Friday, February 29, 2008

Jenkins' Ferry, Part Two

Continuing our look at Jenkins' Ferry State Park and the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, this is the Saline River as seen from the park. The actual battlefield is on the opposite side.
As you can see from the muddy color of the water, the river was on the rise when this photo was taken in late February (the area is quite a bit greener during the spring and summer). At the time of the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry in 1864, the river was also rising and had overflowed the surrounding swamps.
As the Union army of General Frederick Steele came down from the ridges into the Saline River Valley during their retreat from Camden, they instantly encountered difficulty due to muddy roads and overflowing swamps. They began building a pontoon bridge here at Jenkins' Ferry and were trying to get across when the Confederate army of General Kirby Smith closed on them from behind.
After heavy fighting in which three successive Confederate attacks were thrown back, the Union troops were finally able to get across the Saline and dismantle the bridge behind them. Smith's Confederates pushed up to the river bank opposite today's Jenkins' Ferry State Park, but were not able to get across. Steele's weary men marched through the park area and continued their retreat to Little Rock.
I'll have more on Jenkins' Ferry in the next post, but in the meantime you can read more about the park by going to

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jenkins' Ferry State Park - Arkansas

The last major battle of the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign took place here at Jenkins' Ferry. The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry is commemorated by Jenkins' Ferry State Park, located 13 miles south of the city of Sheridan on Arkansas Highway 46. The park is an easy drive of less than one hour from Hot Springs, Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
The park is set along the picturesque Saline River and includes interpretive displays, a monument, picnic areas, a swimming hole and a boat ramp.
The actual battle was fought across the river from the park, but it provides interpretation of what happened in the Saline River swamps on April 29-30, 1864 and preserves the site of the actual ferry, where Union troops built a pontoon bridge across the river and made good their escape from Kirby Smith's attacking Confederate army. The retreat route led through the state park.
I'll have more on Jenkins' Ferry in the next post.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Boston Mountains, Part Three

This post concludes a quick three part look at the Boston Mountains of western Arkansas.
A region of the Ozarks, the mountains were an imposing barrier between Washington and Benton Counties in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith, Van Buren and other communities in the Arkansas River Valley.
The mountains were also the home of the "Mountain Feds" of Arkansas. These individuals lived deep in the valleys and hollows of the mountains, but came out to fight on the side of the Union at various points of the war. Fiercely independent, they were tough soldiers.
In addition, the region was also haunted by outlaw gangs of guerilla raiders from both sides. These bands roamed the countryside, striking out at farms, homes and small communities, as well as isolated detachments of troops and supply trains. Due to the rugged nature of the mountains, these bands were almost impossible to surpress and remained active not just during the war, but for years after it had ended.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Boston Mountains, Part Two

Continuing our look at the Boston Mountains of Arkansas, this view looks from a ridge across the valley of Cove Creek.
A major Civil War landmark, Cove Creek flows south through the Boston Mountains from the Ozark Plateau of Washington and Benton Counties into Crawford County on the Arkansas River. It merges with Lee Creek in northern Crawford County and flows into the Arkansas River at Van Buren.
The valley provided a natural route through the mountains for the movement of large bodies of troops. Confederate troops followed Cove Creek on numerous occasions, most notably during the days leading up to the Battle of Prairie Grove. Federal troops, in turn, used the valley to move south prior to the fights at Dripping Springs and Van Buren.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Boston Mountains of Arkansas

In our just completed series on the Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas, the Boston Mountains were mentioned several times. This range of the Ozark Hills stretches east to west between Van Buren and Fayetteville and was of considerable significance during the Civil War.
The Boston Mountains form a natural barrier between the Ozark Plateau of Northwest Arkansas and the lowlands of the Arkansas River Valley. Rough country, interrupted by deep ravines and valleys, the mountains were a serious factor in the movement of large bodies of troops in western Arkansas.
Prior to the Battle of Pea Ridge, for example, General Sterling Price withdrew into the mountains to shelter his army from the advancing Federal troops until he could be joined by reinforcements.
The Boston Mountains again played a critical factor in the Battle of Cane Hill (Canehill), Arkansas by providing Confederate forces with a route of retreat and suitable terrain to lay an ambush for their Federal pursuers.
The mountains shielded General Thomas C. Hindman's Confederates as they marched north to the Battle of Prairie Grove, allowing him to flank the Union force at Cane Hill before he was detected.
Over the next few days, we will look at some of the Civil War sites in the Boston Mountains and explore more of their rich history. Be sure to check back regularly for the latest!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Although the city itself dates from the post-Civil War years, you will find bits and pieces of Union and Confederate history around Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The beautiful little Victorian city is a major Southern destination and a great place to stay if you are exploring the Civil War sites of Northwest Arkansas and Southern Missouri.
I've just launched a new Eureka Springs section that you might find of interest at Just follow the link and look for the heading on the main page.

