A Blog About 1864 Civil War Arkansas

The Fields at Jenkins’ Ferry – Part I

Posted By on July 30, 2014

HOD Book Cover

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:

Gilmer Map of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield

Tomorrow’s Blog: The decision to use the Gilmer Map when writing Harvest of Death.

Those Field Names…

Posted By on July 28, 2014

Gilmer Facebook

Sometimes I feel a little like Buzz Aldrin, one of the original Apollo astronauts who first landed on the moon. For all of the millions of Americans that Aldrin met after the July 1969 historic event, there was always – always – someone in the crowd at one of the events Aldrin attended that swore the moon landing was a hoax – created on some sound stage with smoke and mirrors. It got so bad that after Buzz was confronted by one of these people for the millionth time, he had had enough and slugged the fellow. Well, I don’t quite feel like slugging anyone but it is getting a little old revisiting the field names that made up the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield over and over again.

Just when I think I have explained my decision to use the 1864 Confederate Engineer’s map of the battlefield for the up-teenth time, I get yet another email asking me about my decision to use that particular map.

I’ve decided to dedicate tomorrow’s blog on answering this question once an for  all. After that, I’ll just refer them to the blog for the answers they seek.

There is nothing wrong with questioning things. There is also nothing wrong with having alternative theories on certain facets of the battle. I’ve got no problem with that and I have never said the names I have listed in my book, Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” are the absolute, without question nor doubt, final say on the names. Rather, I have taken the information provided by a Confederate Engineer’s map – which I verified through a completely unrelated second source, and used that in my book.

So, tune in tomorrow and let’s explore those now infamous field names of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Reluctant Update…

Posted By on July 26, 2014

Ryan & Dad

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday, I had finalized preparations for my presentation today at the Red River Symposium. A short time after doing a run through of the program (with my wife Allie and daughter as my audience), I experienced a medical incident related to my recent knee replacement surgery. The pain was overwhelming and continued for most of the afternoon and evening. I made the hard decision to notify the organizers of the event that I would not be attending today. I felt it advisable to remain close to home until I can revisit my doctors on Monday. This was tough for me, as I had looked forward to this event for some time. The good news (always try to find some good news in the midst of bad) is that I was invited to make my presentation at the park at a later date when an opportunity presents itself. In that I am happy. So as hard as yesterday was, it sounds like I will have an opportunity to talk about the Federal surgeons and their role at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. It is a story that needs telling.

As I mentioned yesterday, after this weekend, we’ll turn our attention to Iowa which is still on track.

Also, I have some changes to the my website coming this weekend and will report back on that through the blog and the Facebook page. In the meantime, please visit my website and take a look around. There are some interesting topics related to 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

1864arkansas Website

On a brighter note to end the blog, the picture in today’s blog is of myself and my son, Stephen Ryan. I had just arrived home from work and this was the greeting I received at the door….life is beyond good.

Stay tuned….


Odd and Ends…

Posted By on July 25, 2014


Tomorrow promises to be a good day. I’ll be traveling to Southwest Arkansas on Saturday as one of four historians presenting programs at the 8th annual Red River Symposium – an event focusing on the 1864 Red River Expedition.

My friend, Dr. Bill Gurley, will be presenting a program on the diary of a Confederate surgeon who was at Jenkins’ Ferry. I understand the diary contains drawings the surgeon made of some of the soldier’s wounds he treated following the battle.

My program, “Ill Prepared and Left Behind: The Federal Medical Corps at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” focuses on those surgeons who fought desperately trying to keep the living from crossing over to join the scores of dead.

After tomorrow, I turn my attention to Iowa where I will be traveling to in October, speaking to several groups in the Waterloo area. I am so looking forward to meeting those of you in the Iowa and Nebraska area who follow the blog.

On the book front – I’m happy to announce that over 2,000 copies of “Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” have been sold and that is truly humbling. The revised second edition has received some good reviews and I look forward to meeting many of you at some upcoming book signings later this year. Be sure and check the “upcoming events” section of my website. Here is a link to the page: Website – Upcoming Events

And…we’ve passed over 300 “likes” on the Facebook page and that list continues to grow. I had written recently about contemplating whether or not to continue the Facebook page as I was not sure of the impact it was having toward my overall goal of keeping the memory of 1864 Civil War Arkansas from fading away. Based upon the interest in the paged, the Facebook page will remain and will grow as I have some changes planned not only for the Facebook page but for my website as well, which we’ve had over 6,000 visitors to since we updated the site several months ago. Here is a link to the Facebook page:

Harvest of Death Facebook Page

Tomorrow will be a good day and I hope you’ll join me at Washington State Park as we spend the day recalling the Red River Campaign.

