Tag Archives: Jo Shelby

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

The Cane Hill Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 233; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 290-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552

Moving Toward Battle in Northwestern Arkansas

November 1, 1862 – Federal and Confederate movements ultimately led to a confrontation in northwestern Arkansas.

General John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this month, Major General John Schofield had reunited his Federal Army of the Frontier at Osage Springs, Arkansas. Schofield thought Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates were pursuing him, but he soon learned that Hindman was actually moving in the opposite direction, toward the Arkansas River. Schofield wrote Brigadier General James G. Blunt, “I have hoped that the rebels would come back and give us battle where we could fight them together. But if they will not do this we must separate and follow our respective paths of duty.”

Thus, Schofield divided his army again, sending Blunt’s Federals back to Old Fort Wayne and leading the rest to Springfield in southwestern Missouri. Soon after, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri over Schofield’s army, received orders from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to assemble as many troops as possible at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River to either move against Little Rock or reinforce Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee driving toward Vicksburg.

Curtis resisted Halleck’s order because he feared sending troops to Helena would open a path for the Confederates in Arkansas to move north and invade Missouri. He directed Major General Frederick Steele to lead 10,000 Federals from Pilot Knob, Missouri, to Batesville, Arkansas. Steele protested Curtis’s order to Halleck and instead went to Helena, where he crossed the Mississippi and joined Grant’s offensive.

Meanwhile, Hindman and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke sought to reunite their forces with those under Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Stand Watie at Little Rock. Hindman wanted to attack Schofield’s Federals returning to Springfield, but he lacked the strength to do it. So he instead moved to Fort Smith on the Arkansas River and worked to strengthen his army. The troops lacked adequate food and shelter, and illness ran rampant. And General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, struggled to fill Hindman’s requests for supplies.

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

Hindman’s army was bolstered somewhat by the addition of William C. Quantrill’s partisans. They joined Marmaduke while Quantrill went to Richmond to try securing a rank and official recognition of his force. Quantrill had gained a notorious reputation operating against Federal supply trains in Missouri and Kansas, with Federal search parties moving through many Missouri counties in search of his partisans.

By late November, about 5,000 new British Enfield muskets and 7,000 new uniforms arrived for the troops. The force was renamed the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, which Holmes planned to name the Army of Missouri once the men reentered that state.

As Holmes balked at President Jefferson Davis’s request to send troops east to defend Vicksburg, Marmaduke’s Confederates advanced 50 miles north of Fort Smith to forage near Cane Hill. When Curtis learned of this, he ordered Schofield to reunite his Army of the Frontier once again. Hindman, thinking that Curtis was shipping Schofield east, only expected to face Blunt’s division in his front.

Hindman thought that Blunt had fallen back into Missouri, but Marmaduke soon learned that Blunt was about 20 miles north of Cane Hill in northwestern Arkansas. He wrote Hindman proposing that the entire Army of the Trans-Mississippi attack Blunt while he sat supposedly isolated. Hindman agreed. Neither Hindman nor Marmaduke knew that Blunt was preparing to move south against them instead.

Marmaduke had about 2,000 cavalry, and he believed that Blunt was too weak to give battle. Blunt’s force consisted of about 5,000 troops, mostly from Kansas, camped west of Bentonville. Marmaduke told Hindman, “General, I feel assured that you can bag this party in a short quick fight. Blunt and no one else dreams of such a move. I will surprise friend and foe, hence the better chance for secrecy and success.”

On the morning of the 25th, Blunt dispatched a scouting party to determine enemy strength around Cane Hill. After a skirmish, Blunt learned that Confederate cavalry were in his front, soon to be joined by Hindman’s army. If Hindman and Marmaduke joined forces, they would have about 11,000 men and a good chance of driving through Blunt’s small force and reentering Missouri.

Blunt rushed to gather a supply train and advance on Marmaduke before Hindman arrived. He was unaware that Hindman was still several days away.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 673-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-28, 233; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 551-52