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A Bed Full of Generals...


Everybody has heard the expression “George Washington Slept Here,” but how often can you say two Civil War Generals, both commanding vast armies, slept in your bed.

150 years ago today, the Federal Army was occupying the city of Camden in Southern Arkansas. One of the “benefits” of being a conquering army is if you’re the commanding general, you get to pick the bed you sleep in once your army has secured the town.

Such was the case in Camden. A gentleman named Peter McCollum built the Chidester House in 1847. According to a published history of Camden, McCollum purchased the building materials from New Orleans and had them shipped to Camden by steamboat. It was the first planed lumber house in the area and had among it amenities, plastered walls, carpeting and wallpaper.

In 1858, John Chidester, who operated a stage line, purchased the home for $10,000 in gold. His stagecoach line operated throughout Arkansas and it was reported that his stages could go from Camden to Memphis in “only” forty-four hours (what a ride that must have been).

Prior to the occupation of Camden by the Federal Army, the Confederates controlled the town with Confederate General Sterling Price commanding. After Price and the Confederates left the city, the Federal Army, under General Frederick Steele moved in hoping to find a wealth of supplies. Instead, they discovered the Confederates had sacked the city prior to their departure.

Once in Camden, Steele chose the Chidester house as his headquarters, actually sleeping in the same bed that Confederate General Sterling Price had used earlier.

The Federals remained in Camden until April 26th, when Steele decided to turn his army back to Little Rock, thus ending his participation in the Red River Campaign. Following the Federal Armies departure, Chidester returned back to his home and remained there for the remainder of his life. The Chidester family continued to live in the home until 1961 when it was sold to the Ouachita County Historical Society who maintain a museum at the site, which includes many of the original furnishings including the bed that Steele and Sterling Price used during their occupation of the city.

No, George Washington never slept in Camden, Arkansas but 150 years ago tonight, a conquering general no doubt had a very restless sleep, troubled by how he was going to save his starving army.

I’ll bet it was a long night. 

A Message From Joe Walker...



Over the last several days, I have struggled with a decision that has saddened me greatly.

On March 18, 2014, while attending a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting in Palestine, Texas, where I had the honor of speaking before the group, I accidently fell several feet from a ledge in the parking lot, landing on my right leg. There was an immediate sensation of pain and I was transported to the local hospital for tests. My primary concern at the time was that I had damaged the newly implanted artificial knee in my right leg. X-rays of the knee indicated the implant was not affected by the fall. However, in the days following the fall, I began experiencing severe pain in the leg. Subsequent tests have revealed that my damage was more extensive than originally thought. I suffered a significant bruise to my tibia bone only complicated by a hematoma stretching much of the length of the leg. What does this all mean? Between the bruising my leg bone took in the fall and the large amount of blood that has pooled in my leg by the hematoma, my right leg has swelled to twice its normal size, resulting in immense pain and difficulty walking.

Unfortunately there is not an overnight cure for this. As was explained to me by my doctors, my body has experienced a severe shock to its system and it will take time to repair itself. And time in this case is something that cannot be rushed no matter how much I will it.

I have accepted the reality that I have to follow my doctors advice and simply stop what I am doing and allow my body time to heal. It is only then, when I curtail all activities and literally prop my feet up, will my body have the opportunity to effectively begin this healing process.

To that end, I have accepted the reality that my body is not going to allow me to participate in all of the upcoming events at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Enduring being on my feet for two full days the weekend of April 26th an 27th would be more than my leg can handle right now. And though I would be sitting some of the time, that still causes havoc on my leg. I had looked forward to meeting many of you during the 150th event in Sheridan over those two days. I do plan to at least make a showing that weekend – the chance to meet Ed Bearss is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first picked up a copy of his book on Jenkins’ Ferry almost forty years ago.  If you follow me on twitter, I will send out a message with the time I’ll be at the event. Hopefully, if you are attending the 150th event, we may still be able to meet.

