’ Mills. Confederates quickly reclaimed Camden, and the “Camden expedition” of the Federal Red River campaign was over.

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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; 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 1465-84; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 422-24; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 488-89; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 252

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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

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

Shelby’s Missouri Raid

October 4, 1863 – Colonel Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate “Iron Brigade” entered Missouri and conducted the longest raid of the war.

Col Jo Shelby | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Shelby commanded a brigade of Confederate cavalry stationed at Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In late September, the force headed north to wreak havoc in Missouri and prevent Federals there from aiding the Army of the Cumberland besieged in Chattanooga. In early October, Shelby rode through Huntsville and Bentonville before crossing the border and arriving at Neosho, the former capital of the pro-Confederate Republic of Missouri. About 400 Federal cavalrymen sought refuge from the Confederates in the courthouse, but Shelby’s cannon compelled them to surrender.

The Iron Brigade continued on to Warsaw, where the troopers seized 30 wagons, destroyed nearby telegraph wires, and wrecked about 30 miles of railroad track. By the 10th, Shelby’s men had advanced to within 40 miles of the Missouri capital of Jefferson City. They destroyed the Missouri Pacific Railroad at Tipton, burning the depot and wrecking several railcars. Meanwhile, Federal forces began assembling to stop Shelby’s raid.

Rather than riding east toward Jefferson City as expected, Shelby moved north and captured Boonville on the Missouri River. The Boonville mayor and leading citizens greeted Shelby and his men, assuring them that they supported the Confederacy and asking that private property be respected. Shelby complied, destroying only the new bridge over the Lamine River, estimated to be worth $400,000.

By this time, Shelby’s force had swelled from 600 to over 1,000 with the addition of pro-Confederate Missourians joining along the way. The Confederates had also captured Federal horses pulling 300 captured wagons. However, large bodies of Federals were closing in on Shelby from the north, south, and east.

A Federal force five times greater than Shelby’s tracked the Confederates down and defeated them at Arrow Rock on the 13th. Despite the disparity in numbers, Shelby split his force in two, with the larger portion dismounting to make a defensive stand while the smaller one fought through the Federal line. The larger force eventually remounted and fought through as well, with both forces riding off in separate directions. The Confederates sustained about 100 casualties, and this engagement convinced Shelby to return to Arkansas.

One portion of Shelby’s force made it back to Arkansas on the 19th, while the second portion joined the first along the Little Osage River the next day. The final clash with Federal forces took place on the 24th at Harrisonville and Buffalo Mountain.

Shelby’s raid lasted over a month, making it the longest of the war. Despite losing a sixth of his men, Shelby had inflicted 1,200 Federal casualties (600 killed or wounded and 600 captured and paroled), destroyed 10 Federal forts, seized nearly $1 million in supplies, and taken nearly 6,000 horses and mules. Thus, Confederate officials in the Trans-Mississippi Department considered this raid a success.

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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. 673-74; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 776-78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 356, 359; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 417-18, 420-21, 425-26; Wikipedia: Shelby’s Raid

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.

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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. 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.

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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. 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.

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References

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