Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Five
This is an engraving of James Asher, a member of the 6th Kansas Cavalry. He was wounded during the fight at Massard Prairie on July 27, 1864.
As the battle intensified with Confederate attacks from all sides, the Union line began to give way. The two companies on the left fell back first, dividing the Federal force and creating an even greater disaster.
The collapse of the Union line at the Picnic Grove led to a flight across the open prairie for over one mile. Although some of the Federals escaped, a large number were wounded or captured by Gano's cavalry.
According to eyewitness accounts, the Union soldiers fought desperately during this stage of the battle because they believed the Native American Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors fighting for the Confederacy would kill them all. This was, of course, not the case, but it took Southern officers some time to convince the Federals that they would not be harmed if they surrendered. Ultimately they agreed.
Rounding up his prisoners, Gano fell back quickly to the captured campsite where his men collected weapons and other needed supplies and then set fire to the tents. They then began a slow withdrawal from the prairie back into the hills, taking their prisoners and captured livestock with them.
Just as they disappeared from the southern edge of the prairie, Union reinforcements appeared on its northern edge.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will continue. If you would like to learn more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie.
Also, please consider my book The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. Paperback copies can be ordered online by following the link above and can also be obtained at the visitor center of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas. They will also be available beginning next week at the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith.
To obtain a hardcover edition, please see yesterday's post for more information.