Sweet Tea & Southern Battlefields

A Blog on Growing up Alongside an Arkansas Civil War Battlefield

A Deadly Decision…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Spurs

General Samuel Rice was one of three generals killed at Jenkins’ Ferry. The others, Confederate Generals William Scurry and Horace Randal died the old fashioned way –severe gunshot wounds they were destined to die from the moment they were struck (Randal was struck in the chest and Scurry in the abdomen of which there was no treatment).

But Rice died more by a poor decision than anything else.

General Rice, who prior to the war had served as the Attorney General of the state of Iowa, commanded a the 1st Brigade at Jenkins’ Ferry, consisting of the 9th Wisconsin, 29th Iowa, 33rd Iowa and 50th Indiana Infantries. More importantly, he was charged with commanding the Federal’s rear guard that day at Jenkins’ Ferry – a wall of 5,000 battle-tested troops. It was this line that saved the Federal army that day, repulsing repeated wave of Confederate attacks.

Throughout the morning, Rice rode up and down the line cheering his men and filling holes in the lines as the battle raged. It was while riding along the southern portion of the line when he was struck in the right foot by a Confederate minie ball, forcing him off his horse, where he was tended to by his command staff and eventually transported from the field. In the days following the battle, he was transported back to his native Iowa where he lingered before dying of his wounds on July 6, 1864.

But what of the poor decision I spoke of earlier?

The minie ball that struck his right foot had initially struck his spur, pushing a portion into the side of his foot. Surgeons believed this was the extent of his injuries. However (and it took a week to figure this out), they later discovered that the buckle that attaches the leather to the boot had been driven completely inside his foot where it had laid unnoticed. The leather and buckle caused poisoning and gangrene to developed. Even after the foot was amputated, it was too late. Rice would die a painful death.

A member of Rice’s command staff, Major John Lacey, would later recall that it was only a fluke accident that the buckle was where it was when Rice was shot.

Lacey recalled Rice was accustomed to wearing his spurs with the buckle on the inside of his foot next to the flank of his horse.

On April 29, 1864 – the day before the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Rice noticed his staff officers were all wearing their buckles on the opposite side of the horse’s flank. Lacey recalled:

“[General Rice] spoke of it and said he believed he had worn his spurs wrong, and sat down on a log and changed them.”

The following day, that same buckle would be the instrument of his death.

Twenty-two years after the battle, members of Rice’s staff would return to Jenkins’ Ferry, again walking the ground that had caused so much horror. They located the site of the General’s wounding, carving an “R” upon a large tree to commemorate the site.

Years later, someone thought better of the tree than that noble purpose and chopped it down.

So much for preserving history.

Never Leave Your Wounded Behind…

Steele Color

One of my favorite quotes about General Frederick Steele, the Union Commander at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, was from one of his staff who remarked about the General’s ability to “swear with precision and great velocity.”

It appears, through letters and memoirs left behind by some of the Federal command staff, that General Steele’s performance at Jenkins’ Ferry was perhaps less than stellar.

One of the most grievous accusations against Steele (which history has borne out be true) was that he abandoned his wounded on the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry following the battle. Scores of Federal wounded lay on the west side of the river as Steele turned his army to the east and fled the Saline River bottoms.

One of those left behind was Doctor William Nicholson, surgeon for the 29th Iowa Infantry, who was hard at work inside a farmhouse located on the edge of the battlefield caring for a constant stream of wounded still funneling in following the battle. He would later recall the moment he was informed Steele had abandoned him and the others:

“It never struck me even then that the wounded were going to be unceremoniously abandoned. I thought the [withdrawing] troops were merely falling back to some other position or were getting ready for some aggressive movement.”

Meanwhile at the river, Colonel Samuel Crawford, commander of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry, learned the wounded were being left behind. He would later write of that moment on the bank of the Saline River:

“While we waiting for the men, another staff officer from Steel’s headquarters came splashing back through the mud with his eyes a-glare and nostrils distended (having snuffed the battle from afar) and wanted to know why ‘in hell’ I didn’t hurry up. He further said: ‘if you keep fooling around this way, Price and Kirby Smith will hop on to you in less than fifteen minutes, and we shall lose our pontoon bridge.”

