Saturday, September 12, 2009
Scenic Highway 7, which leads from Louisiana all the way up through Arkansas to near the Missouri line, was listed in a report on Yahoo this week as one of the best drives in America for seeing fall colors.
Sometimes I agree with these lists and sometimes I don't, but in this case they definitely hit the nail on the head. Scenic 7 is one of the most beautiful drives in America. It also passes numerous historic sites and sections of it figure prominently in the Civil War history of Arkansas.
The section of the highway that leads through Hot Springs, for example, follows the same route that General Thayer's troops followed in 1864 as they marched south from Fort Smith to join in the Red River Campaign. Soldiers taking part in this march described passing the famed Hot Springs of the Ouachita and noted how the area, already a popular resort by that time, had been abandoned due to the war.
The drive crosses the Arkansas River at Dardanelle, scene of heavy fighting during the war. From there it leads north into the Ozarks, which were the domain of the guerrilla bands and "mountain Feds." The drive provides a great chance to see the scenery where these groups hid out and operated during the Civil War.
To learn more about the drive itself, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/scenic7.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The Battle of Massard Prairie and the related attack on Fort Smith a few days later achieved remarkable results for small encounters.
In addition to killing or wounding around 40 Union soldiers, the Confederates also captured around 120 more. The Federal garrison at Fort Smith had been deprived of the equivalent of two full companies of trained and battle-hardened cavalry. At Massard Prairie, Gano's men also took away 200 Sharps rifles, 400 revolvers, horses, camp equipment and more. During the demonstration on Fort Smith four days later they captured another $200,000 worth of Union supplies, a herd of cattle, horses and more.
As impressive as these results were for small actions, they opened the door for something much more dramatic - the Cabin Creek raid.
General Thayer's monthly report conjectured that Cooper's goal had been "to hold this force here and also to make raids between here and (Fort) Gibson." He was more right than he knew. The attacks drove most of the Federals into the works of the Fort Smith and just two weeks later Gano and Watie struck north across the Arkansas River, wiped out a Union force protecting a hay-cutting party, and then drove north toward the supply road connecting Fort Gibson with the Federal posts in Kansas.
On September 19, 1864, they stunned a major Union supply train of 300 wagons and 1,800 horses and mules at Cabin Creek in the Cherokee Nation. Scattering and destroying what they couldn't carry away, the Confederates returned to headquarters with 130 wagons loaded with supplies and 740 mules. It was one of the greatest supply captures of the Civil War and resulted in the passage of commendations to Gano, Watie and their men by the Confederate Congress in Richmond.
Combined with the captures at Fort Smith, in just three weeks the Confederate forces had inflicted more than $2,000,000 in damage to the Union war effort in the West. By any measure, it was a dramatic accomplishment that began on July 27, 1864, with the Battle of Massard Prairie.
Please click here to learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie and also consider the book, The Battle of Massard Prairie, available through www.amazon.com.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The halt by Confederate troops to collect supplies, arms and food abandoned by the retreating Federals gave the Union forces in Fort Smith time to the attack.
Rallying on the hill around Fort No. 2, the Federals reorganized and - with reinforcements coming up from the main garrison - moved forward to renew the fight. Advancing to a hill about one mile south of the fort, a section of the 2nd Kansas Battery took up a position from which it could fire on Watie's Confederates. Two companies from the 1st Kansas Infantry (Colored) moved up in support of the battery. The entire operation was carried out under fire from the Confederate guns on the next hilltop south.
One of the Confederate shells exploded near Colonel Judson of the 6th Kansas Cavalry, a fragment wounding him in the left leg. Despite his injuries, however, the colonel remained on the field for the rest of the fight.
The four Union cannon were of better quality and range than the Confederate guns and this superiority soon began to tell. Unwilling to sacrifice his own cannon for the sake of a demonstration, General Cooper ordered the Southern howitzers to pull back. As they were doing so, a Union shell exploded directly over the Confederate battery teams, killing 3 men and wounding another. A second shot decapitated one of General Gano's men. After completing his work on Massard Prairie, Gano had come across the ridge to join the fight.
The effectiveness and range of the Federal artillery convinced Cooper to end his demonstration and pull back. Leaving sharpshooters from his Native American units to hover around the edges of Fort Smith, he effectively pinned the Union troops in position while he withdrew the main body.
Losses in the fight had been relatively light considering the sizes of the two forces engaged. The Confederates suffered one killed, one mortally wounded and five wounded. Union forces lost 11 men killed and wounded, at least one of them killed.
With minimal losses, Cooper was able to achieve his goal of giving pro-Southern families in the area a chance to evacuate. Several moved out under the cover of his troops. His men also inflicted terror on pro-Union families living on the battlefield, burning their homes and carrying away livestock and supplies.
As the Confederates pulled back from the edges of Fort Smith, they heard the sounds of heavy artillery fire coming from the main fort. They later learned that Captain Gunter and his Cherokee troops were amusing themselves by firing into the fort from the cover of trees across the Poteau River. The Federals responded by rolling cannon out of the fort and firing at the smoke of the Cherokee rifles. The Indian soldiers simply changed positions and continued their sniping, leading to more artillery fire. Otherwise, though, the Massard Prairie expedition was over.
I'll look closer at the results of the attacks in the next post. Until then you can learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardindex or by reading The Battle of Massard Prairie, available for either at the upper right of this page or at www.amazon.com.