Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6, 1862: The Battle of Reed's Mountain

Scene of Heavy Fighting on Reed's Mountain
One of the least known Arkansas actions of the Civil War took place 149 years ago today on the slopes of Reed's Mountain.
Two of General John S. Marmaduke's three Confederate cavalry brigades had pushed Union pickets up the Cove Creek Road the previous day and taken position at Morrow's Station (see yesterday's post, Hindman moves into the Boston Mountains). On the morning of December 6, 1862, the Confederates deployed west of the Cove Creek Road and attacked the Federal troops positioned on Reed's Mountain, a significant ridge that separates the valley of Cove Creek from the more open country around Cane Hill (now spelled Canehill).

The mountain had been the scene of heavy fighting during the Battle of Cane Hill one week earlier and now offered an ideal blocking position to keep General James G. Blunt's Union army from observing the movements of General Thomas C. Hindman's Confederate force as it emerged from the Boston Mountains.

Deploying on both sides of the rugged road that led from Morrow's Station up and over the mountain to Cane Hill, the 500 men of Colonel J.C. Monroe's regiment-sized Arkansas Brigade moved up the slopes. Fighting on foot, the Confederate cavalrymen pushed resisting Union cavalrymen up the mountain.

Ground from which Federal troops advanced
While this fighting was taking place on the east or south side of the mountain, Union reinforcements from the 2nd and 11th Kandas moved up on the opposite side and occupied a strong position behind a ledge of rocks near the top. Further strength was added by a force of 200 Union-allied Indians that moved around the Federal left.

Monroe's Arkansan's charged the Federal position but were driven back. Refusing to retreat, however, Monroe and his men clung to the sides of Reed's Mountain and continued the fight. For 45 minutes a sharp battle took place as the two sides battled for control of the crest. Finally, however, Monroe was able to position his men in a way that threatened the Union flanks and the Federal force gave way and withdrew down the opposite side of the mountain. The victorious Confederates seized the crest.

With night falling, General Blunt began massing troops in the rolling lands beyond Reed's Mountain expecting to resume the fight the next morning. Hindman sent Parson's Brigade from French's Division up Reed's Mountain to reinforce Monroe's cavalrymen at the crest:

Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron, U.S.A.
This being the situation of affairs, the several commanders of divisions were assembled on the night of the 6th to receive final instructions, when I learned a further re-enforcement of from 4,000 to 6,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, with 30 cannon, under Brigader-General Herron, was then at Fayetteville, on the way to Cane Hill, making forced marches....There was a possibility that I might, by adopting a different plan, destroy the re-enfrocements and afterward fight the main body upon equal terms. To withdraw without fighting at all, would discourage my own troops and so embolden the enemy as to insure his following me up. His sudden concentration of troops justified the opinion that a movement against me was intended at any event. Influenced by these considerations, I determined to risk an engagement. - Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, C.S.A., December 25, 1862.

Hindman adjusted his plan quickling in view of the  much bigger opportunity that had presented itself. If he could keep enough men on the mountain to decoy Blunt into believing a major battle was developing, he could move his main army straight up the Cove Creek Road and emerge into the open between Cane Hill and Fayetteville. From that point he could turn up the Fayetteville Road and destroy Herron's force in detail as it came down the road on its way to reinforce Blunt at Cane Hill. If all went well, the Confederates could then turn back on Blunt himself, corner him, and wipe him out.

The stage was set for the massive Battle of Prairie Grove that would be fought on the ridges and prairies of Washington County the next day. I will have more on that tomorrow.

To learn more about the Battle of Reed's Mountain, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARReedsMountain.

To learn more about the Battle of Prairie Grove, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ArkansasPG1.

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