Read This Blog…


I don’t like armchair quarterbacks.

I am no Shelby Foote. I’ve never purported to be. He was an amazing writer who had an incredible talent for telling a story. What I am is a fellow who has had a passion for Jenkins’ Ferry and the other battles of the 1864 Camden Expedition.

Years after reading Ed Bearss’ book on Jenkins’ Ferry, I would occasionally see new material about the battle surface, so much so in fact that I decided to try my hand at writing an updated history of the battle.

The response to my book, “Harvest of Death,” has been overwhelmingly positive with over 2,000 copies of the book in circulation.

There have been many kind words written about “Harvest of Death.” Perhaps one that I am proudest of I recently came across that appeared in a central Arkansas Magazine, “Arkansas Life.” The magazine highlighted hidden gems to visit around our great state. Mentioning Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield, the magazine had this to say:

“You’re sitting down for a picnic lunch and a swim at this 40-acre park, grateful that you remembered to read Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas written by local history buff Joe Walker (his website,, is a must read as well). Without it, you’d never have known about, say, the Confederate general and Union lieutenant who, years after the battle, found themselves sitting together in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Of course along the way, I’ve encountered a person or two who took exception to something I had written or my style of writing, most notably that endless dribble about the names of the field names at Jenkins’ Ferry. One of the fellows who has made it his duty in life to uncover the “true” field names is also the same fellow who has had a lifelong passion to uncover the “true” events of the Kennedy assassination (could UFO’s not be too far off his radar?)

I’ve taken the few criticism with a grain of salt. After all, I don’t have to rely on my writings to put food on the table and I make it crystal clear to those who read my books that I am not a professional writer – just a fellow who has a passion for wanting to share the story of what happened in southern Arkansas 150 years ago.

What does pay the bills is my job as a 911 Dispatcher with the Little Rock Police Department, now in my 22nd year with the department. And you know what? I’m darn good at what I do. Take away the commendations and the awards I’ve received over the years and you will find a fellow who is passionate about saving lives. If you call 911 and you happen to get me, I’ll guarantee I will pluck you out of the jaws of disaster and send help roaring your way.

That’s what I do.

One of the armchair quarterbacks took “Harvest of Death” to task when it first came out, droning on about issues he took exception to.

Now it seems he’s back with a review of my newest book, “Hail & High Water: The Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, Arkansas.”

Are his cosmetic concerns about the book legitimate? Absolutely. However when he drones on about the writing style of the author, that’s another matter.

I have never said I was a professional writer. And while I certainly can appreciate his point of view that anyone who decides to write a book should publish one that is readable and does justice to the work, I believe some consideration should be made for those who choose to step up and honor the brave soldiers, Union and Confederate, who gave their lives for the cause they believed it.

So I’ve pulled the book.

If you’ve purchased the book and aren’t happy with it, email me and I’ll be more than happy to refund the purchase price.

There will be no “Hail & High Water.” I have removed it from Amazon’s website and no additional copies will be published.

Nor will there be any other books on the 1864 Camden Expedition. I will write no further books on that topic.

“Harvest of Death” will remain and will be read by generations to come. It’s a good book and one that I am immensely proud of.

I’ll continue to focus my efforts on my upcoming book, “Elvis in Arkansas,” a field guide to Elvis Presley’s many visits to Arkansas during his career. It’s already coming together as a fine book – one I am proud of. This one will be carefully edited prior to its release to insure it does justice to Elvis and his contribution to our state’s history.

I feel sorrow as I write this for the soldiers who fought and especially gave their lives at the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry, a battle that has received so little attention.

Perhaps my armchair quarterback friend can get off that couch now and write his own history of the Battle of Elkins’ Ferry.

And you can bet I hope he reads this blog.

A Texas Longhorn…at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry


Robert Gould was an original Texas Longhorn.

In 1883, Gould was one of first two law professors appointed at the new University of Texas. He would serve the university faithfully for twenty years, retiring shortly before his death in 1904.

Prior to that, he had served as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Prior to that, he had been wounded at the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry – his horse even being shot out from under him in the midst of the battle.

Born in North Carolina, he moved to Alabama with his mother following his father’s death when he was seven. Enrolling in the University of Alabama at the age of fourteen, he graduated by seventeen and taught mathematics at the university for several years while working on his law degree.

