Killed at Jenkins’ Ferry (sort of)…

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Benjamin Cruzen was killed on the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30, 1864. And judging from his photograph on the left, young Private Curzen, of the 33rd Iowa Union Infantry  was far too young to die.

The 33rd Iowa was in the thick of the fight that day at Jenkins’ Ferry with high casualty figures, including young Private Cruzen, who was listed as “Killed in Action” on the after-action reports.

The problem was….he wasn’t dead.

He was….misplaced….for lack of a better word.

Though originally listed as killed in action, he appeared weeks later on the prison rolls at Camp Ford, a Confederate Prisoner of War camp located near Tyler, Texas. There he would remain until the close of the war, and finally mustered out May 22, 1865 in his home state of Iowa. 

He would marry in 1866, he and his  wife blessed with four sons and a daughter.

When he died April 19, 1933 (surviving Jenkins’ Ferry by almost sixty-nine years), he was the last living member of Company E of the 33rd Iowa.

And the fellow on the right? Private Cruzen in old age – thankfully surviving the place that killed him….for a time anyway.

The Battle of Hampton???


If Union General Samuel Rice had had his way, there never would have been a Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. And considering he was killed as a result of wounds suffered in the Saline Swamp, that might have worked out better for the General. But could the last major battle of the 1864 Camden Expedition come to be known as the “Battle of Hampton” instead of “Jenkins’ Ferry?”It almost was…

On the night of April 25, 1864, as word began to spread throughout the Federal encampment at Camden of the disaster that had just occurred at Marks’ Mills, where Confederate cavalry under General James Fagan had waylaid a Federal supply train, General Frederick Steele called a council of war together with his commanders. In the meeting was Generals Eugene Carr, Samuel Rice, Fredrick Salomon and John Thayer. By now two points were obvious: (1) The Federals were running out of food in Camden and had to move or starve and (2) They had information that three Divisions of Confederates, led by General E. Kirby Smith, were moving rapidly north from Shreveport to engage Steele’s army.

Steele polled his generals for options.

Salomon spoke first. He was adamant that engaging Kirby Smith’s army in their present state would cripple the Federals. He argued for retreat eastward to the Arkansas River where supplies could be shipped from Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Carr and Thayer agreed; it was critical that an immediate evacuation of Camden occur and move swiftly toward the Arkansas River before they were attacked in mass or starved to death.

Rice disagreed. He argued for a move just twenty-five miles east, to the city of Hampton. There they would forage the countryside for supplies, making sure they destroyed the Confederates “means of crossing” the Ouachita River at Camden. Once at Hampton, Rice lobbied, should Kirby Smith turn his rebel army toward them, then the Federals could shift further eastward toward the Arkansas River. What Rice was not aware of was Confederate Cavalry under General John Marmaduke was operating in the areas between Camden and Hampton. Had Steele accepted Rice’s plan, the Federals almost certainly would have never made it to Hampton as Marmaduke would have used his cavalry to block the Federal’s eastward trek, allowing Kirby Smith time to move into position and attack the rear of the Federals. The result might have significantly affected the outcome of the Camden Expedition and the Federal’s ability to hold Arkansas.

Steele rejected the options presented to him and instead decided upon a northerly escape back to Little Rock through Princeton, tulip and Benton, crossing the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry. Steele’s concern about moving due east was the path would carry his army through the Moro Creek bottoms which he knew were treacherous even in dry weather. The recent heavy rains only complicated matters.

Of course we know how rain would affect Steele’s march. Once his army moved closer to Jenkins’ Ferry, the retreat turned into a mud march, with soldiers marching through ankle and knee deep mud.

The Federals escaped complete disaster at Jenkins’ Ferry by the skin of their teeth, thanks primarily to General Samuel Rice, who aggressively commanded the federal rear guard, pushing back repeated Confederate assaults, allowing the Federals time to make their escape across the flooded Saline River.

General Samuel Rice literally gave his life at Jenkins’ Ferry. How different the outcome might had been for Rice and his army had Frederick Steele taken his advice.


Six Years of April 29th…

Those who know me know you’ll find me at Jenkins’ Ferry every April 29th. That was day one of a two day struggle in 1864, in what would become one of most horrific days in Arkansas history.

