With the battles of the Eastern Theater raging across the Virginia countryside in the spring of 1864, I’ve often wondered how much of what was happening here in Arkansas ever made it east of the Mississippi.
Perhaps much more than we expected.
We’ve talked before about Colonel Francis Manter – General Frederick Steele’s Chief of Staff. Following the 1864 Camden Expedition, Manter traveled to Washington D.C. where he met with President Abraham Lincoln at the White House and briefed him on the recent expedition. Also attending the meeting was Lincoln’s Military Advisor, General Henry Hallack as well as United States Representative John B. Steele of New York. Steele was the brother of General Frederick Steele and was, I would imagine, Frederick Steele’s voice during the meeting.
With a discussion of the Camden Expedition, the clashes at Elkins’ Ferry, Poison Spring, Marks’ Mills and Jenkins’ Ferry were no doubt discussed. But outside of the White House, would anyone east of the Mississippi have even heard of an Elkins’ Ferry or any of the other battles?
The answer is yes.
Featured prominently on the May 22nd 1864 edition of the New York Times Newspaper was this headline:
THE WAR IN ARKANSAS.; The Battle of Elkin’s Ford, Ark. The Battle of Marks’ Mills, Between Federal Forces, under Col. Drake, and Rebel Forces, under Gen. Fagan.
The date would indicate that whomever the war correspondent was that filed the article would have done so after reaching the telegraph lines in Little Rock. Here is a transcript of the original newspaper article:
LITTLE ROCK, May 5, 1864.
The battle of Elkin’s Ford, on the Little Missouri River, took place on the 3d and 4th days of April. On the Union side all of the Second Brigade, Third Division, (Gen. SLOCUM’s,) except the Seventy-seventh Ohio, and two companies First Iowa Cavalry, were engaged. On that of the rebels, two brigades of MARMADUKE’s division.
On the afternoon of the 2d inst., Gen. STEELE ordered Gen. SOLOMON to take and hold this ford. Thereupon Gen. SOLOMON dispatched the forces referred to under command of Col. WM.E. MCLEAN, of the Forty-third Indiana infantry.
Col. MCLEAN made a forced march, arriving at the river after dark, seizing the ford, and crossed his command. A squadron of cavalry was sent forward as advance pickets, while the Thirty-sixth Iowa Infantry, Col. C.W. KITTREDGE commanding; Forty-third Indiana Infantry, Maj. W.W. NORRIS commanding; and Battery E, Second Missouri Light Artillery, Lieut. PEETZ commanding, encamped near the bank of the river.
In his report of the Affair, Col. MCLEAN says:
“The day after my arrival, occasional firing along our picket lines, and skirmishing in front, convinced me that the enemy were on the alert, either for the purpose of matching the movements of the army, of which my brigade constituted the advance, or, if possible, by a direct attack upon me in overpowering numbers, to cut me off before reinforcements could be obtained from across the river. Early on the morning of the 3d inst., I ordered Maj. NORRIS, of the Forty-third Indiana, to proceed with four companies of that regiment to the front to reconnoiter the position of the enemy, deploy the men as skirmishers, and support the cavalry pickets. He soon succeeded in discovering the position of the advance pickets and skirmishers of the enemy, drove them back for some distance, pressing them so closely that the retreat of a number of them being cut off, sixteen came into our lines and surrendered.
“On the same evening, being satisfied that the enemy were in our front in force, and designed attacking us during the night or early next morning, I ordered Lieut.-Col. DRAKE, Thirty-sixth Iowa, to proceed with three companies from that regiment, and three companies from the Forty-second Indiana, to a position on the main road leading from the ford immediately in our front, to deploy his men on the right and left of the road, to watch the movements of the enemy, and to resist their approach as long as was prudent, and retire to the reserves when they approached in force. One section of artillery, under Lieut. PEETZ was planted so as to fully command the road and the leading approach on our right and left.
At 6 o’clock on the morning of the 4th, the enemy approached in force, and commenced an attack on the advance companies of Lieut.-Col. DRAKE, who resisted them gallantly for near two hours, being well supported by the artillery of Lieut. PEETZ.
Too much praise cannot be awarded Col. DRAKE for the very distinguished gallantry and determined courage he exhibited during this contest.
The capture by his forces early in the morning of a rebel Lieutenant — an aid-de-camp of Gen. MARMADUKE — confirmed me in the belief that that General was near in person with a large portion of his division. After a very lively skirmish of near two hours, the enemy having discovered the position of our battery, and replying to it vigorously with four pieces of artillery, our pickets and advanced skirmishers were driven back on the left upon their infantry reserves, while upon the right they maintained their position.
The enemy (since ascertained to be Gen. CABELL’s Brigade, 1,600 strong) charged with a yell upon our left for the purpose of flanking us and capturing our battery.
Their approach from the cover of the timber was met gallantly by two or three well directed volleys from the Thirty-sixth Iowa. Immediately after the charge and repulse of the enemy, the reinforcements sent for by me arrived, consisting of the Twenty-ninth Iowa Infantry and Ninth Wisconsin Infantry, of Brig.-Gen. RICE’s Brigade. But before they were put in position by him the enemy withdrew; not, however, until a grapeshot from their battery had inflicted a slight wound upon the General’s head, from the effects of which, I am gratified to say, he has recovered.