Moving to Texas in 1850 where he practiced law, Gould attended the 1861 Secession Convention during the same time he was elected judge for the Thirteenth District of Texas. He would resign from the bench and enlist in the Confederate Army where he raised a battalion known as “Gould’s Battalion,” where he served as Colonel of the regiment.

He would survive the war, though wounded during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. He would go down in the mud that day at Jenkins’ Ferry, one of hundreds from Walker’s Texas Division wounded that April morning.

Following the war, he would return to Texas and reelected judge in 1866. He was one of several officials removed from office as an “impediment to Reconstruction,” when Texas came under federal military control in 1867.

In 1874, he was returned to the bench, having been appointed to the Texas Supreme Court, later being appointed Chief Justice by Governor Oran Roberts.

Roberts and Gould were appointed the first two law professors of the new University of Texas, where he was remember “as a hard-working and gentle man of simple tastes and as a sympathetic and respected professor.”

He would be buried in Austin upon his death in 1904.


Colonel Robert Gould

Meeting Elvis….Sixty Years too Late

PicsArt (5)

I was sixty years too late to meet Elvis.

On Saturday, I traveled to Newport, a town nestled in northeastern Arkansas to begin my “boots on the ground” research for my newest book, “Elvis in Arkansas,” a book that traces Presley’s over forty visits to Arkansas during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The bulk of them occurred in 1954-1955 when a nineteen-year-old kid from Memphis was, unbeknownst to him, about to change the landscape of music forever.

Our first stop was the “Silver Moon Club,” a 1950’s era nightclub along Arkansas Highway 367 – a stretch of highway between Little Rock and Jonesboro that was dotted with similar clubs. This area became known as the “Rock and Roll Highway” for all of the amazing talent that got their start in these clubs.

The first thing you notice about the Silver Moon Club is – well…. it’s no longer there. Indeed, I am discovering that the passage of time is taking its toll on venues Elvis played in the 1950’s which makes documenting the ones still around even more important. I am not sure exactly when the original Silver Moon Club was torn down but in the rear parking lot is the “new” Silver Moon Club (though it looks a little worse for wear).

The photograph in today’s blog is what the original club looked like and how it looks today.

Walking about on the parking lot where the original once was, you discover remains of the original tile floors and wood from the dance floor. Even the pink’ish bathroom tile clearly shows where the bathroom once was.

As I walked about on the parking lot, the date he played there the last time, October 24, 1955, kept playing over and over in my mind. What was it about that date I kept asking myself? Then – and this is downright spooky – it dawned on me that I was standing in the midst of the Silver Moon Club EXACTLY sixty years to the day that Elvis performed there. How absolutely creepy is that?

I tried to imagine how much different that spot would have looked sixty years ago. A steady stream of cars pouring into the parking lot after dark with most couples mostly unfamiliar with the young man and his guitar and bass player who would take the stage that night.

One thing I really enjoy thus far about “Elvis in Arkansas” is not only the historical aspect of the Elvis connection but having an opportunity to visit parts of our beautiful state I’ve never seen. And there will be plenty of opportunities as Elvis seemed to have everywhere in the 1950’s.

I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy this journey with me. It may not be Civil War related but as I said when I renamed this blog a while back….I plan to write about the history that surrounds us – and some of that history might just revolve around a young man from Memphis.

It would have been mighty cool being in this same spot sixty years ago.

You’re gonna like “Elvis in Arkansas.”

2016 Book Signings…with a Glimpse of 2017


Arkansas…Iowa…Kansas….Texas…2016 is shaping up to be a good year.

Over the last several days, I’ve been working to firm up my calendar for 2016. One of the joys of writing about the men and battles of 1864 Civil War Arkansas is getting to meet many of you. As many of you who follow this blog know, I’ve had my share of ups and downs related to my knee replacement. The situation has caused me to miss a few events and it reached a point where I held off on committing to anything for the remainder of this year.

As hectic as the day is for most of us, it’s sometimes hard to imagine 2015 is almost gone and 2016 is just a short distance away.

