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




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Percussion Caps…


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…


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.

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Hospitals…Floods…and Snowstorms


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:


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


I’m a bit under the weather today.

I’ve not mentioned it on the Facebook page but I’ve been hospitalized since Saturday night. I became ill at work Saturday evening and passed out. A trip by ambulance to the hospital and a battery of tests discovered a large blood clot in my lung. Those who have followed the blog for a while know that ever since my knee replacement, I’ve had issues with blood clots but never one that’s traveled to an area that could potentially kill me (a scary proposition). So I’ve been updating the Facebook page literally from my hospital bed (where I’m writing today’s blog).

It seems this has been coming on for a bit. I’ve complained the last week or so about having a nagging cold. Those of you on the last couple of outings to the battlefield no doubt heard the persistent cough and saw I was more fatigued than usual. I just chalked it up to a cold. Now it seems the doctors believe it was the clot in my lungs causing the cough and fatigue. To complicate matters, a second clot has been discovered in my right leg. Gheez.

So that’s where we’re at this morning. I guess the good news is that I’ve not had to travel the icy roads. Thanks to my iPhone I’ve been able to videochat with my family and checking in with my kids.

Hopefully, I’ll be headed home soon where I’ll spend a few days recuperating before plunging back into my schedule. The concern I hope to have answered is why these blood clots keep occurring. I know any clot is serious but when they start roaming around my chest then that’s another matter.

I wanted to express my appreciation to each of you for the growing interest in the Facebook page. The number of people reading the stories of those brave men at Jenkins’ Ferry continues to grow daily. And telling that story is my passion.

So….we’ll get through this hospital stay and be home soon. After all, there are so many stories left to tell.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Jenkins’ Ferry Maps…

I decided a few days ago to share the maps contained in “Harvest of Death” with all of you. I get an occasional email from someone who has recently read my book and they are always complimentary of the maps that help tell the story of the battle. The maps were created by an amazing map maker and civil war buff, John Bonin of Texas.

Since the publication of “Harvest of Death,” I’ve seen images of the maps scattered across the internet. And while that throws the whole copyright issue up in the air, I think John would be humbled to know his work is being enjoyed by so many.

But I didn’t want to just throw the maps out there. I wanted you to know a little more about the man behind the maps – John Bonin. Below is a blog I wrote in May of 2013 upon learning of John’s untimely death. It is a blog I wrote honoring my friend and an amazing mapmaker. He is truly missed.


Well…I’m not sure where to even begin this blog entry. An important piece of what made “Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas” what it is has left us. John Bonin, my friend from Texas who made the phenomenal maps you find in the book has passed away.

I find myself overwhelmed with sadness. Not just for his death, which alone takes its toll, but for who John was – this amazing talent who left us far too early.

John and I began a professional relationship while working on “Harvest of Death” which began with my emailing him about some maps he was working on related to a PC Strategy game of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. It was an awesome project and soon enough John and I began emailing one another about all things Jenkins’ Ferry. He soon took an interest in this blog, complimenting me on my posts. I approached him about the possibility of working up some maps for my book, which he happily agreed to. The result…well, those who have read my book know the result. The maps are beyond incredible. They tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry as well, or even better, than any word I could ever pen to paper. I was preparing the base maps for him to review for my second book, “Hell & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” when I came across the news of his passing.

But John was much more than a mapmaker as I learned tonight while surfing the web for more information about his passing. I found out he was a member of a band, their lead guitarist, and a damn fine one, as recordings of him playing can attest. I’m attaching a link to a YouTube video someone posted as a tribute to John where you can hear his skills as a musician in action. I am sorry that I did not learn of this amazing talent this young man had until after his death.

I grieve today for my friend John Bonin. And I grieve for all of us. For the remarkable history of the 1864 Arkansas Civil War Camden Expedition that I hope to tell over the coming months and years through a series of books will lack those maps that brought the battle to life. Sure, there will be maps – but they won’t be John Bonin’s maps – and for that I am sorry.

I will miss my friend.