Dripping Springs, Part Five

Our short series on the Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas concludes today. If you would like to read all five posts in order, just scroll down the page.
Once they abandoned their battle line at Dripping Springs on the morning of December 28, 1862, Lt. Col. R.P. Crump and his 1st Texas Partisan Rangers began to fall back down the Van Buren Road. They continued to skirmish as they went, halting at strategic points and turning to fire on the pursuing Federals. The exact locations of most of these short skirmishes have been lost, but they took place all along the route of the old Dripping Springs to Van Buren road.
Losses at Dripping Springs and in the subsequent skirmishes were light. The headstones of a few of Crump's men can be found in Van Buren. They were buried along side comrades who had fallen at Prairie Grove earlier in the month.
An important preliminary episode to the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas, fought later the same day, the Battle of Dripping Springs remains one of the least known episodes of the Civil War in the Natural State. To read more, simply go to and look for the link under the "Battlefields and Forts" heading in the left hand column.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dripping Springs, Part Four

This is the fourth part of a series on the Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas. If you would like to read the other parts first, just scroll down the page.
As the 3,000 Federal cavalrymen under Generals Herron and Blunt approached Dripping Springs on the morning of December 28, 1862, they found a much smaller force of Confederate cavalry under Lt. Col. R.P. Crump arrayed in a line of battle and waiting for them.
Although Blunt sent back for infantry and artillery reinforcements, the Union horsemen were formed for battle and the engagement began before these could come up.
Spreading out across the fields visible in the far right of the photograph, the Union troops charged the Confederates, who were formed from the Dripping Springs crossroads in the center of the photograph and up the ridge to the right.
The Confederates opened fire as the Federals came within range, and the two sides exchanged several volleys. Realizing they had the advantage, though, the Union commanders ordered a charge and thousands of Federal horsemen soon stormed across the open fields. Outnumbered and outgunned, Crump and his men could not withstand the power of the charge and withdrew in front of the charging Federals, firing as they went.
The Confederates fell back through the crossroads and retreated down the Van Buren Road, seen here leading off to the left of the photograph. They lost most of their supplies and camp equipment in the process.
Our series on the Battle of Dripping Springs will continue. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more, please visit and look for the link under the "Battlefields and Forts" heading.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dripping Springs, Part Three

Continuing with our tour of the Dripping Springs Battlefield north of Van Buren in Crawford County, Arkansas, we look today at the beginning of the fight. If you would like to read previous postings on this topic, just scroll down the page.

The Federal army under Generals Blunt and Herron reached Oliver's Store early on the morning on December 28, 1862. Confederate General Hindman had ordered that a cavalry picket be maintained in the Oliver's area, but the Federals saw no sign of them.

They did quickly learn, however, that Lt. Col. R.P. Crump (C.S.) was camped nearby at Dripping Springs with his regiment, the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers. Upon learning of Crump's presence, the two Union generals formed 3,000 cavalrymen and four howitzers and pushed on to attack the Confederates.

As they advanced, the Federals quickly began to spot Confederate pickets. Skirmishing was minimal, however, as the advancing cavalrmen pushed on and soon came down the road seen above and approached the Southern camp at Dripping Springs.

Learning from his scouts that the Union troops were coming, Lt. Col. Crump formed his regiment in a line of battle and sent word down to General Thomas C. Hindman on the Arkansas River, warning him of the impending attack.

As the Federals arrived on the scene, they quickly observed the Confederate battle line and formed a line of their own. General Blunt sent word back to the main body at Oliver's Store, directing that additional infantry and artillery be pushed forward. Without waiting for these reinforcmeents, however, the Union troops prepared to attack.

