Tag Archives: Theophilus H. Holmes

The Fall of Fort Hindman

January 11, 1863 – Major General John A. McClernand reorganized his Federal forces and acted upon Major General William T. Sherman’s recommendation to attack a Confederate fort on the Arkansas River.

As the new year began, Sherman’s 30,000-man XIII Corps remained at Chickasaw Bayou. He learned that the Confederates on the bluffs were being reinforced, and his men could hear trains continuously rolling in and out of Vicksburg, indicating that even more troops were on the way. He therefore abandoned his plan to take the bluffs, loaded his troops back onto their transports, and headed back down the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

McClernand, who had arrived at Memphis too late to join the Chickasaw Bayou expedition, met up with the Federals at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi, to take command of the corps. Apparently disregarding the War Department order placing him under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, McClernand split his four divisions into two corps and renamed XIII Corps the Army of the Mississippi.

When Sherman passed command to McClernand on the 4th, he shared an idea to avenge the Chickasaw Bayou defeat by capturing Fort Hindman, also known as Arkansas Post, about 120 miles northwest of Vicksburg on the Arkansas River. Some 5,000 Confederates garrisoned the fort, which threatened Federal communications on the Mississippi. McClernand was reluctant but finally agreed to conduct the expedition when Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter assured him that his Mississippi River Squadron would provide gunboat support.

However, McClernand never asked Grant for permission to proceed, and nobody in the Federal high command knew that such an action was even being considered. Moreover, Arkansas was part of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Department of the Missouri, outside the jurisdiction of McClernand or even Grant. However, McClernand had discussed the threat Fort Hindman posed with Curtis late last year, so Curtis at least had an idea that McClernand might attack the fort when he told Curtis that he was proceeding on the 5th.

McClernand’s force headed out by water on the 8th. The fleet consisted of three ironclads, 10 rams and gunboats, and 50 transports conveying 30,000 soldiers. McClernand finally informed Grant about the expedition, explaining that one of the objectives was “the counteraction of the moral effect of the failure of the attack near Vicksburg and the reinspiration of the forces repulsed by making them the champions of new, important, and successful enterprises.” Grant did not receive this message until the 11th, long after the Federals had gone up the Arkansas.

Fort Hindman sat atop a hill overlooking a bend in the Arkansas, about 120 miles below Little Rock. It was a strong but unfinished Confederate work used to disrupt Federal navigation on the nearby Mississippi. Three Confederate brigades of mostly Texans manned the garrison and its outlying area; the one brigade in the fort was led by Colonel John W. Dunnington, and Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commanded the other two outside the fort. They numbered about 3,300 effectives, or one-tenth of the enemy force heading their way.

The Federal fleet arrived within gun range of Fort Hindman on the afternoon of the 9th, and the troops began landing under cover of Porter’s warships. The next day, the Federals finished landing and McClernand deployed his artillery, which joined with Porter’s vessels to bombard the fort as the flotilla slowly made its way up the river.

The Federal troops blocked the road to Little Rock to prevent the garrison from escaping or reinforcements from arriving. Churchill’s Confederates returned fire from their entrenchments until about 4 p.m., when the Federal guns cleared them out. McClernand’s troops seized high ground north of the fort and began positioning guns to fire down into the work.

Meanwhile, Porter’s ships continued pounding the enemy works, with the ironclads in the lead. A soldier on the U.S.S. Montauk described the bombardment:

“Such a terrific scene I have never witnessed. The fort was riddled and torn to pieces with the shells. The ironclads, which could venture up closer, shot into their portholes and into the mouths of their cannon, bursting their cannon and dismounting them. When most of their batteries were silenced, two of the light draft boats and our boat was ordered to run the blockade to cut off the retreat of the rebels above the F(or)t.”

The Confederates tried answering with their 11 cannon but were outgunned. Also, Porter had ordered his men to grease their ships with tallow so that enemy shots hitting them at an angle would slide off. This practice was soon adopted throughout the Federal navy.

McClernand planned a ground attack the next day. That night, Churchill received a message from General Theophilus Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock, directing him “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.”

Federal troops assumed their positions at noon on the 11th, and a ferocious artillery barrage began an hour later. It took the Federals three hours to silence all the Confederate guns except one. The Confederates continued firing from the trenches and rifle pits, but they were surrounded by infantry on three sides and the gunboats on the river. The white flag went up.

