Saturday, January 22, 2011

February 1861 - A Gunfight in Fort Smith

Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith
As citizens from across Arkansas debated whether the state would join her Southern sisters in seceding from the Union, a violent situation of a different sort broke out in Fort Smith.

There was an old saying that there was "no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith," and the events that took place there in February of 1861 gave some real meaning to the quote. A gunfight broke out in a local grocery and citizens swarmed into the streets with vengeance on their minds. The situation was so bad that soldiers from the post of Fort Smith had to intervene and even then they were not able to save the lives of all of the suspects involved:

Fort Smith National historic Site
A terrible tragedy occurred at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Thursday night. A party of five overland mail and Little Rock coach drivers entered the grocery of a German, named Hagge, and commenced quarreling; pistols were drawn on both sides; the barkeeper, named Butcher, was shot through the heart and died instantly; Hagge received a shot in the forehead and died at eight o’clock Friday morning. Three of the drivers, George Bennett, Matt Ellis and Pony Farmer, were arrested, and guarded by a company of military. The other two escaped. Intense excitement was created; a mob entered the justice’s office for the purpose of lynching them. – Farmer, one of the prisoners, broke from custody and attempted to escape. He was fired upon and instantly killed. The crowd then secured the remaining prisoners and made for a place of execution, but before they could carry out their designs the authorities interfered and secured the prisoners, and lodged them in Greenwood jail. The excitement in regard to the affair still continues intense. - Pittsfield Sun, February 28, 1861.

Accounts of the outbreak were carried in newspapers across both the Union and Confederacy, interrupting temporarily the drums of war being beaten by newspaper editors North and South.

You can read more about the history of Fort Smith at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 5, 1861 - Mass Meeting in Van Buren

Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren
The following appeared on page 5 of the January 7, 1861, issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer and details a mass meeting that took place in Van Buren in support of the secession of Arkansas from the Union:


VAN BUREN, ARK., January 5 – The largest meeting ever held in Crawford county took place to-day, HENRY WALCOX presided. A series of resolutions were adopted nearly unanimously, declaring that the institutions of the slaveholding States ought to be maintained at every hazard and to the last extremity; that we view the personal liberty bills, passed for the purpose of defeating the execution of the Fugitive Slave law, as palpable infractions of the Constitution, and that we insist on their speedy repeal, and the faithful execution of said law as a condition to the restoration of fraternal relations; that it is our ardent desire to preserve the Union, if it can be preserved consistently with the honor, rights and interests of the slaveholding States, and favor a conference of the slaveholding States at Nashville, and, if need be, a convention of all the States, that, in the event of a failure by the South to obtain such a guaranty of their rights in the Union as may be compatible with its honor and interests, that they then insist upon an equitable division of the public property and the public debt, and if this cannot be obtained, they will separate from their Northern confederates, not peaceably, but that they will draw the sword and fight for the rights to the bitter end; that we are opposed to separate action, and especially the secession of Arkansas without co-operation; that a reasonable time should be given to the non-slave-holding States to retrace their steps and depose their unprincipled leaders, and give the South such guarantees as will secure their rights and equality in the Union; that though deploring the election of Mr. LINCOLN, we unhesitatingly declare that it is not, in itself, sufficient cause for a dissolution of the Union; that we tender our thanks to Messrs. CRITTENDEN, BIGLER, RUST, and others for their efforts in Congress to heal the unhappy dissensions which have arisen between the North and South, and to preserve the Federal Union consistently with the rights and honor of all the States; that we are in favor of a State Convention at an early day, and that we recommend to the Legislature an increase of ad valorem duties to forty-five cents on the $100, which will furnish resources to defray the purchase of arms and munitions of war, with which to protect our lives and our homes from aggression and menace.

You can learn more about Van Buren at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Southern Eyewitness of Prairie Grove - Part Two

Prairie Grove Battlefield
Note: This is part two of a Southern eyewitness account of the Battle of Prairie Grove. Please click here to read part one.