Here is a link to my twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/1864arkansas

Now…as to the 150th event inside the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park on April 29th…we are GO for that event. As I’ve written, I’ve waited all my life to have the honor of being inside that park on the 150th anniversary of the battle – no wounded leg will stop me. So if you are planning to come down that night and gather around the fire with us please do, I promise it will be an amazing night in the midst of history.

You have no idea the emotional distress this has caused me. I have looked forward to these events literally for the last forty years, ever since I began reading and studying the battle as a child. Jenkins’ Ferry has fascinated me. It ignited my love of history and has been an amazing companion these many years. And to step aside now, is as if I am forfeiting a long marathon within inches of the finish line, is so difficult for me. 

However, reality prevails and if you were to see my leg in its current state you would understand this decision.

You and I will meet – if not in the next few weeks – we shall indeed meet. I will continue to travel and tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry and I certainly hope one day our paths shall cross. Of this I am certain.

New Second Edition Available...


The revised edition of “Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas” is now available just in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle.

The revised edition now includes over forty new pages of photographs, including several never before published. Included are photographs of many of the commanders, views of the battlefield as it looks today, as well of some of the soldiers who made a difference during the battle. In addition, the editorial issues of the first addition have been corrected, making it a much more enjoyable read.

A big thank you is in order to my book editor, Melissa Hadley, for her hard work making this second edition an even better legacy to honor those brave soldiers who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry.

I will have some copies of the book available on April 29th when we gather inside Jenkins’ Ferry State Park to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle. These will be autographed indicating they were signed inside the park on the 150th anniversary. They will make an excellent keepsake to pass on to future generations.

If you’re not able to attend the event inside the state park, you can order the book directly through Amazon.com or through my website, www.1864arkansas.com  

I appreciate each of you for your interest in helping to preserve the history of this remarkable place and those brave men – blue and grey – who fought so valiantly for a cause they believed in. 

Elkins' Ferry...Bay of Pigs...and JFK



Sometimes when you have an opportunity to explore the biographies of those men who fought in 1864 Arkansas, you find some of the most interesting stories.

Such is the case with Confederate Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell.  'Old Tige,' as he was known, commanded a Brigade of Cavalry during the Battle of Elkins' Ferry, Arkansas on April 3rd and 4th, 1864.

A native of Virginia, Cabell was an 1850 graduate of West Point, serving in the regular Army until the outbreak of the Civil War when he joined the Confederacy, serving as Quartermaster of the CSA Army of the Potomac under General P.G.T. Beauregard.  In addition to serving with Beauregard's staff, Cabell also served with General Joe Johnston, before being transferred to the Army of the Trans-Mississippi in 1862.

Here, Cabell recruited and outfitted one of the largest cavalry brigades west of the Mississippi.  He led his brigade in over 20 engagements including the Battle of Elkins' Ferry, Poison Springs, and Marks' Mill.

After the war, Cabell moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas where he studied law, being admitted to the Arkansas Bar in 1868.

In 1872, Cabell moved to Dallas, TExas where in 1874, he was elected Mayor, serving four terms.  Afterward, he would be appointed US Marshall (1885-1889) and worked as Vice President of the Texas Railroad Company.

General Cabell died February 21, 1911 in Dallas, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery there.

However, this isn't the end of the Cabell family and its' mark on history.

Two of General Cabell's grandsons would make their own place in history...in a most unusual way.

Grandson Charles P. Cabell would become a four-star general and Deputy Director of the C.I.A.  He took an active roll in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1962, where he received harsh criticism for his involvement.  Afterward, he would oversee the Air Force's "Project Blue Book" investigation into UFO's. 

Grandson Earl Cabell would become Mayor of Dallas, Texas, serving at the time of the Kennedy Assassination in 1963.

(Here is where this story takes a bizarre turn...)

Following the Kennedy Assassination, one of the conspiracy theories has Dallas Mayor Earl Cabell using his influence to alter President Kennedy's Motorcade route, making sure it would pass directly in front of the Texas School Book Depository, where Kennedy would be murdered.  As part of the conspiracy theory, this was in revenge for Kennedy's harsh criticism of General Charles Cabell's role in the Bay of Pigs.