To which Crawford replied:

“Yes, that is exactly what I want. They hopped on me this morning, but didn’t get the bridge. If they come along now, I think I shall turn it over to them and stop this disgraceful retreat.”

Even four decades after the battle, those who fought there never forgot what they endured. In 1904, Captain Friedrich Heinemann of the Ninth Wisconsin Infantry wrote a letter to Captain Milton Elliott, also of the Ninth Wisconsin. In his letter, he spoke of their commanding general’s (General Fredrick Salomon) view of General Steele:

“Gen Salomon had a low opinion of General Steele, who was a west pointer, and don’t know anything about Arkansas, where he is or what he is doing.”

Then he added this about Steele’s command abilities:

“Damn those regulars. They map out battles on paper, draw their salaries and smoke cigars. The worse of it is they always keep clear of the firing line, which bars the good luck of getting them shot out of the way.”

Steele would later respond to his critics about his decision to leave his wounded behind at Jenkins’ Ferry.

“This necessity I regretted, but thought it of more importance to secure the safe passage of my command across the Saline than to attempt to bring off wounded men for whom I did not have proper transportation. More were brought off than we could have carried away had they been as severely wounded as those who were left behind.”

Upon his return to Little Rock, Steele was stripped of his command of the Seventh Corps and transferred to Alabama. His performance and his treatment of his wounded were said to have played a key factor in President Lincoln’s decision.

Leaving your wounded behind was a very bad idea.

Crossing Over the River…Almost

CT

I understand I almost crossed over the river.

For three weeks, I’ve had a nagging cough, one that just simply wouldn’t go away. On three occasions I went to my doctor and on three occasions they diagnosed it as the same thing – Bronchitis.

A week ago today, I had had enough of it and by now I was beginning to experience trouble breathing. I made my fourth trip to the doctor and this time it was time for me to talk. When the doctor came into the examination room, I asked to speak uninterrupted for two minutes. In that time, I gave a history of my treatment along with my symptoms. I ended it by saying my body is telling me that I am either experiencing a cardiac episode or have a pulmonary embolism in my chest. The doctor agreed to send me right away for a test to check for both.

Guess what? It was not Bronchitis after all.

It was a large Pulmonary Embolism in the middle of my chest inside my right lung. Not only that, there was cluster of five other clots in the lung as well. Now, I haven’t blogged lately because I’ve been flat on my back in a hospital bed for a week while they have pumped ginormous amounts of blood thinners into my system to dissolve these clots.

One of my pulmonary doctors discussed with me the type of clot I had and made it clear that had I not entered the hospital when I did, that clot would have most likely traveled to my brain and…well….we know the rest of that story.

Bottom line he told me – the coughing I’ve had was my body’s way of sounding an alarm to what was happening. It was misdiagnosed plain and simple. I’m not faulting my doctor for that. In this day and age, colds and such as a dime a dozen and I’m sure that some of my symptoms may have resembled what the fellow before me that day had.

I guess you could say that cough saved my life.

So this is not so much a Civil War blog today as it is a little advice. If you feel your body is trying to tell you something – listen to it. And when you visit your family doctor, if the diagnosis just doesn’t seem to fit how your feeling, then challenge the doctor in a professional way.

I am on my way to full recovery with the help of some amazing doctors and nurses. I’ll now be on a blood thinner for the rest of my life – one single pill per day to balance my plumbing inside. A small price to pay for the satisfaction of knowing this won’t happen to me again.

So if you get a cough – listen to your body – it might be trying to tell you something.

And it’s good to still be on this side of the river with all of you.

 

Arkansas Life Magazine…

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Sometimes, life just makes you happy. Recently, while searching for a specific topic that I was researching related to the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, I came across a small blurb about places to visit in Arkansas – and Jenkins’ Ferry was among the places to see. Now that in itself would be well worth purchasing a copy of the magazine. So imagine my surprise when I read the article:

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Well….to say I was tickled would be an understatement. Here was an unsolicited mention of  my book “Harvest of Death” in one of the classiest magazines in central Arkansas.

I wrote “Harvest of Death” for one reason – to help preserve the memory of those brave soldiers who fought and died so far from home. But you can’t escape the beauty of that place either. In the midst of such a chaotic world, it’s nice to know you can take a short drive and be surrounded not only by history, but by the beauty and solitude of Jenkins’ Ferry State Park.