The Federals sustained 1,061 casualties (134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing), while the Confederates lost 4,900 (28 killed, 81 wounded and 4,791 mostly captured). The Federals captured the most men since taking New Madrid in the spring of last year. They also seized seven stands of colors, all the Confederate guns, and large amounts of commissary, ordinance, and other supplies. Porter later wrote:

“The fight at Ft. Hindman was one of the prettiest little affairs of the war, not so little either, for a very important post fell into our hands with 6,500 prisoners, and the destruction of a powerful ram at Little Rock, which could have caused the Federal Navy in the west a great deal of trouble…”

He added, “No fort ever received a worse battering, and the highest compliment I can pay to those engaged is to repeat what the rebels said: ‘You can’t expect men to stand up against the fire of those gunboats.’”

While this victory did little to affect any of the major campaigns at the time, northerners celebrated it as a rare success following a string of failures. It also stopped Confederate commerce between the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, it cleared the way for Federal ships to continue on to Little Rock, and it served as the preface to a new campaign against Vicksburg.

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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. 252-53, 255; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 77-78, 133-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 248, 250-51, 253; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 68; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 307-08, 310-11; 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. 156-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 569-70; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 138-39

Jefferson Davis Travels to Mississippi

December 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis continued his tour of the Western Theater, moving from Tennessee to his home state of Mississippi.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis left Chattanooga late on the afternoon of the 16th, accompanied by General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Theater. The train had to take a detour because Federal troops held the Memphis & Charleston Railroad on the Tennessee-Mississippi border. This reinforced Johnston’s argument that General Braxton Bragg at Murfreesboro could not adequately reinforce Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg.

The train stopped for the night at Atlanta, where Davis responded to a citizens’ serenade. The next day, Davis and Johnston traveled to the first Confederate capital at Montgomery, Alabama. At midday, Davis delivered a speech from the portico of the Alabama state capitol, just as he had done for his inaugural address in February 1861. The men continued on and arrived at Mobile that evening.

At Mobile on the 18th, Davis delivered the second formal speech of his western trip. He then reported to Secretary of War James A. Seddon that morale was good in Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, and he hoped that the cavalry raids by Brigadier Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Hunt Morgan would destroy Federal communications. He also expressed concern about pessimism among the people of eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama: “There is some hostility and much want of confidence in our strength.”

Davis and Johnston arrived at the Mississippi state capital of Jackson on the morning of the 19th. They agreed to return to appear together before the state legislature on the 26th, and after eating lunch, they traveled on to Vicksburg. Upon arriving, Davis and Johnston inspected the city’s new and improved defenses on both land and water.

The men next headed for Pemberton’s headquarters at Grenada, 60 miles south of Oxford. Davis and Pemberton supported pulling the Confederate forces into Vicksburg, turning the city into an impregnable fortress, and defending it to the end. Johnston instead favored defending Vicksburg with a small, compact force while sending the main Confederate army out to meet the Federals before they reached the city. The army might have to give up Vicksburg if defeated, but at least it could retreat and stay intact to fight again.

Johnston also continued urging Davis to pull reinforcements from Arkansas to aid in the defense of Mississippi. He argued that if the Mississippi River was so important, then it should be held even if most of Arkansas was lost. Davis finally agreed and wrote to General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department at Little Rock.

Davis explained that it was “clearly developed that the enemy has two principal objects in view, one to get control of the Missi. River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States.” Richmond was secure for now, especially after the Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, but the Mississippi was in serious danger. Major General Ulysses S. Grant was preparing an overland thrust to Vicksburg, Major General John A. McClernand was preparing a river drive toward the same town, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was about to begin a move upriver from Louisiana.

Davis had urged Holmes to seize Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi, but he guessed “that it has heretofore been impractical.” To stop the Federals from “dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works: to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson (Louisiana).” Davis wrote:

“From the best information at hand, a large force is now ready to descend the Mississippi and co-operate with army advancing from Memphis to make an attack upon Vicksburg… It seems to be, then, unquestionably best that you should re-enforce General Johnston, so as to enable you successfully to meet the enemy, and by his defeat to destroy his power for such future operations against you as would be irresistible by your isolated force, and by the same means to place the army here in such condition as would enable it in turn to re-enforce you when the season will make it practicable for you by active operations to expel the enemy from Arkansas, and having secured your rear, to advance to the deliverance of Missouri.”

Davis speculated that the Federals would not threaten northwestern Arkansas until spring, and so he relied on Holmes and Johnston to provide the “security of concentration and rapid movement of troops. Nothing will so certainly conduce to peace as the conclusive exhibition of our power to hold the Mississippi River, and nothing so diminish our capacity to defend the Trans-Mississippi States as the loss of communication between the States on the eastern and western sides of the river.”