(You can't make this stuff up!)

Regardless of such stories, Confederate General William 'Old Tige' Cabell remains a solid fixture in the history of the Trans-Mississippi.

A Stormy Night at Jenkins' Ferry...


This is what the weather radar looked like at Jenkins’ Ferry overnight. That's a tornado "signature" just southeast of the Jenkins' Ferry battlefield. 

There were storms in the Saline River bottoms last night. It seems only fitting that as we approach commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Camden Expedition that heavy rain will begin plaguing the area.

Welcome to spring in Arkansas.

The eyewitnesses to the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry repeatedly wrote of how heavy the rains were during the time leading up to and during the battle. Captain Junius Wheeler, the Chief Engineer of the Union Army, wrote what was typical of the diaries of the period: “Rain commenced to fall about 12m (midnight on April 29th) and poured incessantly all day and night. I never saw it rain harder than it did during the night.”

We get so comfortable today with our 24-hour news/weather channels, smartphones and laptops. It’s difficult for severe weather to sneak up on us nowadays. Last night as the storm raged through the Saline River bottoms, I wondered what it would have been like for those soldiers camped out the night before the battle.

Dr. Charles Nicholson, a surgeon with the 29th Iowa Infantry, spent the night of April 29th camped on the battlefield with the other officers, unaware that they would be fighting for their lives on that very ground within the next few hours.

He had just struck his tent, when an order came to pack up and be prepared to leave within two hours. The rain was falling in torrents with the ground around Nicholson’s tent soaking in six inches of water standing throughout the bog. After pitching his tent near Groom’s field, Dr. Nicholson walked across the camp to Colonel Thomas Hart Benton Jr.’s tent where he enjoyed a leisurely cup of tea and discussed their impending arrival back at Little Rock with its comfortable beds and abundant food supply. He would later describe the time with Colonel Benton that “a feeling of hilarity seemed to prevail.

As many of you know, I grew up just north of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield. I can remember growing up as a child when deep heavy thunder would roll through the river bottoms near our house. My father had this uncanny ability to judge the severity of the storm by the heaviness of the thunder and based upon the tornadoes we dodged by going to the storm cellar (our version of the “safe room”), my father did a great good job at protecting us.

I’ve got no doubt there would have been both Severe Thunderstorm as well as Flash Flood Warnings would have been issued both before and during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry and quite possibly a Tornado Warning as well.

Not only would there not be any storm cellar to seek shelter in – there would be no time. One army was desperately trying to make their escape across the rapidly rising Saline River and the other army was doing all within their power to wipe out their foe. I would imagine when you’re dodging bullets and artillery shells; a “little rain” would not slow you down much. Unless of course that little rain creates a knee-deep bog you have to struggle through – all while being shot at.

It was a hell of a mess in those river bottoms 150 years ago. 

Duty...


Tsutomu Yamaguchi was a Japanese shipbuilder.  On August 6, 1945, his company had sent him to the city of Hiroshima on business.  If you know your history, you'll know by days end on August 6th, 140,000 people would be dead as a result of the Atomic Bomb dropped on the city by the United States.

Yamaguchi, though badly burned, survived.  After being treated for his wounds, he left Hiroshima and travelled to his hometown of Nagasaki to recover.

Nagasaki: You guessed it...A week after dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the United States followed up by dropping the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  70,000 people died in that attack; Tsutomu Yamaguchi lived.  Twice he had cheated death.

Union General Samuel Rice was not so lucky.

150 years ago this week, Rice cheated death.  Three weeks later at Jenkins' Ferry, he would not.

During the Battle of Elkins' Ferry, Arkansas on April 5, 1864, Rice commanded the Union's First Brigade, consisting of the 50th Indiana, 29th Iowa, 33rd Iowa and 9th Wisconsin.  At the height of the battle, the Confederates opened up with their artillery, lobbing shot and shell into the Federal line.