I am hopeful that 2016 will have me once again in my element. I have not had much in the way of opportunities to speak about “Hail and High Water” nor “The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry – A Student’s Guide.” I’m hoping that will change. I am working on a project currently to reach out to the middle schools in Saline and Grant counties to donate copies of the JF Student’s Guide to the classroom. Also, I am neck deep working on “Treacherous Ground: The Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas” and hope to have it completed in time for the Poison Spring reenactment in April of 2016.

Also, the anniversary of Jenkins’ Ferry falls on a Saturday next year (April 30th). I’m planning to be down there the entire day, giving tours of the battlefield. It would be awesome to have a cook-out inside the state park that day – something that might be worth planning.

And of course there is Iowa. Health issues kept me from Iowa this year and I am certainly looking forward to meeting the folks there. One of the coolest events planned during my time there is a reunion of the descendants of the 33rd Iowa Infantry as well as a meeting planned with descendants of Union General Samuel Rice. It promises to be an exciting trip.

Click Here to See the 2016 Calendar of Events

And what of 2017? I’m already planning out that far with a swing through the Arkansas Delta promoting my sixth book, “Elvis in Arkansas” to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death with visits to the Delta Cultural Museum, Southern Blues Museum and of course Graceland. I had originally planned to have “Elvis in Arkansas” ready in time for the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ performance at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock in 1956. However, Poison Spring is taking the front seat at the present time so Elvis will have to wait until 2017.

Don’t forget the event next Saturday, October 31st, at the Old Belfast Memorial Marker. It will be a day of work and fellowship as you’ll get a rare opportunity to spend some time at one of the last remaining landmarks of the 1864 Camden Expedition.

I look forward to seeing you next Saturday and in 2016.

Grant County….”The Guy on the Money…”


Ulysses Grant never visited the area in Arkansas named for his honor in 1869. Neither did General Phil Sheridan, whom the county seat was named for. Grant at least made it to Arkansas, visiting the state in 1880 as part of a world tour following this presidential term, spending time in Little Rock where they held a parade in his honor.

Phil Sheridan never spent a moment in the Arkansas town named in his honor. Then again, neither did Ulysses Grant and he was given the honor of having the entire county named for him. But in fairness to Grant, he was keenly aware of what occurred in the area in the spring of 1864. In fact, in his celebrated memories, completed just days before his death in 1885, he mentions both the 1864 Camden Expedition and Jenkins’ Ferry specifically.

Just a month before Ulysses Grant assumed the presidency, Arkansas Governor Powell Clayton signed a bill creating Grant County from portions of Hot Spring, Jefferson and Saline counties. Clayton had oversaw the Federal supply deport at Pine Bluff during the Civil War and was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1871 during the height of reconstruction. If you think the word “Confederate” is surrounded by controversy today, it was far worse during reconstruction. When the decision was made to create the new county, the pro-union supporters in the state house would support the proposal but only on the condition of naming the county after Grant and the county seat after Sheridan. You can probably imagine this infuriated several in the county who tried unsuccessfully over the years to have the names changed.

A while back, I was eating in one of the restaurants in Sheridan when I struck up a conversation with my young waitress. I always like to bring up Jenkins’ Ferry when I’m around some of the younger members of the community to see what they know about the battle. In this case, I asked her if she knew who Ulysses Grant was. “He’s the guy on the money, right?” Well…I guess she was partially right though I’m sure the General would be a bit disappointed to know his exploits as the commanding general of all Union forces (not to mention that stint as the 18th President of the United States) would take a backseat to being “the guy on the money.”

I didn’t even try to ask her who Phil Sheridan was.

Incorporated August 26, 1887, the new town of Sheridan had boasted a population of 42 in the 1880 census (by comparison, there were 4,600 residents in the 2010 census). Actually, the larger of the area cities was Sandy Springs (what we now know as Leola) located just west of the Jenkins’ Ferry battlefield. The town would be renamed “Leola” in the early 20th century in honor of a young child, Alice Leola Cunningham, who had been tragically killed in a house fire in 1905. For years, the two cities battled back and forth for dominance but the Great Depression devastated the timber industry, which was the economic base of Leola, allowing Sheridan to take its place as the largest of Grant County’s cities.

Ulysses Grant knew of the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, even briefly mentioning it in his 1885 memories.