L Map - Base Map


L Map Tappan


L Map Hawthorne


L Map Parsons


L Map Walker


Here is a youtube tribute video that was posted honoring John Bonin, the musician.

Cool maps from an even cooler fellow. Enjoy the maps.



What’s in a Sign…Everything

JF Sign

You ever had someone give you a present and then take it away? I haven’t either, but I would imagine it’s a hollow feeling.

But that is what has happened to me toward Jenkins’ Ferry.

Recently, the Arkansas Highway Department has opened the new Highway 167 bypass that now carries you from Little Rock to Fordyce, bypassing the city of Sheridan and making for a faster trip south. One of the turn-offs is for Highway 46, the road that carries you to the battlefield. By taking the bypass from Little Rock, I’m able to shave at least thirty minutes off my trip.

Imagine my surprise the first time I traveled the new road to see a brown sign pointing me to “Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield State Park.”

This past Saturday, when I was traveling down to the battlefield to conduct a tour, I arrived at the Highway 46 turn off and saw the familiar brown “Jenkins’ Ferry State Park” sign.

Wait a minute….

Someone had replaced the original sign with another. How do I know?


The word “battlefield” is missing from the second sign.

Now some may be asking what the big deal is about this. Well, consider this. For the scores of visitors driving through the area (not to mention area residents), the word “battlefield” pretty much sums up what occurred on the spot. That’s the difference between a Civil War battlefield and a “ferry site.” We’ve talked about battlefield tourism before – how communities are beginning to understand the economic benefits of developing tourism options centered around the Civil War battlefields in their community. The city of Helena in eastern Arkansas is a good example of development in action. I’ve always believed that the city of Sheridan has just as much potential. All that have to do is let travelers know they are there.

Now…back to the sign. Interstate 530 runs between Little Rock and Pine Bluff, with the road continuing on toward Louisiana and Mississippi. Statistics from the Arkansas Highway Department tell us that over 100,000 vehicles per day travel that road. One Hundred Thousand. I would dare say the vast majority of the drivers have never heard of Jenkins’ Ferry.  I would also venture to say that among the thousands that travel that road everyday, there is a goodly number who are travelers in our state and who might just be interested in the area history.

Ok…back to our sign. Let’s say you’re traveling along (and you’re on vacation) enjoying our state and you see a brown sign alongside the road. Which of the two would the history buff be more likely to explore:

“Jenkins’ Ferry State Park”

“Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield State Park”


A while back I had the honor of conducting a tour of the battlefield for a group of gentlemen from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. During that visit, I mentioned the idea of adding the word “battlefield” to the signage the state uses to direct visitors to the state park. So imagine my surprise when I first drove the new bypass and saw the “battlefield” sign directing me to the battlefield.

Then imagine my surprise when the “battlefield” disappears from the sign.

It’s frustrating.

It’s disheartening.

It’s certainly not intentional. It’s just someone at the Highway Department’s sign shop trying to design a sign that minimizes the verbiage in order to shorten the length of the sign. I don’t fault them for that.

I intend to write a letter to the Department of Parks and Toursism asking if they could reconsider the verbiage on the sign.

And speaking of Interstate 530 – there’s not even a “Jenkins’ Ferry” sign at Exit 10 (the Highway 167 exit). It would be nice (and make a lot of sense) to see a nice large brown tourism sign directing travelers to one of Arkansas’ most often overlooked battlefields.

I’ll keep you posted.



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Colonel Francis Drake…


Colonel Francis Drake

Union General Frederick Steele was getting desperate. Hunkered down in the city of Camden in southern Arkansas, Steele’s army was starving, the fear he had of not being able to sustain his army on their march southward from Little Rock now a reality. Steele had argued against, stalled and fought the departure of his army southward in support of Nathaniel Bank’s Red River Campaign, the plan to seize the valuable cotton supply rumored to be in Texas warehouses.

Sending out a supply train to located corn rumored to be stored on farms west of Camden had met with disaster for the Federals, with the Confederates swarming upon the wagon train at Poison Spring on April 18th.