This fall is going to be exciting as I travel from Iowa to Texas and across Arkansas telling the story of 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

Stay tuned…




Walking Into History…

Posted By on July 20, 2014

PicsArt_1405859670844 I took a walk into history yesterday. I was invited to accompany a delightful group of local residents on Saturday to view a piece of property near Sheridan with an amazing, almost hidden past. Once we arrived at the site, we faced a dense forest which we soon found ourselves in. My guide is a gentleman who is fast becoming an expert on the Military Road and its trek through present day Grant County. He assured me that the road did indeed snake its way through the forest we found ourselves in. A third of the way into the forest, we crossed a fence line and there before us….was the Military Road.

The outline of the road is clear and, with a little maintenance of removing some saplings and vines, could still be ridden on today. The road has a gravel base which would have spared the Federal Army the nightmare of the clay found in the Saline River bottoms. The property we were invited to view includes an approximate 1/4 mile stretch of the original Military Road. While there are other areas of the road scattered about Grant and Saline counties, most have been turned into county roads and have been widened and graveled over. Here before us was the original road with its high banks indicative of its long us as a road. To my knowledge, this is the most intact length of the Military Road still in existence in the area.

The ladies who accompanied us on the trek are the owners of the property and were gracious to allow us to see this amazing piece of Grant County history. History I’m afraid that will have to remain hidden. In this day and age of disrespect, land owner’s rights are constantly being imposed upon where some in our society have no respect for the property of others. The property we were shown is an island of sorts, surrounded by other properties and is, for the most part, hidden from normal foot/road traffic. Perhaps that is one of the primary reasons the original road has remained intact. The ladies spoke of possibly clearing away the saplings and vines to expose the complete roadway. That to me is an excellent idea which would allow both photography of such an important piece of history as well as archeological excavations of the area which could yield even more insight in this 1864 retreat route.

The road is in good hands as I can sense already these young ladies are passionate about the preservation of this important piece of Grant County history. It seemed hard even for me to look upon that road and realize that history marched in front of me 150 years ago. Frederick Steele, Eugene Carr, Frederick Salomom and thousands of foot soldiers…they were all there, right in front of me…150 years ago.

It was an amazing day.

You Don’t Wanna Know…

Posted By on July 18, 2014


“You don’t wanna know what a soft metal musket ball does when it enters the human body.” – Brian Williams NBC News Anchor

The video in today’s blog in only four minutes long, but it provides remarkable insight into one of the deadliest facets of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry – the Minie Ball. Here is a link to the video – you should watch this video.

The Civil War Minie Ball

When relic hunters first descended upon the Saline River bottoms in the 1970′s they began finding thousands of items left behind by the two armies from their epic clash in April of 1864. Swords, bayonets, belt buckles, were just some of the things uncovered. But it was the minie ball, I believe, that is the real story there. Based upon the statics from the battle, it is possible to calculate an approximate number of shots fired during the battle – and it is  staggering.

Consider for example the Federal line. This was the Union’s Third Division that was placed on the eastern edge of Grooms’ Field as a barrier to the Confederate advance. This bought the necessary time needed for the Federals to make their escape across the Saline River. Historians estimate there were 5,000-7,000 troops forming that wall of blue at Grooms’ Field. Now, consider that each soldier was initially issued 40 rounds of ammunition before the battle began and using the conservative number of 5,000 troops then we have 200,000 Minie balls initially being fired. After-action reports, those written by the Federal commanders, talk of the line being constantly being resupplied with ammunition – the ammunition supply trains being placed in the field just east of Grooms’ Field (Tucker Field). Resupplying the Federal troops only twice more would pull our number of bullets fired upward to 600,000, which I believe would be a conservative number.

On the Confederate side, there were approximately 8,000 troops engaged at Jenkins’ Ferry. Again, using our 40 rounds per man base, we have an initial disbursement of 320,000 Minie Balls. Now, resupply these troops only twice more as we did the Federals and the number of rounds fired by the Confederates swell to 960,000. After-action reports also speak of the Confederate troops being resupplied during the battle on the ridge that overlooked the bottom.

1.5 millón rounds? Is that even possible? That seems inconceivable that such a number of bullets could have been fired during that battle.