The reasons I’m drawn there are many and we’ve talked about some of those reasons in past visits. But I think having an actual civil war battlefield just a short drive away is just downright exciting. Granted, Jenkins’ Ferry is no Gettysburg nor Chancellorsville but then again they’re no Jenkins’ Ferry either. You’ll find no Walmart nor McDonalds fighting to encroach upon the land where men died, ready to use their bulldozers to turn the land once soaked in blood. Jenkins’ Ferry is, in many ways, a time capsule of sorts. Granted, the fields where the action took place have been reclaimed by the forest but overall the areas prominent in the battle; the high ground, Cox Creek, the swamp, the Saline River, the burning ground, are all still there. I would venture to say that if the fields were placed where they once stood then you could drop a soldier from 1864 into 2016 and he could identify exactly where he was. 

I always make it a point to take some photographs during my trips down there. I miss walking portions of the battlefield (I miss it a lot) but I am mindful and respectful of the land owners and some of their decisions to restrict access to portions of the site.

Sometimes, like today, I look back upon the past photographs I’ve taken of other April 29th’s and discovered that though we all seem to grow older, the battlefield seems frozen in time. 

On April 29, 2064, an enormous crowd will gather in the park to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle. I’ll be 99 years old and though I would hope to be sitting in the midst of the festivities, I’m not sure of the reality of that. 

But the park will be crowded that day, of that I am sure. And it will be because of each one of you. I’ve meet scores of you since “Harvest of Death” was published and one fact has endured me to each visit – each of you share the passion I have of that place.

I do what I do for one reason. I never want to see the sacrifices of those brave men to be swept away into the obscure reaches of our history. Some have a different agenda for their interest in Jenkins’ Ferry and though I may not always understand it, I do respect it. 

Other writing projects as well as some significant health issues have pulled me away at times from Jenkins’ Ferry and so I look forward every year to April 29th to allow my soul to be replenished. 

I see myself growing older with each April 29th and having such a hallowed place frozen in time to return to yearly brings me solace. 

Over the next several months I’d like to return to talking more about the battle, from a tactical standpoint, to talk about what brought those men there in the first place to the possible alternatives that might have changed the outcome of the battle.

And next year? I’ll be there again on April 29th,  a little grayer perhaps but mighty happy of what we’ve accomplished.

Absolute Madness…

152 years ago today…May 1, 1864…the armies had moved on from Jenkins’ Ferry. Today, the sightseers began descending upon the river bottom and what the discovered horrified them beyond measure. 

A former slave, Jane Osbrook, recalled as a child that visit to the battlefield that day 152 years ago:

“The next Sunday [after the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry], my father carried all us children and some of the white folks to see the battlefield. I [re]member the dead were lyin in graves, just row after another and hadn’t even been covered up.”

Others reported a more grisly scene. Many of the soldiers had been buried in very shallow graves where they had fallen. This led to other eyewitnesses describing how the wild hogs had dug up and were “feasting on the remains” of the dead soldiers.

Absolute madness.

Jenkins’ Ferry…

152 years ago today, April 30, 1864, 13,000 men waged war in the Saline River bottoms for causes they believed it. About 1,000 of them never left and remain there today, scattered across that mournful swamp in unmarked graves. 
Let us today remember all the brave men of Jenkins’ Ferry, especially the ones who forever sleep beneath the starry skies of Southern Arkansas. 

A Yearly Pilgrimage…

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I’ll be driving to Jenkins’ Ferry shortly.

For as long I can remember I’ve traveled down to Jenkins’ Ferry on April 29th, the day the Federal army arrived at the Saline River. They would spend the remainder of the day getting their pontoon bridge in place, desperately pushing to get across the swollen Saline River as thousands of Confederates were converging upon them.

There’s something about being in this place on the anniversary. Over the years, I’ve helped organized events with hundreds in attendance to trips where it is only me standing in the midst of the quiet of the park – the peace broken only by the passing log trucks.

It is a special place to me – probably the most special place on earth. It conjures up so many wonderful childhood memories, of time spent with my family swimming and picnicking and of my father first explaining the battle to me, sharing his love of that place as well.

Nowadays, I share this with my children. It is important to me to pass this special place on to them. One day I will be gone, passed over the river to rest under the shade of the trees. I hope when that day comes they will set aside a time to celebrate my love of Jenkins’ Ferry.