The article mentions picnic lunches and swimming – both of which are in full swing this summer. So, while the weather is hot – pack a watermelon in an ice chest – grab the charcoal and the burgers and hot dogs – and stake you out a claim at one of the dozen picnic tables inside the park. Your stomach (and especially your kiddos) will forever thank you.

And I say thank you to Arkansas Life magazine – you’ve made my day.

 

 

Two Men…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Outfits

In an earlier blog, we spoke of Private William Hogsett (left) of the 19th Texas Infantry. And seeing him in his uniform as he probably looked that day got me to thinking. How interesting would it be to locate a photograph of a Union soldier who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry taken in his uniform as a snapshot of how the two armies may have looked that day.

Meet Private Cornelius Comegys (Right) of the 29th Iowa US Infantry.

It’s interesting to imagine how these two men were, on the morning of April 30, 1864, less than two hundred yards from one another.

Private Comegys was one of 5,000 troops – that wall of blue – that were entrenched in the wooded area on the eastern side of Grooms’ Field. Hours earlier, during the dead of night as rain poured down across the bottom, the Federals had created makeshift breastworks by piling trees, fence rails, anything they could find, to form a barrier for the attack they knew was coming at dawn.  The 29th Iowa Infantry was placed on the northern end of the line, near the Military Road and Cox Creek. Here they would fight.

Private Hogsett was late in getting to Jenkins’ Ferry. His division – Walker’s Texas Division – had been delayed in their march and arrived mid-morning on the 30th. By this time, Private Comegys and his 29th Iowa Infantry had fought back repeated waves of Confederates striking their line – each attempt failing. When the Confederates brought their artillery onto the field (Lockhart’s Battery), the Federals knew they had to remove that threat. After all, a solid line of 5,000 men may be menacing to soldiers moving across an open field toward them but a cannon? A cannon could blow holes up and down that line. So the decision was made and the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry, along with the 29th Iowa jumped from the breastworks and charged the battery. You know what happened next – it is the scene depicted in the opening moments of the film “Lincoln.” It was absolute madness as men savagely killed one another – Private Comegys amongst them. The Federals were successful in stopping the guns – capturing three of them before returning to the safety of the breastworks.

Within an hour of this, Private Hogsett and his 19th Texas Infantry arrived.

And we know their attempt in rolling up the left flank of the Federal line failed horribly – primarily due to emerging from the wood line in the wrong place. After that attack, the Confederates pulled back – the battle for the most part over.

These two privates never saw direct combat though they witnessed the battle from two different perspectives.

It is a fascinating image to see the two men side by side. How different their uniforms and weapons look. But it is the eyes of each soldier that I am drawn to. They were eye-witnesses to what we only study today from afar. They were there – each at the most pivotal moment of the battle.

Their faces look almost serene – as if had they met on the street years later they may have shared their experiences as friends.

But had they met that on that battlefield on that Saturday morning in 1864? I have no doubt only one of them would have lived to share their story.

 

Promoted to General…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Collar

As a teenager, he ran away to fight in the Mexican War. During the Civil War, he won commendations for his bravery. At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30, 1864, he gained immortality…barely.

Richard Waterhouse is one of those men who stepped up when his country needed him the most.

During the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas on April 30, 1864, Waterhouse commanded the 19th Texas Infantry of General William Scurry’s Brigade, John Walker’s Texas Division. The Texans were late in arriving at Jenkins’ Ferry – having begun the march out of Texas as Kirby Smith sought desperately to intercept Frederick Steele’s retreating Yankee army. As the battle raged, General E. Kirby Smith, the overall Confederate commander, ordered General Walker to send Scurry and General Horace Randal’s Brigades up a little used road south of the Saline River bottoms. The plan was to intercept the Federal’s line, 5,000 strong, thrown up to hold back the Confederates. Surprising the Federals, the Texans would hit the Yankees on their left flank and roll them up, just as a third Texas Brigade (Waul’s) would hit the Yankee line hard from the front. The rain, muddy roads and swampy conditions caused the Texans moving up from the south to become disorientated causing them to emerge from the wood line directly between the two armies fighting in Groom’s Field. Within minutes, the three Brigade Commanders (General Randal, General Scurry and General Waul) would all be shot down. Randal and Scurry were mortally wounded and would soon die of their injuries. Waul is shot in the arm but continues to give orders as he watches in horror as his fellow Texans emerged onto the battlefield in the wrong place.

