Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30, 1862 - Confederate Cavalry returns to Dripping Springs

Dripping Springs, Arkansas
Having been pushed out of their advanced position in the fighting on the 28th (see The Battle of Cane Hill), General John S. Marmaduke and his three brigades of Confederate cavalry returned to their camps at Dripping Springs on November 30, 1862, 149 years ago today.
Located about 9 miles north of the historic Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Dripping Springs takes its name from a spring that bubbles from a hillside. Because it allowed Confederate cavalry to watch the key roads leading south over the Boston Mountains to Van Buren and the Arkanasas River, the crossroads was a key position for the placement of Marmaduke's small division.

Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, C.S.A.
Across the mountains to the north, General James G. Blunt and his Union army settled into new camps at Cane Hill. Blunt did not know it, but his decision to remain at this point created a window of opportunity for the overall Confederate commander at Van Buren, General Thomas Hindman.

Hindman had enough ammunition for one good battle and only enough supplies to maintain his position at Van Buren and Fort Smith for a short time longer before he would be forced to move his command down the Arkansas River to Little Rock in order to obtain provisions and other necessities. He hoped to accomplish something significant before being forced to withdraw and was carefully watching the positioning of Union troops in Northwest Arkansas.

Van Buren and the Arkansas River
As seen from Logtown Hill
When Blunt established his new camp at Cane Hill instead of returning to Camp Babcock north of Siloam Springs, he placed himself almost beyond reach of reinforcements. Since Hindman knew he had little chance of prevailing if the Blunt's command was reinforced by General Francis J. Herron's division, then in southern Missouri, he was hoping for a chance to strike one of the two forces and destroy it before the other could reinforce it. Blunt provided him that opportunity and he began making immediate preparations to take advantage of it.

Over the next two days, the Confederate forces at Van Buren and Dripping Springs did everything they could to get their arms, supplies and horses ready for a move in force across the Boston Mountains. Hindman hoped to corner Blunt at Cane Hill and destroy him. Using ammunition captured in this battle, he could then turn on Herron's division as it came down from Missouri to save Blunt.

It was an interesting plan with a reasonable prospect of success.  It would lead seven days later to the massive Battle of Prairie Grove.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back regularly.  Until the next post, you can read more about the Battle of Prairie Grove at

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29, 1862: Casualties of the Battle of Cane Hill

Fayetteville Confederate Cemetery
Some of the Southern casualties are buried here.
The morning of November 29, 1862, dawned on two exhausted military forces. The Battle of Cane Hill, fought the previous day, had been a long and difficult fight, waged up and down mountains and with no time to rest or eat.

Taking advantage of the night, the outnumbered Confederates had fallen back into the Boston Mountains and by the 30th would be back at their original camps around Dripping Springs in Crawford County. The Federals, stunned by the ferocity of the Southern ambush that ended the day's fighting, held their positions near Reed's Mountain through the night and then General Blunt moved most of his men back into the villages at Cane Hill on the 29th (149 years ago today).

Fayetteville National Cemetery
Union dead were relocated here after the war.
Both sides mourned the killing or wounding of good men, the exact numbers of which are difficult to determine.

General Blunt reported his total casualties as 4 killed and 36 wounded (4 mortally). This is probably close to accurate. I have been working on trying to assemble an accurate casualty list for both sides and while this is a work in progress, so far the numbers are bearing out Blunt's statement.

The following Federal officers and enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded at the Battle of Cane Hill:

Rabb’s Battery, 2nd Indiana Light Artillery

William E. Foster, Killed
Henry Williams , Killed

 (Note: Henry Williams was one of two men of this name in Rabb’s Battery. This one was from Indianapolis.)

 2nd Kansas Cavalry

Cyrenius M. Adams, Company K, Killed

6th Kansas Cavalry

Lewis R. Jewell, Lt. Col., Field & Staff, Mortally Wounded
Andrew Stillwagon, Company A, Mortally Wounded
Eugene Steohr, Company A, Killed
William Speeks, Company D, Mortally Wounded
George H. Richie, Sgt., Company K, Mortally Wounded

Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren
Some Confederate casualties are buried here.

