Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arkansas Troops at Spanish Fort, Alabama

This is what remains of Battery McDermett (also called Fort McDermott) at Spanish Fort, Alabama. A powerful earthwork overlooking Mobile Bay, the battery was part of an impressive line of fortifications constructed by the Confederates to defend one of the key water approaches to the city of Mobile. It was occupied in the spring of 1865 by troops from Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia.

One of the final major battles of the Civil War took place here in April of 1865. Union forces advanced up the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in the long awaited land campaign to capture Mobile. The first major barrier facing them was Spanish Fort.

With fewer than 2,000 effective men, Confederate Brigadier General Randall L. Gibson probably should not have been expected to put up much of a fight against the oncoming army of roughly 30,000 Federals under Major General E.R.S. Canby, but he did.

After skirmishing with the Union troops as they approached, Gibson pulled his men back within his defenses and forced the Federals to undertake a full siege of the Spanish Fort works. For eight days, Gibson held his works against overwhelming odds and under constant artillery fire. Then, on the night of April 8th, Gibson and his men slipped away via a previously prepared escape route.

The defense of Spanish Fort was one of the most remarkable events of the war and yet it has been virtually forgotten. Lee surrendered the day after the fall of the fort (although fighting would continue around Mobile Bay for days to come).

Very little remains of the battlefield at Spanish Fort today. The area of the Confederate fortifications are now covered by residential areas. This section of Battery McDermett is one of the best preserved sections of the original fortifications, but is overgrown and located in the midst of suburban houses. Interpretive panels explaining the battle, however, are located at the nearby Mobile Bay Overlook just off Interstate 10.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grave of Brig. Gen. Richard C. Gatlin

This is the grave of Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin (C.S.A.) at Fort Smith National Cemetery.

A native of North Carolina, Gatlin graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1832 and became a Brevet Second Lieutenant in the 7th Infantry Regiment that same year.

After serving in a subsidiary role during the Black Hawk Expedition, he was sent to the Western frontier where he was posted first at Fort Gibson and then later at Camp Canadian, Camp Desire (near Fort Towson) and Camp Nacadoches (Texas).
He served in the Second Seminole War in Florida from 1839-1842 and as adjutant of the 7th Infantry.

Like many later Civil War generals, he fought in the Mexican War and was wounded at the Battle of Monterey (September 21-23, 1846). His actions there resulted in promotion to Brevet Major for gallant and meritorious conduct.

The next fourteen years found him serving in posts ranging from Florida to the Dakotas. In 1858-1860 he served in Albert Sidney Johnston's Utah Campaign and at the outbreak of the Civil War was at Fort Craig, New Mexico, were he served as major of the 5th Infantry.

He was in Fort Smith on a visit (his wife was from Arkansas) when state militia forces captured the fort on April 23, 1861. Taken as a prisoner of war, he was released on parole but on May 20, 1861, resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and offered his services to the Confederacy.

He initially served as adjutant general and major general of the North Carolina militia, but in August of 1861 was promoted to brigadier general in the regular Confederate army and assigned to the defense of North Carolina. The job did not go well. Fort Hatteras and New Bern fell and Gatlin blamed the losses on his failure to receive reinforcements and his inability to prepare for the attacks. He was relieved from command due to illness in March of 1862 and resigned from the Confederate Army in September of that year. He later served as adjutant and inspector general for North Carolina.

Gatlin returned to Arkansas after the war and made his living as a farmer. He died at Mount Nebo in 1896 and is buried with his wife at Fort Smith National Cemetery.
To learn more about Fort Smith National Cemetery, please visit

Monday, January 12, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Seven

When the smoke cleared, Fort Hindman was wrecked. Union troops spend the next several days demolishing what remained of the fort. The site, shown here, has since been submerged by the waters of Post Bend.

Union losses in the battle were estimated at 134 killed, 898 wounded and 29 missing. Confederate losses were in the range of 60 killed, 80 wounded and 4,791 captured.

In addition, Union artillery fire had set what remained of the town of Arkansas Post aflame. Even the hospital was struck by shells and burned to the ground.

On January 12th, the prisoners were loaded on transports and sent off to Northern prison camps. It was the largest haul of Southern troops captured by U.S. forces west of the Mississippi during the entire Civil War.