The Federal commander at Jenkins’ Ferry, General Frederick Steele, was a classmate and lifelong friend of Grant. When he assumed command of forces during the Vicksburg Campaign, Steele was given command of the First Division of William Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps. Following Vicksburg, Steele was given command of Federal forces in Arkansas and charged with bringing order back to the state toward the goal of bringing Arkansas back into the Union.

When Steele’s promotion to Major General was under review, Grant wrote a note to President Abraham Lincoln recommending the promotion:

“Gen. Steele is one of our very best soldiers as well as one of the most able. He is in every sense a soldier, one who believes, as such, his first duty is obedience to law and the orders of his superiors…In regard to Gen. Steele I can say that I have known him for nearly twenty-four years. We were classmates at West Point. A truer man is not in the Army. He will support the Government and maintain the laws, in good faith, without questioning their policy.

I hope the President & the Senate will be disabused of any opinion they may have formed prejudicial to Gen. Steele. I would ask, as a special favor to me that you help Gen. S. in this matter.”

When the 1864 Red River commenced, part of President Abraham Lincoln’s plan to invade Texas called for Steele to move his army south from Little Rock toward Shreveport. Steele as we’ve talked about, was reluctant to leave Little Rock, resisting the order for weeks until receiving a dispatch from Ulysses Grant:

“Move your force in full cooperation with General N.P. Banks’ attack on Shreveport.”

Of course Grant would have been keenly aware of the disaster as the expedition fell apart for the Federals with Steele barely able to make his escape back to Little Rock.

It’s a bit disheartening to face the reality that fewer and fewer of the area young people are aware of what occurred in their backyard in the spring of 1864.

Hopefully, as we begin offering the “The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry: A Student’s Guide, to the area schools for free distribution to their middle school students, we might just turn things around and pull Jenkins’ Ferry back from the bring of obscurity among the area’s young people.

At least they recognize Ulysses Grant (somewhat).

I doubt they’ll ever wrap around who Phil Sheridan was.

Poison Spring…Which Map is Which?

PicsArt (3)

One of the reasons I began this blog was to invite you along on a journey. Prior to writing my first book, I was unaware of the time and research necessary to write a detailed account of a civil war battle. After Harvest of Death was published, I conceived the idea of blogging a book from start to finish – giving you an opportunity to follow the steps it takes from first draft to book signing.

Understanding a civil war battle is a complicated affair. It’s exciting to visit a civil war battlefield and find a really good study of the battle prior to your visit – one so good, it’s almost like a field guide to the battle once you have boots on the ground. It makes the visit so much more rewarding. I’ve always been impressed by those writers who can present the technical aspects of a battle while at the same time weaving it into an enjoyable read.

You accomplish this in two ways. First, you compile the official reports and correspondence of the commanders. They provide the meat of the action, especially the detailed ones providing turn by turn troop movements. By taking the reports of individual companies and meshing them together with the Brigade or Division commanders, you develop a fairly accurate visualization of how the battle was fought.

Then there are the foot soldiers and the diaries and letters they left behind. If the official reports are the meat, then the soldier’s stories are the desert. They provide so much insight into what these men were thinking as they swept across a field toward an awaiting enemy. I am fortunate in that the 1864 Camden Expedition is chalked full of stories these men left behind.

But in order to present an accurate telling of the battle, you must break the battle down during your writing into a series of turn by turn movements of individual companies. In order to accomplish that, you must have an accurate base map in which to work with.

That brings us to today’s blog.

The two maps shown in today’s blog are rough hand drawn sketches by me showing the same location – the area where the battle of Poison Spring was fought. And though there are similarities, the maps are significantly different in several respects.

The top map was drawn by a Confederate Engineer within a month of the battle. It shows the roads leading westward from Camden – the same roads used by Federal forces as they went in search of forage and the rumored 5,000 bushels of corn said to be in the area. This is from the same batch of maps preserved in the Gilmer collection in the University of North Carolina archives (the same collection the base map of Jenkins’ Ferry is found).

The lower map is based upon the map that appeared in Ed Bearss’ book, “Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.” While there are some similarities, there are some significant differences as it relates to the approaches to the Poison Spring battlefield.

Is this important? Very.

Soon enough, I’ll begin moving individual units around a large table sized hand-drawn map of the area – plotting each unit in relation to the other. Is this all really necessary? Absolutely. Go back and read some of the finer works on Shiloh, Gettysburg and other large scale battles and you’ll find this same approach by the writer. Plus, it gives me a better understanding of what occurred there.