We had approached within 80 yards, when the Yanks wavered and fled in every direction. Their wounded and dead lay everywhere, the wounded crying for mercy. The villains! Their own black deeds of murder, in their death agonies, came (flooding?) back to memory in his bloody (mind?), and they expected justice to be given them by the outraged friends of their murdered victims. But the Southern soldier is as merciful as he is brave, and the vandals’ cry for protection was a useless one; a fallen foe is an object of pity – they were well cared for by our gallant lads.

Route of Hindman's Retreat
By nightfall we had driven them some two miles, captured  618 wagons, heavily laden with clothing, some (illegible) head of horses, and 280 prisoners. But our men were exhausted by hard marches and hunger, having had nothing scarcely to eat for three days – Gen. Hindman had not calculated to fight so large a force. It was his aim to  capture Blount, before the latter’s reinforcements arrived, and then pay his respects to the reinforcing column. The plan was an excellent one, and would have succeeded, but for the fact that as soon as we commenced to cross the river, a swift-winged Arkansas traitor carried the news to Blount, he to the column reliving him, and by hurried marches they arrived as soon as we. Therefore, we their grand army, and the sun of the 7th inst. closed on our victorious arms. The Feds that night at 10 o’clock sent a flag, asking for an armistice of 23 hours to bury their dead, &c. Gen. Hindman gave them 12 hours. About dark they were reinforced by an Iowa brigade.

We were three days out on forced marchies, no supplies at hand, the men worn out by hunger, and too much exhausted to hazard a renewal of the conflict, until rested, with the superior force against us, we withdrew from the field at 11 o’clock that night in silence, to a point some 12 miles distant, where we remained thirty hours. If we had only received a few thousand reinforcements, the Federal invading army now in the NorthWest would have been annihilated. But they did not come to us, and our brave and excellent Gen. Hindman could only give them a severe check and then retire – they powerless to follow, and we unable to renew the conflict.

Our loss in the battle is about 1,000 in killed, wounded and missing; the Feds say their loss is 1,300.

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Southern Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Prairie Grove - Part One

West Overlook at Prairie Grove Battlefield
Continuing with some eyewitness accounts of the Battle of Prairie Grove, this post is the first of a two containing an account of the Battle of Prairie Grove written by a Confederate officer in General Mosby M. Parson's Missouri Brigade.

It was published in the Dallas Weekly Herald on January 7, 1863, and offers a fascinating account of the battle by an officer who took part in the fighting that erupted on the western end of the battlefield at around 3 o'clock on the afternoon of December 7, 1862. The unidentified writer was involved in the late afternoon attack down the ridge against the Union Division of General James G. Blunt.

The following is Part One of the account. I will publish Part Two in the next post:

Camp near Fort Smith.
December 19, 1862.

Something has “turned up;” we have fought a big battle with the abolitionists, near Cane Hill, 42 miles Northeast of this, and may be a few items from an “eyewitness” and participant, would interest you. Blount, of Kansas, with some 7,000 thieves, has for a few weeks, been encamped at and near Cane Hill, and you know the want and misery always inflicted upon the people by these Hessians wherever they go. For the purpose of freeing that country of their presence, and giving their 7000 carcasses to the “Potter’s Field” – of sending them where thousands of their companions in arms have gone before; to the regions of the d—d, our excellent General, Hindman, ordered a forward movement on Cane Hill. We made a forced march, without commissaries or blankets, and met the (?) some four miles this side of Cane Hill, on the 6th inst. After skirmish with, and driving him to the top of the mountain, on the Cane Hill road, night having set in, our army, with the exception of some 1500 cavalry, drew off in the darkness to the Cove Creek road, and the morning found us in his rear, on the Fayetteville and Cane Hill road, by the old Walnut Church. We made sure we had that 7,000 safe, and were counting, jubilantly, the rich haul almost in our fingers. But you know “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” Hush! What is that? Heavy cannonading opens on our rear and right; brigades and divisions change front and are saluted with the bristling bayonets of twelve to fifteen thousand abolitionists going to the aid of Blount. The battle now opens furiously; the feast of blood and death begins! Fifteen thousand brave rebels – Missourians, Texians and Arkansians – brave alike – pitted against at least 20,000 abolitionists, and the air and earth, for five mortal hours, is filled with every conceivable missile of death. The road of artillery and musketry beat anything I ever heard, and I have been in several battles. The Feds charged us repeatedly, but the men stood there as firm as the oaks around them, and their shouts of victory drowned the cries of the dying, as they beheld the Federal legions break and fly in utter demoralization from the steady fire of their unerring rifles. The First Missouri Brigade, (to which I belong,) under command of Gen. M.M. Parsons, had been under a steady fire of musketry and artillery for some two ours. Our brave General Parsons rode along the line, making himself heard above the din of battle, encouraging the men; said he: “My brave soldiers, those cut-throats stand between you and your outraged homes – cut them down and stamp them into the earth. Give them cold steel; charge bayonet!” and oh! what a shout went up from that gallant brigade of exiles, as they swiftly charged, regardless of death, to the Federal lines.