Chaos momentarily took over inside Randal and Scurry’s Brigades as both their commanders lay dying. Command of Randal’s Brigade passed to Colonel Wilburn King and command of Scurry’s Brigade fell on Colonel Richard Waterhouse. After regaining control of their brigades, the new commanders ordered their men back into the wood line. This would be the last major offensive at Jenkins’ Ferry as Kirby Smith decided his repeated attempts throughout the day to break the Union line had caused him significant losses but no ground gain. Kirby Smith decided to break off the attack, allowing the Federals time to escape across the Saline River.

For his actions during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Colonel Waterhouse received, on April 30, 1864, a battlefield promotion to Brigadier General. By now the fight was almost over for the Confederates with the Confederacy barely held together. The promotion didn’t make it to Richmond until eleven months later, when it was approved by President Jefferson Davis on March 17, 1865 and approved, barely, by the Confederate Congress a day later on March 18, 1865. Barely in that this was actually the very last day the Confederate Congress ever met, with the government collapsing a short time later. Waterhouse’s promotion was one of the last items voted on by the Confederate Congress before they adjourned. He received his just due for his action at Jenkins’ Ferry…barely.

After the war, General Waterhouse returned to Texas, settling in San Antonio. He died in 1876, of pneumonia developed as a result of falling down a flight of stairs in Waco, Texas. He is buried in Jefferson, Texas.

Should Waterhouse be added to the list of Generals who fought at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry? While he became a General as a result of the battle, he fought the battle as a Colonel and General William Scurry’s name will be forever attached to the Brigade that bore his name. Still, I believe General Waterhouse’s name should be forever connected to the Battle that made him immortal…barely.

He’d Kill You Where You Stood…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Shotgun

I have no doubt that if you came within twenty yards of this soldier at Jenkins’ Ferry, he would have certainly killed you dead.

Private William Hogsett served in the 19th Texas Infantry, a unit under General William Scurry’s Confederate Brigade. He, along with the other members of Walker’s Texas Division had arrived late at Jenkins’ Ferry – the muddy roads and heavy rains slowing their advance. Once they did arrive, Hogsett’s infantry unit was ordered to approach the line of battle from the south along with General Horace Randal’s Brigade, concentrating on the Federal left flank, hoping to roll them up while another Texas Brigade under General Thomas Waul struck the Federal line head-on. The resulting blows would dislodge the Federals, allowing the Confederates to press for the Saline River and stop the Federal retreat.

Well….we know that didn’t happen. Instead, Scurry and Randal’s Brigades became lost and disoriented in the heavy thickets and wind up not on the Federal left flank – but directly in front of the Federals, who subsequently mowed down the Texans; killing both Generals and inflicting heavy casualties before the Texans pulled back into the wood line.

However – let there be no doubt that the Texans put up a hell of a fight.

Relics recovered over the years on the battlefield have revealed heavy concentrations of fired minie balls in the area where the Texans made their stand indicating they both took as well as answered enemy fire at a brisk pace.

Now….back to Private Hogsett. How could I be so sure that he’d kill you for sure if you made it to within twenty yards of his line? Take a look again at the photograph and you’ll see he carried a double barreled shotgun into battle, including at Jenkins’ Ferry. And though not as effective as the Federal’s 58 caliber Enfield’s or Model 1861 Springfield rifles – as a close in weapon, Hogsett’s shotgun was undeniably deadly.

Buckshot has been recovered all across the battlefield confirming what many historians have believed – that in the case of the Confederates, they often went into battle with whatever armament they could muster with many using shotguns they had brought from home.

Several soldiers in Walker’s Texas Division died that day at Jenkins’ Ferry.

And what of Private Hogsett? He would pass away in 1913 at the ripe old age of seventy-eight in his native Texas where I have no doubt he regaled his friends and acquaintances with stories of going to war with that shotgun.

 

 

 

Emerging From the Valley…

Valley

This is the second time I’ve had to relaunch this blog. Thanks to some glitches with my blog service provider, I’ve had to go back from scratch and rebuild things from previous blogs that I had happened to have saved.