A soldier of the 27th/38th Arkansas Consolidated Confederate Infantry remembered that day:

“It was a critical moment. The men were mowed down and in the midst of this storm of bullets and groans of the stricken, not a gun was fired from our ranks, which was certainly strange. Though the enemy’s line was behind trees and logs, yet I saw some of the blue uniforms exposed to view…he [Colonel Grinstead] saved us from destruction as he ordered us to right flank into the timber, but a raking, galling fire was hurled at us on the way there.”

Again, the soldier of the 27th/Arkansas recalled:

“When we passed through the timber, we entered an open field and marched through it toward the thick growth of timber on the opposite side and when we had got in thirty paces of the edge of the timber a destructive fire was opened up on us from a solid line of the enemy who were posted behind trees and logs in the edge of the timber. The deadly messengers flew thick and fast, killing and wounding the men at a fearful rate. Several of the men sank down, either shot dead or fatally wounded. It appeared that the missiles came as thick as hail. Our line staggered but there was no panic but it really appeared impossible to withstand such a raking fire. We heard the roar of the enemy’s small arms and the hissing of the Minnie balls as they sped through the air, with a thud when they struck a man, or a splash in the mud and water when they struck the ground. The terrible war of the guns and the noise of the balls were making and despairing groans of the wounded seemed awful. There were no orders given to return the fire but onward we went carrying our guns on our shoulders while terrible vollies [sic] were poured into our ranks.”

Relic hunters in the 1970′s recalled finding thousands upon thousands of Minie Balls scattered all across that river bottoms. One relic hunter, Leonard Edwards, talked about how they would fill five gallon buckets full of Minie Balls and finding so many bullets they would run out of buckets. Sound farfetched? Not at all, as I remember as a child seeing Mr. Edward’s “relic room” in his home at Tull with five gallon buckets filled with Minie Balls scattered across the room in addition to the scores of other relics he had found.  

Driving through the quiet that today is the Saline River bottoms, it doesn’t seem possible that such a battle occurred there. It doesn’t seem possible that over twelve thousand men waged war there. It doesn’t seem possible that almost 2,000 men were killed and wounded there with hundreds still out there – in unmarked graves scattered throughout that river bottom. It doesn’t seem possible.

But it happened.

And we should never forget that.


It’s a Long Way to Tipperary…

Posted By on July 17, 2014


The title of today’s blog, “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” was a popular turn of the last century British song that became popular during World War I, becoming one of the songs of “the great war.”

The American Civil War had its share of war songs. From “Dixie” to the “Battle Cry of Freedom,” there are scores of songs the soldiers sang around the campfire reminding them of home.

Something I discovered when I first began researching the Battle of  Jenkins’ Ferry was the unique cultures that came together in those Saline River bottoms.

Several of the soldiers of the 9th Wisconsin were of German descent and stories tell of some of the men speaking virtually no English. The soldiers mentioned in yesterday’s blog from Pella, Iowa were reported to be of Dutch origin. One of the soldier’s diaries I have talks about Union General Frederick Salomon, who commanded the Third Division, alternating speaking German and English during the battle.

Leading the 43rd Illinois Infantry at Jenkins’ Ferry was thirty-nine year old Adolph Engelmann . A native of Jusboch, Bavaria (present day Germany), he immigrated with his parents to America in 1834. He served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War and in 1849 he left America for his native Bavaria to fight in the Revolution there, only to discover it was over by the time he arrived. Returning to America when the War Between the States erupted, Engelmann enlisted in the Union Army and was commissioned as a Colonel of the 43rd Illinois Infantry.

But what of Tipperary? The Federal Surgeon, William L. Nicholson (pictured in today’s blog), whom I will be discussing in my upcoming presentation at the Red River Symposium, was a native of Tipperary County, Ireland. He was a graduate of both Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland and the University of Glasgow. After migrating to Canada in 1858, he worked his way south to Iowa in 1860, where, when the Civil War broke out, enlisted as a surgeon in the 29th Iowa Infantry.  For Nicholson and the other Federal surgeons, Jenkins’ Ferry was the stuff of nightmares – having been ill-prepared for the battle and then being left behind by the Federals and taken prisoner by the Confederates. His is an amazing story which I hope you’ll travel to Washington State Park next Saturday, July 26th, to hear.

For the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry, it was a long way from home.

For Surgeon William Nicholson, it truly was a long way to Tipperary.



