Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Six

As they fell back from their victory at Massard Prairie, Gano's men passed over the ridges and open prairie to the Devil's Backbone (seen here).
Still hoping to draw a Federal pursuing force into an ambush along the commanding ridge south of Fort Smith, Gano moved slowly, making sure the Federal cavalry under Col. Judson was able to clearly see his men.
The very rear of the Confederate column skirmished with the oncoming Union troops, but it really amounted to little more than a sporadic exchange of shots with no casualties reported.
The Union officers simply were too stunned by the defeat at Massard Prairie and too concerned about the possibility of further disaster to engage in a spirited pursuit. Before they approached close enough for Gano to launch his planned ambush, they turned back to Fort Smith. In subsequent reports, they blamed the condition of their mounts for their lack of more aggressive action.
Realizing that there would be no pursuit and no second battle, Gano crossed his men over the Devil's Backbone to James Fork, a branch of the Poteau River and camped near the river that night before returning back to the main base at the old Choctaw Council House.
The stunning success of the attack on the 6th Kansas battalion at Massard Prairie electrified the main camp and news traveled like lighting across the mountains and prairies to the headquarters of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department and from there on east where it was recounted in newspapers as far away as Augusta, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia.
The victory led General Cooper to begin considering a second aggressive action against Fort Smith, a move by which he hoped to secure even greater results.
We will have more on that when our series continues. Until the next post, you can read more about the Battle of Massard Prairie and related events by visiting

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