For more on the Battle of Dripping Springs, watch for my next few posts. In the meantime, you can read about the battle and see more photographs of the battlefield by going to and clicking the "Battlefields and Forts" link on the upper left hand side of the page.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Breaking News! - Portion of Devil's Backbone Battlefield to be preserved!

I am interrupting our tour of the Dripping Springs battlefield today to give you some breaking news. Charles Durnette of the Civil War Round Table of Arkansas has let me know that the Civil War Preservation Trust has voted to purchase ten acres of land at the Devil's Backbone Battlefield near Greenwood in Sebastian County.

The Battle of Devil's Backbone (sometimes called the Battle of Backbone Mountain) was fought on September 1, 1863 when Confederate Brig. Gen. W.L. Cabell took up a series of hidden positions behind natural stone breastworks on the Devil's Backbone, an imposing mountain south of Fort Smith. Union troops under Col. William F. Cloud of the 2nd Kansas Cavalry ran headlong into Cabell's ambush.

The resulting battle was noisy and intense, as each side poured artillery fire on the other, but casualties were relatively low. Despite some initial success, Cabell's chance for victory evaporated when most of his forces suddenly retreated from the field. (If you would like to learn more about the battle and see modern photographs of the battlefield, just click here and look for the link.)

This is really exciting news as it means that a portion of the critical historic site will be preserved for future generations.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the Civil War Round Table of Arkansas, they have a great website at

Dripping Springs, Part Two

Continuing our look at the Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas, this photo shows the historic Cove Creek Road. The old road still leads south from Prairie Grove into Crawford County, passing through the spectacular scenery of the Boston Mountains.

This was the road followed by General J.G. Blunt's men as they pushed south from Cane Hill to a planned junction with General F.J. Herron's force at Oliver's Store north of Dripping Springs. Blunt's troops passed down this section of the road on the morning of December 27, 1862.

Although this photograph was taken during the summer, the 1862 movement was actually made in the dead of winter. Soldiers wrote in their journals and letters home that the mountains were covered with snow and ice and that Cove Creek was filled with freezing water and slushy ice.

Blunt and Herron undertook the expedition despite the severe weather in hopes of surprising the Confederate forces camped in and around Van Buren. A Confederate cavalry force was camped at Dripping Springs north of Van Buren to watch for such movements, but the advancing Federals did not encounter Southern horsemen until the next morning.

Our look at the Battle of Dripping Springs will continue, but in the meantime you can read more and see additional photographs by going to and looking for the link under the Battlefields and Forts heading in the left hand column.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas

This photo shows the ground across which the Union troops advanced during the Battle of Dripping Springs on December 28, 1862. One of the little known episodes of the Civil War in Arkansas, this encounter took place as part of an important expedition following the Battle of Prairie Grove.

Having given their forces time to recover from the severe fight at Prairie Grove, Union commanders decided to push across the Boston Mountains in the dead of winter and strike at the Confederate forces on the Arkansas River at Van Buren. Following the tactical draw at Prairie Grove, General Thomas Hindman (C.S.) had pulled back to Van Buren and moved most of his battered forces across the river to camps around Fort Smith. A cavalry force was left a few miles north of Van Buren at Dripping Springs with orders to push scouts up the Cove Creek Road to watch for any movement by the Federal troops.

On December 27, 1862, despite cold weather, ice and snow, Union Generals Blunt and Herron left their camps at Prairie Grove, Rhea's Mill and Cane Hill with 8,000 men and 30 pieces of artillery. Herron came down the old Telegraph Road, while Blunt moved across Reed's Mountain from Cane Hill to the Cove Creek Road. Conditions were horrendous. Blunt's men were forced to splash through 33 crossings of Cove Creek (the road runs straight up the creek valley and is crossed many times by the winding waters of the creek). Herron's men had to pull their artillery over the mountain tops and ridges on the Telegraph Road, sometimes using as many as 50 men and 12 horses to pull single guns over the hills with ropes.

The two forces finally met at Oliver's Store, north of Dripping Springs, at 3 a.m. on the morning of December 28, 1862.

