Catfish Dinner and Jenkins’ Ferry…

Catfish

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.

Elliott wrote:

“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.

Elliott

Colonel Benjamin Elliott

First Missouri Confederate Cavalry Battalion

 

Talking things out…

911 Console Stress

It was a long few days…

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you know that I don’t make my living writing Civil War books. This month I begin my twenty-second year as a 911 Dispatcher with the Little Rock Police Department.

It is a stressful job. Let me put that another way – there are few who read this blog who can grasp the unbelievable stress that consumes you in that job.

Over the last two days, I’ve experienced everything from funny calls to the ones nightmares are made of…..

A toddler drowning in a swimming pool….a woman who believes her refrigerator is talking to her….a murder/suicide where I’m on the phone with their young son when it happens.

That’s what my week has been like.

One of the reasons I enjoy writing Civil War books is the distraction – the escape from a life where some 911 calls can haunt you if you allow them to.

The average 911 Dispatcher will burn out after six years in the job. If you can make it past that, you’re in it forever. With twenty-one years behind me, I can see that pension looming on the horizon.

Part of me is looking forward to retiring. After all, to be able to retire at 62 with a full pension is a dream come true, especially in today’s economy. I’ll be able to continue to write more books and  travel more to speak about the battles of 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

But on days like today, when I should be sleeping after a twelve hour shift – I’m awake. Sometimes the calls linger, the voices replay in my mind over and over. Some days you can go right to sleep – other days, the sounds torture your very soul.

We all wrestle with the cosmic questions on why bad things happen to good people.

I don’t know why bad things happen. But I feel as if I am drawn to help people – and being that voice on the other end of the crisis is what I do best.

Recently, I had a young lady call 911. She was having a potentially life-threatening crisis involving a family member. As we spoke, I focused on her words, helping her work though the situation. At one point she asked me crying “why are you being so nice to me?” She’d not had the greatest of upbringing. My reply was exactly how I feel when I take those calls. At that moment, that caller is the most important person in the world to me – and I am going to hold their hand and guide them to safety.

But sometimes the calls don’t end well. Sometimes they take a horrible turn.

And for a while I beat myself up some – feeling like I failed the mission.

That’s what separates those who leave the job after a couple of years – the overwhelming guilt that comes with incidents that don’t go well.

But you stick with it and you move on to the next caller.

You don’t realize it but you’ve helped a lot reading the blog this morning. You’ve given me an opportunity to vent a bit and push the bad calls to the back page.

And for that I say thank you.

 

 

The Federal Pontoon Bridge…

ogIPX

The Federal Army deployed their pontoon bridges on three occasions during the 1864 Camden Expedition – across the Ouachita River at Rockport (near Malvern), the Little Missouri River at Elkins’ Ferry and the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry. It was at Jenkins’ Ferry where the Federals, primarily to lighten their load and quicken their escape back to Little Rock, decided to sink the pontoon bridge.

Steele’s Seventh Corps had used the pontoon bridge for two years prior to destroying it in the Saline River. Originally, the bridge had been sent to Steele for use during the Vicksburg campaign.

What was unique about this bridge was its design – it was an india rubber bridge vs the conventional pontoon bridge used for years by the armies. The difference? Look at the Civil War era photograph below – notice the small “boats” that were used to support the actual bridge floor.

Pontoon Boats

 

The significant difference between the type of bridge shown above and the one used during the 1864 Arkansas Campaign was the “boats.” The bridge by Steele’s Army utilized inflatable india rubber pontoons, made from Goodyear vulcanized rubber.

An excellent article on the india rubber bridge design, written by Wolcott, Wisconsin historian Norma Steward,  appeared in the April 2013 edition of the “Lakeshore News.” Wisconsin troops fought heroically at Jenkins’ Ferry, with the 9th Wisconsin Infantry in the thick of the fight. Here is a portion of Stewart’s article which I am indebted in reproducing here:

“The other two successful types of pontoons used were rubber and canvas. A very early pontoon was made of India-rubber. The Goodyear Rubber Company invented the process of vulcanizing rubber ten years before the Civil War. However, the U.S. army actually began experimenting with rubber pontoons as early as 1846. This technology found many uses during the war, including rubber blankets, ponchos, buoys, boats and lots of other items.