But which map is the “right” map? On the surface, you’d think the Gilmer map would be the most accurate, as it was drawn within a month of the battle. However, anything Ed Bearss does is top notch so I have no doubt that much thought was put into the map that Bearss commissioned. Honestly, at this point I am inclined to follow Ed’s direction and utilize his base map of the theater of operations. This may confuse some who have heard me speak of the Jenkins’ Ferry Gilmer map. I have been unbending over the attempts by some to have me alter the map I used in Harvest of Death. As I have said previously, the map matches the genealogical information provided by the Tucker family of the layout of the area at Jenkins’ Ferry. So, by utilizing Ed Bearss’ map version at Poison Spring, I’m not diminishing the historical significance of the Gilmer map but rather using a map with a tried and true study of this important battle of the Camden Expedition.

Then why another book if Ed’s covers it well? The answer, as I said about Jenkins’ Ferry, is new information has surfaced since Ed wrote his book in 1961. By adding the newly discovered reports, diaries and letters, it will paint an even clearer picture of what happened. there.

Though Jenkins’ Ferry was war on an epic scale – Poison Spring was war at its fieriest.

It was a time of desperation and madness in 1864 Civil War Arkansas.


Football Fields and Battlefields….

Field Position

In football, field position is everything. It can make the difference between an organized march across the gridiron or having to rely on a series of Hail Mary’s in order to make it to the end zone.

Something I’m discovering all too clearly is how field position affected so significantly the outcomes of the the battles at Jenkins’ Ferry and Poison Spring. At Jenkins’ Ferry, the Confederates were the underdogs – having to march across open ground, visible for almost two hundred yards, before being mowed down by a wall of Federal soldiers. Those unfamiliar with the area have pondered the question for years as to why the commanding Confederate General, E. Kirby Smith, would launch a series of piece-meal attacks over open ground where his army was visible the moment they emerged from the wood-line. Well, the short answer is he didn’t have many options to choose from. With Cox Creek running bank full to his north (and an even denser thicket of tangled vines on the north side of the creek) and a swamp of knee to waist deep water to his south (where Highway 46 runs today), Kirby Smith believed his only option was a series of head-on assaults on the Federal line.

His march across the field of battle ended in failure.

In addition to the terrain, his troops also were partially responsible.

Now…. before you rail up on that last sentence, consider this. All three Confederate Divisions (Churchill, Parsons and Walker) had all endured a forced march to Jenkins’ Ferry. This had included a hard march the night before through ankle/knee deep mud during the midst of an intense thunderstorm with some of the hardest rains the veterans could remember. Once they arrived in the Saline River bottoms, they were each staggered out by a couple of hours so instead of an all out offensive, Kirby Smith had to piece-mill his attacks with the troops available at that given moment. He was sending in fatigued troops over open ground in numbers that would not have penetrated the Federal line. So it wasn’t necessary the fault of the foot soldiers – they were simply worn out before they started.

Now back to our football game analogy. Imagine the Green Bay Packers traveling south to play the Dallas Cowboys. Several miles out from the stadium, their bus breaks down and the players have to walk the remaining twenty miles to Texas Stadium. Add to that the fact that not all of your players are going at the same pace so when they finally do arrive for kickoff, you not only have fatigued players even before they set foot on the field, but you have your bench players mixed in with your star athletes forcing you to go into the game with a ragtag group of players. The Cowboys on the other hand, are rested and prepared for battle. The resulting “battle” will probably not go well for the Packers.

Unless…..the Packers are able to gain excellent field position.

This did not occur at Jenkins’ Ferry – the field positions the Confederates had to fight under were dreadful.

Now go back two weeks to April 18, 1864 to the Battle of Poison Spring.

Here it was the Confederates with excellent field position – the Federals stretched out having to protect a 200-wagon forage train. General Frederick Steele had sent out the forage train on rumors of 5,000 bushels of corn being stored on area farms. Not only would the corn help feed the thousands of horses and mules – it would also feed his starving army, then hunkered down in Camden. The only problem with the plan was it was hard to hide two hundred wagons lumbering along a dirt road west of Camden. Soon enough, Confederate scouts had discovered the train and it was only a matter of time before General John Marmaduke had developed a plan to attack to seize the wagon train.