We'll continue our look at the Battle of Dripping Springs over the next few days. In the meantime, you can read more and see additional photos by going to and looking the link under the "Battlefields and Forts" heading in the left had column.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fort Smith Museum of History - Arkansas

If you are looking for a good indoor activity during the cold weather, I highly recommend the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith.
Located adjacent to the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the museum provides a fascinating walk through time. Among the exhibits is a section on the Civil War in Fort Smith that is well worth seeing.
In addition, the museum has a nice display on the history of Fort Chaffee, the 20th century army post at Fort Smith, as well as other aspects of the community's military history.
You can obtain further information (including hours, directions, etc.) by visiting their website at

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Fort Smith National Cemetery - Arkansas

Fort Smith National Cemetery is unique in that it is one of few such burial grounds at which Union and Confederate soldiers are buried side by side.
Established well before the Civil War, the cemetery contains the graves of soldiers and family members who served at Fort Smith during the antebellum era as well as during the Civil War. Among the soldiers buried here are those killed in the 1864 Battle of Massard Prairie and attack on Fort Smith.
A walk through the Civil War section of the cemetery reveals numerous graves with both the rounded tops designating Union soldiers and the angled tops for Confederate veterans. The cemetery also contains the grave of Confederate General Richard C. Gatlin.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Arkansas families need your help.

I'm sure you've seen more coverage by now on the horrible tornado damage across part of the South. More than 50 people have been killed and hundreds of people are without homes in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

Please consider either participating in a local relief effort or making a donation through the American Red Cross:

Thank you and may God bless you.

Fort Smith, Arkansas - The Attack of 1864

Continuing today our look at Fort Smith National Historic Site, this is one of the cannon displayed on the grounds of the fort.
During the spring and summer of 1864, Federal troops strengthened the stone walls of the fort by constructing earthworks around the town, banking earth against the walls of the actual fort and erecting a battery on the bluff at Belle Point (the high ground adjacent to the fort overlooking the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers).
The cannon of the main fort received their baptism of fire on July 31, 1864, when Confederate troops under Gen. D.H. Cooper staged a demonstration against the works. Cooper and his men swept up from the South and overran an outpost before engaging Union troops who came out of the earthworks on the Fort Towson Road (today's Towson Avenue) to fight them. A second part of Confederate troops pushed down the west side of the Poteau River and began firing into the main garrison from across the river.
The Federal troops inside the walls moved cannon into position and returned fire, sending artillery fire crashing into the trees and shrubs in the Poteau Bottom. Each time they would fire, though, the Confederates would change position. This "cat and mouse" skirmish continued for some time and could be heard by the main body of Confederates as they ended their demonstration and withdrew from the vicinity.
The paved trail at the National Historic Site leading to the site of the original Fort Smith (first of two constructed at the site) as well as an overlook interpreting the "Trail of Tears" provides an outstanding view of the scene of this fight over the river. The positions of the Confederate troops in the tree cover opposite the Poteau River can be seen, as can the bluff top from which the Union troops fired their artillery.
For more on Fort Smith, simply visit and scroll down the page to find the link under the "Arkansas" heading in the Index.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fort Smith, Arkansas - The Parade Ground

I continue today with our look at Fort Smith National Historic Site in Arkansas. This was the location of an important fort and military post during the Civil War.
The view shown here was taken from the south wall of the fort looking across the parade ground to the old barracks building. The left section of the brick building visible here is the highly altered original barracks of the fort. The second floor and the adjoining jail building were added after the war when the building was used by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.
During the Civil War, however, it was a military barracks. The basement included a dungeon-like jail known throughout the West as "Hell on the Border." The building now serves as the visitor center for the national historic site and offers displays on the Civil War in the region as well as a chance to tour the restored basement jail.
The barracks building is one of only two surviving structures from the Civil War era fort. Originally, though, a series of barracks and officers' quarters lined each side of the parade ground. The sites of the other buildings are now outlined by displays to help visitors better understand the appearance of the fort.
Our look at Fort Smith will continue.

Please remember the tornado victims

Please take a few minutes today to remember the tornado victims from last night's storms. Death and destruction is spread from here in Arkansas across the Mississippi River to Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. According to the latest information, more than 50 people are dead, dozens are hurting and hundreds of people are without homes.

