Tag Archives: Sterling Price

Missouri: Price Rushes West

October 15, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates captured several towns while moving through Missouri, but Federal pursuers were closing in on them fast.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In September, Price had begun an expedition to free his home state from Federal rule. His Army of Missouri consisted of three cavalry divisions under Major General James F. Fagan and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price initially planned to head northeast and capture St. Louis, but after learning that the city was heavily defended, Price instead rode to seize the state capital of Jefferson City.

Price’s troopers turned westward and moved along the Missouri River, passing through Washington, skirmishing with a token Federal force at Richwoods, and occupying Herman. The Confederates crossed the Osage River on the 6th and approached Jefferson City, but Price found the Federal defenses there too strong to attack. He continued west toward Boonville, with a Federal brigade under Brigadier General John B. Sanborn in pursuit.

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri from St. Louis, deployed cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and XVI Corps under Major General Andrew J. Smith to pursue the Confederates. Smith’s corps had been slated to reinforce the Federals in Tennessee, but it was held back to deal with Price.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Federal Department of Kansas from Fort Leavenworth, mobilized a division of his Army of the Border under Major General James G. Blunt to move east into Missouri and confront Price. Kansas Governor Thomas Carney reluctantly gave Curtis a division of state militia to join Blunt after learning that Price was moving west toward his state.

Price reached Boonville on the 9th, where he learned that not only were Pleasonton and Smith pursuing from the east, but 20,000 Federals under Curtis were heading his way from the west. Price resolved to continue heading west, and he issued a proclamation requesting that citizens join his army and “redeem” Missouri from Federal control.

The Boonville residents were initially supportive of Price’s efforts, and about 2,000 volunteers joined Price’s army. The divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke defeated Sanborn’s pursuing Federals outside Boonville on the 11th and sent them retreating across Saline Creek.

However, even with the new recruits, desertions and illness left Price with just 8,500 men, or 3,500 less than he had when the campaign started. And public opinion turned against the Confederates after they spent two days looting Boonville. This recklessness gave the Federals time to develop a strategy to destroy them.

Confederate partisans led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson came to Boonville to reinforce Price, but Price was outraged by the scalps hanging from their bridles. With large numbers of Federal troops closing in from two directions, Price began looking to return to Arkansas. He and Anderson parted ways, with Anderson’s partisans going to raid towns north of the Missouri River.

Price dispatched troopers under Shelby and Brigadier General John B. Clark, Jr. to capture Glasgow, the supposed site of a large Federal arsenal. The 2,500 troopers placed the 750-man Federal garrison under siege and forced its surrender on the 15th. Elements of Shelby’s command also captured Paris that day. However, the Federals destroyed most of their stockpile before surrendering.

Another detached force of about 1,500 Confederates from Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson’s command and part of Shelby’s Iron Brigade captured Sedalia. Thompson stopped his men from looting the town; they only took arms, horses, and supplies before moving on to rejoin Price’s army. These victories boosted Confederate morale, but the time they spent occupying the towns gave the Federals more time to close in on them.

Price then captured Carrollton and burned Smithville before approaching Lexington. Rosecrans looked to trap Price between his force and Curtis’s, but many of the Kansas militia refused to cross the border into Missouri. Blunt had just about 2,000 men in his command when he approached Lexington, about 30 miles east of Kansas City. Shelby rode into his home town of Waverly to confront Blunt’s Kansans and Coloradans.

On the 19th, Price’s main force drove Blunt’s Federals westward, down the Independence Road out of Lexington, until darkness ended the fighting. Blunt was no match for Price, but he gained important information about Price’s strength.

Blunt’s Federals withdrew to defenses on the bank of the Little Blue River, east of Independence, on the 20th. Curtis urged Blunt to concentrate at Independence because “the Big Blue must be our main line for battle. We must pick our battle-ground where we can have united councils as well as a strong position.” Curtis reported:

“The country is rough and thickly timbered, and the streams bordered by precipitate banks, which render it generally impassable for cavalry and artillery. I divided the forces, distributing them so as to form a line more or less continuous, according to danger, from the Missouri River to the crossing of the Blue, near Hickman Mills, a distance of 15 or 16 miles.”

By the 20th, Price’s momentum had slowed and Missourians had not joined his army as he hoped. Pinned by the Missouri River on his right, Price now faced advances from Pleasonton’s Federal cavalry behind him, A.J. Smith’s infantry moving toward his left, and Blunt’s men in his front. But the Confederates continued forward, clashing with Blunt’s vanguard on the Little Blue and driving them toward Independence.