McClernand proposed a movement on up the Arkansas River to Little Rock in the days after the victory at Arkansas Post, despite the fact that his campaign was supposed to be moving against Vicksburg and not Arkansas. General Grant, however, quickly brought any such ideas to an end and ordered the troops to return to the Mississippi River in anticipation of his Vicksburg Campaign.

Although Fort Hindman itself has long since disappeared beneath the water of Post Bend, the areas of the heaviest ground fighting can still be seen. The barely visible line of the Confederate breastworks winds through the woods of Arkansas Post National Memorial and can be accessed via a short paved walkway. The site of the old town itself has also been preserved and interpretive signs point out the original locations of buildings, including the old bank building or hospital destroyed in the battle.

The Visitor Center at the park offers outstanding museum displays that include a model of Fort Hindman, details on the history of the site and artifacts from the battle as well as other eras of the post's occupation. Among the more fascinating items on display is the original flag of the Austin Rifles, also known as the Travis Rifles, a Texas unit that fought at the Battle of Arkansas Post as Company C, 6th Texas Infantry. The flag was captured in action by Corporal Ira B. Whitney of the 127th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

For more information on Arkansas Post National Memorial and its rich history, please visit

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Six

The morning of January 11, 1863, found the Confederate forces concentrated in a line stretching across the peninsula from Fort Hindman to Post Bayou.

Time has softened the traces of war at Arkansas Post National Memorial. The Southern rifle pits, seen here, are barely visible today, even on the ground at the site. This photograph was taken standing directly on top of them and they run away from the camera through the middle of this photo, but have been so weathered by more than 100 years of rain and wind that they are all but gone.

After getting his force organized, McClernand moved up against the Confederate infantry line and a sharp battle erupted. At the same time, Admiral Porter resumed his attack against Fort Hindman with help from Federal land artillery landed on the opposite bank of the river.

After three hours of tremendous bombardment, the Federals finally achieved their goal of silencing the guns of the fort. McClernand then prepared for his final assault on the Southern breastworks. The two forces had been heavily engaged on the left flank of the Confederate line and the fighting had spread to points all along the breastworks, with the Texas troops in particular fiercely resisting and inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Union soldiers.

As McClernand prepared to launch a final assault, however, white flags began to appear in spots along the Confederate line. The surrender remains controversial to this day. General Churchill denied that he had authorized it and many of the Texans were outraged, wanting to fight on. The Union troops had occupied sections of the line, however, and there was nothing Churchill or his men could do to alter the outcome. The Battle of Arkansas Post was over.

Our series will continue. To learn more about Arkansas Post National Memorial before the next post, please visit

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Five

The Battle of Arkansas Post or Fort Hindman began in earnest on the morning of January 10, 1863.

The Union troops, 32,000 in number, completed their landing by around 10 in the morning and began to push forward against Churchill's advanced lines. He pulled the remainder of his force back into the final line of entrenchments, skirmishing with the Federals as they came forward, and by late afternoon were in position in the line of rifle pits running from Fort Hindman west across the peninsula to Post Bayou.

At about 5:30 p.m., late in the day, the Union ironclads and gunboats pushed forward to engage the Confederate gunners in Fort Hindman. The Baron DeKalb, Cincinnati and Louisville led the attack and engaged in an intense duel with the three heavy guns in the fort. The Confederate heavy artillery was heavily damaged and a number of the horses used to move the lighter guns had been killed.

By the time the duel between the fort and the warships ended, it was too late in the day for the Federals to launch their land assault on the main Confederate line. The Southern troops, heavily outnumbered, knew the main assault would come the next day and worked feverishly during the night to strengthen their breastworks.

Our series on the Battle of Arkansas Post will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Credit: The Currier and Ives print of the attack on Fort Hindman shown here is from the Library of Congress.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Four

The massive Union fleet began its move on Arkansas Post during the first week of January, 1863.

Although the Federal vessels went up the White River cutoff into the Arkansas River to try to escape detection by the Confederates, General Churchill at Fort Hindman was aware of their movement almost immediately. Word of the approaching force filtered down through the ranks and the Confederates began to prepare for action.

The total force available to General Churchill by January 9, 1863, included roughly 5,500 men, not all of them fit for duty. A number of sick were housed in the old Arkansas State Bank building at the Arkansas Post town site. The structure had been converted for hospital use.

