Video Blog: The Generals at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry (Samuel Rice)

Video Blog: The Great “what if” of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry

Video Blog: The Jenkins’ Ferry State Park (Flooding & Monuments)

The Fields at the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield (Video Blog)

Eugene Carr…Buffalo Bill…Wild Bill Hickok…et al.

Carr close up

Sometimes, when you search for one thing, it leads to another….and another.

Such is the case of Eugene Carr, the Federal Cavalry commander at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Carr had served as cavalry commander of the Federal’s Seventh Corps under General Frederick Steele. When Steele reached the west bank of the Saline River that rainy Friday afternoon in April of 1864, it was Carr and Chief Engineer Junius Wheeler who were at his side. Once Wheeler had deployed his pontoon bridge, Steele ordered Carr to ride immediately for Little Rock because of concerns that Confederate Cavalry under Fagan might make an attempt to recapture the city. Once he crossed the Saline River with his 3,000 horseman, Carr camped on the high ground (now known as the “burning ground”) and instead awaited Steele’s arrival. Steele as we know, had his hands full in the river bottom, fending off thousands of Confederate troops under General E. Kirby Smith.

But this blog is not about Jenkins’ Ferry. Rather, it’s a “before and after” blog concerning Eugene Carr’s adventures before and after the Civil War.

153 years ago tomorrow (March 7, 1862), Carr was in the midst of the fight at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, where he commanded the Federal’s Fourth Division of the Army of the Southwest. During the battle, Carr was wounded in the neck, arm and ankle – so much so that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts that day. The citation read:

“directed the deployment of his command and held his ground, under a brisk fire of shot and shell in which he was several times wounded.”

But it was his encounters with others from history that I find to be absolutely fascinating.

Like this, from the Texas State Historical Association:

CARR, EUGENE ASA (1830–1910). Eugene Asa Carr, army officer, the oldest of four sons born to Clark Merwin and Delia Ann (Torry) Carr, was born on March 10, 1830, near Hamburg, Erie County, New York. In 1846 he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated on July 1, 1850. His first tour of duty was at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, cavalry barracks. He received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles (later the Third Cavalry) at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri, in 1851. From 1852 to 1854, Carr saw frontier duty at forts Leavenworth and Scott in Kansas, Fort Kearney in Nebraska, and Fort Gibson in Indian Territory. Early in the fall of 1854, in response to Indian troubles along the Rio Grande border in South Texas, Carr’s company was transferred to the regimental headquarters at Fort Inge, near the site of present Uvalde. On October 1, Capt. John G. Walker and about forty troops, including Carr, set out to follow the trail of hostile Lipan Apaches, who had recently stolen livestock in the vicinity. Near the Diablo Mountains on the morning of the third day out, the mounted troopers came upon “about three-hundred” Indians, whom they charged. In the ensuing skirmish, Carr received an arrow wound and was subsequently commended by Gen. Persifor F. Smith for his “gallantry and coolness.”

Did you catch that? In the expedition to Diablo Mountain, he was under the command of Captain John G. Walker. Recognize the name? Perhaps you know him as Confederate General John G. Walker who commanded the Texas Division at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. So at Jenkins’ Ferry, Carr was facing off against his old commander. Two men, now on opposite sides.

Also, while fighting with the Fifth United States Cavalry against the “hostiles” prior to the Civil War, Carr fought alongside the likes of Robert E. Lee and George Custer.

Following the Civil War, Carr would participate in the Indian Wars. It was during this time, he met his future scouts, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and James “Wild Bill” Hickok (you can’t make this stuff up). They maintained a lifelong friendship. In fact, when Buffalo Bill was working to get permission for the Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull, to participate in his wild west show, he sought out Carr’s assistance, who wrote a letter on his behalf.

Speaking of Custer, Eugene Carr had a on-going relationship with the future martyr of the Battle of Big Horn. They fought alongside one another across the plains during the Indian Wars. Eugene Carr was one of the leaders in the Big Horn and Yellowstone campaigns that summer in 1876. It was in that campaign that Custer went down – becoming the stuff of legend in the process.

His last campaign was a memorable one. In December of 1890, he took part in the events leading up to the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota.

Following this (and his promotion to Brigadier General), he retired to Washington D.C. where he retired from the army in February of 1893.

General Carr would die in Washington on December 2, 1910 and be interred at West Point, his alma mater.