Originally, the rubber pontoons and equipment like gum blankets were coated with rubber, glued together and baked in an oven to vulcanize both fabric, coating and adhesive. The same process is used today. These rubber pontoons were made of double thick India rubber cloth.

The single pontoon cylinder was tapered at the ends like the end of a canoe or modern torpedo. Each cylinder was twenty feet long and twenty inches in diameter. Three of these cylinders made one pontoon. The assembly formed a single “boat” twenty feet long and five feet wide. The bridge deck was laid and secured on top of the rubber floats. The cylinder in the center supported the entire width of the roadway.

Each cylinder had a brass air nozzle. Large bellows that fit over the inflating nozzle were used to inflate. When inflated and assembled, and touching each other, two rubber straps were used to bind them together. Then to make them more secure they were laced together, resembling a spider web, from side to side.

Each section of pontoons could support approximately 7,000 pounds but could be held in place with a light 45 pound anchor. These pontoons fit neatly under the bridge and were protected for the most part by the ends of the chess boards. If the pontoons were damaged it was easy enough to repair with a rubber patch. This type of pontoon bridge was lighter and easier to move than the wood or canvas type pontoon. The rubber pontoons requiring only 34 wagons to transport the entire bridge and its components. (The wooden pontoons required 62 wagons.)

The rubber pontoon bridge was regularly used in the Western army by General F.P. Blair’s division in the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. He had one built across the Saline River at Jenkins Ferry to be used as an escape route towards Little Rock, Arkansas. They were able to escape by cutting the bridge loose, but the Southwest region remained in Confederate hands to the end of the war.”

There is something inside Stewart’s article that has intrigued me for almost forty years – the “light 45 pound anchor.” I have absolutely no doubt that at one time those anchors were laying on the bottom of the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry, they would have had to been there. I’ve known of several pieces of the pontoon bridge being recovered by relic hunters over the years. Perhaps the coolest are the air valves shown below that are now in the collection of the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. But what I’ve never heard recovered are the anchors and you would think that if something like that turned up, it would be THE talk among the relic hunters. Is it still laying on the bottom of the Saline? No one knows. But it is interesting to imagine. when standing on the bank of the Saline River, actual remains of that pontoon bridge still there.

Valve

One of the long term projects I’d like to see is, with the help of skilled area carpenters, a section of the pontoon bridge rebuilt for display at the Grant County Museum. I believe it could be an amazing teaching tool, especially with young people.

There are so many projects related to the 1864 Camden Expedition that could be beneficial in helping to tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battles.

Education will help keep the efforts of those brave men from being forgotten.

 

 

Welcome to Sweet Tea & Southern Battlefields…

Sweet Tea

 

My book editor is currently putting the finishing touches on my newest book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.” She’s a native of Toronto and getting her accustomed to some of our customs here in the south has been at times an effort in hilarity. A case in point is tea. Those of you who reside south of the Mason-Dixon know that we make our tea iced and sweet. Now, the first time I mentioned I was having a glass of sweet tea – she was absolutely bewildered. Believe it or not, she’d never heard of such a thing, even commenting “why would you want to put sugar in tea?” Holy cats – that girl needed some educating I told myself.

I selected her because I wanted an editor who could be objective with  the subject matter in “Hail & High Water.” I take a different approach when it comes to selecting those to edit my books. In addition to the usual content and grammar, I want them to read and understand the events that transpired, asking questions and offering suggestions from a standpoint of never having walked those battlefields.

As you can tell, I’ve made a few changes to the blog. Though the blog is all about the men and battles of 1864 Arkansas, there are issues swirling around us that could have some effects upon the battlefields of the 1864 Camden Expedition.

