Friday, April 25, 2008
Massard Prairie, Part Two
This is part two of a series on the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.
By July of 1864, the Federal troops at Fort Smith were suffering from a critical shortage of hay for their livestock. To alleviate the situation, Gen. John Thayer sent large detachments of troops out onto the surrounding prairies. The primary responsibility of these units was to guard herds of cows and horses sent out to graze and to protect haycutting parties contracted to bring in as much fodder as possible.
Confederate scouts soon reported to Gen. Cooper that large detachments of Federal troops had taken up positions at several locations around Fort Smith. The presence of a battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry was noted at Massard Prairie and a second detachment of "Arkansas Feds" (Union soldiers from Arkansas) was reported camped a few miles south of town.
Deciding to move on the latter group, Cooper ordered Brig. Gen. R.M. Gano to assemble a force of roughly and launch an attack. The plan called for the Confederates to divide into three groups. Lt. Col. Jack McCurtain would take position on the Devil's Backbone, a prominent ridge south of Fort Smith, and prepare an ambush. His force consisted of a battalion from the Choctaw Nation that would soon become the 3rd Choctaw Cavalry. A second party, composed of men from the 2nd Choctaw Cavalry, commanded by Col. S.N. Folsom would advance to the outlying camp and try to trick the "Arkansas Feds" into pursuing them.
If Folsom was successful, the Union troops would follow him into the ambush at Devil's Backbone. The rest of the force, composed of around 500 soldiers from the Gano's Texas Brigade, would then swing in behind the Federals and pin them against McCurtain's men on the ridge.
When the strike force assembled on the afternoon of July 26, 1864, however, Gano quickly realized that the strategy was not likely to work. The force that assembled was smaller than expected, so he used discretion to alter the plan. Instead of trying to draw out the Arkansas Union troops, Gano decided instead to combine his force with Folsom's and attack the camp of the 6th Kansas Cavalry at dawn the next morning.
Our series on the Battle of Massard Prairie will continue in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie. Also please consider purchasing my new book, The Battle of Massard Prairie, now available by following the link. Profits from the book are being donated to historic preservation efforts in Arkansas.