However, rather than ordering Holmes to work with Johnston, Davis merely left it to Holmes’s “patriotism and discretion” on whether to send troops east. Holmes would not, as he wired Davis near month’s end:

“My information from Helena is to the effect that a heavy force of the enemy has passed down the Mississippi on transports… Thus it seems very certain that any force I can now send from here would not be able to reach Vicksburg, while such a diversion would enable the enemy to… overrun the entire state (of Arkansas) and gradually reduce the people to… dependence.”

Davis and Johnston returned to Jackson, where Davis wired Seddon: “There is immediate and urgent necessity for heavy guns and long range field pieces at Vicksburg.” The men then took the train 100 miles north to Grenada, where Pemberton’s men were building defenses on the Yalobusha River. Pemberton’s cavalry, led by Major General Earl Van Dorn, harassed Grant’s rear and supply line, but Johnston urged Pemberton to withdraw farther south. Pemberton preferred to face the enemy at Grenada, and Davis agreed.

Returning to Jackson, Davis spent Christmas Day with relatives at the home of his niece, Mrs. Ellen Robinson. He prepared for the speech he would deliver to the Mississippi legislature tomorrow. In that speech, Davis began:

“After an absence of nearly two years, I again find myself among those who, from the days of my childhood, have ever been the trusted objects of my affection… The period which has elapsed since I left you is short; for the time which may appear long in the life of a man is short in the history of a nation. And in that short period remarkable changes have been wrought in all the circumstances by which we are surrounded.”

Davis expressed disappointment that neither Great Britain nor France had yet recognized Confederate independence, but he stated, “Put not your faith in Princes, and rest not your hopes on foreign nations. This war is ours; we must fight it out ourselves.” In this fight, he “looked on Mississippi soldiers with a pride and an emotion, such as no others inspired.”

He defended the Conscription Act, particularly its clause exempting owners of 20 or more slaves, because it would help discourage slave rebellions once President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1. He called on Mississippians to look after each other’s families while their men were off to war. He also called on the legislature to help fight “a power armed for conquest and subjugation.” In closing, Davis declared that there could never be reunion with the U.S., and to that end, “Vicksburg must not fall.”

Johnston, who attended the speech, was asked to rise and give a speech of his own. Johnston replied, “Fellow citizens, my only regret is that I have done so little to merit such a greeting. I promise you, however, that hereafter I shall be watchful, energetic, and indefatigable in your defense.” This gratified the legislators, who seemed more enamored with Johnston than their fellow Mississippian Davis.

The next day, Davis visited the new plantation of his oldest brother Joseph along the railroad west of Jackson near Bolton. From here, Davis was informed that Grant’s army was retreating, Van Dorn had destroyed Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs and captured the garrison, and Forrest was destroying Federal supplies and communications in western Tennessee. However, Davis was soon met with the bad news that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals were advancing on Chickasaw Bluffs with part of Grant’s command, supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s ironclads, in another effort to take Vicksburg.

Davis left Mississippi on New Year’s Eve, traveling to Mobile, Alabama. Upon his arrival, he addressed citizens from a balcony of the Battle House. Davis then telegraphed Seddon: “Guns and ammunition most effective against iron clads needed at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Very much depends upon prompt supply.”

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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. 245-46; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 3, 10, 12, 16-18, 51-52; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 298-300, 303; 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. 576-77; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

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

A Race in Northwestern Arkansas

December 6, 1862 – Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals were isolated in northwestern Arkansas, and the race was on to see whether reinforcements or the Confederates could reach him first.

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

As December began, Major General Thomas C. Hindman was preparing to move his Confederate army north to join forces with Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke near Cane Hill, Arkansas. The combined force would then attack Blunt’s Federals before the rest of the Army of the Frontier could hurry from Springfield, Missouri, to reinforce them.

Blunt’s force was stationed at Cane Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville. His immediate superior, Major General John Schofield, was on the sick list, so command passed up to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri from St. Louis. The Federal commander at Springfield was Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, who recently resumed command from General James Totten.

General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Little Rock, initially supported Hindman’s plan to strike Blunt. But then he suddenly reconsidered. The men exchanged cables on the 1st, with Hindman stating, “With the infantry and artillery alone I can defeat the Union force at Cane Hill.” By sending cavalry around both the Federal flanks, Hindman “hoped to destroy them. I urge upon you to leave me to my discretion in the matter. I will not trifle with the great interests entrusted to me.”

