Friday, December 18, 2009
The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry - Arkansas
It seems appropriate in a way that the last significant battle of the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign was fought in flooded swamps with the soldiers of both sides standing from a few inches to a few feet deep in water.
The campaign to seize Shreveport, an important strategic objective on the Red River, was already a disaster by the time the Union and Confederate armies tore into each other at Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, on April 30, 1864. General Frederick Steele's troops from Little Rock and Fort Smith had been badly beaten in fighting at Poison Spring and Marks' Mills after they had bogged down due to a shortage of supplies and stiffening resistance at Camden earlier in the month.
The other arm of the Union army, led up from the Mississippi River by General Nathaniel P. Banks, had advanced as far as Alexandria, Louisiana, before they were soundly thrashed at the Battle of Mansfield by a much smaller Confederate army commanded by General Richard Taylor.
With the campaign in shambles, both Federal forces went into retreat. In Arkansas, the last major fight of that retreat took place at Jenkins' Ferry, an important crossing of the Saline River about 12 miles south of Sheridan. The fighting started on April 29th, when Confederate artillery opened an ineffectual fire on Union forces trying to move supply wagons across a pontoon bridge.
Heavy rains began to fall, and continued to fall through the night, and by the next morning the swamps along the Saline were flooded with muddy water. The road leading to the temporary bridge was a quagmire of mud and the Union troops were battling the elements in trying to cross the river when Confederate troops launched a dawn attack from the rear.
The Federals threw up temporary breastworks and hurled back repeated Confederate attacks in fighting that turned out to be confused and bloody. The Southern assaults were poorly coordinated, however, and General E. Kirby Smith was finally forced to call off the fight. Steele took advantage of the break in the fighting to move his army across the Saline and destroy the bridge behind him.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/jenkinsferry1. Our page on the battle is newly updated. Among the new features is an aerial photograph of the battlefield.