In looking upon the results of this engagement and the great disparity of numbers of the forces engaged, I cannot but regard this encounter as one reflecting the highest praise upon the coolness and unflinching courage of the men of my command, all of whom acquitted themselves well.
My entire list of casualties (most of which are slight wounds) will not exceed forty-one, while the new made graves of eighteen of the enemy are in sight of our present encampment, and they confess to a loss of more than fifty wounded.”
Subjoined is an account of the battle of Marks’ Mills, by “An Eye-witness.” The battle was fought near the junction of the roads leading to Camden and Warren, and takes its name from the mill which the rebel General made his headquarters during the action.
The expedition was known to be of a hazardous nature. If Camden was to be held, supplies must be procured overland from Pine Bluff, or by steamers up the Washita. The prospect was not good for receiving them by the latter route; but it was known that only SHELBY’s force was north of the Washita, and Col. DRAKE’s force was fully competent to manage him. If reinforcements were sent to him, Gen. STEELE relied upon being advised thereof by his cavalry in time to reinforce Col. DRAKE. It subsequently transpired that Gen. FAGEN crossed the Washita on the second night after Col. DRAKE left Camden, making a forced march of forty-five miles the next day, and joining SHELBY in the neighborhood of Marks’ Mills.
The rebel force then numbered over 6,000 of the best troops in the Confederate service, while the total number under Col. DRAKE was only about 1,500.
The night previous to the fight was spent by the pioneer corps of the Federal force in corduroying the road through Moro Bottom. The train when well closed up was four miles long. The Seventy-seventh Ohio formed the rear guard. In the morning, in passing over this corduroyed portion of the road, after about 100 wagons had passed, a portion of it became so defective from wear, that the remainder of the train was delayed and lengthened out. This increased the distance considerably between the advance and rear guards, and was the situation when the advance guard was attacked. The Thirty-sixth Iowa, in the centre, and the Seventy-seventh Ohio were immediately ordered up. It soon became apparent that the design of the rebels was to surround and crush the main body of our forces before the Seventy-seventh could come up. They appeared in overwhelming numbers in front and on each flank, and were gradually extending the latter so as to cut the train, and thus completely inclose the Union troops.
At this critical juncture word reached Col. DRAKE that the Seventy-seventh Ohio was only a mile off. It had become evident that the train could not be saved; and he seems to have conceived the possibility of effecting a junction with the Seventy-seventh, cutting his way out, and escaping with most of his force. He proposed to take their left flank in the rear, with a charge of the small cavalry force under Major MCCAULEIGH, and follow it up with all his available infantry, some 400 men. Riding across the field to give the requisite order to Major MCCAULEIGH, he was exposed to a dreadful cross-fire from the enemy. Here he was wounded severely by a minie ball in the left thigh and hip. Scarcely able to sit his horse, he still determined, if possible, to superintend in person the attack he had determined upon. He rode forward to the Major and gave the order. The Major wheeled his little cavalry force of about 250 worn-out men and jaded beasts, and rode upon the rebels. The latter wavered and became disordered. Then Col. DRAKE placed himself at the head of his men, and was about to give the order to change, when, from weakness occasioned by loss of blood, he was compelled to dismount. He then directed Capt. W.L. MCGILL, Inspector of the brigade, who had kept constantly by his side, to hand over the command to Maj. SPILLMAN, of the Seventh Missouri, the ranking officer.
There was no cessation of the firing on our side at any time. Every man fought with coolness and courage, until the rebels rushed in upon all sides, and disarmed them. There was no surrender.
Capt. MCGILL acted with distinguished bravery and gallantry, throughout the action. Musket-balls lodged in his coat and in his horse’s saddle, yet he escaped without a scratch.
He did not find Major SPELLMAN. The latter had fallen back with his cavalry to Pine Bluff. He then sought Major MCCAULEIGH. While hunting him, the rebels made their dash. Seeing the day was lost, Capt. MCGILL struck into the timber, and subsequently reached Pine Bluff in safety.
Major MCCAULEIGH was wounded, and is a prisoner.
Accompanying the train were several negro recruiting officers, with about 300 negro recruits. About 150 of them, probably, were killed — the balance escaped.
On our side there were between 250 and 260 killed and wounded. Their names will be found appended.
According to the rebel official report, as I am informed by one of our wounded officers, who read it in manuscript, they had 110 killed, 278 wounded, and forty missing.
All our wounded were paroled. While they remained in the hands of the rebels they were well treated and provided for.
The rebels lost two Colonels in the action — one of them, Col. PETTUS, of this State.
Most of our wounded have arrived here, and are well cared for in the hospital.
Col. DRAKE, as soon as he can bear the trip, will start North.
Among the killed is Capt. TOWNSEND, of Gen. RICE’s Staff.
If you’ve read my earlier blogs, then you’ll know what happened to Colonel Manter after his return back to Little Rock. If not….you’ll have to go back and find the blog: “When Encountering a Cow…” – you won’t believe what happens to this fellow once he makes it back to Little Rock.
It’s good to know the battles and soldiers fighting across the bottoms of southern Arkansas weren’t lost to the Lee and Grant struggle occurring a thousand miles to the east.
Those men in Arkansas were just as much a part of the war as their eastern counterparts and their story deserves to be told.