Price’s troopers captured Independence on the 21st, after Federals put up a strong resistance in the streets and houses. The Confederates camped that night west of Independence. Pleasonton’s cavalry attacked the Confederate rear guard at Independence the next day, pushing them westward out of town.

Meanwhile, Price learned that Curtis and Blunt blocked his path at Westport. Shelby’s Confederates flanked Blunt on the Big Blue, giving Price control of Byram’s Ford. Blunt withdrew to join Curtis’s main force, while Price used the ford to move his 500 supply wagons and 5,000 head of cattle southward.

As Price approached Westport, Curtis held a council of war in Kansas City’s Gillis House to ponder his next move. Curtis had initially planned to withdraw to Fort Leavenworth, but Blunt persuaded him to instead attack the Confederates in the morning. Price in turn planned to drive off Curtis in his front and then turn and drive off Pleasonton in his rear. Being outnumbered, this was a desperate gamble, but it was Price’s only hope of escaping Missouri without having his army destroyed.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 466, 469-71, 476-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12116-26, 12137-57, 12178-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-12; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-81, 583-87; 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. 787; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474

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Price’s Missouri Incursion: Fort Davidson

September 26, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates advanced on Fort Davidson as part of their final attempt to wrest Missouri from Federal control.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price, a former Missouri governor, had won approval from General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, to raise a force that would claim his home state for the Confederacy. Price’s new “Army of Missouri” consisted of three cavalry divisions led by Major General James F. Fagan, and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price joined Fagan and Marmaduke at Princeton, Arkansas, in late August, and then moved to join forces with Shelby early this month.

Price was backed by the “Order of American Knights,” a pro-Confederate group connected to various partisan bands in Missouri. The O.A.K. leaders planned to coordinate partisan and civilian uprisings in support of the advancing Confederates. Federal authorities seized many O.A.K. leaders before they could stir up civilian unrest, but the guerrillas continued raiding throughout the state.

In mid-September, Price’s Confederates crossed the White River and joined Shelby’s troopers at Pocahontas, near the Missouri border. Of Price’s 12,000 men, no more than 8,000 carried arms, but Price hoped to supply them from captured Federal weapons along the way. The Army of Missouri also had 14 guns.

The troopers crossed the border from northeastern Arkansas in three columns, and the incursion began with skirmishing at Doniphan. Price’s force headed north toward Ironton, terminus of the southern railroad out of St. Louis, and captured Keytesville the next day. Price’s continuing advance included fighting at Fayetteville, Jackson, and Farmington. They reached Fredericktown on the 25th, one day’s ride east of Pilot Knob, Price’s objective.

Price soon learned that Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri, had dispatched cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and infantry under Major General Andrew J. Smith to stop the Confederates. Smith’s 8,000 Federals defended St. Louis against a potential attack.

Price dispatched Fagan and Marmaduke to attack Ironton while Shelby’s men destroyed railroad track between that town and St. Louis. Confederates reached Fort Davidson outside Pilot Knob on the night of the 26th. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr., commanding the Federal District of St. Louis, happened to be at the fort for an inspection. Ewing was heavily outnumbered, but he refused demands to surrender.

While Confederates skirmished at Arcadia, Ironton, and Mineral Point, Price ordered his main body of about 8,000 men to attack Fort Davidson on the 27th. Price did not call up his artillery train and instead committed his men to a series of uncoordinated assaults. After six hours, the Federals lost about 200 of their 1,200 men, but they inflicted 1,500 enemy casualties and held the fort.

That night, Ewing held a council of war to decide whether to abandon the fort. The Federals were still greatly outnumbered, and Ewing knew that if captured, the Confederates would execute him for authoring last year’s infamous General Order No. 11, which herded Missourians into concentration camps to combat guerrilla attacks. Ewing and his officers agreed to evacuate; the Federals destroyed all their guns and munitions, and slipped away in the darkness at 2:30 a.m. They covered 66 miles in less than two days, preventing Price from giving chase.

Despite their repulse, the Confederates continued north on the 28th. They skirmished at Leasburg and Cuba the next day, and panic in St. Louis intensified as the Confederates closed in. But Price opted not to attack Smith’s Federals guarding the city; instead his men turned northwest and moved along the Missouri River. Price hoped to capture the state capital of Jefferson City and install a pro-Confederate governor. However, Federals throughout Missouri began joining forces to stop him.

