Friday, July 27, 2012

Battle of Massard Prairie (148th Anniversary)

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Today marked the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.

Fought on July 27, 1864, the engagement was a significant cavalry action fought across miles of prairie on the outskirts of Fort Smith. It was a major Confederate victory and resulted in the virtual destruction of Mefford's Battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry.

The battle began when Brigadier General R.M. Gano's Confederates swept down the ridge from today's Fianna Hills community on the southern edge of Fort Smith and caught the Federal forces camped at the Picnic or "Diamond" Grove on Massard Prairie completely by surprise. The Union troops had just moved their herd of horses out onto the prairie to graze when the Confederates struck:

...As soon as the alarm was given that the enemy was in the prairie, which was about 6 a.m., I sent immediately for the herd, which had been out grazing since daylight, and was about three quarters of a mile southwest of camp. I formed my men on the right of camp to protect my herd as it came in and until it could be secured, but before the horses could be brought up the enemy charged on us, which stampeded the herd and left the men on foot to fight as best as they could. - Lt. Jacob Morehead, 6th Kansas Cavalry.

Gen. R.M Gano, CSA
Sweeping around the Union right to the sound of the Rebel yells of his Texans, Gano had stampeded the Federal herd and closed in on the Federal camp before Major David Mefford could get his men organized to save the horses and resist. As he approached the grove, Gano detached part of his column to drive right into the center of the trees as he struck the camp on its western flank.

At the same time, Colonel S.N. Folsom led the 1st and 2nd Choctaw Cavalries (C.S.) in a devastating attack on the Union left. These were the same men who exacted had such fierce revenge on black Union troops at the Battle of Poison Spring for attrocities in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that they were later accused of massacre.
Charged on right, left and center, the Federal lines collapsed and blue-clad cavalrymen began a desperate attempt to escape to safety across the prairie. By the time the fighting ended, three companies of "Arkansas Feds" (Union soldiers from Arkansas) had evaporated so completely they were not even mentioned in Union reports of the battle. Of the roughly 200 men (four companies) of the 6th Kansas Cavalry engaged in the battle, 144 were killed, wounded or captured.

To read about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please visit Also please consider my book, The Battle of Massard Prairie. It is available in both book and Kindle editions by following these links:

Book - The Battle of Massard Prairie ($14.95)
Kindle - The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas ($4.95)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

CSS Arkansas is Attacked at Vicksburg (Again!)

Vicksburg, Mississippi
On July 22, 1862 (150 years ago today), the Union fleet at Vicksburg made one more run at the famed Confederate ironclad, CSS Arkansas.
The Federals had been shelling the ironclad from long distance for days and, despite their reports of multiple hits, had done no real damage to the Arkansas. The railroad-iron sheathed gunboat intimidated the entire Federal fleet far more than the guns mounted on the bluffs of Vicksburg ever had or ever would.

They made one more attempt to destroy the Confederate warship on the morning of July 22, 1862, but things did not go well.

USS Essex (Civil War Photo)
Even though many of the men assigned to the Arkansas were ashore and there were only enough on board to man three guns, the ironclad made a formidable foe. The USS Essex, Queen of the West and General Sumter came in at full speed, planning to ram the Confederate vessel and send it to the bottom of the Mississippi River.

USS Queen of the West
(Civil War Water Color)

The Arkansas dodged the Essex, which missed its target and ran aground under heavy fire from the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg. The Union ironclad did succeed in sending a shot through the armor of the Arkansas at close range, killing 6 Confederates and wounding 6 others. Having lost 1 killed and 3 wounded, the Essex worked its way out of the mud and steamed downstream and away from the battle.

CSS Arkansas
The Queen of the West then came on, but missed as well. Turning around and coming back upstream, she succeeded in hitting the Arkansas but did little real damage. Pounded by cannon fire from both the Arkansas and the shore batteries, the Queen limped away back upstream.

The battle only succeeded to prove to Admiral David G. Farragut and other Union commanders that they would not be able to take Vicksburg using naval power alone. The CSS Arkansas, like the people of her namesake state, had proved herself to be strong, courageous and resilient. She had turned the tide of the first Battle of Vicksburg.

Farragut's attempt to end the city would end two days later.

To learn more about historic Vicksburg, please visit

Monday, July 16, 2012

CSS Arkansas Defies the Union Fleet on the Mississippi River

CSS Arkansas as drawn in 1904 by R.G. Skerrett
150 years ago this week, the CSS Arkansas touched off one of the most dramatic naval battles of the War Between the States.

Vicksburg, then commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn, was under attack from a massive river fleet. Admiral David G. Farragut had brought his large ships up the Mississippi after taking New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A U.S. Army flotilla of gunboats and ironclads had come down the river and the two forces were threatening Vicksburg.

Confederate Battery at Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Van Dorn, who proved himself a much more capable commander on the defensive at Vicksburg than he had on the offense at Pea Ridge in Arkansas, ordered the Arkansas from her construction port in the  Yazoo down to assist in the defense of the city. With a makeshift but courageous crew, Captain Isaac N. Brown brought the makeshift ironclad up to full steam and headed for the Mississippi.

A steam leak dampened gunpowder in the forward magazine and caused a delay, but the Arkansas was approaching Vicksburg by the morning of July 15, 1862 (150 years ago yesterday). She quickly came under attack from the U.S. gunboats Carondelet (ironclad), Tyler (wooden) and Queen of the West (ram). Most of the men making up the gun crews on the Arkansas had never handled cannon the size of those on board the ironclad, but they quickly fired a shot that disabled the Carondelet.

Wartime Image of CSS Arkansas at Vicksburg
The approach of the Confederate ironclad caught the Union fleet napping. Most of the ships did not have their steam up and Captain Brown took his vessel close by them, exchanging fire as he passed. Despite fierce cannon fire, he soon tied up at Vicksburg.

Farragut was not content to have had his entire fleet shown up by a single Confederate ship, so he prepared to exact his revenge that night. The same Chicago reporter witnessed the attack:

...Commodore Farragut made an ineffectual attempt to sink her. His entire fleet passed down the river, each vessel pouring a broadside into the Arkansas as she passed her. The Rebels acknowledge that one 7-inch steel pointed shot went through the Arkansas, but assert that this is the only damage she sustained. A reconnoissance next morning showed that the Arkansas was undergoing repairs, but she did not appear in any danger of sinking.

Old Courthouse at Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Van Dorn described the attack in a telegram dispatched from Vicksburg to the Confederate War Department in Richmond 150 years ago today:

...Enemy opened all their guns and mortars last evening, and shelled the city and batteries until after dark, when eight of their vessels of war passed down under fire of batteries and Arkansas' broadsides. What damage was done to them I have not learned, though they were repeatedly pierced by shot of the heaviest calibre. One heavy shot passed through the side of the Arkansas, killing two men and wounding three. This was all the damage done to us, with the exception of one house burned down in the city. Our troops here have a contempt for the fleet and bombardment, and await cooling for troops to land. The Arkansas is the admiration of all, and her daring and heroic act has inspired all with the greatest enthusiasm....

Total losses suffered aboard the Arkansas during her daring passage and the subsequent Union attack were 12 killed and 18 wounded, including the casualties mentioned by General Van Dorn. The Union fleet lost 23 killed, 59 wounded and 10 missing (lost in the river). The Confederate general's report was accurate, the Southern ironclad had been pierced only once despite the massive number of Union guns that fired on her.

I will continue the story of the CSS Arkansas over coming weeks, so be sure to check back for more. You can learn more about historic Vicksburg by visiting