Confederate casualties are much more difficult to assess. Blunt estimated total Southern losses as 75 killed and an unknown number wounded. This is wildly inaccurate.

I have just begun working on trying to identify the Confederate soldiers killed and wounded in the battle so my lists are very incomplete. The best I can do right now is give the partial numbers included in the official reports of the battle. These list Southern casualties as 5 killed, 30 wounded and 6 missing in action. These numbers include only two men from Shelby's Brigade, which suffered other men killed or wounded.

After I complete my work on the casualty lists from the battle, I will be sure to post the final numbers along with lists of the names. If you have the name of a soldier known to have been killed or wounded at Cane Hill, please leave a comment. I will verify it and include it on the list.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign throughout this week, so be sure to check back often. 

If you would like to read more on the Battle of Cane Hill, please visit

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 1862: The Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas

Historical Marker at Canehill, Arkansas
The first major fighting of the Prairie Grove Campaign took place 149 years ago today when Federal troops attacked three Confederate cavalry brigades at Cane Hill, Arkansas (now spelled Canehill).
Having advanced from his position at Camp Babcock north of Siloam Springs on November 27, 1862 (see An Attack in the Making), Union General James G. Blunt reached Cane Hill between 9 and 10 o'clock on the morning of the 28th. His force consisted of 5,000 men and 30 pieces of field artillery.

The Confederate force at Cane Hill was commanded by General John S. Marmaduke. Although Blunt reported that the Southern force numbered 8,000 men, the actual number was much smaller. The Confederates were severely outnumbered in terms of both men and artillery.

1880 Map of Cane Hill, Arkansas
The battle began near Cane Hill College at the top and
ended near Morrow's at the lower right.
The Battle of Cane Hill began when Blunt's forces attacked the Missouri brigade of Colonel "Fighting" Jo Shelby. These men were camped in the northernmost of the three villages along the Cane Hill ridge and although Shelby had been warned that the Federals were coming, he admitted that he was taken by surprise:

Having had due notice (eighteen hours previous) by the general commanding that the enemy were advancing, we endeavored to be on the alert, but I must confess (though it may reflect somewhat upon myself) that the enemy, by his skillful management, fell upon me sooner than I would have desired, considering that a portion of our division was encamped some distance in my rear and I had but little time to give them the notice required; yet I had sufficient time to place my men in their proper positions and await the coming of the hated foe. - Col. Joseph O. Shelby, Dec. 1, 1862.

Having pushed back Shelby's pickets in brisk skirmishing, Blunt moved up Captain John W. Rabb's Battery (2nd Indiana Light Artillery) along with the two light howitzers of the Second Kansas Cavalry. 

Site of Confederate Stand on Reed's Mountain
Each side later claimed that the other opened first. For the next hour or so, Shelby's two iron 6-pounders battled with the superior firepower of the Union guns. As this cannonade was underway, General Marmaduke came to the front and consulted with Shelby, who reported he had seen infantry supporting the Federal cannon. Viewing the situation in person, Marmaduke ordered Shelby to fall back to a high ridge 3/4's of a mile south where Colonel Emmett MacDonald had taken position with his cavalry brigade.

As the Confederates withdrew to their second position, the Federals followed and again formed for battle. After a sharp fight, the Southern forces again fell back to a previously identified third position.

This type of fight continued for the entire day. The outnumbered Confederates would take a good position, force the Federals to form lines of battle and bring forward their artillery and then, after a sharp encounter, fall back on yet another good position. The overall effect was that the Confederates were able to fight a slow retreat on ground of their own choosing throughout the day, instead of being routed from a single position by the much larger Union army.