But make no mistake about it – as much as it brings wonderful memories to me – I am mindful of the absolute horror that occurred there. It was a nightmarish two days, as two armies struggled to kill one another in wholesale slaughter. The sounds of the pontoon bridge being constructed would soon be replaced by the sounds of over ten thousand muskets firing hundreds of thousands of rounds. And sadly, that sound would be replaced as well with the screams of the wounded that sounded throughout the river bottom.

So many families were left fatherless that day at Jenkins’ Ferry.

I am forever respectful of that place and its significant to Arkansas history.

It was a dreadful place now at peace.



Bravery at Jenkins’ Ferry…


On April 30, 1864, as they led their troops into battle at Jenkins’ Ferry, Confederate General’s William Scurry and Horace Randal were shot down by opposing Federal troops under command of Colonel Samuel Rice (who, within minutes of Scurry and Randal going down, would fall himself, mortally wounded).

In the chaos that swept through the ranks as the two rebel generals fell, command had to be quickly reestablished if the Texans were to make it out of the Saline River bottoms alive.

Colonel Richard Waterhouse took command of Scurry’s Brigade with Colonel Wilburn King taking command of Randal’s Brigade.

For his actions during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Richard Waterhouse received a battlefield promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. I’ve commented before that I believed that Waterhouse should be remembered as a Brigadier General, for his actions on April 30, 1864.

But what of Colonel Wilburn King – was he left behind on the “bravery promotion” list that Waterhouse received that day? Did he not equally deserve a promotion for, along with Waterhouse, helping hold Walker’s Texas Division together, preventing even more bloodshed during the chaos as the troops watched in horror as Scurry and Randal went down into the mud of the Saline River swamp?

Well, it seems that based up on newly discovered material I’ve acquired, Colonel Wilburn King may have actually ridden into the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry already a Brigadier General. It seems that the overall Confederate commander, General E. Kirby Smith, had promoted King to Brigadier General on April 16, 1864, retroactive to April 8, 1864. From what I’ve discovered, King was severely wounded during the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana on April 8th (Mansfield was yet another battle in the Red River Campaign). For his actions at Mansfield, Kirby Smith issued the battlefield promotion.

After the war, King would move to Central America where he owned and operated an enormous sugar plantation before returning back to his native Texas. He served in the Texas House of Representatives as well as the Texas Rangers. Shortly before his death in 1910, King wrote a book, “A History of the Texas Rangers,” about the organization he served in after the war.

After I’ve thought of the situation Waterhouse, I felt a little sorry for Wilburn King, having not received the same battlefield promotion at Jenkins’ Ferry that Waterhouse had received. Little did I realize at the time, that King’s bravery in battle was evident – long before he rode into immortality at a place called Jenkins’ Ferry.

Well done, sir.

I’d Like Your Assistance…

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As some of you know, several months ago I released my fourth book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.” The book detailed the first of the battles of the 1864 Camden Expedition.

It was important to write a book on this battle, as it is undeniably neglected in most books on the Red River Campaign. That’s not to take away from those authors; it was simply not a large scale battle. That being said, it is important to note that there just isn’t a lot of source material out there, so the resulting book I wrote was, though extensively covering the battle, below a hundred pages in length. To some, the quantity of pages somehow determines a books worth. I’ve never agreed with that assumption.

Much of the reason why there is limited source material is that many of the soldiers may not have looked upon this as a large scale battle they had been accustomed to seeing by the spring of 1864. That would all change three weeks later at Jenkins’ Ferry when many of them would write in their letters and diaries about how thankful they were to be alive.

I will confess I published the book before it was ready.

That’s hard to admit but it had to be said. There were some editorial issues that were missed on the final run through. Issues that should not have been missed and I take full responsibility for that. If I were to offer an explanation, it would be my desire to further tell the story of those soldiers – blue and gray – who left their homes and all they knew to fight for causes they believed in

After the errors were found, I recalled the book. Since then I have gone back through it, page by page to insure the errors were corrected. In it you’ll find photographs of the commanders, maps of the battlefield, and the area as it looks today.

Now….I’d like your help.

