Thursday, August 21, 2008
Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Eight
On the morning of August 31, 1864, Gen. D.H. Cooper launched a second attack on Fort Smith.
The advance began at sunrise with Major Barnett took the 2nd Creek Regiment and a detachment of Cherokee soldiers under Captain Samuel H. Gunter up the River road into Poteau Bottom, the low area opposite the Poteau River from Fort Smith. The river was too high to allow this force to do much damage, but they opened fire on the main garrison with small arms creating quite a bit of alarm.
At the same time, General Gano moved to the east and occupied a hilltop overlooking Massard Prairie (probably the one where the Fianna Hills subdivision is located today). Lt. Col. Jack McCurtain was sent down onto the prairie with his Choctaw battalion to try to draw enemy troops out into the open, but the Federals had largely abandoned the area following Gano's successful attack on the 27th. Even so, 11 Union soldiers were captured along with a few horses and a drove of beef cattle.
As these operations were underway, Cooper moved up the Fort Towson Road (today's Towson Avenue) with the main body of his force. General Watie led the advance and overran a picket post of 35 men from the 6th Kansas Cavalry about 4 1/2 miles south of the main garrison.
Driving quickly forward, Watie pushed the Federal pickets into the earthen fortifications that had been thrown up around Fort Smith, seizing a "plentiful dinner" and equipment valued at $130,000 in the process.
The Union fortifications facing the attack ran along the ridge marked generally by Dodson Avenue today. The principal redoubt in this section of the line was Fort or Battery #2, located off Dodson between Wheeler and Towson. Although the area is now heavily developed, a few sections of rifle pits can still be seen. Then known as "Negro Hill," the high ground offered a sweeping view of the land beyond across which the Confederates were advancing.
About one mile south of this point, a second hill (also located between Towson and Wheeler) can still be seen. This elevation became the key objective for both sides in the battle.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will continue. Until the next post, you can read more online by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie. If you would like to learn about the expedition in depth, please consider my book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is now available at the Fort Smith Museum of History, Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park or for order online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dalecox.