A Federal soldier would recall what happened next:

"In the fight at Elkins' Ford (April 5, 1864), while conversing with Col. (Francis) Drake, a grapeshot grazed the top of (Rice's) head, carrying away most of his cap, and inflicting a painful flesh wound.  He showed his conduct then, as he has on all other occasions, that battle was his element, and the dangers of the field his inspiration." 

Samuel Rice would leave Elkins' Ferry slightly dazed but still solidly in command of his First Brigade.  He believed in the cause for which he fought and for the men he commanded.

Three weeks later, Samuel Rice would find himself again in the midst of the battle, this time in the Saline River Bottoms at a place called Jenkins' Ferry.

Throughout the battle, Rice rode up and down the Union line keeping his troops focused and inspiring them with his courage.

Just as his men had repulsed an attack by Walker's Confederate Texas Division, a bullet once again found Samuel Rice.  A veteran later recalled the scene:

"Gen. Rice, who was at the time on the right (of the Federal line) put spurs to his horse and dashed down the line toward the scene of this last charge of the enemy.  As he passed by the 9th Wisconsin, a minie [sic] ball pierced his right foot, driving into his flesh a portion of his spur.  He reeled in his saddle, and growing dizzy from the shock of the wound, dismounted.  The ground where he lay was strewn with dead, and musket balls were whistling in all directions."

General Rice would die weeks later of his wound.

At Elkins' Ferry, the number of those killed and wounded would be less than 200.  At Jenkins' Ferry, that number would soar to almost 2,000.  Even if Rice had only been wounded at Jenkins' Ferry, I believe he would have carried on, his belief in the cause far outweighing any concerns for his safety.

"You can't command from the rear," Confederate General James Longstreet once said.  I believe Samuel Rice would agree with that.

TsutomuYamaguchi was in the wrong place at the wrong time, twice in 1945.

Samuel Rice would probably argue that he was exactly where he was supposed to be that day in 1864...doing his duty.

Battle of Elkins' Ferry....This Weekend....Under the Shade of the Trees


When I consider that I’ve looked forward to this month for almost forty years, it seems like it’s already becoming a very busy time – even just two days into April.

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas. This was the first of several clashes between the Union and Confederate armies as they pursued one another across southern Arkansas in the spring of 1864. Now that “Rebel Pulpit” has been completed, I’ve turned my attention to my third book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” an often overlooked battle. The battle, near present day Prescott, was an attempt by the Confederates under General John Marmaduke and General Jo Shelby to prevent the Union Army under General Frederick Steele from moving south to join up with the Union force under General Nathaniel Banks planning the invasion of Texas. The clash centered on the Elkins’ Ferry crossing over the Little Missouri River. Like several of the battlefields across Arkansas, there are few, if any, monuments to the men who fought at Elkins’ Ferry – the only visible thing being a boat ramp constructed by the Game and Fish folks. 

This Saturday, April 5th, marks the 150th anniversary of the battle. I plan to spend much of the day there – taking photographs and video, which I’ll share with you later. I’m also planning to take some time – find a quiet spot under a shade tree – and while sitting in the midst of history, write the introduction to “Hail & High Water.”

I’ve worked on and off on “Hail & High Water” for the last two years – producing a very rough draft which I’ll soon start the polishing process before I send the manuscript off to my editor for her to begin working her magic.

One day I’ll look back fondly on this third book, with part of it being written literally where history happened – under the shade of the trees - 150 years to the minute.

I'm enjoying this thing called writing. 

Join me at Jenkins' Ferry....


April 29, 2014 has been a night I’ve looked forward to for over thirty years.

Anniversaries are special. They offer us an opportunity to reflect on the past. Sometimes it’s a happy occasion, such as a wedding or birth of a child. Other times, the occasion is much more somber, such was the case in April of 1864 when two vast armies waged war across southern Arkansas.

