Attention Leola & Sheridan Blog Readers…

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I am hoping that one of the blog readers from the Leola and Sheridan area might have the answer to this question.

Look carefully at the image in today’s blog. This is a 1966 topographic map of the area south of Leola along Grant County Road #1 where the Cannon Ball House and Giles House were located. I have marked both on the map. Both structures burned in the early 1970’s. At the time the map was created (1966), both structures were still standing.

Now….the question I have is what is the structure that was located across the road from the Giles House? It clearly indicates there was a structure there. Was it a barn, an outbuilding or another house?

If you do happen to know the answer, please leave a note in the comment field below.

I’ll share the answer when I know it.

Thanks in advance.

Elvis and the General….

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Stay with me on this…

There is a spot in North Little Rock where the paths of two men crossed – except for the ninety-five years that separated their arrival.  

Two men – from completely different paths in life – converged on an area within 1 1/2 miles of one another.

The photograph of the left was taken on the evening of March 24, 1958 inside Roy Fisher’s Steak House at 1919 East Broadway in North Little Rock, Arkansas. A young Elvis Presley had left Memphis about 5:00 pm on a Greyhound Bus destined for Fort Chaffee, Arkansas where he and the other recruits from the Kennedy Hospital Induction Center in Memphis were to be inducted into the army.

Prior to the construction of Interstate I-40, Highway 70 was the stretch of road that connected Little Rock and Memphis.

It would be around 11:30 pm when Elvis arrived at Fort Chaffee.

Fisher’s Steak House was a central Arkansas dining institution for over half a century before closing it’s doors in 2005. The building is still there, the same one Elvis dined in, now being used an appliance store.

Now….travel one and a half miles east of Fisher’s to the interaction of Highway 70 & 165. Just south of that intersection was the G0dfrey Lefever Plantation – a working plantation during the Civil War. It was here that the gentleman on the right side of the photograph arrived on the morning of September 6, 1863. John Marmaduke was there to kill a man – a fellow Confederate General who had dared questioned his courage.

Marmaduke and Lucius Walker (a nephew of President James K. Polk) had feuded for much of the war. The climax came during the battle for Little Rock. As the Federal Seventh Corps approached Little Rock (the same Seventh Corps that was at Jenkins’ Ferry), the Confederates established several lines of defense before ultimately abandoning the city and moving southwest, establishing the capitol at the city of Washington.

Walker insinuated Marmaduke was less than courageous during the campaign. Marmaduke in turn challenged Walker to a duel to settle their differences. Dueling had been outlawed in Arkansas since 1820 but that didn’t stop them from going through with it. The commanding Confederate General, Sterling Price, tried to put a stop to it by ordering both men to remain in their camps but both ignored the command.

With staff officers for both men in attendance, the two generals turned and took fifteen paces at which point they fired their naval colt revolvers  – and both missed. On the second shot, Marmaduke hit his mark – striking Walker in the side, fatally wounding him. To his credit, Marmaduke did offer Walker the use of his ambulance to die in.

Walker would linger until 5 pm the following day. During the time he lay dying, his wife had arrived from their home in eastern Arkansas and (are you ready for this?) gave birth to their son, Lucius Walker Jr., as her husband lay dying (you can’t make this stuff up). General Walker rests today, at Elmwood Cemetery – just five miles away from Graceland – where Elvis Presley is buried.

Marmaduke you’ll recall commanded a Division of Cavalry at the Battles of Elkins’ Ferry and Jenkins’ Ferry. He would later go on after the war to serve as Governor of Missouri, dying in office of pneumonia in 1887.

Elvis of course – well, you know what became of him.

I mentioned a few days ago that now that I have completed “Hail & High Water,” I’m taking a bit of a break from the Civil War and working on a totally unrelated reference book. “Elvis in Arkansas” will detail the time that Presley spent in Arkansas during the 1950’s and 1970’s. From performances at high school auditoriums in the 1950’s to sell out performances in Little Rock and Pine Bluff in the 1970’s, each performance is documented with photographs of what the venues looked like at the time Elvis performed to what how they appear today (some are just foundations, the buildings long since gone). He performed in over forty concerts in twenty-one cities mostly in 1955-56. In addition to the performances, the book will also chronicle his other visits (including his stop over at Roy Fisher’s Steak House) to the state.

