Sunday, July 27, 2008
Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Two
We're resuming now our series on the Confederate Expedition against Fort Smith during the summer of 1864. I'm sorry I haven't been posting over the last few days, but hopefully we can catch up.
As his scouts and raiding parties brought information back to headquarters from their forays around Fort Smith, General Cooper developed a plan for an attack that he felt might have a reasonable chance of success. Union troops had ringed the town with a strong line of earthen fortifications and the Confederate force was not of sufficient strength to storm the works without sustaining great losses.
Instead, Cooper learned from his scouts that the Federals had moved several large bodies of troops into exposed positions around the town. Forage had grown so short at Fort Smith that Union commanders had little choice but to do this in order to save their horses and other livestock. The Southern general developed a plan for attacking one of this outlying camps, hoping to inflict damage and draw a pursuing Federal force into an ambush on the Devil's Backbone ridge south of Fort Smith.
The plan was placed in the quite capable hands of Brigadier General R.M. Gano. A native Kentuckian and resident of Texas before the war, Gano had achieved distinction east of the Mississippi as an able cavalry commander under the famed John Hunt Morgan.
Orders were sent for a striking force to assemble on the Poteau River in the Choctaw Nation on the afternoon of July 26, 1864. When Gano reached the launching point for the raid, however, he found that fewer troops had arrived than expected. Considering his options, he decided to alter the plan for the attack. Instead of carrying out Cooper's original plan (which called for a decoy force to lead pursuing Federal troops into an ambush while a larger Confederate force closed on them from the rear), Gano decided to strike a camp that scouts reported was in an exposed position on Massard Prairie.
This camp was Camp Judson, occupied by acting Major David Mefford's battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry. Assigned to a position at the "picnic" or "Diamond" Grove on Massard Prairie, an open grassland southeast of Fort Smith, the battalion was guarding a herd of horses that was being grazed on the open range. The battalion consisted of four companies from the 6th Kansas. Three companies of Arkansas Federal recruits were also camped at the position.
Our series will continue throughout the day on Sunday with a series of posts about the Battle of Massard Prairie. To read more until the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie.