Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Battle of Van Buren - December 28, 1862

The sharp fight at Dripping Springs on the morning of December 28, 1862, opened the door to the port of Van Buren on the Arkansas River for the Union Army of the Frontier.

Pursuing Crump's retreating cavalrymen, the Union cavalry pushed south into the River Valley. There was some skirmishing as the pursuit neared Van Buren, but Crump and his men turned in force only once, on Logtown Hill on the northern edge of the town. The area is now part of the growing city. The Confederates were again driven back and the Federals advanced to the crest of Logtown Hill, which gave them a spectacular view of Van Buren and the Arkansas River below.

Below they could see the retreating Confederates as well as several steamboats either already moving or preparing to make way on the river. The Union horsemen stormed down the long slope of the hill on the heels of Crump's men, charging right down the main street of Van Buren. The sudden appearance of the blue uniformed troops in their midst stunned the people of Van Buren, who watched them go by from the sides of the street.

Crump and his men made the ferry across the river and it was able to make way before the Union troops could open fire. Most of the Confederates escaped across the river, but others - particularly a large number of sick and some wounded from the Prairie Grove Campaign - were taken prisoner. General Blunt and part of his force pursued steamboats that were trying to escape down river, firing on them from the riverbank and finally forcing one to surrender while another ran aground.

The rather odd and disjointed Battle of Van Buren intensified later in the day when a Confederate battery opened fire on the Federals from across the river, raining shells on the town and reportedly killing several civilians. Union casualties were light, as Confederate casualties had been. The Confederate guns were finally forced to withdraw when Federal artillerymen placed guns on the heights along the northern edge of Fairview Cemetery and returned fire. The superior weight and number of the Union cannon drove off the Confederate battery.

General Blunt crossed over the Arkansas River with a small detachment the next morning, become the first Union force to set foot south of the river during the war. But most of the Confederates from around Fort Smith were already gone. General Thomas Hindman had been in the process of withdrawing his army to Little Rock when the raid to the river took place.

To learn more, please visit

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Battle of Dripping Springs - December 28, 1862

The Union divisions led by Generals Blunt and Herron converged near Oliver's Store in northern Crawford County at around 3 o'clock on the morning of December 28, 1862. They did not rest long before General Blunt had them once again up and moving.

At Oliver's Store, the Union commanders learned that Lieutenant Colonel R.P. Crumps 1st Texas Partisan Rangers were camped at Dripping Springs on the main road to Van Buren. Moving ahead of the main army, Blunt and Herron advanced rapidly for Crump's camp with 3,000 cavalrymen and 4 howitzers. They began to skirmish with Crump's pickets almost immediately, but pushed forward so quickly that the main Confederate camp received very little warning of their approach.

Learning that the Federals were upon him, Crump formed his men into a line of battle on the northern slope of the hill where he was camped. The soldiers had been making their breakfasts when they received the urgent orders to prepare for battle.

As the outnumbered Confederates watched, the Union cavalry swung from column into a line of battle in the fields just north of their position. Moving up within range, the Federals opened fire with their carbines. After several rounds of fire, which was answered by the Confederates, Blunt ordered a mounted charge with sabers drawn.

The Federal line spurred forward. The 2nd Kansas Cavalry formed the left of the Union attack, while the 6th Kansas and several companies of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalries formed the right. The attack was made with sabers drawn, one participant remembering that they were gleaming in the sun. As the charge gathered speed, the Confederates could see the long line of Union cavalry thundering in their direction.

Realizing that it was impossible to hold back the much larger Federal force, the Confederates withdrew in a rapid retreat before the Union troopers could close in with their sabers. The Southern camp was abandoned, with all of its supply wagons and equipment, and the Confederate horsemen rode over the hill and struck the Van Buren Road at full speed.

The successful attack at Dripping Springs told General Blunt that he had achieved his goal of surprising the Confederates south of the Boston Mountains. He now ordered up his other 5,000 men along with his artillery and prepared for his final advance on Van Buren. I will post in depth tomorrow on the Battle of Van Buren.

To learn more about the Battle of Dripping Springs and to see photos of the battlefield as it appears today, please visit

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Over the Boston Mountains - December 27, 1862

The Union Army of the Frontier moved out from its camps at Prairie Grove and Cane Hill (now spelled Canehill) on the morning of December 27, 1862, 147 years ago today.

Well aware of the risks of trying to converge their entire force onto a single road and then move the resulting logjam over the Boston Mountains, which rise abruptly just south of Prairie Grove, Generals Blunt and Herron decided to cross the mountains by two separate routes.

Herron moved to the left via the Wire or Telegraph Road, which followed the old Butterfield Stage Line route over the mountains by staying primarily on the crests of the ridges. Much of this old road remains in use today and a portion can be hiked at Devil's Den State Park (shown above).

Blunt, meanwhile, move south via the Cove Creek Road, which follows the creek of that name south through the mountains. The original road crossed the winding creek nearly 40 times and as the soldiers marched on December 27th, they were forced to wade through the icy water over and over.

It had snowed the week before and there was still snow and ice in the mountains. Although the troops were in good spirits, the march was miserable. A member of Blunt's division wrote that water was high and the little streams that fed the creek and the creek itself were deep and fast. The icy water at the fords was often waist or chest deep. The soldiers were marching so fast and wading so much water that they did not have time to dry out and marched in sodden boots and wet clothes. It was also reported that it took as many as 12 horses to pull each of the army's 12 cannon over the mountains, sometimes with the assistance of as many as 50 men pulling on ropes.

By midnight on December 27th, the two wings of the army were approaching their planned bivouac at Oliver's Store, then a well-known landmark in northern Crawford County. Thus far the Confederate forces to the south had not detected the danger that was rapidly approaching via the mountains.

I'll continue to retrace the daily events of the raid tomorrow. Until then, you can read more at You can learn more about Devil's Den State Park at

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Raid to the River Valley - December 26, 1862

At a Christmas party in Washington County, Arkansas, in 1862, Union General James G. Blunt decided the time had come to water his horse in the Arkansas River.

Blunt was feeling bold. Just three weeks earlier Confederate General Thomas Hindman had stolen a march on the Federal forces in Northwest Arkansas and came within a hair's width of destroying them. The result was the Battle of Prairie Grove, fought on December 7, 1862. Although Hindman handled his army better in the fight, he didn't have the ammunition, food and other supplies to continue the battle the next day. As a result, the Southern army withdrew during the night and returned to its base at Van Buren and Fort Smith.

The Union army moved up and occupied the battlefield the next day and spent the next three weeks refitting, burying the dead and taking care of the wounded. By Christmas Day, however, Blunt was again ready for action. At a party that night, he and his key officers decided to risk a sudden raid across the Boston Mountains to see if they could draw Hindman into a second battle.

Observing extremely tight operational security, Blunt and his second-in-command - General Francis J. Herron - spent December 26, 1862, preparing plans and issuing orders for the expedition. They would try to cross over the mountains to Van Buren on the north bank of the Arkansas River. The raid would result in the Battles of Dripping Springs and Van Buren and would begin the next morning.

I'll post more on the 1862 raid tomorrow, but you can read more at

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 Our page on the battle is newly updated. Among the new features is an aerial photograph of the battlefield.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Fayetteville Historic Sites Pages Online

Although the area was settled even earlier, the city known today as Fayetteville was founded in 1828 and incorporated in 1836. By the time of the Civil War it was an important community and then, as now, was one of the largest towns in the state. This made it an important objective for both the Union and Confederate armies.
Fayetteville was surrounded by fighting during the Civil War, with two of the largest battles of the war being fought within 30 miles of the city. The Battle of Pea Ridge, fought on March 7-8, 1862, was a devastating Union victory that sent Earl Van Dorn's shattered Confederate army reeling back into the mountains. The Confederates tried again in December, this time led by General Thomas Hindman.

Hindman fared better than Van Dorn, fighting the Union Army of the Frontier to a bloody stalemate at the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862. The engagement was a strategic Union victory, however, as Hindman realized he could not defeat the opposing forces and had no choice but to withdraw back into the Boston Mountains.

There was more fighting, this time in Fayetteville, on April 18, 1863, when Southern forces attacked the city itself. They were once again driven back after surging as far as the downtown area.

The new Fayetteville section at provides links and other information on all of these events, plus much more. To check it out, please visit

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paris in Lights - Paris, Arkansas

One of my favorite Christmas settings in Arkansas is the historic courthouse and town square in Paris, which turns out one of the prettiest holiday lighting displays I've ever seen.

Located in the Arkansas River Valley and almost in the shadow of Mt. Magazine, Paris was settled in the 1820s on the old military road that connected Fort Smith and Little Rock. Union and Confederate troops passed through the area during the Civil War and the local settlers saw their farms and homes ravaged by regular troops and guerrilla raiders alike.

Today, however, Paris is a stop on the Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights, an annual event that features unique lighting and Christmas displays across the state. In Paris, the courthouse and square are illuminated with over 100,000 lights. It is an impressive display and well worth the drive. Plus the view from the nearby restaurant and lodge at Mt. Magazine State Park makes for one of the most spectacular dining experiences in the South.

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Confederate Cemetery - Fayetteville, Arkansas

Located on a mountain slope overlooking downtown Fayetteville, Confederate Cemetery is a moving place to look back and remember the sacrifices of 1861-1865.

The historic cemetery contains the remains of hundreds of Southern soldiers who paid the ultimate price in the camps and battlefields of Northwest Arkansas. Many fell at the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Others died in the miserable winters of 1861 and 1862 when Confederate troops suffered in disease-ridden camps throughout the region.

The soldiers were originally buried in locations across Northwest Arkansas, but their remains were exhumed and brought to the cemetery when it was established by the Southern Memorial Association of Washington County during the 1870s. Today they rest in a peaceful burial ground surrounded by a wall of native stone.

The cemetery also is the location of a beautiful Confederate monument that is now more than 100 years old.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book Signing Tomorrow at Prairie Grove Battlefield

Hindman Hall Museum & Visitor Center at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas will be hosting a book signing tomorrow for Pillars of Power: Steps Toward Secession by Jim Lair.

The signing will take place from 1 until 3 at the museum, which is located inside the state park in Prairie Grove (506 East Douglas Street).

Lair is a native of Arkansas and his book is part of an eventual four volume set that will document the Civil War in Arkansas. This book explores the events leading up to the secession of the state from the Union in 1861. He will be available to sign copies of his book, which is a paperback and retails at the park bookstore for $29.99.

If you can't make tomorrow's signing, the book will remain available at the park. You can also order it online directly from at a sale price of $22.79. Just follow this link:
Pillars of Power: Steps Toward Secession

Monday, December 7, 2009

147th Anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove

It was 147 years ago today that one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history was fought at Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
Pushing up Cove Creek valley, the Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman emerged from the Boston Mountains with an army of 9,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 22 pieces of artillery. Hindman knew the two wings of the Union Army of the Frontier were divided and he hoped he could attack with a superior force and destroy one and then the other in detail. If not for a herculean march by the wing of the army under Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, the Confederates might well have succeeded.

The Confederates came out of the mountains and struck the road connecting the Northwest Arkansas towns of Fayetteville and Cane Hill only to find that, recognizing the nature of the crisis at hand, General Herron had rushed his men south in an effort to link up with the other wing of the army under Brigadier General James G. Blunt. Although Herron did not reach Blunt in time for the start of the battle, he was close enough that Hindman quickly found himself between two converging Federal forces.

After some initial fighting with Herron's forces, Hindman recognized the situation for what it was and took up a strong position along a commanding ridge at the site of today's town of Prairie Grove. The Confederate battle lines stretched for miles and ultimately came under attack from the full force of the Union army.

For most of December 7, 1862, the two armies fought it out along the Prairie Grove ridge. By the time darkness fell, they had battled to a bloody tactical stalemate. Neither army could drive the other off, but Hindman did not have the ammunition and supplies he needed to fight another day against the combined Federal forces and withdrew back into the mountains under cover of darkness.

To learn more, please visit I also recommend William Shea's new book on the Prairie Grove campaign, Fields of Blood, which is also available by following the link.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Prairie Grove Battlefield to host Christmas Open House

Historic Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas plans to commemorate both the Christmas season and the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove with special events next weekend, December 5 & 6.

Hindman Hall Museum will be open for free on both Saturday, December 5th, and Sunday, December 6th. Visitors will also be able to watch reenactors perform infantry drills Saturday and see demonstrations of cooking, spinning weaving, lace-making and more. Tours of the historic Latta and Morrow houses will be given on both days at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. The restored houses are decorated for Christmas in Civil War fashion.

The Battle of Prairie Grove was fought on December 7, 1862, at the climax of Confederate General Thomas Hindman's march north into the Ozarks. A tactical draw, the brutal fighting became a significant Union strategic victory when Hindman was forced to admit he could not defeat Federal forces with the number of troops and ammunition at his disposal.
The battlefield is located in the heart of the town of Prairie Grove, just west of Fayetteville in Northwest Arkansas.

To learn more about the battle, please visit

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Did the White River Monster sink a Gunboat?

I've been doing some research recently into historical accounts of the White River Monster, the strange creature that some claim inhabits the White River in the vicinity of Newport and Jacksonport, Arkansas.

One of the notations I've seen regarding the monster is that it may have been responsible for the sinking of a gunboat on the river during the Civil War. Obviously, I have not found any mention of this in the Official Records set. But I am curious as to the origin of the claim. If you have any clue on this one, drop me a comment and let me know!

If you aren't familiar with the White River Monster, it is a fun and unique part of Arkansas history and folklore. As best I can tell, the first written report of something strange in the White River appeared in 1912 when a party of timber workers spotted what they described as a giant turtle in the river downstream from Branson, Missouri. They at first thought it was a boulder, but then realized it was a living creature. Its weight was estimated at 300 pounds! The report generated quite a buzz in Branson and a group of sportsmen set out downstream in boats with ropes and other tools in hopes of catching what was already being described as "the monster." The results of the expedition are not known.

There were other reports over the next 15 years, but then in 1937 the story exploded into the national media. A farmer reported that he and his farm workers had seen some kind of huge creature in a deep eddy about 6 miles downstream from Newport, Arkansas. The Newport Chamber of Commerce got in on the act and spread the story to newspapers far and wide. Hundreds of people flooded to the town, some from as far away as California, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the White River Monster. The chamber gave them the chance - for 25 cents a piece - and even hired a diver to come in from Memphis and search the river. He had no luck in finding the answer to the mystery.

The monster continued to pop up now and again over the years, but the next big splash of publicity was in 1971 when, once again after a time of high water, numerous people reported seeing it.

If you are interested in learning more and seeing a possible photograph of the monster, please visit

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Prairie Grove Book to be Released on Saturday

William L. Shea's long-awaited new history of the Prairie Grove campaign is expected to be released this Saturday.

Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign is 392 pages long and is being published by the University of North Carolina. The research and writing of the book has been underway for a number of years and it sounds like this one will be as thorough and enjoyable as Shea's earlier history of the Battle of Pea Ridge.

The Battle of Prairie Grove was fought in Northwest Arkansas on December 7, 1862, and ended in a tactical draw. Union and Confederate forces battled to a bloody standstill along and in the fields below a ridge at today's town of Prairie Grove. The Confederate forces had no choice but to withdraw before the battle could resume the next day, however, and as a result the campaign was won by the Union.

The book will retail for $36 beginning Saturday, but you can still save $11.90 and buy a copy for just $23.10 if you place an advance order on Thursday or Friday. After the 23rd of October, however, purchases will cost full price.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Prairie Grove or place an advance order while there is still time, you can do so at

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Scenic Highway 7 Named one of Nation's Best Fall Drives

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

Massard Prairie & The Attack on Fort Smith - Concluded

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Massard Prairie, Part Four - The Attack on Fort Smith, continued...

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 or by reading The Battle of Massard Prairie, available for either at the upper right of this page or at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Battle of Massard Prairie, Part Three - The Attack on Fort Smith

The stunning success of Gano's attack on the 6th Kansas Cavalry at Massard Prairie awakened the Confederates to the potential of additional attacks on the Union forces at Fort Smith.

Anxious to inflict additional damage, capture more supplies and create an opportunity for pro-secession families in the area to evacuate, the Southern commanders contemplated the situation and decided to try a second attack. Commanded in person by General Douglas H. Cooper, the Confederate troops moved up to Cedar Prairie on the Fort Towson Road due south of Fort Smith.

While Cooper believed that he might be able to break through the defenses of Fort Smith, he also recognized that doing so would result in severe casualties to his own command. Instead of attempting such an attack, he decided instead to send troops to demonstrate against the southern edges of Fort Smith from all directions. Gano was sent to occupy a position on the mountain overlooking Massard Prairie (today's Fianna Hills subdivision). From there he sent Lieutenant Colonel Jack McCurtain down onto the prairie with his force of Choctaw soldiers. McCurtain found the former camp of the 6th Kansas now abandoned, but did manage to captured a few horses, a drove of cattle and 11 Union soldiers.

At the same time, the 2nd Creek Regiment and a few Cherokee soldiers were sent up into the Poteau Bottom opposite the Poteau River from the main garrison of Fort Smith. Taking up positions along the bank, they fired across into the garrison, creating "great excitement and some consternation."

As these activities were underway, Cooper advanced up the Fort Towson (today's Towson Avenue) and State Line Roads toward the Federal positions along the south side of Fort Smith. The historic city had been enclosed with a semi-circular line of rifle pits that connected strong redoubts or forts placed on high points around the city. One of these, Battery Number Four, stood on the high hill near today's intersection of Towson and Dodson Avenues. Because the fort was manned by African American troops, the hill was described in Confederate reports as "Negro Hill." The photo above was taken from a position near the site of Battery Number 4 at the top of the hill looking south down Towson Avenue, the route by which part of Cooper's force attacked.

Advancing on the morning of July 31, 1864, Cooper's forces overran a Union picket camp about 4 1/2 miles south of town and continued to drive up the parallel roads toward Battery Number Four.

Led by Brigadier General Stand Watie, the Confederate advance struck hard and fast, quickly closing in on the Union lines. Overrunning a Union camp and driving the Federals to their entrenchments, Watie and his men fell back to the camp they had captured where they sat down and enjoyed a "plentiful dinner" just prepared by the Union soldiers. They also captured a vast supply of camp equipment and other supplies, the value of which was estimated by General Cooper to be in excess of $130,000.

To support the attack, Cooper ordered forward two batteries of light artillery to take position on a hill overlooking the camp captured by General Watie and facing the hill topped by Battery Number Four. Wells' Texas Battalion, the Choctaw Brigade and the 1st Creek Regiment were ordered forward to support the guns.

I'll continue with more on Cooper and Watie's attack on Fort Smith in the next post. You can always read more on the Battle of Massard Prairie by visiting

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Battle of Massard Prairie - Part Two

The Confederates attacked the Union camp on Massard Prairie in three columns.

The first, composed primarily of Choctaw and Chickasaw soldiers, swung off to the right and closed in on the left flank of the camp. As these soldiers advanced, they also captured a Confederate deserter at a home just south of the battlefield and summarily executed him.

The second and third columns advanced together in a sweeping motion to the left. They quickly captured the herd of horses being grazed by the Federals on the prairie and then approached the camp itself. As they came within range of the grove of trees sheltering the camp, the third column broke away from the second and moved into a center position between the two flanking columns. All three forces then advanced on the camp.

As they approached, one group of Union soldiers came out to fight the advancing Confederate left column, but soon withdrew back to the camp itself where a line of battle was formed through the tents and parade ground. The Federals fought bravely, but the effort was hopeless. They were both outnumbered and taken by surprise.

As the Confederates moved to completely surround them, they broke and began to fall back across the open prairie. The battle deteriorated into a running fight that continued for more than a mile until the last organized contingent of Union troops were finally convinced to surrender. In a battle lasting just minutes, Gano had not only carried out a sweeping triple movement, he had led charging soldiers on horseback across miles of open prairie. An entire battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry was either killed, wounded or, with a few exceptions, captured.

Moving out the prisoners as quickly as possible, the Confederates returned to the Union camp where they collected weapons, provisions, camp equipment and every other needed item they could carry away on horseback. The rest was burned.

The Confederates then withdrew leisurely within sight of Union reinforcements that were gathering on the opposite side of the prairie. Total Southern losses at Massard Prairie were 7 killed, 26 wounded and one missing. Total Union losses were 10 killed, 17 wounded and 117 captured. In addition, the Southern forces captured 200 Sharps rifles and 400 revolvers.

In the next post, I'll take a closer look at a second Confederate attack on Fort Smith that followed closely on the heels of the fight.

To learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please visit

Monday, July 27, 2009

Battle of Massard Prairie Anniversary - Part One

Today marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.

Fought in the southeast quadrant of the modern city of Fort Smith, the battle was part of an important campaign launched by Confederate troops during the summer of 1864. Victory in the Red River Campaign allowed Southern forces to surge back north through the Ouachita Mountains and the Choctaw Nation to establish themselves once again along the line of the Arkansas River.

After successfully capturing a steamboat making its way upriver from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson and striking at Union forces around Roseville and at other points below Fort Smith, the Confederate General Douglas Cooper focused his attention on the main Union garrison.

Federal troops and local citizens had spent the spring and summer strongly fortifying the town of Fort Smith with an semi-circular line of earthwork forts, batteries and rifle pits that ran from the Arkansas River above the town, around the ridges to its rear and back to the river below. In addition, Union soldiers occupied the main garrison of Fort Smith itself, protected by earth reinforced stone walls.

Cooper felt that he could probably take Fort Smith by storming the Federal lines, but also recognized that it that such an attack would be result in a terrible casualty rate to his forces. Instead, he opted to carry out a series of attacks designed to drive Union troops entirely within their works and eliminate their ability to effectively scout or secure forage for their animals. His strategy proved highly effective and opened the door for the dramatic Confederate sweep north through the Cherokee Nation that resulted in the massive victory at Cabin Creek, regarded as one of the greatest seizures of Union supplies by Southern forces during the entire war.

To put his plan into motion, Cooper sent Brigadier General Richard Gano forward from a base in what is now eastern Oklahoma with a mixed force of both white and Native American cavalry. The initial plan was for Gano to decoy Union troops from Fort Smith out and into an ambush at the Devil's Backbone, a substantial ridge that ran east to west across the horizon south of the city. Gano, an outstanding cavalry commander who had earlier served with the famed Morgan in Kentucky and Tennessee, was forced to change the plan when his force proved smaller than expected and the positions of the Federal troops around Fort Smith were different than expected.

Instead, he learned from scouts that a large force of Union cavalry was camped in the Diamond or Picnic Grove on Massard Prairie. Then a vast open prairie just southeast of the city, Massard Prairie offered outstanding grazing for Union livestock and the shaded grove was a comfortable campsite for Union troops. Camped there in a semi-permanent position were four companies of the 6th Kansas Cavalry and three companies of "Arkansas Feds."

Believing that he could strike and destroy this force, Gano moved into position south of Fort Smith during the night of July 26, 1864, and on the morning of July 27th swept down from what is today recognized as the Fianna Hills neighborhood in one of the great open field cavalry charges of the Civil War. The Union troops were caught completely by surprise.

I will continue to look at the Battle of Massard Prairie in the next couple of posts. Until then, you can read more by visiting or by ordering my 2008 book, The Battle of Massard Prairie. It is available from or can be purchased at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas. The Fort Smith Museum of History is temporarily sold out, but will have more soon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Battle of Massard Prairie Anniversary is Monday

Monday, July 27th, is the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.

Fought on a broad prairie that was then on the outskirts of the important western Arkansas city of Fort Smith, the battle involved one of the last great open field cavalry charges in American history. It also marked one of the few occasions during the war that Union soldiers were documented as having scalped and mutilated Confederate dead.

The battle took place when a large Confederate force commanded by Brigadier General Richard L. Gano, who previously had served as an officer under the noted Southern cavalry leader John Hunt Morgan, stormed down from today's Fianna Hills ridge and swept across the open ground of Massard Prairie. The dramatic open field charge caught a full battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry and several companies of Union cavalry from Arkansas completely by surprise.

The Arkansas Feds, as they were called then, fled precipitately ahead of Gano's charge, but the troopers of the 6th Kansas tried to make a stand. Quickly surrounded, they bolted to the north in a dramatic effort to escape. The fight continued for nearly two miles across the open prairie before the main body of the Union troops surrendered. Virtually an entire battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry was captured, killed, wounded or scattered.

I'll take a closer look at some of the more interesting aspects of the battle over the next couple of days, but if you would like to read more, please consider my book The Battle of Massard Prairie. You can also order at or learn more about the battle by visiting

If you are in the area, this weekend would be a great time to take a few minutes and walk the battlefield at Massard Prairie Battlefield Park, located near the intersection of Morgan and Red Pine in Fort Smith.

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Exhibit on CSS Arkansas in Little Rock

The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in Little Rock has announced a new exhibit on one of the most famous ironclads of the Civil War, the C.S.S. Arkansas. This photo shows a section of replica armor from the exhibit.
Built on the Yazoo River in Mississippi in remarkable time, the Arkansas was a makeshift ironclad plated with railroad track. Despite the conditions under which she was built, the lack of materials available to her builders, and the overall "ramshackle" nature of the project, she was one of the most successful ironclads launched by the Confederacy.

Here is the official press release from the museum:

Nearly 150 years ago, in the spring of 1862, a warship was being built in a makeshift shipyard in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her armor, pieces of railroad track, had to be pulled out of the river where they had sunk. Unpainted, the rusted rails gave the vessel her only color.

This new ship fought not one, but three battles in a single day, one against an entire enemy fleet. Afterward, her captain would write, “We stood for them, fought them, ran by them at pistol-shot distance…and I think, did much injury…”

150 years ago, one ship thwarted the ambitions of not one, but two enemy fleets. One ship returned 400 miles of river to friendly control.

The ship? The Ironclad Ram CSS Arkansas.

Learn about this one-of-a-kind vessel, built under the direst circumstances imaginable. Touch replicas of her armor, see her weaponry, and read about her short career by visiting the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum (AIMM) and touring their new exhibit, “We Fought Them” – The Ironclad CSS Arkansas. This exhibit will also feature artwork loaned to the museum by artist Dan Dowdey and never before exhibited to the public.

AIMM is located just blocks from both Verizon Arena and Dickey-Stephens Park in downtown North Little Rock and short walk across the Junction Bridge from the Riverwalk in downtown Little Rock. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. For more information call the museum at 371-8320 or visit

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Beaver Bridge marks important Civil War crossing site

Sometimes called the "Little Golden Gate" of Arkansas because of its similarity to its better known California cousin, the historic Beaver Bridge over the White River marks the site of an important crossing in use long before the Civil War.

The existing bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the last suspension bridge of its type in Arkansas. Built in 1949, it is located on Arkansas Highway 187 about 6.6 miles northwest of Eureka Springs. Only wide enough for traffic to move in one direction at a time, the bridge still has wooden floors and rails.

The little community of Beaver, which overlooks the bridge, has fewer than 100 residents but is picturesque and extremely rich in Arkansas history. It was one of the settings for the made for television epic, The Blue and the Gray.

Beaver gained its unique name in 1850 when Wilson A. Beaver moved his family there from Tennessee. He operated a ferry, mill, inn and other establishments for many years. The crossing, in fact, had numerous brushes with American history.

In 1857, for example, the Fancher wagon train crossed the White River here on its way from Arkansas to what its members thought would be prosperous new lives in California. Instead, they were brutally murdered in Utah at what became known as the Mountain Meadow Massacre.

In 1862, local tradition holds that General Sterling Price stopped at the Beaver home following the disastrous Confederate defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Both Union and Confederate forces passed back and forth through the area for the rest of the war, as did the notorious guerrilla gangs that hid out deep in the Ozarks.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

General Francis L. Shoup at Prairie Grove

One of the more fascinating participants in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, was Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup.

A native of Indiana, Shoup was Northern born and raised. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from Indiana and graduated 15th in the Class of 1854. He served in Florida's Third Seminole War from 1856-1858, chasing small bands of Seminole warriors through the great swamps of South Florida.

By 1860 Shoup had resigned his commission and was back in Indiana. When he learned of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, he formed a company of Zoaves in Indianapolis to defend against possible abolitionist insurrections. When the secession of the Southern states became evident, however, Shoup resigned from the Indianapolis company and walked away from his Indiana friends and family to offer his sword to the Governor of Florida. Moving to St. Augustine, he was appointed a lieutenant by the governor and ordered to erect an artillery battery at Fernandina, Florida. He was soon commissioned into the regular Confederate military.

By October of 1861, he was promoted to Major and served in Kentucky as commander of twelve pieces of artillery with a force of Arkansas troops. At the Battle of Shiloh, he commanded artillery and was the officer that massed the Confederate artillery against Union General Prentiss's troops in one of of the most brutal open field bombardments of the war.

After Shiloh, Shoup was ordered west to Arkansas where Major General Hindman was organizing a new army. Promoted to Brigadier General, he served as Hindman's Chief of Artillery and was on the field at the Battle of Prairie Grove.

After Prairie Grove, Shoup was ordered to Mobile, Alabama, but was in Missisippi for the Battle of Vicksburg, where he was among those captured on July 4, 1863. Eventually exchanged, he served during the Atlanta Campaign and was among those who urged the Confederate Congress to allow the enlistment of slaves in the Confederate Army.

After the war, Shoup entered the ministry with the Episcopal Church and eventually became a professor of metaphysics at the University of the South in Tennessee. He authored books on infantry tactics and algebra.

To learn more about the Battle of Prairie Grove, please visit

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ozark, Arkansas - Civil War Landmark

One of my favorite communities in Arkansas is the beautiful city of Ozark. Nestled on the banks of the Arkansas River, the community has a rich history that dates back for hundreds of years.

French fur trappers and hunters frequented this area during the 1600s and 1700s. In fact, it is believed that today's "Ozark" originated from the French term "Aux Arc" ("The Arc"). The term is thought by some to refer to the sweeping bend of the Arkansas River where Ozark is located. It has grown to apply not just to the vicinity, but to the entire mountainous region known today as the Ozarks.

During the Civil War, Ozark was an important base of operations for Confederate troops following the Battle of Prairie Grove. General W.L. Cabell marched from Ozark in April of 1863 on his way to the Battle of Fayetteville. Today's Pig Trail Scenic Byway follows part of the old road that led north through the mountains from Ozark to Fayetteville.

Several small engagements were fought at Ozark during the last two years of the Civil War and a monument on the grounds of the courthouse pays tribute to a Confederate officer who was killed just north of town.

The area was also frequented by guerrilla bands that hid out in the mountains just north of town. These groups, some associated with the Confederates, some associated with the Federals and some worried only about themselves, terrorized local citizens both during and after the war.

Ozark today is a beautiful community. Overlooking the river, the city's museum includes fascinating exhibits on area history. It is also a stop on the water route of the Trail of Tears. There are historic structures, a nice collection of monuments on the grounds of the courthouse, and the Arkansas River bridge at Ozark offers what has been named one of the finest views in the country. And by the way, Rivertowne BBQ in downtown Ozark cooks up some of the finest BBQ in the South. To learn more about Ozark, please visit

Friday, July 3, 2009

Remembering American History on Independence Day!

I hope you have a great Indepence Day! If you are in Arkansas and looking for something to do to help remind your friends or family members of the state's magnificent role in American history, here are some locations you might consider:

Arkansas Post National Memorial near Gillett was the site of the last battle of the American Revolution, the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi and the first capital of Arkansas as well as a major Civil War battle.

Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith was the site of a major frontier military outpost as well as the courtrooom of U.S. District Judge Isaac C. Parker, best remembered as the "Hanging Judge" of the Old West.

Hot Springs National Park preserves America's oldest preserve established to protect a natural wonder.

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park in Fort Smith was the site of a significant cavalry battle during the Civil War.

Pea Ridge National Military Park in Benton County was the site of one of the most significant battles of the Civil War.

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Prairie Grove was the site of a brutal Civil War battle.

Drive safely and celebrate our nation's proud and unique history this 4th of July!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Updated Battle of Cane Hill website now online

One of the more fascinating Civil War actions in Arkansas took place on November 28, 1862, during the opening phases of the Prairie Grove Campaign.

An estimated 5,000 Union troops led by Brigadier General James G. Blunt attacked three brigades of Confederate cavalry commanded by Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke at the Battle of Cane Hill. The Southern troops had crossed the Boston Mountains from the Arkansas River in the opening move of Major General Thomas C. Hindman's march that would end at the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862. For nine hours, Marmaduke's outnumbered Confederates fought a delaying action that raged across miles of mountains, valleys and ravines.

You can learn more about the Battle of Cane Hill, see photographs of the battlefield and read transcriptions of both Union and Confederate reports of the fighting at the newly updated You can also pre-order Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, William L. Shea's soon to be released hardcover book at the site.

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Conclusion

The allegations that Union soldiers were massacred as the fighting deteriorated has long clouded the memory of the Confederate victory at the Battle of Poison Spring.

The story of what happened as the Union lines broke, in fact, is remarkably similar to the situation at the so-called "Fort Pillow Massacre" in Tennessee when General Nathan Bedford Forrest's men overran a Federal position and pursued black Union troops down a bluff to the edge of the Mississippi River. In both cases, Southern troops were later accused of murdering African American soldiers.

Based on the surviving documentary evidence, there can be no doubt that killings did take place at Poison Spring as Union soldiers fled the battlefield. One Confederate participant wrote after the battle that he saw black Union soldiers being killed by Choctaw warriors fighting with the 1st and 2nd Choctaw Regiments of the 2nd Indian Brigade. These warriors were outraged over raids carried out by Union soldiers from Fort Smith, Arkansas, into the Choctaw Nation earlier that year. Homes had been burned, crops destroyed, family possessions looted, women and children harmed or left homeless and men killed. The Choctaw soldiers, as might be expected, took this personally and when the Federal lines broke at Poison Spring, they did "kill and scalp some" as one eyewitness wrote.

Other eyewitnesses, however, reported that the African American soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored so prized their weapons that they fled the battlefield clinging desperately to them. If this is correct, which it probably was, then Confederate soldiers confronting them would still have considered the men armed combatants. A very similar situation was reported at Fort Pillow as well.

It should further be noted that Colonel James Williams, the Union commander at the battle, reported that "fully one-half of my infantry engaged were either killed or wounded" before the final Confederate assault broke the Southern lines and forced the Union troops to retreat. This is fairly consistent with post-battle casualty totals.
It should also be noted that muster rolls and other documents reveal that the total loss in killed for Union troops during the battle was much smaller than is often stated. Although many sources report that 236 or more Federal soldiers were killed at Poison Spring, the actual verifiable number was 124. Several others died in hospitals after the battle.

It should be noted that the 1st Kansas Colored did suffer by far the most severe casualties in the battle. It must also be considered, however, that the regiment was positioned at a point on the battlefield where it was attacked both in front and from the flank and also was under heavy cannon fire from two directions. The regiment was hit by the main Confederate attack and by all accounts the men fought with great courage.

In short, while there is evidence that men were killed after the main fighting at Poison Spring, the evidence is not so compelling as to warrant allegations of an intentional massacre of Union troops.

To learn more, please visit

Friday, May 1, 2009

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Union Casualties

So what really happened at Poison Spring on April 18, 1864? Was there a brutal massacre of Union black troops? Did hundreds die as some modern writers insist?

A review of the surviving records of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers (later the 79th U.S. Colored Troops), reveals the names of 107 men killed in action, 12 wounded (one of whom was captured) and two prisoners of war, or a total loss of 121 men.

The number killed in action who can be indentified today is remarkably close to the number reported just two days after the battle by Major Richard G. Ward of the 1st Kansas. He reported a loss of 5 officers and 112 enlisted men killed, or a total of 117. He also reported 2 officers and 63 men wounded.

Since the names of men with minor wounds were often not included on regimental reports, especially for African American regiments of that day, there is no reason to suspect that Major Ward's numbers are inaccurate. It is safe to conclude, then, that the total loss of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers at the Battle of Poison Spring was probably around 117 killed, 65 wounded and 2 captured. This represents a total loss for the regiment of 185.

Records of other Union units present at Poison Spring provide the names of another 7 killed, 26 wounded (of whom 17 were captured and 1 listed as missing in action) and 56 captured or missing in action.

This places verifiable Union casualties in the battle at 124 killed, 91 wounded and 58 captured or missing in action. Seventeen of the wounded were also reported as captured and an 18th was listed as missing in action, but they are listed here only with the wounded. This would place the total verifiable Union loss in the battle at 273.

Obviously, this is a severe loss for a small battle, but it is somewhat below the 301 listed by the National Park Service. And the total killed of 124 is far fewer than the 236 or more listed (without names) by some sources.

Part of the confusion seems to originate from the fact that 17 of the wounded were also taken prisoner. They appear to often be listed among both totals, which leads to inaccuracies. Other errors result from the fact that a number of men initially listed as "Missing in Action" eventually returned to their regiments. All eight of the missing in action from the 18th Iowa Infantry, for example, eventually turned back up.

The intial Confederate reports of the battle, while they far overstated Union dead at 400 to 600 (impossible figures since these totals would represent more men lost than reported by all of the Union units present at the battle during the entire war), were more accurate in their statements that roughly 100 Union soldiers had been wounded and around 120 captured. This initial estimate included some prisoners who were released on the day of the battle as well as some wounded prisoners who later died.

The question that remains is whether Union soldiers were killed after they surrendered, especially in large numbers. I will explore the evidence for and against a massacre at Poison Spring in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Three

This is part three of a series of posts on the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas. To read the previous posts, please scroll down the page or check the Archives section.

The Battle of Poison Spring unfolded much better than either Marmaduke or Maxey could have hoped. The "L" shaped position taken by the Confederate forces (see map in previous post) gave them an immediate tactical advantage.

Colonel Williams formed his men into a line of battle facing Maxey's men, who were all but invisible in the woods and underbrush south of the road. In doing so, he allowed himself to be drawn into a trap exactly as Marmaduke had hoped. The Union colonel's report, in fact, describes an extremely confusion situation for the Federal soldiers even with the benefit of post-battle hindsight. It appeared to them that Confederates were coming from all directions and, in truth, they were.

As Williams was moving men back and forth and trying to make some sense of the situation, the Confederates suddenly opened on his lines with artillery. The Union commander reported that batteries fired on him from the front (Maxey's position) and his right flank (Marmaduke's position).
Simultaneous with the opening of artillery fire, the Confederates under Maxey advanced their line. Heavy fighting followed as the Union forces, anchored by the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, tried to hold off the motivated Confederate attackers. It did not take long for the 3 to 1 numerical superiority of the Southern forces to show.

Although the Union line was able to beat back attacks, Colonel Williams reported that this was achieved at great cost. He later reported that in short order half of his command had been either killed or wounded.

The attack by Maxey was designed to focus the attention of the Union troops and in this it achieved its goal spectacularly. When Marmaduke ordered forward his brigades against the Union right flank, the battle quickly turned into a debacle for the Federal forces. Initially fighting hard as they went, the Union troops began to retreat in the face of the Confederate attack on their flank. Realizing the critical moment was at hand, Maxey once again advanced his men as well.

Although Colonel Williams' tried to withdraw his men from the battlefield in order, the crushing attack prevented this effort. The retreat turned into a route and by the time it was over, the Confederates had pursued the scattered Union command for over two miles.

Union losses at Poison Spring were shocking. An estimated 204 Federal soldiers were reported killed or missing following the battle, while another 97 were listed as wounded. The exact number killed is somewhat difficult to determine. Williams claimed that a number of wounded soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers were murdered on the spot by Confederate forces. There is some confirmation of this in the writings of Southern participants, one of whom noted that killings were carried out by members of 1st and 2nd Choctaw regiments. The men of these units had a particular grudge against the soldiers of the 1st Kansas because of the harsh treatment dealt on homes and families in the Choctaw Nation by that regiment prior to the Red River Campaign. One eyewitness reported that the outraged warriors retaliated at Poison Spring and "did kill and scalp some."

General Marmaduke's report listed 100 wounded and 120 non-wounded Union soldiers as having been taken prisoner at Poison Spring, while he estimated the number of dead on the ground at an impossibly high 400-600. He also reported the capture of 195 wagons, 4 pieces of artillery and 1,200 mules while listing his own losses at 13 killed, 81 wounded and 1 missing.

I will have more on the Battle of Poison Spring in the next post. Until then, read more by visiting

Map of Poison Spring Battlefield, Arkansas

To help you better visualize the tactics of the Battle of Poison Spring, I prepared the map below using information from the forms submitted for the Red River Campaign National Landmark designation.

The troop positions shown here are approximate and are merely intended to provide an idea of how the battle unfolded, so they are not scale and are generalized. The gray lines represent the positions of the Confederate troops as the battle developed. The blue line represents the position of the Union wagon train during the battle. As with most maps, north is up, south is down, west is left and east is right.

The Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - April 18, 1864

As Colonel James Williams and his force of Union raiders tried to make their way back to Camden on the morning of April 18, 1864, with nearly 200 wagons loaded down with confiscated corn and stolen goods, a Confederate force of roughly 3,600 men with 12 pieces of field artillery moved to intercept them.

Williams and his men were following the Washington-Camden road, which ran along the route of today's Arkansas Highway 76. Moving slowly due to their heavily laden wagons, the Federals approached a small water source known locally as Poison Spring at around 10 a.m. Their vanguard was met there by Confederate troops led by General John S. Marmaduke.

Marmaduke reacted boldly, driving back the forward elements of the Union column and seizing a ridge that would prove a critical position in the coming battle. The Washington-Camden Road led up and over this ridge, so Marmaduke positioned his force directly across it. Cabell's and Crawford's brigades of dismounted Confederate cavalry formed the main Southern line, with Greene's brigade (also dismounted) held in reserve. Marmaduke's personal escort was placed in advance of the main line to serve as skirmishers.

The main Confederate position was near the eastern edge of today's Poison Spring State Park, while the Union wagon train stretched down the road from roughly the area of the state park west to the vicinity of the Poison Spring Lookout Tower, a distance of nearly two miles. Virtually the entire battlefield is now preserved in either the state park or the adjoining state forest.

Just as the battle began, Marmaduke was reinforced by the arrival of his commanding officer, General S.B. Maxey, with additional men and artillery. Although Maxey was the senior officer on the field, he declined Marmaduke's offer to accept command because the latter general had already initiated the battle and was more familiar with the ground.

After a brief conference, it was decided that Marmaduke would hold his position astride the road, while Maxey would move off to the left (opposite the road from today's state park) and form his men at a right angle to the initial Confederate line. This resulted in an "L" shaped line with Marmaduke at the base and Maxey to the left.

The Confederate plan was for Maxey to engage the Union forces that were moving into position to protect their wagons and convince them that the main Confederate attack would come from the pine woods to the south of the road. Once the Federals deployed to meet this anticipated attack, Marmaduke would then storm forward with Crawford's and Cabell's brigades and overrun what he expected would be the right flank of the Union line.

To help you better visualize the positions of the troops, I will include a map in the next post. Until then, learn more by visiting

Friday, April 17, 2009

Williams' Raid before Poison Spring

Colonel James Williams left Camden on the morning of April 17, 1864 (145 years ago today) with 670 men, 200 wagons and 2 pieces of artillery.

The Federals marched 20 miles out from Camden, striking plantations and farms to the west of the city. By the end of the day, they had confiscated an estimated 5,000 bushels of corn as well as livestock and other supplies. Stories handed down in local families also indicate the soldiers raided homes for clothing, furniture and any other valuables they could fine. According to some eyewitnesses, they even stole items from the slave cabins, taking from those with little to offer.

Although they did not encounter resistance on the 17th, the Confederates knew the Federals were on the move. General John Marmaduke learned from scouts and local citizens of the Union raid and decided to intercept them on their way back to Camden. Accordingly, he set out with 3,600 men and 12 pieces of field artillery on a road that would intersect the route by which Williams had marched.

In Camden, General Steele became concerned that his raiding party might not have enough men to fend off a Confederate attack, so he sent out an additional 490 men and 2 more cannon to link up with Williams and assist in getting the confiscated provisions safely back to camp.

By the evening of April 17th, the stage was set for the Battle of Poison Spring. The fighting would begin the next day.

I will have details about the battle in the next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prelude to the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas

After he moved his forces into the fortifications of Camden on April 15, 1864, Union General Frederick Steele assessed his situation.

Faced with growing Confederate resistance and a severe shortage of supplies, Steele also heard rumors from local citizens that the Louisiana advance under General Nathaniel P. Banks had been badly beaten and was retreating. He decided that his best option was to keep his men under the cover of Camden's defenses until he could learn more of Banks' fate.