Specifically, I am concerned about the current trend by some to remove Confederate markers from battlefields and town squares across the south. Does this have anything to do with Jenkins’ Ferry? You bet it does – both directly and indirectly. The statue of the Confederate Commander at Jenkins’ Ferry, General E. Kirby Smith, has been on display in Statuary Hall inside the United States Capital since 1922. Now suddenly, it’s deemed evil and inappropriate and a move is afoot to remove the statue. Closer to home, one website has targeted among the Confederate markers that should be removed, the 1928 CSA marker located inside Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. As I’ve said previously, that marker has been the scene of commemoration ceremonies at the state park where the men of BOTH armies have been honored through speakers and wreath laying. Yet now – in the spirit of political correctness – that monument too has been labeled as political incorrect and should be removed.

Will the blog turn into a political soap box? Absolutely not.

From time to time, I may bring to your attention news and information that could potentially have an impact upon those 1864 Arkansas battlefields.

But rest assured, the focus will be on telling the stories of those southern Arkansas battlefields.

Diaries, photographs and documents continue to surface and as I come across them, I will share them here with you.

Some were not trilled at the prospect of the Facebook page going away. However, I hope if you’ll stay with me, I believe you are going to enjoy the changes.

My book editor has yet to taste the southern delicacy known as sweet tea but when she does, I know she’ll be back for more.

And the same goes for you — stay with me and I know you’ll be back to read more about 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

 

An Amazing Confederate Relic…

Jacket 1

Yesterday we talked about Colonel Colton Greene and his role at the Battles of Jenkins’ Ferry and Elkins Ferry.

Greene wasn’t alone in his pursuit of the Federals. He commanded a Brigade of Cavalry under Brigadier General John Marmaduke. The Brigade consisted of the 3rd, 4th and 8th Missouri Cavalry units as well as Harris’ Missouri Battery, consisting of four cannons.

One of the more interesting photographs that are set to appear in my newest book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins Ferry, Arkansas, is an image of a butternut colored shell jacket once owned and worn by George Jacob Mook, a private in Company D of the 4th Missouri Confederate Cavalry. Mook had joined the unit in June of 1863.

By April of 1864, he and the Brigade had ridden hundreds of miles across Arkansas eventually winding up on the banks of the Little Missouri River at Elkins Ferry on April 3, 1864. Following this fight, Mook would ride west to Poison Spring, where the battle raged on April 18th finally arriving at Jenkins’ Ferry on April 29th.

He would later ride north with General Sterling Price on his ride to Missouri. He was captured near Fort Scott, Kansas (where the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry were mustered into service) on October 25, 1864 and was imprisoned in the Union Prisons at Gratiot Street and Alton before winding up at Point Lookout Military Prison on Maryland. He would be exchanged and sent to Richmond where, on March 1, 1865, he rejoined his outfit but was paroled a short time later in Shreveport when the war ended.

After the war, Mook returned back to Missouri where he was Vice President of the Flesh and Mook Painting Company. He died November 2, 1900 in St. Louis.

The jacket is currently housed in the collection of artifacts at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield museum near Springfield, Missouri.

It is an amazing artifact to have survived 150 years in such remarkable condition.

The image of Private Mook’s shell jacket is just one of the amazing photographs that will help tell the story of the Battle of Elkins Ferry as never before.

Colonel Colton Greene…

IMG_3128

For a man who had such an impact on 1864 Civil War Arkansas, I guess I expected a much larger monument to a Confederate who stood out amongst so many for his tenacity in fighting the Yankee army.

I’ve written previously about men such as General Samuel Rice, the Union General at Jenkins’ Ferry who was mortally wounded toward the end of the battle, and Captain Junius Wheeler, Steele’s Chief Engineer, who placed the pontoon bridge across the swollen Saline River on the afternoon of April 29, 1864. Of the thousands of Federals who fought across that river bottom, I believe it was Rice and Wheeler who were most responsible for the Federals surviving the fight at Jenkins’ Ferry. With Wheeler at the river and Rice commanding the Federal line, the Confederates would, I believe, have trapped Steele’s army, forcing a surrender of the Army of Arkansas and wrestling control of Arkansas back to the Confederacy.