The result was a blood bath for the Federals as they were swarmed upon by thousands of Confederate troops. This time, it was the Federals with poor field position, enabling the Confederates to capture not only the entire wagon train, but also capturing and killing hundreds of soldiers.

Two battles with significantly different outcomes – all because of field position and troop strength.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to talk much more about the Battle of Poison Spring – and not from the “atrocity” standpoint that seems to overshadow this battle.

Did unspeakable things happen at Poison Spring? Yes.

Did the Federals themselves have a hand in their own demise? Absolutely.

And that last statement is something that seems to be left out of some of the “atrocity” versions of the battle.

Poor performance and tactics can destroy any army regardless of their field position.

But failing to come to the aid of your fellow soldiers spells disaster no matter how you slice it as we’ll see in the coming weeks.

Making Sense of the Battle of Poison Spring….


I’m pushing through the initial draft of my fifth book – this one a study of the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas. It’s slow going – first drafts usually are. But thus far, I’m pleased with how it is turning out.

This one will be the toughest of the books I’ll write on the 1864 Camden Expedition. Tough it that even 150 years later, controversy continues to swirl around what occurred at Poison Spring on April 18, 1864 centering around the First Kansas Colored Infantry.

Words like “atrocities” or “massacres” have been used to describe what occurred there. Just as I did on the book I wrote on the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry – I’m taking a non-partial – middle of the road approach to the battle detailing the facts of the battle without taking any side or drawing any conclusions. Civil War battlefield studies are all over the map. Sometimes, as you read one particular book, you can almost sense the bias the author has toward one viewpoint which skews the entire issue making the book a struggle to complete.

To me, writing histories of the battles and events of 1864 Civil War Arkansas should be absolutely non-biased. Instead, focusing on the events of the battle and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

I will say the the “atrocity” goes both ways at Poison Spring. Though the soldiers of the First Kansas Colored Infantry suffered devastating losses (and horrific treatment at times by the Confederates), the Federals themselves might share a bit of the responsibility in the affair by failing to come to the aid of the First Kansas, despite desperate cries for assistance. That coupled with the fact that, though designated as a forage mission to seek corn from area farms, there is documentation indicating the First Kansas Colored looted several of the area farms – taking clothing, furniture and other items in which to send back home to their families in Kansas. That fact was b0und to boil the blood of the Confederates, not to mention this was the second time the First Kansas Colored had faced off against these same Confederate forces – the first being at the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma on July 17, 1863.

“Treacherous Ground” is going to be a good book. It was a far more complex battle than I had anticipated when I began my research. There was a concentration of forces in such a small area that the details of the battle are tough to separate at times. It was a hell of a fight. Just as I did with Harvest of Death, I’m breaking the battle down by individual regiment/brigades and doing a turn-by-turn movement of the units during the battle. Once I’ve completed that task, then I’ll slowly begin intertwining the action to give a full accounting of the battle.

I am months away from completing a first draft. Then it goes to my editor where she will take the red pen to the manuscript and shows what works and what doesn’t. Then we’ll start working toward having a book. One I believe will do justice to both sides involved in the fight.

I will say Poison Spring is, in it’s own right, just as complicated a battle as Jenkins’ Ferry – and just as deadly.

In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about Poison Spring here on the blog just as we have Elkins’ Ferry and of course, Jenkins’ Ferry.

When Treacherous Ground is finally published, they’ll be no resting – the Battle of Marks Mills is waiting to be told. That one looks just as complicated.

And somewhere in the middle of that, I’ll get knee deep into “Elvis in Arkansas.”

Don’t you just love Arkansas history?

Help Find the Battle of Guesses’ Creek…

Cannonball House

We’ve had some discussions lately about the action at Guesses’ Creek the afternoon before the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. I devoted a blog recently discussing the lack of concentrations of relics indicating the exact location of the skirmish may not yet have been discovered.

I had always assumed the action occurred south of what was known as the “Cannonball House,” the two story home pictured in today’s blog that sat alongside the Military Road (now Grant County Road #1).

After the blog appeared, I had a discussion with a fellow who follows my blog and has spent an extensive amount of time researching the Guesses’ Creek portion of the Jenkins’ Ferry campaign. After the blog appeared where I drew the grid lines extending out 1700 yards south of the Cannonball House, he asked an interesting question….