I had visited the site of the Marmaduke-Walker duel previously but did not know until recently the connection Elvis had to the same area.

It’s going to be a good book.

 

Killing Generals…

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“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

That was one of the final utterances of Union General John Sedgwick – killed by a Confederate sniper’s bullet during the Virginia Overland Campaign of 1864.

As commander of the Union Sixth Corps (it was the Seventh Corps that fought at Jenkins’ Ferry), Sedgwick was placing his Division during action at Spotsylvania Courthouse when, on May 9, 1864, a bullet from a Whitworth rifle struck him in the face just below the left eye killing him instantly.

It wasn’t just in the Eastern Theater that we saw Generals fall, at Jenkins’ Ferry; five Generals went down that day.

We’ve talked about four of them previously in the blog:

Union General Samuel Rice – Mortally Wounded

Confederate General Horace Randal – Mortally Wounded

Confederate General William Scurry – Mortally Wounded

Confederate General Thomas Waul – Seriously Wounded

The fifth was Confederate General John B. Clark who was seriously wounded leading his men across Grooms’ Field toward the Federal line on the morning of April 30, 1864.

At Jenkins’ Ferry, Clark commanded the 1st Brigade of General Mosby Parson’s Missouri Division.

But it wasn’t so much what he did at Jenkins’ Ferry that John Clark is remembered for, but for his post-war service.

Nine years after General Clark was seriously wounded and lying in the mud at Jenkins’ Ferry, Congressman Clark would take his seat in the United States House of Representatives. He would serve in the House for sixteen years, both as a Congressman from Missouri (1873-1883) and as the Clerk of the House of Representatives (1883-1889).

Perhaps what is most remarkable about his post-war congressional career was, that during the time he was in Congress, he served alongside a man who, at Jenkins’ Ferry, had tried to kill him.

John Lacey was a Lieutenant fighting with the 33rd Iowa Union Infantry that day at Jenkins’ Ferry. Following the Camden Expedition, he would be promoted to the staff of General Frederick Steele, serving as Assistant Adjutant General, a position he would hold until the end of the war.

In 1889, Lacey was elected to Congress, representing Iowa’s Sixth District in the House of Representatives.

Clark and Lacey would have had to interact during that time in the House. Can you imagine the stories they would have shared?

Here were two men, who just a few years before had found themselves in a muddy swamp in pouring rain trying with all their might to kill one another. And now they found themselves appropriately dressed in suit and tie, sitting alongside one another in our nation’s capitol.

That is what is unique about the Civil War. These were not some unseen and unknown foreign enemy. These were men you might have known before the war and in some cases, your own kin.

It was a terrible moment in our nation’s history.

Abraham Lincoln…The New York Times…and Elkins’ Ferry

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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.

Elkins’ Ferry…Jenkins’ Ferry….and Robert E. Lee’s Daughters

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Union General Frederick Steele issued a commendation to Junius Wheeler following the armies return back to Little Rock following the failed 1864 Camden Expedition. Steele’s accolades toward his Chief Engineer were merited. After all, it was Wheeler’s Pontoon Bridge that allowed the Federal army to make their escape across the swollen Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry.

This same bridge was used early on in the campaign during their march south – at Rockport across the Ouachita River and especially at Elkins’ Ferry across the Little Missouri River. Wheeler helped insure the armies movement and, when it mattered the most, orchestrated their escape from a Confederate army that came with a hare’s breath of capturing the entire Seventh Corps in those muddy Saline River bottoms.

Junius Wheeler is one of the unsung heroes of the Camden Expedition. Just as Colonel Colton Greene stood out among the Confederates for his ferocity during the battles of Elkins’ Ferry, Poison Spring and Jenkins’ Ferry, Wheeler too played a pivotal role.

But it was Wheeler’s West Point connection that is so interesting.

An 1855 graduate of West Point, Wheeler attended  the Academy during a time when Robert E. Lee served as Superintendent of West Point.

Lee served as Superintendent from 1852-1855. One of the enduring stories that emerged during Lee’s time over West Point was not his managerial skills, but rather the Lee girls and the young men who courted them.

Stories have been past down of terrified young cadets calling upon one of Robert E. Lee’s daughters, facing the man himself in the parlor while awaiting the arrival of  Mary, Anne, Agnes and Mildred.

It seems that a young Junius Wheeler was among cadets who captured the attention of the Lee daughters.

In her book, “The Lee Girls,” author Mary Coulling, talks about their impression of a the young Cadet, Junius Wheeler:

“Annie and Agnes were much happier this fall, though they admitted to being “only a little glad to get back,” Well past this fear of cadets, they now found themselves prepared to comment on the vagaries of their male acquaintances and even to poke a little gentle fun. The students they most often talked about in letters were classmates of their cousin Fitz – Junius B. Wheeler, “about the greatest lady’s man” at the Valentine’s Day party…”

Being described as “about the greatest lady’s man” at the Valentine’s Day party is quite a compliment.

It’s hard to imagine less that ten years after that Valentine Day’s party – Wheeler would be slogging his way through the swamps and bayous of Southern Arkansas – a twenty-six year old serving as Chief Engineer for an entire Federal Corps.

The Civil war split the Wheeler family apart. A native of North Carolina, Wheeler clung to the Federal Army, writing in a letter to a cousin that “I am a Union man,” though he regretted the election of Abraham Lincoln as President. His half-brother, Samuel Wheeler, would serve as a Major in the Confederate army.

Following the Civil War, Wheeler would return to his alma mater, serving as a professor of Civil and Military Engineering at West Point. While at West Point, he published several text books. Among these were:

An Elementary Course of Civil Engineering (1874),

Elements of Field Fortifications (1880),

A Course of Instruction in the Elements of the Art and Science of War (1878), and

A Textbook of  Military Engineering (1884)         

He would retire from West Point in 1884 and die two years later, buried in his native North Carolina.

He is by far one of the most remarkable characters of the 1864 Camden Expedition and his efforts are so often overlooked. I have endeavored in my books to bring the contributions of those men – Union and Confederate – to the forefront where they deserve.

 

Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas

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The first book ever published focusing exclusively on the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas is now available.

For years, this first battle of the 1864 Camden Expedition has received only a cursory glance from writers and historians. Often overshadowed by the larger battles of the spring campaign, it none the less played a pivotal role and foreshadowed the disaster that was soon to overtake the Federal Army.

From the back cover of Hail & High Water:

April 1864 was the deadliest month in Arkansas history. It was a month when two vast armies snaked their way across the pine forests and swamps of Southern Arkansas, killing one another in wholesale slaughter. It was a month when farms were raided, those same two armies desperately searching for any scrap of food to keep them from starving. It was a month when scores of slaves shed their chains of bondage, deserting the plantation to follow the blue army, who had marched thousands of miles to emancipate them. Standing in their way was the Confederate army. In a series of epic battles across Southern Arkansas known as the Camden Expedition, these two armies would leave a trail of death and destruction that took generations to heal. The first clash between the blue and gray armies occurred at a small river crossing known as Elkins’ Ferry. In the first book devoted entirely to the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, author Joe Walker gives a detailed account of this often overlooked Arkansas Civil War battle. In was the beginning of the deadliest month in Arkansas history.

I am particularly excited that the book is becoming available at a time when a grassroots efforts is underway to help secure the land where the battle was fought.

Included in the book are dozens of photographs – of the commanders who fought there and how the area looks today. In addition, there are maps such as the one below that help tell the story of the battle that raged around the Little Missouri River.

And at a cost of only $10, it is certainly avoidable and will make an excellent addition to your Camden Expedition library.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY OF “HAIL & HIGH WATER” THROUGH AMAZON.COM

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The Front Porch…

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I’m glad you stopped by today.

Writing this blog is to me a lot like sitting on the front porch on a warm summer afternoon and company stopping by. After the customary hello and how is the family greetings, you invite them up to have a seat on the porch and partake in the iced tea you’re pouring liberally. Then it’s just two old friends catching up on things.

I think that is how a blog should be; where the reader feels like they’ve either stumbled onto the private journal of the blog writer or else they are standing silently inside the front door, listening to the conversation occurring on the front porch.

There is usually no prep work, I like to write about whatever is on my mind for the day. Of course, there are the stories of 1864 Civil War Arkansas – the men and the battles. After all, that’s what brought most of you here in the first place.

I’ll be honest, there are some days I’d rather talk about how I spent the day fishing with my five year old son than examining a dusty battlefield era map. And in a sense, I’ve deprived myself of the simple pleasures of writing a blog – where I have concerned myself more about deviating from the historical nature of the blog for fear of alienating one of the readers who enjoy spending part of their day here.

But mostly what I’ve wanted to do with this blog is to bring you along on a journey with me – to experience how a book is transformed from a simple idea to a published work. There is so much that lies in the middle between the idea and the finished product. There is the research as well as traveling to distant places and meeting people who have a story to tell. There are absolutely wonderful days – where a long lost soldier’s diary is found in the basement of some dusty archives or a photograph of a soldier thought to be lost is discovered. And of course there are the stories. Everyone who had an ancestor who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry or one of the other battles of the 1864 Camden Expedition has a story they enjoy sharing. It is those stories that fascinate me. It is those stories that keep me pushing forward. Then once the research is done, the writing begins.

I was amused (and not in a good way) when a reviewer of my book, “Harvest of Death,” described it as “not a scholarly work” but nonetheless a good history of the battle. Well, considering I make my living as a 911 Dispatcher and not as a historian, educator nor professional writer, I thought the book turned out pretty darn well. It told a story that needed to be told. Is it rough around the edges? Yes. Does it completely tell the story of the battle and the participants? I believe it does. To be honest with you, one of the reasons I write the books I do is because I don’t see the scholars out there doing it. That’s not to take away from them but it seems that so many focus their efforts on the larger campaigns (just how many books need to be written about Gettysburg?) and not the smaller skirmishes and battles.

Take for example, the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry. My book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas” will be the first published work focused on that battle. The first. After 150 years, no one had stepped up to write about one of the key battles in the 1864 Camden Expedition. Why? I’m not sure on that. It certainly wasn’t a large scale battle but it was a battle none the less – a battle where men died and it played into the overall outcome of the Camden Expedition. Is “Hail & High Water” a “scholarly work?” No. But after reading it, you’ll know that battle like the back of your hand as well as many of the participants.

My style in writing, my book editor once told me, is like sitting on a porch having a conversation with someone. Describing the battle while gesturing with my arms and making serious eye contact when a key element of the battle is talked about. And I’m ok with that. We’ve sold over 2,000 copies of “Harvest of Death” and what I hear most at the book signings and events is how easy it was to follow the action of the battle – how the reader could almost hear the sounds of battle and smell the powder of the guns. But by far the greatest compliment is when I hear that they know now what their ancestor faced that day in that muddy river bottom and how proud that soldier would be knowing their story hasn’t been lost to the passage of time.

After Elkins’ Ferry will come Poison Spring and finally Marks’ Mills. Once those are written, then I plan to compile all of the battles into one large volume entitled “The Camden Expedition” – simple title but definitely tells you what the book is about.

For now though, after “Hail & High Water” is published, I’m taking a bit of a break from Civil War Arkansas to recharge my batteries.

When I pondered ideas for a “non-Civil War related book,” I wanted something Arkansas based that would tell a story of some lost facet of our state’s history. And something fun. Dealing with battlefields and death and destruction for so long will take a bit of a toll on you. I chose an era that was dear to my mother. “Elvis in Arkansas,” traces the path a young Elvis Presley took through Arkansas at the onset of his career through over forty performances in twenty-one cities in Arkansas. From high school auditoriums to honky tonks, he was everywhere it seemed. This was not the “Las Vegas jumpsuit” Elvis, but rather a young man on a path that would take him to heights unparalleled in music history. I’ll show you the places where he performed – as they looked then and as they look today as well as the newspaper advertisements of this young “Hillbilly Cat” from Memphis. It is a fascinating story.

