Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alabama - Arkansas Redoubt at Port Hudson, Louisiana

Alabama-Arkansas Redoubt at Port hudson
The beautifully preserved earthworks of the Alabama - Arkansas Redoubt are among the most impressive surviving features at the Port Hudson battlefield in Louisiana.

This position was one of the key Confederate defenses of Port Hudson, a major citadel on the Mississippi River that was established in 1862 to prevent Union warships from reaching the vital intersection of the Mississippi and Red Rivers. Having failed to retake Baton Rouge in August of that year, the Confederates positioned heavy artillery atop the high bluff at Port Hudson. The first attempt by the Union navy (in September 1862) to blast the position into submission failed and in the months that followed the Confederate army fortified Port Hudson with some of the strongest works in the Confederacy.

Ditch of the Redoubt
The Union Navy tried again in March of 1863 when Admiral David G. Farragut tried to lead a flotilla past Port Hudson. The Confederate fire was so accurate and so fierce that only two of his ships made it past. The U.S.S. Mississippi was destroyed and the other vessels had to turn back. Port Hudson had twice proved its value as a defensive point.

The Union finally moved against Port Hudson in force in May of 1863 when General Nathaniel P. Banks led an army of more than 30,000 men against Confederate General Franklin Gardner and his 7,500 men. Banks expected to be able to easily storm the position, but instead the Confederate rolled back two major attacks with devastating results. In the second, on June 14, 1863, the Union army suffered 1,792 casualties compared to only 47 for the Confederates.

View from Inside the Redoubt
Among the Southern regiments defending Port Hudson were the 18th Arkansas Infantry and the 23rd Arkansas Infantry. The two regiments were positioned at a key point on the northern defenses of Port Hudson, where a strong earthwork was built as the siege progressed. The fire from the Alabama - Arkansas Redoubt was so intense that the Union army never even reached its walls throughout the entire siege.

The redoubt today is one of the major preserved parts of the Port Hudson battlefield. Located along the main walking trail that leads through the ravines and ridges from the museum and visitor center, the earthworks and ditches of the redoubt provide an excellent place to stand where Arkansas soldiers once stood and learn about their role in the longest complete siege of the Civil War.

To learn more about Port Hudson, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/porthudson.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rumors of War in Fort Smith, February 6, 1861

19th Century map of Indian Territory
Although Arkansas voters had not yet made their decision to convene a Secession Convention, the state like much of the South was caught in an outbreak of war fever.

News reached Fort Smith on the state's far western border 150 years ago tomorrow of a plan by troops from Texas, which had already seceded, to move on the U.S. Army posts in the Indian Territory of today's Oklahoma. The forts were important points of supply and defense that would critical in the war that everyone new was coming. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and Cherokee Nations created a buffer zone between the Southern state of Texas and the Northern state of Kansas. Their control would likely lead to control of the Indian Territory as well.

The following account from Fort Smith appeared on the front page of the New York Herald on February 7, 1861:


Threatened Attack on Forts Washita, Cobb and Arbuckle – The Little Rock, Ark., Arsenal Seized.

Fort Smith, Ar., Feb. 6, 1861.

Advices received today by the editor of the Thirty Fifth Parallel state that the Texans have threatened to take possession of Forts Washita, Cobb and Arbuckle, in the Indian Territory.

It is thought that the force at each of these stations is sufficient to protect them.

The conductor of the overland mail from Little Rock, Ark., reports that the arsenal there was taken possession of by State troops on Saturday evening last.

The rumors about Forts Washita, Cobb and Arbuckle was accurate, although no expedition for that purpose was yet underway.
To read about historic sites in Oklahoma, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oklahoma1.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Traveler from Fort Smith describes "Trophy" of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

19th Century Engraving of the Mountain Meadows Massacre
As late as February of 1861, the frontiers remained stunned by the Mountain Meadows Massacre, a bloody slaughter that took place when Mormon militia and Indian allies attacked a wagon train making its way from Arkansas to California near present-day St. George, Utah.

The attack on members of the Fancher-Baker party came on September 11, 1857, as they were driving a herd of hundreds of cattle west to California where beef was desperately needed in the golf fields. Noted Mormon or L.D.S. missionary Parley Pratt had recently been killed in Arkansas and the tension between the Mormon emigrants who had settled in Utah and the United States was growing. For reasons that continue to be debated today, militia members and their Indian allies attacked the wagon train, took the cattle and other supplies, and killed an estimated 120 or more members of the party. Only 18 small children were spared to be adopted into local Mormon families. They were subsequently taken into the custody of the U.S. government and returned to their families in Arkansas.

Arkansas Grave of Parley Parker Pratt
In February of 1861, a traveler from Fort Smith reached Stockton, California, with the gruesome story of having seen a riata or lasso made from the hair of the victims of the massacre:

A RIATA MADE OF WOMAN’S HAIR. – The Stockton (California) Republican learns that Mr. Connolly, who has just returned from Fort Smith, Arkansas, via Salt Lake, reports having seen a Texan purchase a riata one hundred feet in length of an Indian, for which he paid $20. The hair from which it was made was shorn from the heads of the women who were slain at the ever-to-be-rememebred massacre of the Mountain Meadows. The gentleman states that the riata was one of the most beautiful ever beheld, even while the scene of cold-blooded slaughter rose to his view as he looked upon this trophy of the savages and their Mormon allies, worse than savages. - Various Newspapers, February 1861.
Only one person was ever punished by man for his role in the massacre. John D. Lee, a leader in the Mormon militia at Mountain Meadows, was executed after the Civil War after being convicted of murder.

Beaver Bridge in Arkansas
There are several places in Arkansas where more can be learned about the events leading to the massacre. A monument to the victims stands in Harrison in northern Arkansas, where many of the members of the ill-fated party had lived prior to joining the wagon train. At Beaver near Eureka Springs, although few visitors realize it, the picturesque Beaver Bridge - often called the "Golden Gate of Arkansas" - spans the White River at the point where members of the Fancher-Baker party waded across during the early stages of their journey west. Learn more about the beautiful bridge and early history of the crossing at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/beaverbridge.

Also of interest is the monument near Alma and Van Buren marking the grave of slain LDS leader Parley Pratt, who was killed in Crawford County in May of 1857 (the same year as the massacre) by a part of vigilantes headed by the irate first husband by one of his plural wives. You can read more about the murder and monument by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/parleypratt.