Thursday, February 7, 2008
Fort Smith, Arkansas - The Attack of 1864
Continuing today our look at Fort Smith National Historic Site, this is one of the cannon displayed on the grounds of the fort.
During the spring and summer of 1864, Federal troops strengthened the stone walls of the fort by constructing earthworks around the town, banking earth against the walls of the actual fort and erecting a battery on the bluff at Belle Point (the high ground adjacent to the fort overlooking the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers).
The cannon of the main fort received their baptism of fire on July 31, 1864, when Confederate troops under Gen. D.H. Cooper staged a demonstration against the works. Cooper and his men swept up from the South and overran an outpost before engaging Union troops who came out of the earthworks on the Fort Towson Road (today's Towson Avenue) to fight them. A second part of Confederate troops pushed down the west side of the Poteau River and began firing into the main garrison from across the river.
The Federal troops inside the walls moved cannon into position and returned fire, sending artillery fire crashing into the trees and shrubs in the Poteau Bottom. Each time they would fire, though, the Confederates would change position. This "cat and mouse" skirmish continued for some time and could be heard by the main body of Confederates as they ended their demonstration and withdrew from the vicinity.
The paved trail at the National Historic Site leading to the site of the original Fort Smith (first of two constructed at the site) as well as an overlook interpreting the "Trail of Tears" provides an outstanding view of the scene of this fight over the river. The positions of the Confederate troops in the tree cover opposite the Poteau River can be seen, as can the bluff top from which the Union troops fired their artillery.
For more on Fort Smith, simply visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and scroll down the page to find the link under the "Arkansas" heading in the Index.