The troops were divided into three brigades, under Colonels Robert G. Garland, James Deschler and John W. Dunnington. The Confederate force consisted of the following units:
  • 19th Arkansas Infantry
  • 24th Arkansas Infantry

  • 6th Texas Infantry

  • 10th Texas Infantry

  • 2nd Arkansas Artillery

  • 15th Texas Cavalry

  • 17th Texas Cavalry

  • 18th Texas Cavalry

  • 24th Texas Cavalry

  • 25th Texas Cavalry

  • Richardson's Texas Cavalry

  • McKay's Texas Cavalry

  • Denson's Louisiana Cavalry

  • Nutt's Louisiana Cavalry

  • Johnson's Texas Spy Company

Although the vast majority of the force was cavalry, they would fight dismounted as light infantry during the Battle of Arkansas Post. Fort Hindman itself was armed with three pieces of heavy artillery (8 and 9-inch guns) and several smaller pieces. Five field guns were also available to help the Southern forces try to hold their entrenchments against infantry attack.

The Union vessels approached Arkansas Post on the January 9th, 146 years ago today. As the transports began to disembark the more than 30,000 Union land troops, Churchill pushed his defenders forward to an advance line of trenches downstream from the main defenses. Sherman's Corps overran these late on the 9th and the Confederate general pulled his men back from their exposed position into his primary works.

In the next post we will look at the opening of the main battle, which took place on January 10, 1863. Until then, you can learn more about Arkansas Post National Memorial by visiting

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Three

The Battle of Arkansas Post was a direct result of the seizure of the Union steamer Blue Wing on the Mississippi River by Confederate forces in late 1862. The vessel and the supplied it carried were taken up the Arkansas River to Fort Hindman.

At about the same time, General John A. McClernand had taken command of troops operating north of Vicksburg following the repulse of General William T. Sherman at Chickasaw Bluffs. The move was extremely controversial as many army and navy officers considered McClernand a political opportunist.

Despite his own displacement by the Illinois politician turned general, Sherman urged Rear Admiral David D. Porter to cooperate with McClernand. As a result, a plan for a joint expedition against the Confederate works at Arkansas Post was developed.

The U.S. Navy committed a substantial flotilla to the campaign. The vessels included the notable ironclads Baron DeKalb, Cincinnati and Louisville as well as other warships, gunboats and transports.

The land force consisted of more than 30,000 men.

Against this powerful army, the Confederates would field around 5,000 men under Brigadier General Thomas Churchill. Much of the Southern force consisted of dismounted cavalry, but they would prove formidable opponents for the oncoming Federals.

The move against Arkansas Post would prove controversial. McClernand had secured the approval of President Abraham Lincoln for a campaign against Vicksburg, but he decided that the conquest of Fort Hindman should be be given priority. This was strongly counter to the opinion of many Union military leaders, including General Ulysses S. Grant.

While he hoped to steal a march on the Confederates at Arkansas Post, McClernand actually stole a march on his superiors in the Union military. He moved against Fort Hindman without first informing either General in Chief Henry Halleck or President Lincoln.

As our series continues, we will look closer at the opening stages of the battle including McClernand's approach and Churchill's response. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part Two

With the defense of the Arkansas River Valley in mind, the Confederates selected a bluff just downstream from the old Arkansas Post town site for the construction of a significant fortification.

Named Fort Hindman, the bastioned work was extremely powerful and commanded significant stretches of the river. The diagram of the fort shown here is from the collection of the National Park Service.

The work was casemated in two positions for the protection of the gunners and mounted 8" and 9" guns, as well as an array of smaller pieces to defend the earthworks against infantry attack.

The site of the fort has been washed away since the Civil War and is now covered by the water of Post Bend. The original location can be viewed from an overlook at the National Memorial where interpretive panels point out the site of the fort and provide details on the Union attack and design of the fort itself.
Time and the elements have been harsh on the remains of the Confederate defenses at Arkansas Post. Not only has Fort Hindman been completely destroyed, but the line of rifle pits and entrenchments that ran west from the fort across the neck of land to Post Bayou have been so weathered as to be barely visible to visitors today. This line was constructed by Southern troops to prevent attacking Federals from flanking the main fort and sweeping into the camps of the 5,000 or so men (mostly dismounted cavalry) posted to defend Arkansas Post. Additional rifle pits and light field works were located downstream from the fort.
Behind these lines of works, the Confederates occupied what remained of the old town of Arkansas Post. Buildings there were converted for use as quarters, storage facilities and hospitals. In all it was a strong post and would require a significant Union force to capture.
Our series will continue with a look at how the Union campaign to capture Arkansas Post came about and some of the controversy that surrounded it. Until the next post, you can learn more by visiting

Monday, January 5, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Part One

Arkansas Post National Memorial preserves one of the most fascinating historic sites to be found anywhere in the Mississippi River Valley.

