Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Fort Smith - Confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau
This photograph shows the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers as seen from Fort Smith National Historic Site. A vital strategic point, the confluence was within easy range of the artillery of the fort.
During the late spring and summer of 1864, the water level in the rivers was much higher than normal. This allowed continued use of the Arkansas by Union steamboats during a time of the year when low water usually stopped the boats from running. Throughout the summer, the boats continued running up and down the river to Little Rock, as well as upstream to Fort Gibson (Fort Blount) in the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma).
The continued operation of the boats created attack opportunities for Confederate troops as they surged north into the Arkansas River valley following the defeat of the Union army in the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign.
In mid-June, Confederate forces under Col. Stand Watie, who was promoted to become the South's only Native American brigadier general at about the same time, laid an artillery ambush upstream from Fort Smith and opened fire on the steamboat J.R. Williams. The boat was carrying provisions and other military supplies upstream from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson (Fort Blount). Watie's cannon disabled the vessel and his men succeeded in capturing it. Removing all the supplies they could, the Confederates fired the vessel and destroyed it.
Union soldiers at Fort Smith, including Private Henry Strong of the 12th Kansas Infantry, wrote of seeing barrels of flour and other debris from the attack float by on the river.
More posts on Fort Smith National Historic Site are on the way, but in the meantime you can read more about the fort by going to www.exploresouthernhistory.com and looking for the link under the "Arkansas" heading at the bottom of the page.