The fight went back through the villages on Cane Hill and up and over Reed's Mountain into the Cove Creek valley.With darkness approaching and believing Marmaduke was now in full retreat, the Federals launched a direct cavalry attack down the Cove Creek road - and right into a trap.

Site of Ambush on Cove Creek Road
Taking advantage of a position where a steep bluff forced the road to run along a narrow strip or land or "funnel" between the rocks and the creek, the Confederates set up an ambush and the Union cavalry rode right into it:

The charge continued for about half a mile down the valley, to a point where it converged in a funnel shape, terminating in a narrow defile. At this point a large body of the enemy were in ambush in front and upon the flanks, where cavalry could not approach, with their battery also masked in front. As soon as the party we were pursuing had passed through the defile, they opened upon us a most destructive fire, which, for the moment, caused my men to recoil and give back, in spite of my own efforts and those of other officers to rally them... - Gen. James G. Blunt, Dec. 3, 1862.

A Confederate counterattack was driven back when officers - including General Blunt - were able to rally three companies of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry.

With darkness descending, the Battle of Cane Hill came to an end. The Confederates sent forward a flag of truce asking for a suspension of hostilities to remove their casualties from the field and the Federals agreed. Both sides took care of their wounded and during the night, Marmaduke and his cavalry slipped away into the Boston Mountains.

Casualties were fairly light considering the severity of the fighting and numbers of men involved, but this likely was the result of the nature of the fight with its constant stops and starts. I will look closer at the numbers in my next post.

The Battle of Cane Hill was a Union victory and as the day came to an end, Blunt and his men occupied the former Confederate positions. By winning the battle, however, he unwittingly played right into the hands of overall Confederate commander General Thomas C. Hindman, who was planning a much bigger operation.

To learn more about the Battle of Cane Hill, please visit

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27, 1862: An Attack in the Making

College Road in Canehill, Arkansas
The news that the Confederate cavalry had crossed the Boston Mountains and occupied Cane Hill (see First Skirmish near Cane Hill), prompted the always aggressive Union General James G. Blunt into action.

Having sent out cavalry units on the 25th to skirmish with Confederate scouting units between his camp north of Siloam Springs and the Southern camps at Cane Hill, Blunt decided to attack. Even though he claimed in his reports that the Confederate cavalry numbered 8,000 men (the actual number was fewer than 3,000), the Union general organized an army of only 5,000 men to strike against them.

On November 27, 1862, 149 years ago today, the Federals moved out:

Gen. John S. Marmaduke, C.S.A.
Early on the morning of the 27th, I ordered all my transportation and commissary trains parked on Lindsey’s Prairie, and, after detailing a sufficient guard for its protection, I commenced my march, with about 5,000 men and thirty pieces of artillery, the men taking with them four days’ rations of hard bread and salt. The distance to be traveled to reach the enemy was 35 miles, of which 25 were made by 7 p.m. on the 27th, when the command bivouacked for the night. From that point I sent spies into the enemy’s camp, and learned that there pickets were strongly posted on the main road (on which I was advancing), and that it could be easily defended. - Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt, Dec. 3, 1862.

In the Confederate camps, meanwhile, General John S. Marmaduke knew that Federal troops were to the north in large force, but did not know they were on the move. His three brigades were not unified, but instead one was camped in each of the three large villages along the Cane Hill ridge. Although it was not really planned, this would allow him to fight a staggered or tiered defense the next day when Blunt attacked.

The Battle of Cane Hill would take place the next day and I will post about it tomorrow. To learn more in the meantime, please visit

The events were prelimaries of the coming Battle of Prairie Grove. You can read more about it anytime at

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25, 1862: First Skirmish near Cane Hill

Bell Tower at Cane Hill College
Having occupied the three villages at Cane Hill on November 24, 1862 (see yesterday's post), General John S. Marmaduke pushed scouting parties of Confederate troops north up the roads leading from the community.
The purpose was to find out if any Union troops were in the immediate vicinity of the three small cavalry brigades that Marmaduke had brought across the Boston Mountains. It did not take long before at least one of these small forces collided with Federal cavalry that was moving in the same area.

