Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Battle of Jenkins' Ferry 150th Anniversary

Monument at Jenkins' Ferry State Park
Today (April 30, 2014) marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas.

The last significant action of the Camden Expedition, as the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign is known, the battle took place in the floodplain of the Saline River about 12 miles south of Sheridan, Arkansas.

Gen. Frederick Steele
Courtesy National Park Service
In the Spring of 1864, Union troops from Little Rock and Fort Smith had joined forces for a march to join a second Union army making its way through Louisiana to Shreveport and northeastern Texas. Commanded by General Frederick Steele, the Federals made it as far as Camden before running into a hornets' nest of Confederate resistance.

Following disastrous defeats at the Battles of Poison Spring and Marks' Mill,  Steele's army faced the very real threat of starvation due to his inability to obtain supplies. Giving up on the idea of pushing forward to Shreveport, he ordered a retreat back to Little Rock.

Gen. E. Kirby Smith
Library of Congress
The Federals reached Jenkins' Ferry on the Saline River on April 29, 1864, and their engineers began building pontoon bridges for the soldiers to use in crossing. Heavy rains, however, turned the river bottom swamp into a muddy morass, bogging down men, cannon and wagons. Then, late on the afternoon of the 29th, Confederate forces arrived on the high ground to the south and began lobbing shells into the Union ranks.

The main Confederate army came up during the night and heavy fighting began at sunrise on April 30, 1864. As the Union troops threw up temporary breastworks of logs and fence rails, Confederate General E. Kirby Smith ordered wave after wave of Southern attacks.

The fighting was fierce and bloody as the soldiers fought in mud and water that ranged from a few inches to three feet deep.

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