I’ve enjoyed writing the blogs. Though I have not enjoyed so much having to relaunch the blog site.

There are still countless stories left to tell about Jenkins’ Ferry and the battles of 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

Those who have known me for a while know these last couple of years have been a series of peaks and valleys – primarily due to some lingering health issues.

Now it seems, we are emerging from the valley at last.

We’ve all faced them before – what seems like insurmountable obstacles ahead of us.

At Jenkins’ Ferry, the Federal soldiers who survived an onslaught brought on by wave after wave of Confederates, finally crossed the swollen Saline River only to discover the journey was even more treacherous that what they had just endured. And finally, after hours of marching and at times crawling through the eastern river bottom, they at last saw the ridge that would take them from the valley. And with that last ounce of courage, they pulled themselves up that ridge to safety.

There were heroes at Jenkins’ Ferry.

One of my favorite television programs was “M*A*S*H*” – the comedy/drama set during the Korean War. There is a scene between the main character, “Hawkeye” Pierce and Major Frank Burns where the question of what makes a hero is asked. “Hawkeye” makes the case of what a hero is. What he said was true then, true at Jenkins’ Ferry and true today:

“Do you know what a hero is? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he’s somebody who’s tired enough and cold enough and hungry enough not to give a damn. I don’t give a damn.”

I my case, I guess I was finally tired enough of not feeling well and grown complacent of habituating within the valley when I decided it was time to do something about it.

I hope to begin blogging again on a regular basis and perhaps even give a tour or two of the battlefield.

With emergence from the valley comes courage – and I am ready for the new challenges.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Don’t Forget Them When They’re Gone….

Shirley

Silas Shirley (center of the picture) served as a private in the 18th Ohio Infantry Volunteers. Following the war, he moved his family to northern Arkansas, settling in Logan County, where he lived until his death in 1924. The photograph in today’s blog is from a Shirley family reunion with Silas’ descendants surrounding him.

Private Shirley had absolutely nothing to do with Jenkins’ Ferry but the family photograph of him surrounded by children and grandchildren and possibly even great-grandchildren really illustrated the topic for today’s blog.

Lately, I’ve begun reading a new book series from author Brad Meltzer. The books are set around an archivist with the Library of Congress who is mixed up in murder and intrigue centered on historical events (see, I do read more than Civil War related books).

In the second book, the main character, Beecher White, is in pursuit of a presidential assassin who is imitating history’s other presidential assailants.

There is a paragraph at the beginning of the book that mentions James B. Stewart.

Are you familiar with Stewart and his role in one of histories worst moments? Probably not.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Stewart was sitting on the front row in Ford’s Theater when he heard a shot and saw a man sail over the president’s box and onto the stage. In the midst of the pandemonium, Stewart recognized that something was immediately wrong and he knew he had to stop that man. So, of the hundreds who were in the theater, it was only Stewart who leap to the stage and pursued the assassin of President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. Booth escaped through an alley on horseback by the time Stewart reached the back door. But he tried – and for that he was made an immediate hero for his attempt at apprehending the assassin of the president.

Here is a quote from Meltzer’s book:

“The point is, he’s now forgotten by history, but when he was faced with a that challenge, he did what was right.”

Those men at Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battlefields across our country? They did what was right and defended their beliefs and their honor, many giving the ultimate sacrifice.

There were thousands of men who fought on those battles of the 1864 Camden Expedition. Many of you who read the blog have told me of your ancestors who fought on those battlefields. And those men are lucky to have you as a descendant for you have taken on the responsibility of insuring your ancestor is not forgotten by history.

I once read that if a man does not learn about past, he will be forgotten by it. In other words, if a man does not know the names of his great-grandparents, then his great-grandchildren will have no idea who he is. It’s hard to imagine that as vibrant as our generation is and that zest for life that we share, that one day history is going to wipe many of us from the pages of history – to non-existent.

If you haven’t already, begin that journey to learn more about your ancestors. I guarantee you’ll meet some amazing people.

Jenkins’ Ferry State Park…

For those of you not able to make the trip to southern Arkansas, here is a short YouTube video I shot of Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. In the video, you’ll see the park as it looks today as well as the crossing site, where the Federals erected their pontoon bridge on the afternoon of April 29, 1864.

 

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