Are we sure the action occurred SOUTH of the Cannonball House? Could it actually have occurred NORTH of the house and we’ve been searching for the battle site in the wrong place the entire time.

Interesting question.

The answer to that question can be answered by one of you. There are several of you who read the blog who remember seeing the Cannonball House. If you would, take a moment and answer a simple question….Which end/side of the house was the impact hole that was visible for years after the battle? Refer to the drawing below which overlays the house where it approximately sat alongside the Military Road. Take a moment and leave me a comment indicating which end/side of the house the hole was located (North, South, East, West).

In doing so, you might just help solve a mystery that alluded historians for years.




13,000 dead and wounded in Benton and over 7,000 in Sheridan. The disaster would make international headlines. That is what you would get with a disaster wiping out 41% of the population.

Examining casualty rates during the Civil War is fascinating. While commanders focused on tried and true 18th century infantry movements, the advancement in weaponry played an important role in raising the number of killed and wounded on both sides.

My ancestor, John McLain, was a Private in the 33rd Arkansas Confederate Infantry at the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. He survived that dreadful day.

But all didn’t go well for his unit. The 33rd Arkansas took approximately 220 men into battle that morning in the Saline River swamp. Of those, ninety-two were killed or wounded in less than hour. That is a 41% casualty rate.

They were one of the first units brought to battle that morning. As part of General James Tappan’s Brigade, initially, the 33rd were held in reserve on the ridge overlooking the Saline River bottoms with the 19th/24th and 27th/38th Consolidated Arkansas units pushing across Grooms’ field toward the wall of 5,000 Federals hunkered down behind make-shift breastworks.

A veteran of the 27th Arkansas recalled that moment:

“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.”

Watching from the ridge overlooking the bottom was the 33rd Arkansas. One of their soldiers would write later:

“After our regiment had stood there in line for twenty minutes it was ordered forward and into action. There was nothing of the romance of war or battle. No waving of banners; no martial music; no thronging of women, children and gray-haired men to the battlements of a beautiful city to witness the sentiment about this. The rain pattered down steadily. The men stood in the ranks, cold, wet, and hungry and gazed down into that dismal, cheerless swamp.”

Once they stepped off into the bottom, things went to absolute hell for the 33rd Arkansas.

As they charged across the muddy field, which had been planted in corn now ankle high, they marched into a swarm of enemy fire. One soldier later recalled how you could hold you hat up in the air and catch a hat full of minie balls being fired at them. There was a distance of approximately 200 yards they had to cover in order to make it to the Federal line. Once they got to within a hundred yards or so, the Federals opened up with a dreadful fire, dropping soldiers up and down the line. One of those who went down was their commander, Colonel Hiram Grinstead. A soldier recalled his fatal wounding:

“There was confusion in our lines every now and then and some of the boys would get a little shaky and start back to the rear. I recollect at one time that Colonel Grinstead darted in before one of these men who had started to the rear and with his sword drawn back in a threatening manner, I heard the Colonel yell out distinctly, for he was close to me, ‘If you don’t go back, I will kill you,’ and the man stopped and turned round and went back…Very soon after this Colonel Grinstead fell. I did not see him fall. But someone said ‘Colonel Grinstead is killed,’ and I looked and saw him lying on the ground.”

By the time it was over, the dead and wounded of the 33rd Arkansas was scattered across the battlefield, the screams of the wounded echoing throughout the river bottom.

41% of the men of the 33rd Arkansas went down in the mud at Jenkins’ Ferry. Today, even a single death of a soldier overseas in the Middle East makes national news. Imagine how a 41% casualty rate would devastate a unit (and a community).

High casualty during the Civil War wasn’t uncommon. In 1864, at the Battle of Cold Harbor, there were 7,000 soldiers killed within the first twenty minutes of the battle.

It was a dreadful slaughter.

Many of the dead would be carried back to Camden where they would be buried, including their commander, Colonel Grinstead. They rest silently today gather forever amongst one another.

But many remain on the battlefield today where they lay – in unmarked graves, the cornfield having been abandoned by the families who lived there – unable to plow a field where the bodies almost outnumbered the corn.