Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mystery Soldiers of Massard Prairie - Fort Smith, Arkansas

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
One of the more intriguing mysteries of the Battle of Massard Prairie, which took place at Fort Smith on July 27, 1864, originates from the reports of Confederate soldiers that the overran parties of "Arkansas Feds" as they moved in to attack a battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry.

The terms "Arkansas Feds" and "Mountain Feds" were often used by Southern soldiers to describe Arkansans who either evaded service in the Confederate army or deserted from their units and joined the Union side.

According to several eyewitness accounts of the battle, the "Arkansas Feds" were taken by surprise and broke and ran. The Confederates did not immediately pursue them as the Kansas cavalrymen had formed a line of battle through their camp at the Picnic or Diamond Grove (site of today's Massard Prairie Battlefield Park). Union reports, however, make no mention at all of any Arkansas Union troops being present at the battle. All of which begs the questions: Were there "Arkansas Feds" on Massard Prairie? And, if so, who were they?

The answer seems to be yes, there were several companies of Arkansas Federals camped on Massard Prairie at the time of the attack.

On July 5, 1864, about three weeks before the battle, 100 Arkansas Unionists signed a letter to the editor of the Fort Smith New Era newspaper complaining of the disrespect being shown them by Union soldiers from Northern states and by the citizens of Fort Smith. The men were members of the 4th Arkansas Infantry (U.S.). The letter was dated from the men's camp at "Mazard Prairie."

This short-lived regiment was formed early in 1864 and merged with the 2nd Arkansas Infantry (U.S.) in October of that year. At its greatest strength, it included around 173 men, including officers and a surgeon, making up three companies.

Massard Prairie at Fort Smith, Arkansas
Coincidentally, the sites of three additional company-sized camps have been found at Massard Prairie, opposite or south of the branch from the main camp formed by four companies of the 6th Kansas Cavalry. This would have placed the men of the Arkansas battalion directly in the path of the Confederate attack and these men would have been the first hit, exactly as Southern accounts reported.

This evidence provides strong support then for the presence of the 4th Arkansas Infantry (U.S.) as well as the 6th Kansas Cavalry at the Battle of Massard Prairie. The scattering of two battalions of Federal troops instead of just one makes the Confederate victory there even more impressive and significant.

To read more about the battle, please consider my book:

The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas

The book is also available as an instant download for Amazon Kindle:

The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith

You can also learn more about the battle by visiting

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Battle of Massard Prairie - July 27, 1864

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
The 27th of this month will mark the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, which took place in 1864 at Fort Smith.

The battle was an overwhelming Confederate victory and resulted in the death, wounding or capture of 151 Union soldiers from the 6th Kansas Cavalry and the capture of a large amount of arms, ammunition and other supplies from that regiment. The Confederates lost 33 killed, wounded or missing in the battle.

News of the cavalry fight was widely reported in both North and South during the weeks and months after the battle. Over the next week I will post some of the accounts that appeared in the newspapers of both sides.

The following is from the October 5, 1864, issue of the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle and Sentinel which in turn was quoting the Meridian (Mississippi) Clarion:

An account is given of a brilliant little victory that was gained early in August by a party of Choctaw and Texas troops, all under Gen. Gano. The fighting took place five miles S.E. of Fort SMith, in Mesard Prairie. The Lincolnite forces consisting of the "Kansas Sixth" and the so-called home guards. The first had long been a "crack" regiment, alike noted for its ferocity, fanaticism and brutality. Gen. Gano divided his Texans into two bodies, while the Choctaws formed a third. One held in person on the center, whilst the others executed a flanking movement on either hand.

Advancing to the summit of an eminence where Yankee balls were whizzing all around him, Col. Folsom prevailed on his Choctaws to accompany him over a broad space to the face of the enemy. The other bodies charged simultaneously, and the robbers finding themselves previously assailed in front and on both flanks, commenced a skedaddle from the rear, whilst others fought with desperation, until assured of quarters, when they surrendered. - Many of our men clubbed with their guns and dealt stunning blows; several guns were in this way broken. One hundred and twenty-seven were captured and about sixty killed. The pursuit was kept up to within two miles of Ft. Smith. The number of the enemy's wounded could not be ascertained. Our men obtained a rich booty - 200 Sharp's rifles, 400 revolvers, hundreds of excellent saddles, a considerable number of over coats and many other things.

