Sunday, June 29, 2008
This is a view taken from the front of the Headquarters House looking south. Dickson Street runs from left to right behind the trees.
This is approximately the view seen by Union soldiers in the center of Harrison's line of battle during the Battle of Fayetteville.
The Confederates launched three primary attacks against this line during the battle. The first had come as fighting opened, but was turned back. The second was a dismounted charge led by Colonel Monroe, but it was also turned back.
Although they had two pieces of artillery, the Southern troops found themselves at a severe disadvantage during the battle. Most of Cabell's cavalrymen were armed with shotguns, etc., and their small arms were no match for the longer range rifles and carbines of the Union troops. They had to close the range to be able to bring their small arms to bear, but doing so brought them under intense fire from Union weaponry well before they could use their own arms.
Shortly before 9 a.m., though, the Confederates attempted a major gamble. Their artillery ammunition was already running short, so they attempted a mounted charge up Dickson Street against the Union right. Led by Colonel Monroe, the attack was described even by their enemies as "gallant and desperate."
Unfortunately, the route selected for the attack (picked because it provided road access for the mounted troops) brought Monroe and his men under withering fire from both their front and right. Colonel Harrison described the critical moment in his post-battle report:
At about 9 a.m., or a little before, Colonel Monroe led a gallant and desperate cavalry charge upon our right wing, which was met by a galling cross-fire from our right and center, piling rebel men and horses in heaps in front of our ordnance office, and causing the enemy to retreat in disorder to the woods. During this charge, Captains [William C.] Parker and [George W.R.] Smith, of the First Infantry, while bravely cheering their men, were both wounded in the head, though not dangerously.
At about the same time, Harrison ordered Lt. Robb to lead forward two dismounted companies from the 1st Arkansas U.S. Cavalry and open fire on the Confederate artillery pieces. The cannon were manned by Captain W.M. Hughey and a crew assembled from recruits at the camp of instruction in Dardanelle less than one month earlier. According to Gen. Cabell, they stood well under the Union attack, but not without losses:
Two horses were killed and 2 wounded in the battery; 1 man killed and several wounded.Captain Hughey deserves special mention for his bravery, skill, and energy in the management of his two pieces of artillery.
Our series on the Battle of Fayetteville will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/battleoffayetteville.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
This view, taken from the Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville, looks west across the valley or ravine to downtown Fayetteville. The cemetery is located on the lower slopes of East Mountain (Mt. Sequoyah), where Cabell's men formed their line of battle and placed their two field pieces.
The first attack went left to right across the low ground visible in the distance and surged up against the Union defenders hastily assembling in line of battle. The immediate objective seems to have been Col. Harrison's command post at Headquarters House, but his men were able to drive back the Confederate assault in hard fighting.
The first attack repelled, the Federals were working feverishly to strenghten their position when Cabell suddenly opened on them with his two pieces of artillery. Damage was done to the camp of the 1st Arkansas U.S. Cavalry and to surrounding buildings, but according to Harrison's report, no Union soldiers were killed during the shelling.
By 8 a.m., the Union line of battle was fully established and the Confederate artillery ammunition was already showing signs of running low. The critical moments of the battle had arrived.
Our series on the Battle of Fayetteville will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/battleoffayetteville.
Friday, June 27, 2008
The Confederates rode north from Ozark into the mountains following a path then known as the Mulberry and Frog Bayou Road.
Parts of this road followed the same general path as today's Pig Trail Scenic Byway (so named because it is a popular route for fans on their way to see Arkansas Razorbacks' football games). The road leads through particularly spectacular scenery including mountains, rocks, streams and waterfalls. The lightly flowing falls seen here are Pig Trail Falls.
It took two days for the Confederates to cross the mountains, but by the night of April 17th, they were on the outskirts of Fayetteville and so far the Federals had no idea they were coming.
The attack struck at 5 a.m. on the morning of April 18, 1863. Coming in on the Huntsville Road (a modern city street still bears that name), the Confederates overran a Union picket post and swarmed up into the ravine or small valley dividing the downtown area from East Mountain (today's Mt. Sequoyah).