Not to worry though, I’ve worked through the initial draft of the Battle of Poison Spring so it will come – but let’s let Elvis have his due first.

I’m glad you stopped by today.

There’s a rocking chair with your name on it on this front porch so stop by often – the tea is sweat and the conversation as relaxing as a slow summer evening (minus the mosquitoes).

How to Save a Yankee Army…

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I’ve always been fascinated with maps. For several years (until my knees and my schedule sidelined me) I was an avid hiker, spending countless hours hiking through the Ouachita National Forest. One of the concerns I have about “the younger generation” is that, with smartphones with their GPS mapping technology, not to mention the phones where you can ask your “virtual assistant” directions, they would no more no how to navigate a folded map as they would operate a rotary dial telephone.

Maps played an important role during the Civil War. As armies snaked their way through unfamiliar territory, they relied on maps and local farmers to help guide the way.

Such was the case in 1864 Civil War Arkansas. The image in today’s blog is from an 1864 map of the areas around Camden, Arkansas, where the Federal Army was hunkered down for several days in April of 1864.

The situation was desperate. General Frederick Steele’s Seventh Corps was starving. Attempts at sending our forage parties had met with disaster at places such as Marks’ Mills and Poison Spring.

Following the debacle at Marks’ Mills, General Steele met with his generals about the situation and to explore options if their army was to survive.

His commanders were divided over the best course of action. Generals Frederick Salomon and John Thayer both made their argument for a full withdrawal to the Arkansas River where supplies could be found, thus placing the Federal Army in a better defensive position.

General Samuel Rice was in favor of moving the army eastward to Hampton, but not before destroying every means of crossing the Ouachita River at Camden, slowing the Confederates’ advance.

Steele’s Cavalry commander Eugene Carr was sure of one thing: Confederate General Kirby Smith, rumored to be moving north from Louisiana, was a real threat, and if the Union Army was to survive, they must leave Camden.

After polling his generals, Steele made the decision to return to Little Rock, choosing the route through Princeton rather than risking his army on the bad roads that ran through the Moro Swamp.

Now, referring back to the map – it seemed as though there was a multitude of escape routes available to Steele’s army.

I think it’s easier to understand the course of action his generals suggested to him after studying the various roads that spidered out of Camden. Each appeared to have their own merit. Steele must have known that by choosing the Princeton route, he would have to make the crossing at Jenkins’ Ferry, they’d be no way around it. He had already deployed his pontoon bridge twice during the march – once at Rockport across the Ouachita River and again at Elkins’ Ferry spanning the Little Missouri River.

Me? I would probably have made the same case as Salomon and Thayer that moving eastward toward Pine Bluff would be the most efficient route. There was of course the Federal supply depot at Pine Bluff and the Arkansas river would provided greater maneuverability. However, Steele recalled that the march toward Pine Bluff would have to cross the Moro Bottoms, which he had grave concerns if his army could even make it out of there.

One other cool thing about today’s map. On the upper right portion of the map, you’ll see the small town of “Bucksnort.” This was an area frequented by Confederate General John Marmaduke to the spring campaign. And it’s also the birthplace of my mother. Growing up, whenever she would share stories from her childhood, we always thought she was making up the city where she was born. Finally, when I was in my 20’s, my mother and I went on a road trip to see the areas where she grew up and sure enough we made our way through the metropolis of Bucksnort (which consists of maybe a half dozen houses).

You can click on the link below to see the full sized map of Camden. The map is part of the Gilmer Collection at the University of North Carolina Archives (the same collection that houses the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield map).

