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.