Now, Steele’s only option for supplies lay eastward at the Federal supply depot at Pine Bluff, thirty-five miles away.

He ordered the 43rd Indiana Infantry, commands by Major Wesley Norris, to accompany Colonel Francis Drake and his 36th Iowa, along with the 77th Ohio Regiment and 1st Iowa Cavalry (a total of 1800 men) to accompany a 200 wagon train from Camden to Pine Bluff for supplies.

Trying to make the march proved to be treacherous, as the muddy roads slowed the train immensely, forcing the train to camp about eight miles west of Pine Bluff.

The overall commander, Francis Drake, was unaware that 4,000 Confederates were closing in on him.

During the night, the Confederates closed even further, keenly aware of the wagon train that lay before them. As they lay sleeping, one of the Federal sentries posted in the wood line around the army began hearing noises – sounds of which he wasn’t sure. But there was something out there.

The sentries woke Major Norris, who immediately got dressed and went to Colonel Drake’s tent. Colonel Drake reported the sentries reported “something unusual was going on in front.”

Colonel Drake berated Norris for waking him up. Norris later wrote of the encounter and noted Drake’s response:

“Major, there is no enemy in front; you get scared to easily. Now go back to bed!”

He should have listened to Major Norris….

The next morning – April 25, 1864 – the Federals were attacked in mass.

By days end, hundreds of Federal soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. The captured ones were marched to the Confederate military prison at Tyler, Texas.

When it was over, Colonel Drake himself was down – seriously wounded in the leg and now a prisoner of war. Some reports say that he walked with the aid of crutches for much of the rest of his life.

From the book: “Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens (1918)”:

In his report Colonel Drake says: “We were not whipped, but finally overpowered and captured, myself being severely wounded, and a large proportion of my command either killed or wounded.” His regiment lost in killed and wounded nearly two hundred men, and the survivors were imprisoned at Tyler, Texas. Further on Colonel Drake reports: “I rejoined the regiment on the 1st day of October, and was exchanged on October 6th, but, not having then sufficiently recovered from my wounds to dispense with the use of crutches, was assigned to court-martial duty, from which duty I have just been relieved.” In a report to Adjutant General Baker, dated Centerville, Iowa, July 5, 1865, Colonel Drake makes this significant explanation for the omission of details in his report of the battle of Mark’s Mills: “At the date of my report …. I was a prisoner in the hands of the enemy, and supposed to be mortally wounded. I was suffering very much from my wounds, when I dictated the report, and omitted detailed particulars.” Colonel Drake’s regiment was mustered out at Devall’a Bluff, Arkansas, August 24, 1865. It was then conveyed by steamer to Davenport, Iowa, where on the 2d of September, it was disbanded. The colonel was brevetted brigadier-general, February 22, 1865, ” in recognition of “his ability and the gallantry of his conduct in battle.”

After the war, he would go on to become Governor of Iowa, serving from 1896-1898. However, what Drake is perhaps best known for is Drake University, named for him where he served as president of the board of trustees.

Though Colonel Drake failed to take heed at the warning he was given by Major Norris, I don’t believe much could be done to affect the outcome of the battle. The Confederates, commanded by General James Fagan, threw overwhelming numbers of seasoned troops at the Federals. The Federals were isolated with no hope of reinforcements.

This would be the last straw for Frederick Steele, who, upon hearing of the disaster at Marks’ Mill, made the decision to make his escape back to Little Rock by way of the Saline River crossing known as Jenkins’ Ferry.

Steele’s problems were only about to get worse – much worse.

Thank goodness for the Confederates, General James Fagan, the victorious commander at Marks’ Mill, was about to march northward in the direction of Jenkins’ Ferry. Was he about to save the day once again?

No….and Fagan would be blamed for the debacle of Jenkins’ Ferry for decades to come.

Why? Where was Fagan? Indeed…where in the world was General Fagan?

You’ll never believe what the answer to that question might be.

Tuned into tomorrow’s blog to read more of what has become known as “Fagan’s Blunder.”




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