Friday, August 22, 2008
Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Nine
The attack on the morning of July 31, 1864 by General Watie's men created great alarm within the defenses of Fort Smith. The Federals were unsure whether the Confederates were merely raiding or if they planned a full scale assault on the outer fortifications.
Reinforcements were rushed into the rifle pits and earthworks around Battery Number 2 and senior officers, including Colonel W.R. Judson of the 6th Kansas Cavalry soon arrived at the point of action.
Taking advantage of a lull in the firing brought on as Watie's men raided a captured campsite for supplies and food, the Federals pushed out from their defenses and seized a hill located about one mile south of Battery Number 2 and between the position of the Confederates and the Union fortifications. Troops from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry and 2nd Kansas Battery opened fire on the Southern forces from this new position, effectively engaging a Confederate light battery that General Cooper had pushed forward in support of Watie's men.
The cannon of each side roared into action. On the Union side, Colonel Judson was wounded in the left leg by a shell fragment, but maintained his position on the field until the end of the engagement.
Among the Confederates, the effect of the higher grade Union artillery soon became obvious. Cooper ordered his light guns withdrawn, but in the process a Union shell exploded directly over the horses, killing three and wounding another and cutting the leg from one of the artillerymen. A second shell decapitated a second man.
The demonstration had, by this point, gone on almost all day and Cooper had achieved the goals of his attack. Pro-Southern families in the vicinity had been evacuated behind the protection of his troops, the homes of pro-Union families had been damaged and another large haul of supplies and livestock had been captured. With darkness falling, he left a line of skirmishers to engage the Federals from behind the cover of underbrush and began to pull his main force back.
The skirmishers kept up a hot fire with the Federal infantry and successfully shielded the withdrawal of the main body until well after nightfall.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will conclude in our next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie. If you are interested in reading about the expedition in depth, please consider purchasing a copy of The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. The book is now available at the Fort Smith Museum of History, Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park or for order online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/dalecox.