When I think of Prattsville, I think of catfish. If you live in the south, then you know catfish is its own food group. The “Whippet” restaurant has been around for as long as I can remember. My parents would make the trip down to Prattsville every few weeks for some of the best catfish I’ve ever tasted. But I wonder if any of those who are feasting on the catfish today realize that a Civil War battle occurred just a short distance away (and I’m not talking about Jenkins’ Ferry).
If you live in Grant County, then you know of the battles that raged around you in the spring of 1864. Of course you know of Jenkins’ Ferry and we’ve talked several times here on the blog of Guesses’ Creek – the skirmish that occurred south of Jenkins’ Ferry on the afternoon of April 29, 1864.
But what of the battle that occurred after Jenkins’ Ferry?
It’s been referred to as “Whitmore’s Mill” or “Whitten’s Mill.” The area where the fight occurred is near the present town of Prattsville, alongside a wooded area south of Highway 270. David Whitten had operated a steam-powered gristmill for several years on the site.
Confederate Colonel Benjamin Elliott, commanding the First Missouri Cavalry Battalion, had been ordered on April 28th to scout the area around Princeton to determine if General Frederick Steele had departed Camden. Once he determined Steele’s entire Corps were on the march, Elliott turned his horses northward, arriving at Pratt’s Ferry at 4:00 pm on April 29th. One of Elliotts’ objectives was to find General James Fagan, who had spent time around Pratt’s Ferry before moving westward toward Arkadelphia.
“No person at the ferry could give me any information as to where General Fagan was. My men and horses were tired down, having been on a continued march for thirty-six hours without sleep or anything to eat. No forage or subsistence could be had at the river, and my only chance was to cross, which I did, finding plenty of forage and subsistence.”
On the morning of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Elliott was north of the Saline River bottoms, just east of Prattsville when a large cavalry force (described by Elliott as 2,000 Federals), part of General Eugene Carr’s Cavalry Division, had converged on Whitmore’s Mill. Elliott’s camp was located a few miles west of the Mill along the Saline River at Pratt’s Ferry.
According to Elliott, the Federals dispatched 150 horseman westward toward Pratt’s Ferry and drove into the Confederate pickets. He orders two of his companies forward into action, who pushed back the Federals.
Now here is where it gets a bit confusing. Elliott wrote in his after-action report of the skirmish:
“Thinking General Fagan’s whole cavalry force was after them, they commenced setting fire to their train and burned 200 wagons in one place, destroying a great amount of camp and garrison equipage. Ordnance and ordnance stores were strewn for miles on the road, a great deal of which might be easily taken care of. Hundreds of blankets, oil-cloths, and overcoats were piled and burned.”
There’s been some confusion amongst historians over the 200 wagons that were burned. I’m of the opinion that the 200 wagons Elliott is referring to are the same as those on “the burning ground,” the area north of Jenkins’ Ferry where the Federals destroyed the hundreds of wagons during their escape back to Little Rock.
Relic hunters have known the exact location of Whitten’s Mill for years (I’ve visited the site several times). Several years ago, the curator of the Grant County Museum, Elwin Goolsby, lead a group to the mill site where they excavated several pieces of the mill, many of which are on display today at the museum in Sheridan. Based upon the condition of the items recovered, it seems to confirm that the Federals destroyed the mill prior to moving northward.
The relic hunters who have descended upon the site have reported not finding much in the war of battle related artifacts. I believe the reason is because the fight was not actually at Whitten’s Mill but rather in an area between the mill site and the Saline River where Elliott’s forces were camped. He described the distance between the two areas as four miles. Over the years, the area around Prattsville has developed since 1864 though it still remains somewhat rural, continuing to embrace the charm of small town America.
It would be an interesting project to query the older citizens of Prattsville to determine if they recall any relics churned up on the area farms in the years following the battle. My interest would not be for the recovery of any relics but rather to be able to plot a more exact location where the skirmish occurred.
Any casualties that occurred at Whitten’s Mill were not reported by either side so there are significant gaps in the historical record. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the area should be designated a separate skirmish from Jenkins’ Ferry and Guesses’ Creek.
Catfish dinners and Civil War battlefields – two great reasons to make the drive to Grant County.
Colonel Benjamin Elliott
First Missouri Confederate Cavalry Battalion