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Sources

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 12085-116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-96, 499, 501, 503; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 571-72, 574-75; 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. 783, 787; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 502

The Missouri Incursion Begins

August 28, 1864 – Major General Sterling “Pap” Price organized a new Confederate army to move north into Missouri and claim that state for the Confederacy.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price, a former Missouri governor, now commanded Confederates at Camden, Arkansas. He had been urging his superiors to let him take the offensive so that he might drive Federal influence out of his home state. In July, Price wrote:

“My opinion is that the people of Missouri are ready for a general uprising, and that the time was never more propitious for an advance of our forces into Missouri. Our friends should be encouraged and supported promptly. Delay will be dangerous. Unsustained, they may be overwhelmed by superior numbers, become dispirited, and, finally, disheartened and hopeless.”

Price traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana, to meet with General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, and Texas Governor Thomas Reynolds. Both Smith and Reynolds approved the expedition, but only if someone besides Price led it. Realizing they had nobody else, they reluctantly gave Price the assignment. Reynolds urged Smith to ensure that Price had “the best division and brigade commanders and an unusually efficient staff.”

Smith issued orders for Price to “make immediate arrangements for a movement into Missouri, with the entire cavalry force of your district.” Price would collect the forces scattered around the District of Arkansas to form the 12,000-man Army of Missouri, which consisted of three cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals James F. Fagan, John S. Marmaduke, and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby.

Price instructed his commanders: “Make Saint Louis the objective point of your movement, which, if rapidly made, will put you in possession of that place, its supplies, and military stores, and which will do more toward rallying Missouri to your standard than the possession of any other point.” The commanders were to–

“… scrupulously avoid all wanton acts of destruction and devastation, restrain your men, and impress upon them that their aim should be to secure success in a just and holy cause and not to gratify personal feeling and revenge. Rally the loyal men of Missouri, and remember that our great want is men, and that your object should be, if you cannot maintain yourself in that country, to bring as large an accession as possible to our force.”

The Confederates were to capture supplies at both St. Louis and Jefferson City, redeem Missouri from the Unionists, and then ride back south through Kansas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The operation was delayed over three weeks due to lack of ammunition. Price took command of the divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke at Princeton on the 28th, but he feared that the Federals had found out about his line of march. Price therefore led the two divisions back to Little Rock, from which he could link with Shelby’s division at Batesville. Such a roundabout movement was not a good sign of things to come for Price.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 12075-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480, 491; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562

Arkansas: The Elkins’ Ferry Engagement

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

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Conrad Krez of the 27th Wisconsin wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Red River: The Federal Two-Pronged Advance Finally Begins

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

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The Fall of Little Rock

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

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 321, 324-25; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 701-02, 706-07; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 552-571; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 345, 349; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 403, 407-08; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 668; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 798

Federals Target Little Rock

August 12, 1863 – A Federal force led by Major General Frederick Steele advanced westward from Helena, Arkansas, to capture the state capital of Little Rock.

After the Federals gained control of the entire Mississippi River, the pro-Confederate governors of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas issued a joint proclamation to the people of their states. They declared that although each separated section of the Confederacy would now have to rely “mainly on its own resources… We now are self-dependent, but also self-sustaining.”

The governors further asserted that they were “able to conduct a vigorous defense, and seize occasions for offensive operations against the enemy… there is everything to incite us to renewed efforts, nothing to justify despondency.” This was largely due to the efforts of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, who had proven “active, intelligent, and with the prestige of uniform success in his undertakings.” Smith deserved “the zealous support of every patriot.”

The Federals were “powerful and haughty,” and determined not just to “coerce us into submission, but to despoil us of our whole property, and subject us to every species of ignominy.” To stop them, every man, woman, and child had to do their part. The governors announced, “Western skill and valor will prepare a San Jacinto defeat for every invading army that pollutes the soil of this department.” They concluded:

“In the darkest hours of our history, the protection extended to us by Almighty God has been so manifest, as even to be acknowledged by candid foes. Their victories have been to them as fruit turning to ashes on their lips; our defeats have been chastenings to improve us and arouse our energies. On His help and our own right arms we steadfastly rely; counting on aid neither from the policy of neutral nations, nor from the distractions in the midst of our enemies, we look confidently forward to the day when thirteen confederate States will in peace and safety occupy their right position among the great powers of the earth.”

The proclamation failed to acknowledge that soldiers were deserting the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi, largely stationed at Little Rock under Major General Sterling Price (within Smith’s department), in droves. Federal spies in Little Rock reported that the troops were “fleeing like rats from a falling house; they give the rebellion up, and express a determination to return to their homes.”

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In early August, Steele took command of the Federal forces at Helena. Now that Major Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Nathaniel P. Banks had opened the Mississippi, Steele was able to take the offensive in Arkansas. His “Army of Arkansas” consisted of about 7,000 infantry and Brigadier General John W. Davidson’s 6,000 cavalry troopers. The force began moving out of Helena on a mission to “break up Price and occupy Little Rock.”