And what of the Confederates? Who stands out amongst them?

Colonel Colton Greene for one.

Greene commanded a Brigade of cavalry at Jenkins’ Ferry. More importantly, he initiated first contact with the Federals, on the afternoon of April 29th along Guesses Creek, south of the primary Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield.

We’ve talked of Guesses Creek before – that point along the military road where the two armies first clashed. I’ve long advocated separating the two battles and giving Guesses Creek its due as a stand alone battle – making that three clashes that occurred in present day Grant County, the third being the clash at Whitten’s Mill near present day Prattsville.

It was Colton Greene who first engaged the Federals.

It was Colton Greene who chased the Federal rear guard all the way to the ridge overlooking the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield, nipping at their heels the entire time.

And it was Colton Greene who sought permission from General E. Kirby Smith, to swim his horses across the swollen Saline River in pursuit of the Federals once they had made their escape and sank the pontoon bridge. He was denied the opportunity, as Kirby Smith accepted the reality of how badly beaten up his army was.

Now, with my newest book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” about to be published, we’re seeing Colton Greene emerging as one of the key participants in that battle as well. Elkins’ Ferry was a running fight between Confederate Cavalry under Marmaduke and Shelby and Steele’s Seventh Corps, who still had their sights on Louisiana and assisting Nathaniel Banks on his invasion of Texas. Within a few days however, the train wreck had occurred with Steele hunkering his starving army down in Camden, searching for a means of escape, Shreveport now a distant memory.

Colton Greene fought as hard as anyone at Elkins’ Ferry, repeatedly pushing back Steele’s attempt at crossing the swollen Little Missouri River. Eventually the Confederates gave way and the Seventh Corps made the crossing and continued forward, where Greene and the Confederates tried again a few days later to halt Steele’s advance – this time at the Battle of Prairie D’Ann.

And then there was Poison Spring where the Confederates in a hell of a fight ambushed the Federal supply train. Colton Greene was there as well and as at Elkins’ Ferry and Jenkins’ Ferry, he was one of the first to engage the Federals.

He certainly didn’t run from a fight.

Following the Civil War, Colton Greene would move to Memphis where he would become one of the cities most prominent citizens. He was instrumental in helping to develop the water and gas utilities for the city. Greene also worked to establish a Mardis Grais type festival in Memphis, an annual tradition held for many years.

In addition, he was a world traveler and quite the ladies man. Among those who cherished his friendship was author Samuel Clemens (known to the world as “Mark Twain”) who wrote a most amusing letter to Colton Greene:

Hartford [Conneticut], Apl. 26. [1873]

My Dear General—

Thank you heartily, you splendid old reconstructed profane rebel conundrumist!

The “old man” has been down again & spent two days with me—he came fortified—brought 6 bottles of Scotch whisky—& all he drank while here was two glasses.1

We talked a deal about you & your disheartening habit of cursing & swearing at the table while the ladies & the ministers needed quiet & silence wherein to coax their sustenance to go down—& stay.

Well, the builders have been at work digging cellar a week, now, & so it does really look as if a year from to-day (as per contract) the architect might really be able to say, “Mr. Clemens your shanty is ready.” And then—or sooner if you can—I want you to come!2

Good-bye—

Yrs

L. Clemens.

 When he died in September of 1900, he was buried in Memphis’ historic Elmwood Cemetery. A few years ago, I traveled the Memphis in search of his grave. It actually took some time locating it that day, as I guess I expected a much larger monument for a man who made such an impact in Confederate military history in Arkansas.

At his death, he bequeathed his papers to the Memphis Public Library along with an extensive collection of over 500 books from his personal library. Among the objects in the collection is his original passport.

Colton Greene traveled the world with that passport – but I’ll bet he never forgot those April days in 1864 when war raged across southern Arkansas.

 

 

Relics…

PicsArt-3

The ground around Jenkins’ Ferry continues to yield reminders of those terrible two days 151 years ago.