Gen. James G. Blunt, U.S.
General James G. Blunt, commanding the Union division Bcamped about 30 miles north at Camp Babcock (near today's Siloam Springs), reported that his cavalry forces engaged a large Confederate reconnoitering force somewhere between his camp and Cane Hill on November 25th (149 years ago today).  His men, he reported, "scattered" the Confederate cavalry, which fell back on its support at Cane Hill.  Neither side reported any casualties in the encounter.

A more serious concern for the Confederates, but one unknown to Marmaduke, was the presence of Union spies at Cane Hill. The identities of these men were never made public, but they spent the 25th collecting information on the Confederate brigades information that would be relayed to the Union forces the next day.

The spies, based on Blunt's reports, were not the best. They estimated there were 8,000 or more Confederate cavalrymen camped at Cane Hill, when the actual number was roughly one-third of that estimate. They did, however, obtain good information on the disposition of the three Confederate brigades, intelligence that Blunt would use to plan his coming attack on Cane Hill.

The Confederates, meanwhile, were active behind enemy lines as well. In a report to his commanding officer in Missouri, Blunt reported that units of Southern cavalry were hovering along supply lines trying to interrupt the movement of his supply wagons down from Missouri.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often through the holiday weekend. Until the next post, you can read more at

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24, 1862: Marmaduke crosses the Mountains

Edge of the Boston Mountains at Canehill
Following on the heels of the Union cavalry's reconnaissance to Van Buren (see yesterday's post), General John S. Marmaduke was ordered to follow it back across the Boston Mountains with his three brigades of Confederate horsemen.
Moving up the Cove Creek Road from the Dripping Springs area of Crawford County less than 24 hours after 600 Federals withdrew back across the mountains, Marmaduke emerged from the mountains at Cane Hill on November 24, 1862 (149 years ago today).

Combined, the three brigades under Marmaduke's command should have numbered well above 5,000 men, but this was not the case. A good example can be found in the reports of Colonel Charles A. Carroll's Arkansas Brigade. While his force on paper should have numbered some 1,700 men, Carroll had only 517. Of this number, in fact, only 200 were reported as "effective" while the remaining 317 were either sick or mounted on horses too worn down to be fit for service.

Looking down into Cove Creek Valley
The other Confederate brigades were in no better shape and Marmaduke's force moved up to Cane Hill at perhaps one-third strength. He did not even have sufficient horses to move his batteries of light artillery across the mountains.

It was a dangerous move to put a weak force within striking distance General James G. Blunt's Union Division in Northwest Arkansas, but Confederate commanders believed it to be a necessary one as they continued to prepare their full army for a move across the mountains.

Cane Hill (now spelled Canehill), which was occupied by Marmaduke's men on the night of the 24th, was then one of the most important communities in Northwest Arkansas. In the center of an agricultural area just above the mountains and about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, it was home to Cane Hill College, a mill and a small business community:

Cane Hill College (Post-War Building)
…Cane Hill is a ridge of perhaps 8 miles length and 5 miles width, in the southwest part of Washington County, Arkansas, just beyond the north base of the Boston Mountains. Three villages are built upon it (Russellville, Boonsborough, and Newburg), which almost blend with each other, covering a distance, as the road to Fayetteville runs, of 3 or 5 miles…. The distance from Van Buren to Newburg is 45 miles. The intermediate country is a rugged and sterile range of mountains. - Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, C.S.A., Dec. 15, 1862.

Each of the three Confederate brigades pitched camp in one of the three small villages at Cane Hill, with the northern-most camped near the Cane Hill College buildings. These positions taken, the Southern commanders pushed heavy patrols of their own north along the roads to look for any signs of Union forces in the area. Some minor skirmishing would take place the next day.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back through the holiday weekend for more.  Until the next post, you can read more at

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 23, 1862: Reconnaissance toward Van Buren

Site of Confederate Camps
Dripping Springs, Arkansas
As the Confederate army of General Thomas Hindman continued its preparations for an advance into Northwest Arkansas, Federal forces made an unexpected probe of their advanced cavalry camps 149 years ago today.