Price reported that he had 19,000 troops ready to not only defend the city, but to take the offensive and achieve his ultimate goal of regaining Missouri for the Confederacy. This news reached Steele, who responded by advancing cautiously, even though scouts assured him that Price did not have half the number of men he claimed.

As the main Confederate force built defenses outside Little Rock, Price dispatched some infantry to Clarendon and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry division 100 miles northeast to Jacksonport. Davidson’s Federal troopers bypassed Marmaduke, forcing the Confederates to give up both Jacksonport and Clarendon and fall back toward Little Rock. Steele joined Davidson at Clarendon, where the Federal advance would resume.

Price called for reinforcements, but none were available. He pulled Marmaduke back to Des Arc, on the White River about 50 miles east of Little Rock. Marmaduke then received orders to send one of his brigades to the other cavalry division in the department, led by Brigadier General Lucius M. Walker. Marmaduke and Walker despised each other, and even though Marmaduke had proven a more able cavalry leader in the department, most of his superiors favored Walker. Marmaduke complied with orders while staying with his lone remaining brigade at Des Arc.

Meanwhile, Steele’s Federals continued advancing “through a country almost destitute of water,” which caused nearly 1,000 men to drop from the ranks. When Steele learned that just one Confederate cavalry brigade guarded the White River, he directed his men to set up a field hospital at Devall’s Bluff, “a more healthy location” about 10 miles upstream. According to Steele, the path from Devall’s to Little Rock “possessed many advantages over the other as a line of operations.”

Steele sent Davidson’s cavalry “to ascertain the position and intention of the enemy” around Devall’s on the 19th. Confederate deserters falsely claimed that Smith and Price were gathering reinforcements at Little Rock. This prompted Steele to ask his corps commander, Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut at Memphis, to send him more men. Hurlbut responded by sending a brigade to Helena, and then on to join Steele’s main force.

After a respite to allow his men to hydrate, Steele continued the advance toward Brownsville, 25 miles from Little Rock. On the 23rd, Price ordered Marmaduke to join forces with Walker, with Walker the ranking officer, at Brownsville. This enraged Marmaduke, who prided himself on having an independent command, but he complied.

Davidson’s 5,000 troopers confronted Marmaduke’s 1,100 horsemen within the Brownsville defenses on the 25th. Before the Federals could launch a full-scale attack, Marmaduke pulled back and formed a new line at a crossroads needed for Walker’s supply train, about four miles closer to Little Rock. Marmaduke reported, “The enemy came upon me, and were handsomely repulsed.”

The Federals reformed and attacked again, this time enveloping both of Marmaduke’s flanks. He pulled back to Bayou Meto, about 12 miles from Little Rock. As night fell, the Federals returned to Brownsville, and Marmaduke and Walker put up defenses south of Bayou Meto.

Both sides prepared on the 26th, and when Davidson’s Federals resumed their advance the next day, the Confederates came out across Reed’s Bridge to meet them. The Confederates put up a stiff fight, then fell back, burning the bridge to keep the Federals from pursuing. Davidson reported:

“A dash of the First Iowa Cavalry, under fire of the enemy’s battery and sharpshooters lining the opposite bank, failed to save the bridge, which had been set on fire by the enemy, everything having been prepared beforehand for that purpose. Our batteries engaged those of the enemy, and the skirmishers on both sides were busy for about an hour and a half.”

According to Marmaduke, the Federals, “failing to occupy the river, returned after a heavy loss, leaving a number of their dead on the ground.” Davidson reported losing 45 (seven killed and 38 wounded); Confederate losses were not reported. Price ordered Marmaduke and Walker to fall back toward Little Rock that night.

Farther west in Arkansas, Brigadier General William L. Cabell withdrew his Confederates from Fort Smith after receiving intelligence that advancing Federals outnumbered him and he could expect no reinforcements from Brigadier General William Steele (no relation to Frederick Steele) in the Indian Territory.

After another day of preparation, Davidson’s Federals resumed their patrol and pursuit on the 29th. Price dispatched his cavalry to block all possible approaches to Little Rock from the northeast. The most important was the Shoal Ford Road, which led to Terry’s Ferry, several miles down the Arkansas River from Little Rock. If the Federals gained control of this road, they could flank Price and force him to abandon the capital.

Federals and Confederates clashed on this road on the 30th, trading fire for about five hours. The Confederates finally fell back to another defensive position, which the Federals did not want to attack due to the approaching nightfall. As the Federals fell back, Marmaduke brought up reinforcements. Both sides continued probing each other’s lines into September as Little Rock tentatively remained in Confederate hands.

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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. 278-79; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 339; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 702; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 396