I missed the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry by a few months (I was born three months later) and ever since I can remember I’ve thought about what it would be like to be on that battlefield on the 150th anniversary. I’ll be 99 years old on the 200th anniversary so I’m not so sure if I’ll be among those gathered there on that day in 2064, though I know without a doubt there will be many not yet born who will be among those commemorating the 200th anniversary of the battle.

So…the 150th is almost upon us.

I’ve planned a very special event that night inside the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park where I hope you’ll join me.

This will be an informal event and a family event. Throughout the evening we will gather around the fire and reminisce about the events of this night exactly 150 years ago. You and your family are cordially invited to come and share your stories of your ancestors, or bring your lawn chair and sit back and listen as historians who have studied the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry for decades gather around the fireplace and share insights about the men and the battle. We'll read from the letters and the diaries of the soldiers. You'll stand where they stood exactly 150 years ago to the moment. Ask questions or just take in the sounds of this amazing evening. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event. 

At exactly Sunset on April 29th (7:53 pm), we will lay a wreath at the Confederate Marker inside the park placed there in 1928 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This is the only marker dedicated to either army inside the park. We will use this moment to honor the memory of both armies, Union and Confederate. There will be a prayer and a moment of silence to honor those men who fought and died here. 

On display that night will be a large collection of relics recovered over the last fifty years in and around the Jenkins' Ferry Battlefield. From bayonets to bullets to artillery artifacts, you'll have a rare opportunity to see and hold actual relics from the battle.

We'll have some refreshments (hot dogs and sodas) on hand throughout the night. Absolutely NO alcoholic beverages will be permitted. There will also be (while they last) some pieces of hardtack for you to sample made the same as the ones the soldiers ate there that night 150 years ago.

There should be adequate parking inside the park. We'll be gathered around the Pavilion area with the relic displays and refreshments under the pavilion and our fire next to it. Be sure and bring your lawn chairs. We'll have lights on in the pavilion area (via a generator) so you can navigate around.

What if it rains? Of course rain played a significant role in the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry with the entire river bottom flooded during the time of the battle. So what happens if Mother Nature decides to repeat itself exactly 150 years later? Should the park be flooded or there is a danger of flooding, the Grant County Museum in Sheridan has offered their facilities for us that night. The museum, one of the finest in Arkansas, has an entire room dedicated to the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry with the largest public collection of relics from the battle on display. It is well worth the drive to Sheridan to see the museum. A special thank you for their kind offer to serve as a back up to our 150th anniversary event. 

We’ll take a great many photographs that night to commemorate our being where history was made exactly 150 years ago. Perhaps those who will stand where we will stand at the 200th anniversary will take a moment and reflect upon those of you who blazed the trail in keeping the memory of those brave men, blue and grey, from fading away into the folds of history.

Join me on April 29th – it will be a memory you’ll cherish for a lifetime. 

Back From Texas...


Wow, what a month! I’ve been remiss in keeping you all up to date on some awesome things happening here.

First off, I just returned from an amazing trip to Texas where my book editor, Melissa Hadley, and I celebrated the completion of my second book, “Rebel Pulpit: The Civil War Prison Diary of Lt. James Vance Walker – Company G, Third Tennessee Confederate Infantry (Vaughn’s).” It is always bittersweet completing a book – on one hand you are so eager to share the completed work with others while on the other you’ve grown so accustomed to sharing each day with the book and its characters. It leaves a bit of a hollow feeling the first time the day dawns and you’re not working on it.

We began our Texas trip in Palestine where I had the honor of speaking before the John H. Reagan Sons of Confederate Veterans group in Palestine. Earlier in the day, I was invited to speak to over a hundred middle school students at Westwood Junior High School in Palestine about the Civil War. The students were a delight and their teacher, Randall Morris, a true southern gentleman. The Reagan camp welcomed Melissa and I to their meeting where we enjoyed true southern fellowship and hospitality. I spoke to the group about Walker’s Texas Division and their role in the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Afterward, I had a slight mishap in the parking lot where I fell, landing on my new knee. After a trip to the Palestine Hospital, I left Palestine a bit bruised but certainly joyous at the reception we received.