Please remember them in your prayers and do what you can to help. One of the best ways to help in any disaster is to donate to the American Red Cross. You can send donations specifically to help with this disaster by following this link:

Thank you and God Bless you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fort Smith - Confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau

This photograph shows the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers as seen from Fort Smith National Historic Site. A vital strategic point, the confluence was within easy range of the artillery of the fort.
During the late spring and summer of 1864, the water level in the rivers was much higher than normal. This allowed continued use of the Arkansas by Union steamboats during a time of the year when low water usually stopped the boats from running. Throughout the summer, the boats continued running up and down the river to Little Rock, as well as upstream to Fort Gibson (Fort Blount) in the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma).
The continued operation of the boats created attack opportunities for Confederate troops as they surged north into the Arkansas River valley following the defeat of the Union army in the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign.
In mid-June, Confederate forces under Col. Stand Watie, who was promoted to become the South's only Native American brigadier general at about the same time, laid an artillery ambush upstream from Fort Smith and opened fire on the steamboat J.R. Williams. The boat was carrying provisions and other military supplies upstream from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson (Fort Blount). Watie's cannon disabled the vessel and his men succeeded in capturing it. Removing all the supplies they could, the Confederates fired the vessel and destroyed it.
Union soldiers at Fort Smith, including Private Henry Strong of the 12th Kansas Infantry, wrote of seeing barrels of flour and other debris from the attack float by on the river.
More posts on Fort Smith National Historic Site are on the way, but in the meantime you can read more about the fort by going to and looking for the link under the "Arkansas" heading at the bottom of the page.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fort Smith - The Old Barracks

Continuing our look at Fort Smith National Historic Site, this brick structure is the highly altered barracks building of the old fort. Located inside the five-sided walls of the fort, the barracks were used by both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War.
The U.S. garrison of the fort abandoned the post in the spring of 1861 after receiving word that an overwhelming force of state militia was coming to seize the works. State troops then occupied the barracks briefly. When Arkansas joined the Confederacy, Fort Smith became a Confederate post and the barracks were occupied by Confederate troops. Southern soldiers remained here until 1863 when the post was abandoned ahead of a Union advance. The barracks were then used by Federal troops until the end of the war.
Fort Smith remained a military post until 1871, when it was abandoned. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas then made use of the barracks structure, adding a second floor and attaching a new wing, visible here in the left of the photograph, containing a much improved Federal jail.
The structure now contains the visitor center of the national historic site, along with the restored courtroom of "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker. Among the exhibits are displays on the fort's Civil War history.
We will continue our look at Fort Smith over the next few days and you can also learn more by visiting (just scroll down to the Index and look for the links under the Arkansas section).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Walls of Fort Smith, Arkansas

We will spend some time this week exploring Fort Smith National Historic Site, one of the key Civil War sites and heritage tourism destinations in Arkansas.
Fort Smith, the military post for which the modern city was named, was an important supply point for the U.S. Army and the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) during the years before the Civil War. Realizing that occupation of the fort was essential if they hoped to control Northwest Arkansas and the Indian Nations, State Militia troops seized Fort Smith in the spring of 1861, arriving outside the walls just hours after most of the garrison left.
The state troops quickly took possession of the works and Fort Smith remained a Confederate post until 1863 when it was evacuated on the eve of the Battle of Devil's Backbone. It was then occupied by Union troops and remained in Federal hands for the rest of the war.
The site of the fort is now preserved by the National Park Service as Fort Smith National Historic Site. Although the original walls were demolished years ago, a small section (seen here)has been reconstructed. Despite their formidable appearance, the walls were not particularly effective as defenses. The plan of the fort had been altered during its construction and it functioned more as a supply post than a defensive bastion.
Our look at Fort Smith will continue.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fort Smith and Van Buren during the Civil War

This is a section of an interesting map in the National Archives showing Fort Smith, Van Buren and the surrounding areas as they appeared during the Civil War.

Although it contains a few inaccuracies, the map clearly illustrates a number of key locations around Fort Smith and Van Buren. Just south of Fort Smith, for example, is shown Massards' Prairie." Massard Prairie (sometimes spelled Mazzard or Muzzard) was the scene of a significant battle during the summer of 1864 that ended in one of the few overwhelming Confederate victories in Western Arkansas. The map also shows Fort Coffee, the old military post on the Arkansas River upstream from Fort Smith in the Choctaw Nation. Occupied at times by Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, this fort was near present-day Spiro Mounds State Archaeological Park in eastern Oklahoma.