Friday, June 17, 2011

Eyewitness Account of the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas

Poison Spring Battlefield
The Battle of Poison Spring, fought near Camden on April 18, 1864, was one of the deadliest Arkansas encounters of the Civil War.

Around 3,600 Confederates overwhelmed a force of 1,160 Union troops trying to escort a train of around 200 wagons loaded with corn, supplies and various other items taken from farms in the area. The battle has since been one of the more controversial of the war in the west, due largely to allegations by Union officers and newspaper writers that Southern troops murdered surrendering African American soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.

Southern officers, however, attributed the high number of killed among the black soldiers from Kansas as being due to the fact that they would not surrender or give up their weapons.

A letter written by a lieutenant from the 1st Kansas seems to substantiate to some degree the Confederate version of events at Poison Spring:

Interpretive Panels at Poison Spring
We were attacked about 10 o’clock, a.m., and fought for about three hours, when our regiment was surrounded and we tried to cut our way out. We were fighting against ten thousand rebels. The [blacks] fought like hell. We had only 1,200 men but we repulsed the enemy three times. All our wagons (170) were captured. My captain, Armstrong, was killed, and Lieuts. Colman, Topping, Samuels and Hitchcock were all killed.

Capt. Welch, and Lieut. Macy, were wounded. Twelve of my men were killed and fifteen missing.

Wilson’s Creek was nothing compared with this fight. All the cannon were captured. Our regiment is literally cut to pieces. Our loss is three hundred killed and wounded. Most of the Iowa regiment were killed or taken prisoners. Our regiment would not surrender, but fought their way out.

This account, by Lieutenant D. McFarland from Company D of the 1st Kansas, appeared in the Marysville, Kansas, Big Blue Union newspaper on May 14, 1864. It clearly indicates that the 1st Kansas Colored did not surrender at Poison Spring, as many Union accounts soon claimed, but instead fought to the last.
To learn more about the Battle of Poison Spring and see photos of the battlefield, please visit

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