Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Four

The key episode of Cooper's 1864 expedition to Fort Smith was the Battle of Massard Prairie, fought on this date (July 27th) in 1864.
Sweeping down from the ridge that overlooked the vast prairie, the Confederate forces stormed onto the open ground in two columns. One of these swept to the right to attack the left flank of the Union camp and the other, led by General Gano in person, rode hard to strike the right flank of the Union position.
A detachment of Union pickets, posted on the old Jenny Lind Road, was scattered by the oncoming Confederates and the sounds of the gunfire alerted the Federals at Picnic Grove that trouble was at hand.
The three companies of "Arkansas Feds," Union recruits from Arkansas, camped on the south side of the grove broke and fled in the face of the oncoming attack. The men of the 6th Kansas, however, hastily formed an east to west battleline through their camp. The position was along an almost distinguishable rise overlooking a trickling stream or branch that ran through the camp.
Because the herd of horses had already been moved out onto the prairie to graze, Company B of the 6th Kansas moved forward slightly and tried to cover the herd until it could be brought in to safety. There was no time, however, as Gano successfully cut off the herd and attacked the men of Company B in their advanced position.
The attack was one of sheer nerve against superior Union weaponry. The small arms of the 6th Kansas Cavalry were far superior to the shotguns, Mississippi rifles and other weapons carried by the Confederates. They had a much greater range. As a result, the Southern troops would wait for the Federals to fire a volley, then charge in on them, fire at short range with their own weapons and then pull back as the Union troops were reloading. It was an unusual, but in the case of Massard Prairie, highly successful tactic.
As Gano was engaged with Company B on the right (west) end of the Union line, the detachment from his column pushed through the grove and attacked the center of the Union position. At the same time, the Choctaw column suddenly appeared from behind the trees and opened fire on the left (east) end of the Union line.
The situation for the Federals quickly became critical and Company B was pulled back into line with the three other companies. Gano pushed forward after them and also began moving around the right flank to strike the Union line from both its flank and rear. The men of the 6th Kansas suddenly found themselves facing Confederate troops from all sides.
Our series will continue later today. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

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