Posted By 1864arkansas on July 30, 2014
This will be a three-part blog that addresses the issue of the names of the field on the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield.
There is a scene in the third Indiana Jones movie where Indiana Jones is pursuing the Holy Grail and is being pursued by a group of men who are the “guardians of the grail.” After a dramatic chase in powerboats through a harbor, Indiana Jones confronts one of the grail protectors. At the end of the conversation, the grail protector asked Indiana Jones:
“Tell me Doctor Jones, do you seek the cup of Christ for His glory, or yours?”
When I think of the controversy that has developed recently over the names of the fields at Jenkins’ Ferry, the quote above always comes to mind to me. No matter how I answer the question today, there will still be controversy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Discussions such as this are healthy and of course keep the dialog going which keeps the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry from being forgotten.
Now for those not familiar with the issue, there have been two major works written that were focused on the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry; Ed Bearss’s 1961 book, “Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry,” and my 2011 book, “Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.” Both books focus on the battle and tactics and troop movements occurring during the battle.
There were fields in the Saline River bottoms; of this there is no doubt. Only one field is named in the “Official Records,” the 128 volume set of books published by the US Government at the end of the 19th century that contains practically every dispatch, battlefield report, or telegram sent/received by both armies during the Civil War. It is a massive collection. In the section that covers the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, only one report, written by Confederate General Sterling Price, mentions any of the fields actually by name, and he lists the second field, the scene of most of the fighting, as “Coopers” field.
This was the basis of the field names selected by Ed Bearss in his 1961 book. As to the other names that Bearss used (Jiles and Kelly’s), these were derived during a visit to the area by Bearss when, accompanied by the late Pierce Reeder, they traveled down upon the battlefield and, after talking to the old timers who lived in the area, came up with those field names. This was the standard for almost fifty years and was used by other authors who touched upon the battle during their studies of the Red River Campaign.
I have studied the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry for over thirty years and have walked that battlefield hundreds of times in my lifetime. Before that, my father, who was also a student of the battle, provided information that was passed down through various families that lived in the area. So when I approached the idea of writing a book about the battle, it was not intended to replace Ed Bearss’ book but rather to supplement the book with new information that has surfaced in the fifty years since Bearss wrote his book.
One of those new pieces of the Jenkins’ Ferry puzzle was a small map housed in the Gilmer Collection at the University of North Carolina.
The Gilmer collection consists of one hundred and sixty one Civil War era maps of various military sites throughout the South. The map of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield is a 10 5/8” X 12 1/8” map, drawn on discolored paper, sketched under the direction of Confederate Captain R.M. Venable.
Here is an interactive link to the Gilmer map of the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield:
Tomorrow’s Blog: The decision to use the Gilmer Map when writing Harvest of Death.