I had a conversation with someone recently who grew up near that battlefield. She told of working on the family farm, helping in the plowed field, seeing objects of a forgotten time churned up by her father’s plow. Bullets, cannon balls, spurs, horse shoes were just a sampling of the objects she’d see; so much so that after a while she ceased picking them up, they were all too commonplace.

Today, men with what my grandmother referred to as “mine sweepers” continue to walk the areas around that battlefield. The main portion of the battlefield, where Grooms’ field once stood, the mine sweepers my grandmother referred to are prohibited, the land owner choosing to respect the memory of those soldiers who remain upon that hallowed ground. I must say that I respect his decision, though it grieves me that I can no longer walk that portion of the battlefield. “No trespassing” means just that – and so today, when I make my pilgrimage to that battlefield, I can only gaze from the highway at the area where so many fought – and died.

But there are areas around the battlefield that continue to yield relics, all removed with the owner’s permission.

We’ve talked about this before – the ethics of relic hunting.

I touch on the subject today for what is contained in the photograph that accompanies today’s blog. The object a friend recently found is a lock plate from a musket. It may not look like much but it helps to add so much to the story that is Jenkins’ Ferry.

It was found along the escape route – that area north of the battlefield where the Federal Army fled in it’s retreat back to Little Rock. There are things about the soldier who carried the gun whence the lock plate came from:

We can guess he was tired and he was hungry. Having barely anything to eat since they left Camden – to endure the horrific battle that raged across the Saline River bottoms – and to be on a forced march back to Little Rock – that is the story of this soldier.

We know he was a Federal soldier. Following the battle, while the Confederates took the field to bury the dead and help care for the wounded – Union and Confederate, the soldier who carried the gun whence the lock plate came from sat around a camp fire two miles east of Jenkins’ Ferry. He gazed into that fire – cold wet and hungry – but alive. And that was more that some who used to gather about that fire could say.

But what of the lock plate – this “relic” of the battle? It, and the thousands of other relics from the battle, can help tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry. Imagine a young person holding that lock plate, feeling the weight of it, knowing that it was actually used during the battle. Someone – our Federal soldier – once pulled back that hammer and fired at another person.

Did they fire out of anger? Angry that they had had to travel thousands of miles away from home to squash this rebellion of the cotton states? Angry they had left their homes and their families in order to suppress and destroy this grey army?

Or…was the person who pulled back the hammer on this lock plate just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of terrified young men who were only trying to survive that April day in 1864?

While some of you may look upon this piece of metal as just that – a rusting hunk of nothing. I see it so differently. I see it as a literal piece of our past, one that, by allowing young people to interact with it, will help tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry for years to come.

Among the questions I get at events and book signings is “do you know where I can find some relics?” The simple answer is of course I do. I am fortunate to know, through research and personal knowledge,  the locations where scores of relics remain buried. Is that the answer I give at these events? Of course not. Because there are all sorts of passions that drive people to want to search for Civil War relics. The one that I always hope is the case is their desire to help preserve history and to use the objects they find in an educational environment to help teach and tell the story of Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battles of 1864 Civiil War Arkansas.

Then there are the “E-Bay’ers” – the ones who search for rare relics only to immediately market them to the highest bidder. Those are the ones I have no use for. Because when they remove an object from the ground and sell it to some unknown buyer hundreds or thousands of miles away, that buyer cannot comprehend the history that has been lost by that transaction.

But there are those, such as my friend who found the lock plate, that are the true stewards of history. By using the relics they recover as a teaching tool, they are ensuring that the memory of those brave men will never be forgotten.

When I speak to school groups, one thing is for certain; those kids love to hold those objects and I watch their faces beam as history comes alive to them. It’s no longer some picture in book, or a carefully preserved object behind a glass wall, where they are cautioned to look but don’t touch.

This is hands on history – and until you experience the absolute joy these kids have on their faces handling relics from our history – you cannot imagine the importance of it.

More objects will surface from the battlefield we call Jenkins’ Ferry – and each one will help to tell the story of those brave men.

Eyewitnesses to History…

Jones - Campt Ford

I always enjoy coming across the faces of 1864 Civil War Arkansas. They were the eyewitnesses to history.