His first priority was to obtain food for his men. If he could not do so, the campaign would end in disaster do to starvation.

Learning that there was a large supply of corn stockpiled on farms about 20 miles west of Camden, Steele began assembling a force on April 16th to march out and retrieve it. With a total strength of 670 men, the bulk of the force was made up of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers. The 1st Kansas was a seasoned regiment that had fought extremely well at the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma, the previous summer. The force was augmented by two pieces of field artillery.

Colonel James Williams was assigned to command the raid, which would leave Camden on the morning of the 17th. The soldiers assembled a train of 200 wagons, all of which they hoped to fill with confiscated corn.

Our look at the Red River Campaign will continue in the next post. Until then you can read more on the events surrounding the Battle of Poison Spring at

Monday, April 13, 2009

Red River Campaign leads to Occupation of Camden

After the inconclusive fighting at Prairie D'Ane on April 10-11, 1864, Union General Frederick Steele realized that he was facing a growing Confederate force and running low on supplies at the same time.

Turning his army to the city of Camden in southern Arkansas, he took up positions there on April 15th.

Steele apparently still planned to continue his advance to Shreveport as soon as he could round up additional supplies. He had no way of knowing that the Louisiana phase of the campaign had already ended in disaster. Confederate General Richard Taylor had smashed the army of Union General Nathaniel P. Banks at Mansfield on April 8th and then pursued him to Pleasant Hill where the two forces had fought a bloody battle the next day. Despite the fact that he outnumbered Taylor, Banks began to withdraw in the face of the Confederate attacks.

Camden was strongly fortified and Steele settled his men camp protected by earthworks such as Fort Sutherland, shown above. The forts had originally been built by the Confederates, but were not manned when Steele moved on Camden. He strengthened the positions and was relatively secure, but his supply situation was beginning to grow critical.

With no other option for obtaining provisions for his army, Steele decided to send out strong raiding parties to gather corn and other supplies from farms and plantations in the area. This strategy would soon lead to major disaster for the Union forces.

I will continue to look at the Red River Campaign in Arkansas through the coming week, so be sure to check back for additional posts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Red River Campaign in Arkansas

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the Union's disastrous Red River Campaign.

In Arkansas, the campaign resulted in a series of battles between Confederate forces and the Union army of General Frederick Steele. Although the Arkansas phase of the campaign is best noted for the Battles of Poison Spring, Marks Mill and Jenkins Ferry, there were a number of other encounters as well.

It was 145 years ago today, for example, that Steele faced General Sterling Price in a noisy but otherwise inconclusive battle at Prairie D'Ane, Arkansas. After considerable long range firing, Price withdrew his outnumbered army from the field without the Union forces detecting the movement.

Realizing that he was facing growing opposition and growing critically short on provisions and other supplies, Steele decided to temporarily halt his advance to Shreveport and took up positions behind the fortifications of Camden, Arkansas. The coming week would see one of the bloodiest fights of the campaign, the Battle of Poison Spring.

We will begin retracing the movements of the Red River Campaign in Arkansas over coming days, so be sure to check back in throughout the next couple of weeks for the latest updates.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Queen Wilhelmina State Park Temporarily Closed

News outlets are reporting that Queen Wilhelmina State Park near Mena has been temporarily closed due to a power outage from a tornado that struck the area, killing three people.

The park is without power, but did not suffer other damage. If you are planning a visit over the weekend, you should check with them at (479) 394-2863 before heading out. Mena, where the worst of the damage has been reported, is a few miles from the park, but has experienced a major disaster.

Damage was also reported at Mt. Magazine State Park near Paris, where shingles were blown from the roofs of the lodge and visitor center. If you are planning a visit there this weekend, you might contact them at 1-877-MMLodge to check on conditions before heading out.

You can learn more about Queen Wilhelmina by visiting or Mount Magazine by visiting

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unique Tribute to a Civil War Act of Mercy

This unique statue at Fort Smith's Oak Cemetery marks the grave of James E. Reynolds.

Reynolds rose through the ranks of Company K, 30th Mississippi Infantry, during the Civil War, eventually becoming its captain in 1865. He was wounded at the Battle of New Hope, Georgia, during the Atlanta Campaign. After the battle, he was rescued from the battlefield by two local teenage girls with other women of the area to help the wounded. It was a gesture of mercy that Reynolds never forgot.

He went on to become a successful business leader in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas during the decades after the war and is remembered as the builder of Oklahoma's unique Captain's Castle in the small town of Cameron near Fort Smith. In his beautiful home he dedicated a room to Confederate heroes, decorating the walls with flag-draped portraits of famed Southern leaders. He called himself an "unreconstructed Confederate" all of his life, but did offer to fight for the United States during World War I and even contacted the famed Confederate "Gray Ghost" John S. Mosby to discuss forming a unit of aged Southern soldiers to fight in Europe.

Reynolds and his wife Felicity, a descendant of the famed Choctaw leader Greenwood LeFlore, both died in 1920. Over their graves was erected a monument in the form of a statue of a wounded Confederate officer being helped from a battlefield by two young girls. It was Reynolds' final tribute to the memory of the two young Georgia girls who helped him at New Hope Church more than fifty years before.

To see a larger photo of the Reynolds' monument, please visit To learn more about the castle that Reynolds built in Cameron, Oklahoma, please visit

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Oak Cemetery - Fort Smith, Arkansas

One of the most historic cemeteries in the United States can be found in Fort Smith.

Oak Cemetery was established at about the time Fort Smith was founded and contains the graves of hundreds of individuals that played critical roles in the history of the Western Frontier. Among these are soldiers, lawmen, a governor, Old West outlaws and even a Confederate spy.

Scattered through the cemetery can be found the graves of at least 122 Confederate soldiers, all of whom died during the decades following the war. Listed among them is Sarah Ish Parke, a female Confederate spy, courier and smuggler.

The cemetery also contains the graves of 28 men executed by order of another Civil War veteran, Judge Isaac C. Parker. Remembered as the "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith, Judge Parker served on the bench for the Western District of Arkansas during the decades following the war. He and his deputy marshals brought law and order to the wild and violent frontier. A Union veteran who served in the 61st Missouri Emergency Regiment, Parker hanged more convicted men than any Federal judge in American history. Among the burials at Oak Cemetery are 28 men, all convicted of murder, who met their fates on the gallows at Fort Smith.

Also buried at Oak Cemetery are more than 100 deputies, guards, court officials and posse members who served under Judge Parker.

To learn more, please visit