A Medal of Honor recipient who’s travels took him from Texas to Jenkins’ Ferry to the Little Big Horn. It was a fascinating life.

Reluctant Eyewitness…

29th Iowa Roberts

At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, while charging Lockhart’s Confederate Artillery Battery, Corporal Benjamin Franklin Roberts was shot.

He was about to become one of  “those” at Jenkins’ Ferry. One of those who never made it out of that Saline River Swamp. And what a place to die. So far from home – a million miles away from that farm at Mill Creek, Iowa. For two years he had fought in this bloody war – a Corporal with the 29th Iowa Infantry. At Jenkins’ Ferry, 108 of his brothers would go down in the mud – killed and wounded.

He was going to die there. He was never going home. He was never going to marry his love, Ellen. His children, Maria and Orris, never a reality.

Some say you never hear the bullet that kills you. That day in those river bottoms, Corporal Roberts heard the “thunk” that was the bullet that took his life.

Only it didn’t.

You see, as Corporal Roberts was charging across that muddy river bottom, his haversack, containing all of his worldly possessions, clanked by his side. Inside were probably what most soldiers would carry – eating utensils, bible, writing paper and pencil, perhaps some faded letters from home. But Corporal Roberts also carried something else in that haversack…

A Frying Pan.

And on this bloody Saturday morning so far from home, in this dreadful swamp – a frying pan would save Corporal Roberts life.

The bullet meant to kill him didn’t. Instead, it impacted with the frying pan, stopping the bullet.

That moment at Jenkins’ Ferry was the worst, absolutely the worst moment of the battle. The 29th Iowa along with the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry left their breastworks and charged across Grooms’ field.

It was a moment when war turned into madness.

Corporal Roberts and the 29th Iowa watched in horror as the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry charged headlong into Lockhart’s Confederate Battery – refusing the rebels pleas of surrender. He watched as they began slicing off the ears of the rebels who were now begging now for mercy. He watched as they began cutting their throats.

Enough was enough.

The 29th Iowa put a stop to the insanity.

From the comfort of a theater seat, I watched the opening scene of Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln.” Corporal Roberts was there. He lived that moment. And he was shot.

He was an eyewitness to history – a participate.

He should have died there.

But he didn’t.

I’ll bet he never looked at a frying pan the same again.

 

 

 

 

Read This Blog…

fountain pen blog

Help me to understand something.

On my Facebook page for the book, I am blessed to have over 350 “likes” to the page. Even more impressive are some of the posts see over 500 views.

So, hundreds of folks regularly visit and comment on the Facebook page yet the blog numbers are consistently lower that the activity on the Facebook page. I have continued to ask myself why. Especially when I post a link to my blogs directly on the Facebook page. I’ll admit it’s a bit frustrating to not see an equal transition between the Facebook page and the blog. And it’s not an ego thing – it’s just that when folks are complimentary about learning something new about Jenkins’ Ferry on the Facebook page, it only scratches the surface. There is so much more on the blog. The blog affords me an opportunity to discuss little known aspects of the battle and, most especially, to tell the story of the battle through the words and photographs of the men who were there.

So…if folks enjoying some of the posts on Facebook – they why not come to the blog and spend some time and read up on over a hundred blog posts about little known aspects of this southern Arkansas battle.

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, then you’ll know that my internet provider wiped out much of my blog several months back. At that time, I had a respectable following on the blog with over a hundred followers a day viewing the blog. Those numbers took a hit when we lost the blog, as it took a bit of time to rebuild what we had lost.

I enjoy the blog much more than the Facebook page. Perhaps the biggest reason is that I am able to write a blog without fretting about limiting the amount of space I’m taking up.

Today, when I post this blog, I’ll hope that several of you take me up on my offer and come over there and spend a little time. There are over a hundred blogs in the archives – feel free to look around and read a few – I’ve enjoyed writing them.

One option is to add a link to the blog on the front page of my website. That’s one of the nice things about this blog program I use – I am able to look at statistics on how and where users find the blog.

Thank you for visiting the blog today. Again, please take a look around. I have no doubt you’ll learn some things about the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry that you never knew.

Joe Walker

 

 

 

Percussion Caps…

IMG_1396

I used to deer hunt thirty years or so ago. Or at least I gave it the college try – I would see deer roaming the countryside up until a week before the season opened and then they went into the wildlife witness protection program.