First settled by the French in 1686, the "Post de Arkansae" was the first permanent European settlement in the Mississippi Valley. Occupied by the French and Spanish until the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the post was relocated several times due to severe floods.

A key base for French fur trappers who hunted and explored vast regions of the American West, the post was the site of a series of forts held by French and Spanish forces (depending on which country held possession of the region).

Although a number of places claim the distinction of having been the location of the last battle of the American Revolution, the real "last battle" of the war was fought here at Arkansas Post. On April 17, 1783, well after the dates of all of the other "last battles," British partisans attacked Fort Carlos II at Arkansas Post. A bold counter-attack by the Spanish garrison (Spain was allied with the American colonists during the Revolution) resulted in the retreat of the attackers and the last battle of the American Revolution, like the war, ended as an American victory.

American troops took possession of Arkansas Post in 1804 following Thomas Jefferson's successful negotiation of the Louisiana Purchase and in 1819 the growing town at the site was named as the first territorial capital of Arkansas. The first newspaper in the territory, the Arkansas Gazette was published at Arkansas Post during the same year.

Although the town eventually gave way to Little Rock, Arkansas Post remained an important riverboat port and cotton shipping point until the outbreak of the Civil War. Tens of thousands of bales of cotton went out from the plantations of the Arkansas Delta to the factories of the North and Europe from the landing at Arkansas Post.

The eruption of the war between North and South brought Arkansas Post back to the forefront of governmental attention, but this time because of its strategic military location. The location of the bluff on a sharp bend of the lower Arkansas River made it an ideal location for defensive works to protect the upriver plantations and, in fact, the entire Arkansas River valley. To reach Little Rock, Fort Smith and the Indian Territory by water, Union forces would have to break through at Arkansas Post.

As our series continues, we will look closer at the fortifications erected by the Confederates to defend Arkansas Post and the Arkansas River Valley. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Battle of Arkansas Post - Gillett, Arkansas

Next weekend will mark the 146th anniversary of the 1863 Civil War engagement remembered today as the Battle of Arkansas Post.

A preliminary episode to Grant's Vicksburg Campaign, the battle was controversial even in its day. A massive Union force turned west from the Mississippi River to assault the Confederate post of Fort Hindman or Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. The two day battle was fierce and involved both land and naval forces.

Beginning with the next post, I will begin a series retracing the history of this significant battle in the Arkansas Delta. Be sure to check back over coming days for the latest posts. In the meantime, you can always learn more by visiting

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Arkansas Post State Museum - Gillett, Arkansas

Although far too few people make the fascinating journey to Arkansas Post National Memorial in Gillett, many of those that do often overlook the nearby Arkansas Post State Museum.
Doing so is a mistake.
The state museum, located just two miles from the national park on U.S. Highway 165, is a fascinating stop in its own right, especially for those with an interest in Civil War history.
Items on display at the state museum include artifacts (like the cannonball seen here) from the Battle of Arkansas Post. The engagement took place on January 10-11, 1863, when Union forces attacked Arkansas Post in a preliminary episode to the Vicksburg Campaign. The primary defensive work, Fort Hindman, was taken after a brutal bombardment by Union warships and a land attack against adjacent Confederate rifle pits.
The surviving parts of the battlefield are now part of Arkansas Post National Memorial, which also memorializes early French and Spanish settlements, the lost town of Arkansas Post and the last battle of the American Revolution.
The nearby Arkansas Post State Museum houses artifacts from the site and also displays a number of early structures from the Delta region of the state. Included among these are a pioneer kitchen, a 19th century dogtrot log house, an authentic gallows and an unusual 1930s-era children's playhouse.
To learn more about Arkansas Post State Museum, please visit our Arkansas Post pages at You will also find links there to our pages on the national memorial and battlefield.