Please click here to read the post of November 17th, detailing the activity underway in Van Buren).

Sent south across the Boston Mountains by Union General James G. Blunt, a force of 600 cavalrymen approached the camps of Confederate General John S. Marmaduke's cavalry command at Dripping Springs in Crawford County. Dripping Springs is about 9 miles north of the Crawford County Courthouse in downtown Van Buren. Using the twisting roads of the day, the distance was a little longer.

Cove Creek Road, used by Union Cavalry
The Federals approached the Confederate outer camps to scout the activities underway at Van Buren in an effort to learn the size and intent of the Confederate army.  There was some minor skirmishing near Dripping Springs. The approach of the Union cavalry was unexpected and the Southern horsemen fell back before them, unsure if the approach of Lt. Col. L.R. Jewell and his men marked the front of a full scale movement by the Federal army in Northwest Arkansas.  It did not.

When it became apparent that the Federals were not supported by infantry, Confederate resistance stiffened. Jewell now hesitated and, realizing the Confederates were present in Van Buren in force, began a withdrawal back into the mountains.

Pasture and Mountains at Dripping Springs
He and his horsemen returned back across the Boston Mountains during the afternoon and evening and reached Blunt's camps that night. Neither side reported any casualties.

The value of the reconnaissance is unclear. Jewell did not learn much about what was going on in Van Buren and even after his probe, Blunt still estimated the strength of Hindman's Confederate army at anywhere from 11,000 to 30,000 men.

The raid did lead, however, to the first fighting of the Prairie Grove campaign when Hindman ordered Marmaduke's cavalry to move north on the heels of the Union horsemen and take a position at Cane Hill in Washington County.

I will continue following the events of the Prairie Grove Campaign over the holiday weekend, so be sure to check back in occasionally. 

Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Van Buren, Arkansas - Before the Battle of Prairie Grove

Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren
In November of 1862, Confederate General Thomas Hindman began to prepare for a move from the Arkansas River Valley across the Boston Mountains into the Ozarks Plateau of Northwest Arkansas. He hoped to return a large area of Arkansas to Confederate control, while also opening the door for further operations into Missouri.
The launching point for this planned campaign was Van Buren, a charming town on the Arkansas River. The location of important steamboat landings and a ferry that crossed over to Fort Smith, Van Buren had supported the Southern cause since the earliest days of secession.

Militia troops from the city had joined in the taking of Fort Smith from U.S. forces in 1861 and it had served as a base of operations for troops moving north across the mountains before both the Battle of Wilson's Creek and the Battle of Pea Ridge. Wounded Confederate soldiers were brought back to Van Buren after both battles and the graves of those that did not survive can be seen today in rows at Fairview Cemetery.

Van Buren from above.
In November of 1862, Van Buren took on a critical role as Hindman planned his move into Northwest Arkansas. A large force of cavalry was positioned just north of town under General John S. Marmaduke. His command included Captain William Clark Quantrill's Missouri guerrillas. Jesse James, then only 14, was not yet part of the command, but other men with names that still echo through history were there. Among them were Frank James and Cole Younger.

Downtown Van Buren, Arkansas
With Markaduke's command in place to block in Federal movement or probe on Van Buren, Hindman began stockpiling provisions, ammunition and other supplies in the city. These would be used by his army as it crossed over the mountains. Troops also began the slow process of moving across the Arkansas River from their camps on Massard Prairie. They knew that combat was coming, but did not yet know that they would remember the name "Prairie Grove" for the rest of their lives.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign over coming weeks.  Until the next post, you can read more about historic Van Buren at

Read more about the Battle of Prairie Grove at