To be continued...  To read more about the Battle of Prairie Grove, please visit

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dr. James M. Keller and the Confederate Casualties of Prairie Grove

Fayetteville Confederate Cemetery
Dr. James M. Keller, who is memorialized today by the James M. Keller Camp #648, Sons of Confederate Veterans in Hot Springs, was tasked with the herculean job of organizing hospitals and care for Southern wounded in the wake of the Battle of Prairie Grove.

Confederate casualties in the engagement are generally estimated to have been around 164 killed, 817 wounded and 334 captured or missing. A summary prepared by Dr. Keller one month after the battle, however, indicates this number may be somewhat in error:
  • Number killed in action - 87.
  • Number wounded and in hospitals - 886.
  • Number died from wounds - 62.
  • Number slightly wounded and not hospitalized - 120.
Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren
 Keller's summary, which was printed in the Arkansas Democrat about one month after the battle and republished by the Dallas Weekly Herald on January 14, 1863, places the total number of soldiers who had either been killed in action or had died from their wounds by that point as 149, while the total number of wounded was around 1,006, with 886 of these men having been so severely wounded as to require hospitalization.

This would elevate the total number of Confederate dead and wounded from the battle to 1,154 as opposed to the 981 given in most accounts. If Keller's numbers are accurate, which it seems likely that they are, then the total number of Confederate killed and wounded at the Battle of Prairie Grove included 173 more men than is generally thought.

Whether these men were included in the figure of 334 missing or captured is not known.

Most of the Confederates killed in action at Prairie Grove are now buried at Fayetteville Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville. Many of the wounded were carried south across the mountains to Van Buren and Fort Smith. A large number of those who died from their wounds are buried at Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren.

To learn more about the battle, please visit

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Early 1863 Account of Confederate Losses at the Battle of Prairie Grove

Prairie Grove Battlefield
The following report appeared in the Washington, Arkansas, Gazette on January 7, 1863, one month after the bloody Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. It provides an interesting summary of Confederate losses in the battle as provided by an officer from the front:
In a note accompanying the report Major Woodruff says that the official report of the losses in Gen. Shoup’s division was 721 killed, wounded and missing. Fagan’s brigade suffered the most. The killed on the field only 81; wounded , about 400; remainder missing. Dr. Keller told him that the hospital subjects numbered about 250 of the wounded; residue being slightly injured. In McRae’s brigade the killed numbered only about twenty-six.

Col. Pleasants had one of his legs broken – was doing well. Col. Polk, of Hawthorn’s regiment, was wounded mortally, and since died. Col. Young, of Jackson county, was killed.

Three of Capt. Blocker’s guns were temporarily captured by the enemy, but were soon recaptured by a most gallant charge of Hawthorn’s regiment, who, at the same time, took a stand of colors. We learn from another source that, in this charge, no less than one hundred and fifty-seven of the enemy were left dead on the field.

Gen. Hindman retired after the battle to the Arkansas river, in the vicinity of Fort Smith. No army could subsist where he was. The federal forces under Blount and Herron were, when last heard of, in the vicinity of Fayetteville.

You can read more about the battle at