The Federals did not know that danger was present until they heard the gunfire from the attack on the picket post. Col. Harrison reported that he could hear the Southern troops coming with "wild and deafening shouts."
His troops reacted well to the emergency. The men of the 1st Arkansas U.S. Infantry quickly formed on their parade ground, which lay in the downtown area south of Dickson Street and west of College Avenue. Falling back ahead of the oncoming Confederates, the infantrymen rallied on the men of the 1st Arkansas U.S. Cavalry, who were forming into line.
Because his infantry men had not yet received their uniforms, Harrison was concerned that they might fall victim to friendly fire. As a result he sent most of them to the rear to a sheltered position behind the hill on Maple Street. Seven companies were placed in this position.
The remaining three infantry companies were formed into a line with four companies from the 1st Arkansas Cavalry around the Tebbetts or Headquarters House on East Dickson. These units formed the center of the Union line of battle. To their right was positioned the cavalry battalion of Major Ezra Fitch and to their left was posted the cavalry battalion of Lt. Col. A.W. Bishop.
Thus formed, the Union line stretched from southwest to northeast from about the intersection of Block Street and Meadow Street across the primary intersection of Dickson and College Avenue, across the grounds of the Headquarters House and on off into the open fields (now residential areas) to the northeast.
Our series on the Battle of Fayetteville will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting our new Battle of Fayetteville pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/battleoffayetteville.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
A quick note tonight to say thank you to Andrew Wagenhoffer of Civil War Books and Authors for his very kind review of my recently published book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas.
If you have not visited Andrew's site, he provides very insightful reviews of books about the Civil War.
You can read the review by clicking here.
Profits from the Massard Prairie book are being donated to assist in the development of a new driving tour of the Cane Hill battlefield in Northwest Arkansas.
You can order the book by clicking here and can learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ArkansasCW4.
The book is also available in the Visitor Center book shop at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.
On April 18, 1863, Confederate forces launched one of their final large operations to drive Union troops from Northwest Arkansas.
Although much smaller than the earlier Battles of Pea Ridge, Cane Hill and Prairie Grove, the Battle of Fayetteville was a significant event in the history of the Civil War in Arkansas.
By the spring of 1863, the city of Fayetteville in Washington County was the primary Union post in Northwest Arkansas. Although most of the troops of the Army of the Frontier had been withdrawn from the region in anticipation of a campaign down through the Indian Territories (Oklahoma), the city was defended by two regiments of Unionist Arkansas troops commanded by Col. M. LaRue Harrison.
These regiments, the 1st Arkansas U.S. Cavalry and the 1st Arkansas U.S. Infantry, had been formed with Unionist citizens and Confederate deserters and were camped in downtown Fayetteville. Col. Harrison's headquarters were located in the Tebbetts House on East Dickson Street (seen here). Constructed in 1858, the house had been frequented by Union officers since the Pea Ridge campaign in 1862.
There had been a series of rumors that Confederate troops might try to attack Fayetteville and by April the Federals were engaged in efforts to fortify the city with rifle pits and other entrenchments. Col. Harrison also sent out scouting parties to watch for any signs of movement by the Confederate forces in the region, all of which were based in posts across the Boston Mountains along the Arkansas River.
Rumors were also reaching the Southern forces, but they were of a more sinister nature. Throughout the winter, reports had arrived in the Confederate camps of attrocities and acts of destruction allegedly committed by the Unionist Arkansans (or "Arkansas Feds") in Fayetteville. Although he was suffering from critical supply shortages, Confederate Brig. Gen. W.L. Cabell decided to try to do something about the outrages - and possibly capture Fayetteville in the process.
Cabell was then camped in Ozark, an important community on the north bank of the Arkansas River. Aware of the presence of his force, Harrison had sent a cavalry force to watch for any signs of movement by the general, but the men returned to Fayetteville on the eve of the Confederate attack and reported they had seen no signs of activity.
The Union scouts apparently returned to base one day too early, for on April 16, 1863, General Cabell rode out of Ozark with 900 mounted men and two pieces of artillery.
