Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mystery Soldiers of Massard Prairie - Fort Smith, Arkansas

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
One of the more intriguing mysteries of the Battle of Massard Prairie, which took place at Fort Smith on July 27, 1864, originates from the reports of Confederate soldiers that the overran parties of "Arkansas Feds" as they moved in to attack a battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry.

The terms "Arkansas Feds" and "Mountain Feds" were often used by Southern soldiers to describe Arkansans who either evaded service in the Confederate army or deserted from their units and joined the Union side.

According to several eyewitness accounts of the battle, the "Arkansas Feds" were taken by surprise and broke and ran. The Confederates did not immediately pursue them as the Kansas cavalrymen had formed a line of battle through their camp at the Picnic or Diamond Grove (site of today's Massard Prairie Battlefield Park). Union reports, however, make no mention at all of any Arkansas Union troops being present at the battle. All of which begs the questions: Were there "Arkansas Feds" on Massard Prairie? And, if so, who were they?

The answer seems to be yes, there were several companies of Arkansas Federals camped on Massard Prairie at the time of the attack.

On July 5, 1864, about three weeks before the battle, 100 Arkansas Unionists signed a letter to the editor of the Fort Smith New Era newspaper complaining of the disrespect being shown them by Union soldiers from Northern states and by the citizens of Fort Smith. The men were members of the 4th Arkansas Infantry (U.S.). The letter was dated from the men's camp at "Mazard Prairie."

This short-lived regiment was formed early in 1864 and merged with the 2nd Arkansas Infantry (U.S.) in October of that year. At its greatest strength, it included around 173 men, including officers and a surgeon, making up three companies.

Massard Prairie at Fort Smith, Arkansas
Coincidentally, the sites of three additional company-sized camps have been found at Massard Prairie, opposite or south of the branch from the main camp formed by four companies of the 6th Kansas Cavalry. This would have placed the men of the Arkansas battalion directly in the path of the Confederate attack and these men would have been the first hit, exactly as Southern accounts reported.

This evidence provides strong support then for the presence of the 4th Arkansas Infantry (U.S.) as well as the 6th Kansas Cavalry at the Battle of Massard Prairie. The scattering of two battalions of Federal troops instead of just one makes the Confederate victory there even more impressive and significant.

To read more about the battle, please consider my book:

The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas

The book is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle:

The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith

You can also learn more about the battle by visiting

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