Sunday, July 6, 2008
Scalpings at Massard Prairie
The 27th of this month will mark the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.
The engagement took place when Confederate troops led by Gen. R.M. Gano swept down on the Union camp of Mefford's Battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry at Massard Prairie, a vast grassland on the outskirts of Fort Smith.
An overwhelming Southern victory, the battle was unique for a number of reasons. Among the most morbid, however, was the fact that it resulted in one of the few documented cases of scalping by Union soldiers during the Civil War.
After overrunning the Union camp and pursuing retreating Federals across miles of open prairie, the Confederate force withdrew quickly from the scene before Union reinforcements could reach the scene. Due to the speed with which they left the battlefield, Gano's men left a number of dead and seriously wounded soldiers behind.
According to 15-year-old James Robert Barnes, who witnessed the battle from the nearby home of his uncle, the Confederate dead were scalped by men in the Union force after the fight:
Someof the Federals with the artillery were Cherokee Indians, the White soldiers called the Cherokee "Pin Indians"...The Pin Indians cut a patch of scalp about the size of the palm of their hand off the top of the dead Rebels head, taking the scalp with them.
The bodies were then piled into a trench on the battlefield and buried.
This brief passage is the only known eyewitness account of scalpings carried out by Union troops in Arkansas. Confederate Native American soldiers were accused of scalping Union soldiers at the Battle of Pea Ridge. The Pea Ridge incident was widely publicized, but the Massard Prairie scalpings never entered the popular media of the time.
If you are interested in learning more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please consider my new book: The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. The book can be purchased online by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardbook. It is also available at the bookstore at Prairie Grove Battlefield Park in Northwest Arkansas.
Proceeds from each copy sold help fund the development of a driving tour at Cane Hill Battlefield in Washington County, Arkansas.