I still own a musket – a Thompson Arms 50 caliber Renegade – though my deer hunting days are long since gone. I still keep it oiled and perhaps, when my son is older, we’ll begin the father and son hunts that are so much a tradition in America.

There’s a couple of things to note in the photograph collage in today’s blog. First of course is the musket. For those who might be unfamiliar, a percussion cap was used to send the spark that ignited the powder that fired the musket ball. Placed on a nipple, the hammer would be pulled back and once contact was made, the weapon would be fired, creating a momentary cloud of dense white smoke around you. Now imagine that cloud of white smoke with thousands of muskets being fired at the same time around you. Such was the case at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry as this soldier with the 33rd Iowa Infantry recalled:

“The battle had not long continued before a dense cloud of powder smoke settled so closely down, that at a few feet distant, nothing was distinguishable. It seemed now almost impossible to fire otherwise than at random. The Rebels did, indeed, mostly fire too high or to [sic] low. Had they aimed with anything like their usual accuracy, few of us could have escaped. But our men, with that individual thought and action, which makes the term ‘thinking bayonets’ more appropriate to Western troops, than to any others, soon learned to stoop down, and look under the smoke sufficiently to discover the precise position of the rebel masses; and then a horizontal fire at the level of the breast; could not fail to hit its mark, unless a tree stood in the way. The crowded and more than double formation of rebel lines much have suffered a dreadful slaughter.”

The bottom right portion of the collage are fired modern day percussion caps – the type you’d see if you were deer hunting today. The ones in the upper right? Those percussion caps had a far more deadly story – those were fired at people.

Those were recovered from the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry. There are thousands of them – hundreds of thousands of them in fact. I’ve held a fired percussion cap from Jenkins’ Ferry in my hand and wondered about the man who last held it. When he placed it on that gun nipple, was he angry? Was he scared? I don’t believe for a minute that those men in that Saline River swamp were thinking of political ideologies that morning 150 years ago. It was not about succession or slavery or states rights on their minds. No…it was absolute terror that gripped them.

If you’re a Federal solider, you’re firing at wave after wave of grey uniforms charging toward you across that open cornfield. You load that musket and fire because you know that if your line is broken, then you are going to be captured and once you’re captured, you’re going to be marched south to a rebel prison camp. And you know your chances of survival won’t be good. So you take careful aim and you fire at those shapes  moving across that open field. You’re not looking into the faces of the men you are about to kill – you just load and shoot – load and shoot. Hopefully, that wave of grey will get enough of this and just go away and you can get back to the safety of Little Rock.

If you’re a Southern solider, you are cold, wet and hungry. You have marched a thousand miles. You have seen the land you love pillaged by an invading army.  You are sick of war. You are tired of war. You just want this all to be over. You’re moving across that open field toward a wall of 5,000 blue uniforms because you’ve had enough. And it stops today. It all stops today. You know if you can break that line then you can roll this Blue army up and trap them in this Saline River bottom then the war will be over. So you charge over open ground, visible 200 yards away as you emerge from the wood-line. And the Blue army waited till you were close enough…and then they mowed you down.

But the war wouldn’t end that day at Jenkins’ Ferry. It would grind on a year longer till April of 1865 when both sides had finally had enough.

Today, that river bottom is covered in percussion caps, the relic hunters leaving them behind in their search for the “good stuff.” After all, which looks better on a mantle – a soldier’s canteen or a discarded percussion cap?

But the percussion caps help tell the story – a story of cold wet frightened soldiers trying desperately to escape that nightmare of Jenkins’ Ferry.

 

Musket fire

 

In Search of “THE” Sword…

Rice

From “The Annals of Iowa” – Volume 13 Number 2 (1921):

“SWORD OF GENERAL RICE The Historical Department recently received from Mr. Emory C. Rice, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the sword of his father. General Samuel A. Rice, which the latter was wearing at the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, April 30, 1864, when he received the wound from which he died a few weeks later. Mr. Rice writes that the sword has been in his possession all these years, but that he now thinks it would be better for its preservation to be in care of this department.”

For years, stories have circulated around the sword General Rice was wearing when he was fatally wounded during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Rice was commanding the Federal’s Third Brigade, a wall of 5,000 troops holding back wave after wave of thousands of Confederate troops trying to break through to stop the Federal advance across the flooded Saline River.

As General Rice rode up and down the line, cheering on his men to hold fast, a bullet struck his right foot, driving his spur into his foot. He was pulled off the horse with command passing to General Frederick Salomon. Rice would be transported back to his home in Iowa where he would die of his wounds on July 6, 1864.