I would like to send out a few proofs of the book to get some peer reviews. If you’re interested, then I would be honored if you would take some time to read the manuscript and email me your thoughts – good and bad – about the work. I’ll then take your comments and put the polish on the book.

If you’re interested – email me at and I will forward you a PDF file of the book. And please, I would appreciate you not distributing nor forwarding the file. I would rather have the finished work out there for the public to read, not the work in progress.

Thank you

New Markers at Jenkins’ Ferry…

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Things are looking up at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Through the efforts of  the Friends of Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield and the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, the landscape of the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park has been transformed.

Two markers, each with different descriptive panels on either side, depict a particular aspect of the battle.

It’s good to see the markers inside the park. Perhaps the remark I’ve heard most often by visitors I would encounter while spending a quiet afternoon there would be the lack of information about what actually occurred during the battle. I’ve always kept a few extra copies of “Harvest of Death” in my vehicle, offering one to them in hopes of keeping their interest alive in that place.

Those markers will be standing long after you and I are gone. Perhaps as time goes by, additional interpretive markers might be placed, adding even more to the story of one of the most overlooked battles of the Trans-Mississippi.

Spring is upon us. I can think of no better day trip then to load up the kids and make the short drive to Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. There you will find picnic tables, outdoor grills, a river with its own boat ramp, fishing possibilities and one of the most popular swimming holes in the area. Raining? Not a problem, there’s a large covered pavilion right inside the park. It’s a great way to spent an afternoon.

…Except when it floods.

Then you’ll have to rethink your plans and picnic on the side of the highway. The same river that caused so much chaos in April of 1864 continues to do so during times of heavy rain so always check out the weather forecast before venturing down.

So take some time and make the short trek and see for yourself the results of the hard work those groups made in adding a piece of history to an already historical place.



Placing Blame at Poison Spring…


Camden, Arkansas is located only about fifteen miles or so from the outskirts of the Poison Spring Battlefield. In past reenactments on the battlefield, the sounds of cannon fire was easily heard in the streets of Camden. To the citizens today, it may sound like thunder or sonic booms but to the Federal troops occupying the city in April of 1864 there was no mistake what was occurring just a few miles to the west – a portion of their army was under attack.

If you’ve studied the Battle of Poison Spring, then you’ll recall the Federals were desperate for food, their army starving in Camden. The wagon train dispatched west of the city was in search of reported barns filled with corn. You’ll also remember the Federals found the corn, loaded their wagons full (along with household furniture, dresses, toys, etc. from area farms) and were moving east toward Camden then they were attacked in mass by the Confederates.

The resulting battle raged for hours as the Confederates showed no mercy and soundly defeated the Federals. The controversy about the battle has always surrounded the treatment of the First Kansas Colored Infantry soldiers during and especially following the battle. The Federals described it as a massacre. The Confederates described it as an act of war. Who was to blame for Poison Spring?

Now today, I’d like for you to step back just a few steps and look at the larger picture. As the Confederates swarmed the Federal line – with the sounds of hundreds of muskets and round after round of cannon fire, where was General Frederick Steele?

The commanding general of the Seventh Corps was sitting in Camden, within earshot of the battle just a few miles to his west. Colonel James Williams, the commander of the First Kansas Colored Infantry, who was this day commanding the forage expedition kept looking to his east, knowing that Frederick Steele would hear the sounds of battle and send help marching his way. But help never came.

Instead, Williams watched while his small army was taken apart by the Confederates.

I’m not for a moment justifying the actions of a few Confederate soldiers in their post-battle treatment of some of the African-American soldiers of the First Kansas.

However, had Frederick Steele marched an army in support of the forage train at the first sounds of battle, I do believe the outcome may have been different. Even some of Steele’s own commanders were at a loss to explain why Steele didn’t order a detachment of his army to move toward the sound of the guns.

Frederick Steele has been accused by some who served alongside him during the 1864 Camden Expedition of hesitancy, even cowardliness.

I’ve tinkered with the idea of writing a biography of Steele. And unfortunately, I don’t see it as flattering when considering his documented performance during the Arkansas Campaign.

Bad things occurred 152 years ago near Camden. Men died who should not have died.

So instead of the post-battle discussions centering around the treatment of a few soldiers who were obviously mistreated outside the rules of war, why has the focus never been on how the forage train was abandoned by it’s commanding general?