From Palestine, we traveled to Austin where I located the grave of General William Scurry, the Texas Brigade Commander who was killed at Jenkins’ Ferry. After reading about General Scurry for almost forty years, it was a moving experience to stand before his grave. I filmed a short YouTube video of my visit to his gravesite, which I’ve posted to my YouTube wall.

Next, it was on to San Antonio for some sightseeing. The Alamo has always been on my bucket list of things to visit and I had the opportunity to do so on this trip. My interest has always been Civil War related but I have always admired those brave men and what they stood for. Also, I have a distant relative, John J. Baugh, who was one of Alamo defenders. Seeing his name listed among those men meant a lot to me.

Finally, it was off to Fort Worth where I was welcomed at the Texas Civil War Museum. This was one of the most incredible museums I’ve had the pleasure to visit. Relics ranging from the foot soldier to Robert E. Lee are on display. Included in the collection is the actual uniform coat worn by Ulysses Grant at Appomattox. I’ve found a good friend in my host at the museum, John Bell, who has honored me by placing copies of Harvest of Death in their museum gift shop.

From the Civil War to the Alamo, it was an amazing trip. Melissa and I even had the opportunity to visit a pre-historic Mammoth dig site (I was an Anthropology Major in college so dig sites are right up my alley).

I’ve made plans already to return to Texas soon and on May 1st I’ll be speaking before the Alamo Guards camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in San Antonio. We’ll talk once again about Walker’s Texas Division and their fight in the Saline River bottoms.

The next few weeks will be hectic – fun, but hectic. I’ve got several appearances scheduled in connection to the 150th anniversary of the Camden Expedition. Be sure and check out my website www.1864arkansas.com for the upcoming events. Of course, the highlight for me will be the evening we will be spending inside Jenkins’ Ferry State Park on April 29th – the actual 150th anniversary of the battle. Join me that night and stand where history was made.

In July it’s on to Delaware and Iowa in September.

2014 is going to be an amazing year for honoring those soldiers who fought in 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

I’ll give you a peak into 2015: my travels will take me to Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and other places as I continue to help tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Stay tuned…. it’s about to get good. 

Camden Expedition - 150 Years Ago - Day 2


March 24, 1864...

By the second day, word spread through the ranks of the Federal Army that the chief quartermaster, Captain Charles Henry, was cutting all rations (except coffee) in half, a foreboding of things to come. A foot soldiers half rations consists of two pieces of hardtack, a small piece of salt pork, a meager offering of salt and some coffee. Despite the reduced rations, the march continued at a good pace- reaching the banks of the Saline River near Benton on the night of March 24th.

Steele’s army bivouked on the North Bank of the Saline River. Shortly after making camp it began to rain; torrential downpours causing the Saline River bottoms to flood. This same river would almost destroy Steele’s army a month later. As the federals began to cross the rising Saline, the road became saturated with mud, so much that the Federal Pioneer Corps set out to corduroy the road, enabling the hundreds of wagons to pass through the bottoms. The march was slow going with the army covering only a few miles before the rain soaked army made camp only a few miles south of Benton; it was hardly a good days march.

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Recent Posts

  1. A Bed Full of Generals...
    Thursday, April 17, 2014
  2. A Message From Joe Walker...
    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
  3. New Second Edition Available...
    Monday, April 14, 2014
  4. Elkins' Ferry...Bay of Pigs...and JFK
    Monday, April 07, 2014
  5. A Stormy Night at Jenkins' Ferry...
    Friday, April 04, 2014
  6. Duty...
    Thursday, April 03, 2014
  7. Battle of Elkins' Ferry....This Weekend....Under the Shade of the Trees
    Wednesday, April 02, 2014
  8. Join me at Jenkins' Ferry....
    Saturday, March 29, 2014
  9. Back From Texas...
    Friday, March 28, 2014
  10. Camden Expedition - 150 Years Ago - Day 2
    Monday, March 24, 2014

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