Holmes answered, “If your army is destroyed or demoralized, ruin to us will follow.” He urged Hindman to either stay put until he could better organize his army or advance into the Indian Territory. Hindman insisted that he must “push right up at once and try to regain what has been lost.”

When Holmes suggested that the army might be better off reinforcing Vicksburg, Hindman replied, “If this is done, Arkansas is lost. Holding Vicksburg won’t save a foot of it. Whenever the enemy gets south of the Boston Mountains, and establishes himself, he can press you down to Louisiana or into Texas without difficulty.” Hindman also argued that sending his men east would cause mass desertions. Holmes finally relented, writing, “Use your discretion and good luck to you.”

Hindman proceeded to prepare his Army of the Trans-Mississippi to march 75 miles north from the Arkansas River to attack Blunt’s 5,000 Federals. Hindman’s force numbered 11,300 men with 22 guns. Hindman was confident that he could easily defeat the enemy, but for his assault to succeed, he needed total secrecy. He also needed support on his left flank, which he hoped would be provided by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper and his band of Natives and whites in the Indian Territory.

Unfortunately for Hindman, Cooper’s force had largely disbanded after its defeat at Old Fort Wayne in November. Cooper notified Hindman, “The Indians are not inclined to venture much alone, they need white support.” Cooper could only send 400 men under Brigadier General Stand Watie to support the offensive.

Hindman also could not rely on the element of surprise, as Blunt received word on the 3rd that Confederates were coming to attack him. Although scouts had erroneously guessed that 25,000 men were just 25 miles away (only 11,300 were almost 75 miles away), the alarm had sounded that an attack of some sort was imminent.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Blunt hurriedly wired Totten for help, unaware that Herron had taken back his command in southwestern Missouri. He next wired Curtis for help, and then he telegraphed Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, commanding the 1st Arkansas (U.S.) Cavalry, directing him to guard the Telegraph road to facilitate Herron’s line of march. Blunt then resolved to stay and fight, ordering his men to build defenses and guard all approaches to Cane Hill.

Curtis received Blunt’s dispatch and feared he was too isolated to hold his ground. Curtis wrote, “You are too far in advance for support and supplies. Had better fall back to meet Herron’s reinforcements…” Curtis also ordered Herron to support Blunt in northwestern Arkansas, over 100 miles away. A race began to determine whether Hindman or Herron would reach Blunt first.

Herron told Blunt that he would have his men in motion by noon on the 3rd, but Blunt was so far away “that it may be necessary for you to fall back a short distance, but I will do my best to make that unnecessary.” Blunt refused to fall back, confident he could repulse any Confederate attack at least until Herron came up with his reinforcements.

As Hindman led his force through the Boston Mountains, the highest in the Ozark chain, he issued a proclamation to his men:

“Remember that the enemy you engage has no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you. His ranks are made up of Pin Indians, free negroes, Southern tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country; stolen and destroyed your property; murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes, and defiled the graves of your kindred. If each man of you will do what I have here urged upon you, we will utterly destroy them. We can do this; we must do it; our country will be ruined if we fail. A just God will strengthen our arms and give us a glorious victory.”

Herron led two divisions totaling 6,000 Federals and 30 guns into Arkansas the next day, marching along Pea Ridge’s granite slopes. The men reached Fayetteville on the night of the 6th. They had marched an incredible 110 miles through extreme cold in just three days.

Blunt closely watched the road from Van Buren, which he expected Hindman to use. He did not guard the Cove Creek road to the east, which Blunt believed the Confederates would be foolish to use because it would expose their supply lines to Federal destruction.

Hindman’s Confederates continued advancing on the 6th, clearing Federal pickets in their front and pushing Federal cavalry off Reed’s Mountain. Hindman planned to advance up the Van Buren road just as Blunt guessed and attack the next morning. However, scouts notified him that Herron’s reinforcements were approaching, and a frontal assault would only push Blunt back into Herron.

Refusing to retreat, Hindman instead planned to attack Herron first, hoping his Federals would be exhausted and not ready to fight. He would then turn and attack Blunt on Cane Hill. After midnight, Hindman directed his army to conduct a night march around Blunt on the Cove Creek road to an area south of Fayetteville around Prairie Grove.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 47, 49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 235-36; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600

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

Confederate Struggles in the Trans-Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225-26; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 530-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 224; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 280; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356