Now back to the sword issue.

There have been rumors concerning the sword. One story talks of a presentation sword that was given to the Rice by the State of Iowa at the onset of the war being offered up for sale from a private collection a few years ago. Then there is the sword mentioned above that was owned by the General’s son, Emory Rice. In communicating with the Iowa State Archives Museum in Des Moines, it appears they have this sword in their collection. But then I learned of the existence of a third sword, also in the possession of the Iowa Museum, this one donated by the estate of a Hazel R. Keene. I located an associate of the late Mrs Keene who was assisting in managing a trust she left behind. This person was not familiar with any Civil War related artifacts that Mrs Keene owned. Also, she indicated Mrs Keene was originally from the New England area so it is doubtful she has any connection to the Rice family. It’s unsure yet of Mrs Keene’s connection to the sword.

So which sword is which?

It seems the most likely candidate of the sword Rice was wearing when he was wounded was the one donated by his son Emory. I am in the process of having that sword photographed and once permission is obtained from the Iowa Archives to reproduce it, I hope to reprint the image here on the blog as well as in a planned third revision of Harvest of Death. I think revising Harvest of Death is important whenever new information surfaces such as diaries, stories and photographs.

Hopefully soon, we’ll have an image of the sword of the man who gave his life to preserve the Union in that dismal Saline River swamp.

Hospitals…Floods…and Snowstorms

IMG_1352

This has been an eventful week.

A week ago, I had taken some gentlemen on a tour of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield.

In the week that followed: (1) I’d be hospitalized for a week with a blood clot in my lung (2) The park would be flooded due to heavy rains (3) The park would be buried in half a foot of snow.

That’s a busy week.

So, let’s tackle a couple of things here. First of all, I am home from the hospital. The doctors and nurses have effectively neutralized the danger from the blood clot in my lungs (and a second one discovered in my leg) and I am, through the use of blood thinning medications, on the road to recovery now. I cannot express fully how humbled I’ve been by the outpouring of thoughts and prayers from so many of you during my hospital stay. Through the blog, Facebook, twitter and email, I’ve received scores of messages. I knew the last couple of weeks that something was wrong health wise. During the last two tours of the battlefield, I had struggled with breathing issues, now I know why. I feel better though still a bit fatigued from the ordeal.

Now, on to the park. It’s amazing how much the condition inside the park can change in just a few days. A week ago, it was sunny skies and cold temperatures. Now, the park has flooded and is buried under snow. In my forty years of visiting the area, I’ve never seen a time when a flood and snow both covered the park at the same time.

Through it all, the floods, the tornadoes, the snow – the park at Jenkins’ Ferry has remained the same. It’s like seeing an old friend whenever I have an opportunity to visit. The pavilion, the Confederate marker, the riverside markers – all remain the same, never changing, always constant. The State Park officials have recently been doing some housekeeping inside the park, cutting and pruning some of the large oak trees that dot the park. We spoke of that a while back in the blog, trying to identify the age of some of the trees. That will be a project better left for the spring when warmer temperatures prevail.

Yet the park remains the same. I’d like to see additional markers placed inside the park honoring the men who fought there. Particularly, I would like to see an “order of battle” marker, listing the names of all of the units who fought there. I think that is important as it would give visitors a better idea of how vast the battle was as well as the number of states who sent troops into those Saline River bottoms. The only granite marker associated with the battle was placed in 1928 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The marker reads:

“ERECTED IN MEMORY OF THE SOLDIERS OF THE CONFEDERACY WHO LOST THEIR LIVES AT THE BATTLE OF JENKIN’S FERRY, APRIL 30, 1864. DEDICATED SEPTEMBER 19, 1928 BY THE JAMES F. FAGAN AND JENKIN’S FERRY CHAPTERS OF THE UNITED DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY.
WE HONOR THEIR VALOR AND SACRIFICE.”

Those who dedicated the marker as well as the UDC chapter itself are gone. But the marker they placed has become their legacy. I think when planning events and activities associated with the battle that some consideration should be made toward preserving the area as well as educating future generations.

The UDC marker has stood through those storms – those floods – and those snowstorms. Through it all, it has remained a silent sentinel to the memory of those brave soldiers, blue and gray, who fought so long ago in those Saline River bottoms.

CSA JF Monument

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