John Jones was a private in the 5th Kansas Cavalry, fighting in several battles across Arkansas, including Helena and Pine Bluff. His luck ran out on April 25, 1864 when Jones, along with hundreds of other Federal soldiers were captured at the Battle of Marks Mills when the Confederates, under General James Fagan, swarmed a Union supply train.

Jones, a native of Iowa who later moved to Kansas, enlisted as a private, mustered into Company A of the 5th Kansas Cavalry, on October 31, 1861, at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Once they were captured, Private Jones and the others were marched southwest to Tyler, Texas to the Confederate Prisoner of War camp known as Camp Ford.

Soldiers from Marks Mills as well as the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry were housed at the prison.

Camp Ford was established in July of 1863 to accommodate the growing number of Federal prisoners being captured throughout the Trans-Mississippi Theater of operations.

The stockade that encompassed the camp enclosed an area of two to four acres with a spring running alongside the south wall, providing water for the men inside.

In an article written for the Texas State Historical Association:

“Living conditions at Camp Ford became deplorable in April 1864, when the population was suddenly tripled by the addition of about 3,000 prisoners captured at the defeat of the Union army in Arkansas and the battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. The stockade area was doubled in size in an effort to accommodate this influx. The 4,725 inmates were overcrowded and critically short of food, shelter, and clothing. Their plight was desperate for several months, until major exchanges of prisoners in July and October 1864 alleviated somewhat the shocking conditions that had prevailed.”

After being paroled, Jones returned to his regiment, which was mustered out on December 8, 1864 at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Missing One Fight…Neck Deep in Another

1st Iowa Cavalry

Having read and researched the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry for some forty years now, I know the participates of that battle like the back of my hand. Occasionally, I’ll be asked at books signings or events about a particular unit someone’s ancestor fought with. Recently I had an email from someone inquiring about her ancestors’ service at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

I had to explain to her, though their ancestor’s unit, the 1st Iowa Cavalry, was technically at Jenkins’ Ferry, they did not participate in the actual battle. On the afternoon of April 29, 1864, as the Federal Army arrived at the banks of the Saline River, General Frederick Steele ordered his Cavalry Division, under General Eugene Carr, to cross the newly constructed pontoon bridge and proceed with all possible speed toward Little Rock. Steele was concerned that Confederate General James Fagan, fresh from his victory at the Battle of Marks Mills, would make a move on Little Rock. Of course we know that was not the case as Fagan was actually moving in the opposite direction of Little Rock (toward Arkadelphia) when he learned of the battle occurring in the Saline River bottoms. The 1st Iowa Cavalry, along with the thousands of others in Carr’s Division, crossed the Saline and were on the high ground two miles east when the battle opened up on the morning of April 30th.

My response seemed to deflate the enthusiasm of my correspondent, until I mentioned to her how the 1st Iowa Cavalry was key in the action three weeks earlier at the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry.

And not just at Elkins’ Ferry. The 1st Iowa Cavalry had an impressive service while in Arkansas, seeing action not only at Elkins’ Ferry but also at Prairie Grove and Prairie D’Ann. They also were part of the Federal force that captured Little Rock in September of 1863.

As you’ll soon learn from my upcoming book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas,” the 1st Iowa was neck deep in the fight along the Little Missouri River.

My Iowa correspondent was like many I’ve met; they have heard of Elkins’ Ferry but had no idea where it was at and knew very little, if any, about the battle.

That was one of the deciding factors when selecting the subject of my fourth book. The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry has received only a fleeting glance by historians, often only receiving barely a paragraph when describing the battles that raged across Arkansas during the Civil War.

It was time the men – such as those of the 1st Iowa Cavalry – received their due, especially considering that dozen, Union and Confederate, died there. Are their deaths not as important as those of a Gettysburg or an Antietam or a Jenkins’ Ferry? Of course they are.