Our series on the Battle of Fayetteville will continue. To learn more before the next post, please visit our new site on the battle at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/battleoffayetteville.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Beginning tomorrow I will start a new series on the Battle of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
This engagement took place on April 18, 1863 when Confederate forces under Gen. W. L . Cabell swept down from East Mountain and attacked the Union forces of Col. M. LaRue Harrison in the heart of downtown Fayetteville.
The structure shown here, the Tebbetts or "Headquarters" House, faced some of the heaviest fighting of the battle and bears scars from the engagement to this day.
Check back starting tomorrow to learn more about the Battle of Fayetteville.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
As darkness fell on December 28, 1862, cannon fire again erupted along the Arkansas River.
The fighting this time took place at Strain's Landing, a few miles downriver (east) from the Van Buren riverfront. Confederate Gen. Hindman reported that his forces engaged in an exchange with Union forces on the opposite bank of the river. Gen. Blunt confirmed this in his report of the expedition, indicating that he had shelled Confederate encampments on the opposite side of the Arkansas from a point about five miles below Van Buren.
The artillery exchange continued for about 2 hours before the firing finally died off for the night. Total casualties are unknown, but appear to have been light.
Gen. Blunt sent a dispatch north to his commanding officer, Gen. Samuel Curtis, that night, reporting the events of the day and indicating that unless the Confederates withdrew from opposite him, he planned to cross the Arkansas River the next morning and engage them. How serious he was about this is not known. Crossing the wide river under Confederate artillery fire would have been an extremely risky operation, but Blunt was a bold and capable commander.
The fight on the Fort Smith side of the river never materialized, however. During the night, Gen. Hindman withdrew from his encampments around Fort Smith. His army was so battered following the horrific fight earlier in the month at Prairie Grove that it was literally falling apart on him. He pulled out heading east for Clarksville, leaving his sick and wounded behind at Fort Smith.
Because he had no established supply lines, Blunt did not attempt to occupy Fort Smith, but instead withdrew back across the Boston Mountains to Northwest Arkansas. His Van Buren expedition had been a startling success, carried out in the middle of winter in extremely difficult conditions.
Union casualties during the expedition were extremely light considering the nature and size of the engagement. Hindman did not report Confederate casualties, but they do not appear to have been heavy.
This concludes our series on the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas. To read more and see additional photographs, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
When the Confederates opened fire with cannon from the opposite bank of the Arkansas River, the Federals pushed forward rifled cannon to the heights overlooking Van Buren.
The location where they placed the guns is now part of Fairview Cemetery, located just north of the historic downtown area.
General Herron described the scene as the Union artillery began to duel with the Confederates across the river:
General Blunt and myself made a narrow escape. We soon hurried up a long range battery, and drove them off. The transaction was diabolical, to say the least of it, the town being full of women and children. At least 100 shells were fired into the houses, doing great damage, only one citizen being hurt that I know of.
A lull in the fighting followed the artillery exchange and the Federals set about consolidating their position in Van Buren and collecting or destroying all the supplies they could confiscate. Captured Confederate supply wagons were loaded with sugar to be carried back across the Boston Mountains when they withdrew. The men and horses were fed and an estimated 15,000-20,000 bushels of corn were destroyed.
Fighting would resume as darkness fell and I will have more on that in the next post. Until then, you can read more about the Battle of Van Buren by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
This is a view of the Arkansas River at Van Buren. When the Union cavalry charged up to the river bank on December 28, 1862, they could see three Southern steamboats trying to make way across and down the river.
Opening fire on the boats with small arms, the Union horsemen began chasing them down the river (to the left).
The first of the boats was forced to return to shore about one mile downstream. The other two were pursued for ten miles in a cavalry vs. steamboat fight and finally forced to shore as well. They were found to be loaded with corn, supplies and men. All three were destroyed.
At about 2:30 p.m. (the battle began around noon), the Confederates advanced a battery of field artillery to the opposite bank seen here and opened fire on the Union troops in Van Buren. General Herron called the action "diabolical" and noted that the community was filled with civilians at the time. One of the Union soldiers were killed and five wounded. A citizen was also hurt as the Confederate gunners fired over 100 shot and shell into the town, damaging a number of buildings.
