Monday, February 22, 2010
The construction of these fortifications continued through the spring of 1864. Citizens often picked up shovels and axes to join in the work, as did details from the various regiments stationed at Fort Smith.
In addition to the main line that surrounded the town, Union engineers also threw up earthen embankments against the stone walls of the main fort and placed a battery at Belle Point in front of the fort to control the river approaches to the garrison.
Very little remains of these fortifications today. Some small sections of rifle pits can still be seen and in a few places vague traces of earthworks are still visible. For the most part, though, the Union defenses of Fort Smith vanished during the late 19th and early 20th century residential and industrial expansion of the city. To learn more about Fort Smith National Historic Site, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortsmith
Friday, February 12, 2010
The Confederates were falling back on the Waldron Road, having evacuated Fort Smith without a fight, and appeared to be in full flight. Following Blunt's orders, Union Colonel William F. Cloud led the 2nd Kansas and 6th Missouri Cavalries, along with two sections from Rabb's Indiana battery, down the road leading to Jenny Lind and Waldron.
The Federals skirmished with Cabell's rear guard at Jenny Lind, sending the Confederate horsemen into a rapid retreat. What Cloud didn't know as he stormed after them, however, was that it was all part of a trap planned by the Southern general. Knowing that the Union commander would think he had the Confederates on the run and was closing in on the rear of their column, Cabell prepared an ambush where the Waldron Road crossed the Devil's Backbone, an abrupt mountain ridge that runs east to west across the horizon south of Fort Smith.
As Cloud and his horsemen rode up to the foot of the ridge, intent on catching their prey, the hunter suddenly became the hunted. The Union troopers road into a deadly trap and were ambushed by the Confederates of Monroe's Regiment who were hidden at the bottom of the Backbone:
The enemy formed in a dense growth of small timber and brush, and when our scouts came up, they let them pass through without firing a gun, but when Company C came up, they opened upon them a very heavy volley of infantry in two columns. Your son (Capt. E.D. Lines, 2nd Kansas) was killed at that time. He was in the extreme advance, (as was his custom,) and was shot by a Minnie ball, through the bowels and liver.
Following the ambush, the Battle of Devil's Backbone raged for three hours. The two forces engaged in a severe artillery duel that damaged nerves far more than it did bodies. The Confederates held their own and appeared to be on the verge of prevailing when the cannon fire finally slowed. To his shock and dismay, however, General Cabell watched as his army virtually disintegrated around him.
Not under immediate attack and having fought well so far, the Confederate lines suddenly collapsed and soldiers streamed down the backside of the ridge. Cabell could do nothing but withdraw his remaining intact units and fight a rear guard action as he pulled back to Waldron. The loss of the fight at Devil's Backbone ended his hopes of defeating the Union army in detail and retaking Fort Smith.
To learn more about the battle, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/devilsbackbone.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Confederate troops occupied Fort Smith for the first two years of the Civil War, using it as a supply depot and base of operations. It served as a point of refuge for Southern soldiers following the disastrous Pea Ridge Campaign in March of 1862 and was the center of General Thomas Hindman's efforts to build a new Army of the Trans-Mississippi later that year in anticipation of his Prairie Grove Campaign.
Thousands of men camped on the hills and prairies surrounding Fort Smith, while quartermasters and commissary officers did their best to obtain uniforms, shoes, weapons, ammunition and food for the soldiers.
Even after Hindman withdrew what remained of his army from the vicinity in December of 1862, Fort Smith remained in Southern hands. Finally during the final days of August 1863, however, the Union army of General James G. Blunt closed in on the fort from the west. After moving into position along the nearby Poteau River to block the Federal approach, Confederate General W.L. Cabell decided he could not hope to hold Blunt in check.
Withdrawing from the Poteau River position on the night of August 31, 1863, Cabell evacuated Fort Smith and moved his his command to protect the supply wagons as they lumbered south across the mountain roads to Waldron, Arkansas.
Sending a large force of cavalry to pursue Cabell, Blunt occupied Fort Smith. For the first time in more than two years, the Stars and Stripes flew again over the walls of Fort Smith.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARFS5.