The Battle of Massard Prairie and a subsequent attack against the outer defenses of Fort Smith forced the Federals to pull most of their troops into the line of rifle pits and batteries that surrounded the city. This opened the door for the successful Confederate crossing of the Arkansas River that led to the stunning victory at Cabin Creek in what is now Oklahoma. The Cabin Creek fight resulted in one of the greatest supply captures of the entire Civil War.

To learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please consider my book on the topic. It is also available in Amazon Kindle format. You can read more about the battle at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Arkansas Wild Man - A Pre-Civil War Bigfoot in the Natural State

Mountains of Arkansas
One of my favorite Arkansas stories from newspapers dating before the Civil War is the tale of the famed Wild Man of the Woods, clearly a 19th century manifestation of the creature that most today know as Bigfoot or Sasquatch.

Reports in the Memphis Enquirer indicate the creature was first reported in eastern Arkansas as early as 1834. The first detailed account, however, was published in 1846 and repeated in newspapers across the nation. It told of sightings of the creature near Crowley's Ridge west of Memphis. The "wild man" was said to be of gigantic stature, covered in hair, and eyewitnesses said that "his track measures 22 inches, his toes are as long as a common man's fingers, and in height and make, he is double the usual size."

This was one of the first detailed accounts of the discovery of Bigfoot tracks in American history and came long before the first recorded sightings in the Pacific Northwest.

Swamp in Eastern Arkansas
Over the decades that followed, the Wild Man seems to have made regular appearances about every five years. He was seen chasing a herd of cattle in 1851 and Colonel David C. Cross of Memphis organized an expedition to capture him. The effort failed, but it seems to have been the first recorded Bigfoot hunt in American history.

Reports of the creature appeared again in 1856, this time in southern Arkansas and up into the Ouachita Mountains. A fairly bizarre report even told of a vicious attack on a man who was part of a group trying to capture the monster.

Bigfoot reports continue in Arkansas to this day, but the 19th century written accounts hold a unique place in the history of the United States.

To learn more about the real history of the Arkansas Wild Man, please visit

Friday, July 8, 2011

Murder at Massard Prairie - July 27, 1864

Massard Prairie
The 27th of this month will mark the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, a remarkable cavalry battle fought at Fort Smith in July of 1864.

One of the little known aspects of this engagement is the alleged murder of Southern deserters that took place as Confederate troops stormed down the mountain from what is now the Fianna Hills subdivision onto the prairie in the first stages of their attack on the Union camp on the prairie.

The target of the Southern attack was the "Diamond" or "Picnic Grove" on Massard Prairie. An area of large trees on the otherwise open prairie, the grove was the site of a camp then occupied by a battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry along with several companies of the short-lived 4th Arkansas (U.S.).

As the Federals were about to discover, they were in a dangerously exposed position. They had been sent there to protect the herd of horses being grazed on the prairie and until the morning of July 27, 1864, were living a fairly good existence out on the prairie.  A small stream flowed through their camp, providing good water, and the Union soldiers routinely raided area farms for beef and other foodstuffs.

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
Some of these farms also provided food and other supplies to Confederate deserters. And to their misfortune, a group of these men had come in from the hills south of Fort Smith that morning to obtain food at the homes of John Barnes and Flem Johnson. These houses were located on the southern end of the prairie. Fifteen year old Joseph Barnes, a nephew of John Barnes, later described his first sight of the Confederate cavalrymen coming down the mountain onto the prairie. He had been sent out to keep lookout while a group of deserters got breakfast at the house:

...While they were getting breakfast, I saw a string of Rebels coming down the hill on the [South] side of the field. I ran to my uncle and said, "I see a bunch of Rebels coming yonder." They men made a break for the brush. Jonathan Glenn ran up the road to the West to cut into the brush and, as he did not see some of the Rebels, they got him. The others got away.

The soldiers seen by Barnes were members of Folsom's Choctaw Brigade. As their homes and farms had been severely looted during Union raids the previous winter, they were not kindly disposed towards Federal soldiers or Southern sympathizers.  As one group swarmed around the Barnes house, a second detachment rode on to the nearby home of Flem Johnson, who "had the pneumonia and was expected by everyone to die."

According to Joseph Barnes, the soldiers found Johnson in bed and too sick to run from them. His account states simply that, "Rebels carried Flem out of his bed in the house and set him up against a tree and shot him to death."

The fates of the other men captured in and around the houses that morning are not known. Having quickly carried out the events described by Barnes, the Choctaws joined the main body of Folsom's column, which had been ordered to sweep around to the right and strike the east side of the Union camp at the Picnic Grove.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please consider my book on the engagement (also available in Amazon Kindle format at a reduced price). You can also read more at