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE GILMER MAP OF THE APPROACHES TO CAMDEN

 

Saving The Palace Theater in Benton…

Palace

On Saturday mornings, my mother worked the day shift as a cashier at one of the local grocery stores in Benton. A couple of Saturday’s a month, I would ride into work with her and she would drop me off at the Sterling Store on Market Street (I can’t imagine dropping my teenage daughter off anywhere these days). I’d go into the Sterling Store (those of you who live in Benton should remember the store) and buy a bag of hot peanuts. They had the absolute coolest contraption that was a “nut display” which heated these bins of different type of nuts. Then I’d walk the two blocks down to the Saline County library where I’d spend the day – usually lost in time looking through roll after roll of old Benton Courier newspapers on microfilm after which my Mom would pick me up after work.

It was an awesome time growing up.

Spending Saturday’s at the Saline County library has a big place in my heart.

Then I see a local news program about efforts to save the “Palace Theater.” Now, I thought they were referring to the old “Royal Theater” where we spent countless hours at the movies. The Royal Theater as I understand it now is now home to a live theater group.

But where was this “Palace Theater” this group seeks to save from the wrecking ball?

It turns out I’d been in the Palace theater a thousand times and never knew it.

The Saline County library of the 1970’s and the Palace theater of the 1920’s are one and the same.

When I was visiting the library, there was a white aluminum type siding that covered the front of the building. A few years ago, the city of Benton (who owns the building) removed the siding and instantly transformed it back to theater status.

Now I read that the city wants to demolish the building.

I’m sure there are reasons – usually financial – and historic preservation has never been the guiding force to prevent a structure from begin torn down.

Happily, I saw where a group has been formed to preserve the Palace Theater. Below is a link to their Facebook page.

SAVE THE PALACE THEATER – FACEBOOK PAGE

I don’t know anything about the group but I certainly support their efforts. There are too many parking lots where historic structures once stood.

No….preserving the theater has nothing to do with the Civil War – but it’s about preserving history for future generations – and that’s a pretty commendable endeavor.

Amen.

 

 

Fossils & Minié Balls…in Grant County

IMG_3483

One my friends who has been relic hunting around the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield for over thirty years sent me the photograph in today’s blog. It is of a minie ball that he recovered north of the battlefield along the Federal retreat route. During their escape back to Little Rock, the Federals continued dumping large amounts of ordinance and supplies, all in an attempt to quicken their pace.

What stands out is the bullet is still encased in the ground where it was dropped. You’ll notice it’s not the muddy grey clay that covers the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield.

Of course we’ve talked about the muddy Saline River bottoms. During the battle, soldiers recalled marching through mud ankle to knee deep (and deeper in some places). If you walk the area today, you’ll experience the same thick grey clay the soldiers of both armies marched through.

However, marching northward out of the Saline River bottoms, the terrain turned from one clay to another – the high ground covered in a thick red clay that stuck to everything.  Having walked portions of the retreat route as well as the battlefield, I can say that one type of clay is just as hard to walk through as the other.

But notice the other image in the photograph – something millions of years distant from any Civil War battle.

One of the things I learned from my father was that, in addition to the Civil War, Grant County has a rich history everything from fossils to Indian mounds. Many of you who grew up in the area can remember finding Indian Arrowheads along the rivers and streams that wind through the county.

Fossils? In Grant County?

Arkansas as well as much of the southern United States was once covered in a deep ocean millions of years ago. As the oceans receded, the remains of the plant and animal life that thrived stayed behind, eventually changing into fossilized remains.

Fossil remains have been found at various places in and around Grant County, including the city of Sheridan.

One site identifies two areas around Sheridan where fossilized remains have been found:

“4 miles south of the town in road cuts”

“1/2 miles west of the town square in road cuts on Highway 270.”

Skeptical? I have to admit I was as well. But then again I was told of one such site nearby in the city of Arkadelphia where I traveled one fall day and found a creek with tens of thousands of fossils – from shell molds to coral to shark teeth (yes, shark teeth). The creek cut through an enormous fossil field. If you’re interested in visiting that site, send me an email me and I’ll give you directions to it – you can park within a few feet of where the fossil cut is.

And talk about something that would fascinate the kids! They’d never look at a video game the same again.

Take some time and explore the amazing history of Grant County.