The men shown in today’s blog were the officers of the 1st Iowa Cavalry at Elkins’ Ferry. Front row, seated, left to right are Captain Thomas Jones, Major John McDermott, and Captain T.A. Bereman; back row, standing, are Lieutenant Samuel T. Craig and Major Charles Lothrop.

Lothrop would become Surgeon of the unit and would, after the war, write an outstanding history of the 1st Iowa Cavalry. The book is available on-line through the link below.

A History Of The First Regiment Iowa Cavalry Veteran Volunteers

Though my email correspondent was initially disappointed her ancestor was not at Jenkins’ Ferry, she seems thrilled to learn about this new place called Elkins’ Ferry.

I believe “Hail & High Water” will do those soldiers justice.

 

Finding My Way Back Home…

A breath…a deep breath.

When I began this blog, I did so for one purpose; to tell the story of the brave men who fought across 1864 Civil War Arkansas.

What I didn’t set out to do was to glorify war – absolutely not.

It was the men and their stories that I was always drawn to, beginning as a child. And as I transitioned from child to young adult I kept reading those stories and was intrigued as to what would bring these men so far from home, into a muddy river bottom, where one group of men sought to kill another group.

Standing on that hallowed ground today, it remains difficult for me to imagine the horror that occurred there; just as it is hard to stand in that plaza in Dallas and imagine those six seconds that changed America in November of 1963.

Today, if you go to any bookstore, you’re bound to find book after book about the day John Kennedy’s life tragically ended. There are the endless books about the conspiracies; was it the mafia? the CIA? the Cubans? It seems the list of books are endless. But looking closer, sandwiched within the conspiracy theories, are the stories of John Kennedy the man. This father of two, who enjoyed sailing who attained the highest office in the land in one of the closest elections in American history.

So when you visit the bookstore, you’re given choices; you can read about this history of the man who was John Kennedy, of his forty-six years on planet earth and the contributions to our history made by this man – or you can dwell upon the last six seconds of his life, almost obsessing over those moments in Dealey Plaza.

I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in the “six seconds” that is the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag.

I made it clear when I started this blog that it would remain non-political, and I’m happy to report that I’ve maintained that goal, throughout the last two years I’ve written the blog.

But as a wise sage recently said to me, I’ve let politics enter into this blog.

And that has to stop.

The issue surrounding the Confederate flag is a passionate one on both sides of the aisle and I am sure if you did an internet search, you’d find scores of blogs where a 21st century war of words is being waged over flying that flag, not to mention the endless stream of posts on social media.

I’ve allowed that to happen in here.

And that has to stop.

I enjoy telling the story of Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battles of the Camden Expedition. I also enjoy the notation that, thanks to the internet, folks will be accessing this blog for years to come to gleam a tidbit of information about those men and the battles. It’s humbling to even consider. That being said, if the blog and my books are going to be around long after I’m gone, then it’s proper that my “legacy” be one that I should be proud of.

I’ve seen my share of politics. (Here’s something you may not know about me) In college, I was neck deep in politics, working on congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, walking door to door passing out campaign literature, even meeting every president since Gerald Ford. I reached my pinnacle when I became President of the Young Republicans of Arkansas. Politics was definitely in my blood.

Then I became disillusioned with it all.

And I returned to my roots…and the history that surrounds to me.

I can honestly say that given a chance between having lunch with a President or a Senator or spending an afternoon giving a tour of the battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry…I would choose that battlefield without hesitation.

And through the books I am working on – the battle studies of the places like Elkins’ Ferry, Poison Spring and Marks Mills – I feed that passion that dwells within me and allow the words to spill out onto the paper.

You come here to read those stories. You don’t come here to be surrounded in controversy.

When the Jaycees in 1971 selected him as one of “Outstanding Young Men in America,” Elvis Presley said this in short acceptance speech:

“When I was a child, ladies and gentleman, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was a hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times. I learned very early in life that without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend; without a song. So I keep singing a song. Goodnight, Thank You.”

 Change the word “song” to “history” and that could easily be a speech I might make.

I love telling the stories of 1864 Arkansas.

And it’s time I get back to doing that.