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

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