Where Honorable Men Sleep….

Posted By on July 16, 2014



For 85 years, the grave of Daniel Dingeman lay unmarked. He was one of three Union Civil War veterans buried in Oakland Cemetery in Pella, Iowa who lay in unmarked graves for years following their deaths. That changed recently.

On Memorial Day 2014, members of the 49th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment gathered at Oakland Cemetery and dedicated three new military markers, including the one shown in today’s blog.

150 years ago, Private Dingeman was, no doubt, reflecting on the horror he had just experienced fighting at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. He survived the battle to fight another day.

In the South, similar events are held by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Organizations such as these play a vital role in helping to keep the memories of those soldiers – blue and grey – from fading away into history. I have attended several marker dedications here in Arkansas conducted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It is a solemn event, with those both participating as well as attending humbled at the respect paid to the veteran by those gentleman who come to honor them. It is a moving experience.

It is good to see that their northern counterparts are as active in ensuring the soldiers who wore he blue uniform are not forgotten as well.

Private Daniel Dingeman rests today beneath a marker befitting his military service.

He is one of the lucky ones. Too many of his brothers – blue and grey – sleep tonight on the coldness that is the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield in a grave, forever unmarked.

That is hallowed ground in those Saline River bottoms – as it should be.

A “Holy Cow” Moment…

Posted By on July 15, 2014



Some days you have a “Holy Cow” moment. Today was one of those days.

I’ve been working on transcribing some letters written by Lieutenant Edward Cunningham, who served as Aide-de-Camp to Confederate General E. Kirby Smith. Cunningham wrote several letters, one of which details the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, fought on April 30, 1864. Cunningham was at Jenkins’ Ferry and provides some amazing insights into the battle. Keep watching for a blog soon on Lieutenant Cunningham.

Now…about the “Holy Cow” moment today.While working on the Cunningham letters, I stumbled across an amazing website published by the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The website focuses on William Elisha Stoker, a Private in the 18th Texas Infantry. Stoker fought in General Thomas Waul’s Brigade throughout the war, including the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, where he was shot in the chest, a wound that would prove fatal.

The website is absolutely amazing and includes a short, professionally made video on the life of Private Stoker including his death at Jenkins’ Ferry. The video alone is worth visiting their website.

Included on the website is the drawing in today’s blog. It is a drawing showing the death of Private William Stoker on the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield. To my knowledge, it is the only drawing or painting representing actual action during the battle in the Saline River bottoms.

Take a moment and visit the link below to visit this amazing website about a Texas Confederate who gave his life at Jenkins’ Ferry.

William Stoker Biographical Video

Private William Stoker – National Civil War Museum Website


Friend to Friend…at Jenkins’ Ferry

Posted By on July 13, 2014

 friend to friend1

There is a masonic monument at the Gettysburg battlefield entitled “Friend to Friend.” It symbolizes the dying moments of Confederate General Lewis Armistead as he lay mortally wounded following Pickett’s Charge. He was being attended to by a fellow mason, Union Captain Henry Bingham. The moment has been memorialized in a heart wrenching scene from the movie “Gettysburg.”

At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, a similar act of kindness was shown an officer facing death.

J.M Brown, a  Chaplain with the 29th Arkansas Infantry, recalled encountering a Union officer on the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield:

“My regiment had crossed over a fence on the battlefield when I found a union captain who had been shot in the neck. He had taken position behind the roots of a large pine tree and fallen back into the water, out of which he was trying to keep his head. I took him out of the hole and placed his knapsack under his head. He held up his hand on which was fine ring. He said, “my sister, English Settlement, Iowa.” But he was so far gone I could not get his name. I regretted I did not preserve the fine belt, sword and scabbard that I left beside his dying body.”

The officers name has been lost to time. Even the town his sister lived in, “English Settlement, Iowa,” is gone. It was settled until 1878 and is now considered one of the ghost towns of Marion County, Iowa. We’ll never know the identify of this officer. I’ve often wondered what became of that ring, as it must have had immense sentimental value to that soldier, as he expelled his dying breath to insure its safe passage.

I have no doubt there were other acts of kindness that day in the Saline River bottoms, as the living comforted the dying.

Below is a short video from the movie “Gettysburg” of Armistead’s last moments. I’d like to think that the encounter between Chaplain Brown and the Union officer would have been just as touching.

General Armistead’s Last Moments at Gettysburg….