Our series on the Battle of Van Buren will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Union troops poured down from Logtown Hill and onto the main street of Van Buren.
This is a modern view of the street. If the scene looks familiar to you, there is a reason. The downtown district in Van Buren is a well-known movie location. It served as a duplicate for World War II era Biloxi, Mississippi in the popular movie Biloxi Blues.
The Union troops stormed down the street seen here in pursuit of the retreating Confederates. Their arrival was so unexpected that citizens of the town were on the wooden sidewalks and in the street, going about their normal business. Union soldiers wrote numerous accounts of the scene, describing how amazed the citizens were as they suddenly charged through their midst.
The soldiers did not hesitate, however, but continued directly down the street past the old courthouse building to the riverfront.
The series on the Battle of Van Buren will continue in the next post. Until then you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
This is the view from Logtown Hill, now part of the city of Van Buren.
In 1862, it loomed over the northern edge of the city, providing a spectacular view of the community below, just as it provides a view of the historic downtown today. The water visible in the photograph is the Arkansas River and the city of Fort Smith lies beyond.
When the Federals reached this position on December 28, 1862, they could see a beehive of activity below.
General Herron was among those looking down on the scene. He reported, "Arriving on the hill overlooking the town, we found three steamboats leaving the wharf and the ferry, making good time over the river."
The Confederates were trying to get across the river before they could be attacked again and also hoped to get their steamboats to safety.
Hoping to intercept the withdrawal, the Union generals ordered their cavalry to charge the town and bluecoated horsemen began to stream down the hill into Van Buren.
Our series will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The community that the Union and Confederate soldiers approached on December 28, 1862, was a small but prosperous city.
Centered around a primary street that led from the hills beyond down to the banks of the Arkansas River, Van Buren was a center of commerical and political activity during the years leading up to the war.
The town's militia took part in the seizure of Fort Smith in 1861 and large numbers of the community's men and boys and marched off to fight for the Confederacy. Despite the fact that heavy fighting had taken place across the mountains at Pea Ridge, Cane Hill and Prairie Grove in Northwest Arkansas, most of the residents of Van Buren considered their community safe from attack in late December of 1862. Winter had settled across the region and it was not expected that combat would resume before the spring.
In fact, only a token force was maintained in and around the town by Confederate Gen. Thomas C. Hindman. Most of his army had crossed back over the Arkansas River and was camped in the area surrounding Fort Smith.
As the day warmed on the morning of December 28, 1862, the people of Van Buren were going about their business, shopping and gathering along the main street and at the old courthouse. The fighting would come upon them so quickly that most would not have a chance to flee.
Our series on the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas, will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Following the massive fight at Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862, Gen. Thomas C. Hindman withdrew his Confederate army back across the Boston Mountains to Van Buren and Fort Smith.
Located on the north shore of the Arkansas River, Van Buren was then an important trading community and river port. Direct roads led over the mountains to connect the town with Washington and Benton Counties in Northwest Arkansas.
Determined to pursue Hindman, despite the cold weather, Generals Blunt and Herron set out across the mountains with thousands of Union soldiers in late December.
Advancing via the Cove Creek and Telegraph (Wire) Roads, they advanced into northern Crawford County, Arkansas on the night of December 27, 1862, and on the next morning struck an advanced camp of Confederate cavalry at Dripping Springs. The Battle of Dripping Springs was an overwhelming victory for the Federals and the Confederate horsemen fell back rapidly toward Van Buren, with Union horsemen hot on their heels. Skirmishing took place at several places along the road, but the advance took place so rapidly that the opposing forces reached the hills overlooking Van Buren before anyone in the town even knew that a battle was underway.
Our series on the Battle of Van Buren will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Beginning tomorrow I will be starting a new series on the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas.
If you aren't familiar with this encounter, it was quite a fascinating event. Thousands of Union troops swept over the Boston Mountains in the dead of winter and surprised the Confederates at Van Buren in one of the most dramatic incidents of the Civil War in Arkansas.
In addition, Van Buren is one of the most charming and historic communities in Arkansas. I think you will enjoy the postings, so I hope you will check back with us starting tomorrow.