On August 24, 1864, Major-General Fredrick Steele reported that a large Confederate force under the command of General J.O. Shelby raided the railroad in the area between DeVall’s Bluff and Brownsville. In this raid the Federal guard was captured, the telegraph wire was destroyed, and the rails were torn up. Steele also reported that Shelby’s men also burned, “a large quantity of hay and destroy the machines for cutting and pressing.”
Shelby’s command consisted of three thousand cavalry and six pieces of artillery. Steele remembered, “Before sufficient force could be assembled to capture them they were off.” His report was dated August 26 and Steele’s men were still in pursuit of the Confederates two days later.
He fears that a large Confederate force recently crossed the Arkansas River near the Post of Arkansas, “for the purpose of joining Shelby and attacking Devall’s Bluff and the railroad.” Another fear was that Little Rock could be attacked. However it seemed to be Colonel Powell Clayton that knew what was going on in his neighborhood. Clayton believes, “a large cavalry force under Price is now moving upon the south side of the Saline for the purpose of crossing the Arkansas above here and making a raid into Missouri.”
Steele asks for more troops for two reasons. One reason is that General Price, who was reported to have had 15,000 cavalry, including Marmaduke’s division. Steele was informed by deserters, refugees, and others that General rice was now over the cavalry and John Magruder, “of the infantry that are to move against me.”
Another reason Steele needed more troops was that his troops were being lost by expiration of service or be discharges. Before closing his dispatch, Steele was careful to note, “My instructions are to hold the line of the Arkansas.”
Brigadier General C.C. Andrews wrote to Brigadier-General Christopher C. Anderson about the attack:
“There was one station beyond and three this side, at each of which were two companies of the Fifty-fourth Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry. Subsequent information showed that Colonel G. M. Mitchell, commanding the Fifty-fourth Illinois, had concentrated six companies at a station two miles this side of Ashley’s and was resisting the enemy. I sent out from here the available force of three regiments of cavalry, I sent out from here the available force of three regiments of cavalry, under Colonel Geiger, numbering about 750, for observation at least, and in interpose assistance to Colonel Mitchell if possible. Geiger arrived promptly, but Mitchell had been taken. The cavalry commenced to engage Shelby only a few minutes after Mitchell surrender and fought him two hours. The enemy, it is reported, had 2,000 or 3,000 men, and I have reasons to believe that he had forces still back that were not engaged. Our loss was 6 killed and 42 wounded. I think we lost no prisoners. The fight ended by the enemy falling back into the timber toward the north and a little in this direction. Geiger then fell back to prevent the enemy getting between this place and him. Our men did more than hold their own. I have had no communication at all with Little Rock, and do not know what has been going on there yesterday and to-day. Of course i know nothing about operations at Pine Bluff. I am apprehensive that the enemy will move up here from the Arkansas River. My forces have lately been taken away to the extent of two regiments to strengthen Pine Bluff, and the Fifty-fourth Illinois, a veteran regiment, had lately been taken from here to serve as guard for hay contractors. I, therefore, have only about 600 infantry and 1,000 effective cavalry, together with one battery. I yesterday sent to Saint Charles for a gun-boat, which I soon expect to arrive.” This was drafted at 1:30pm.
Thirty minutes later he drafts a similar letter to Major C.T. Christensen, Assistant Adjutant-General in New Orleans, “I am certainly weak, even to hold this place against a serious attack of superior numbers. I ought to be able to move out and whip completely any such force as Shelby has. We are working constantly. I have armed the quartermaster’s employees. A loyal person took pains to travel in some distance to inform me that Price’s movement toward Pine Bluff was a feint; that he would probably attack Little Rock.”
Earlier that morning at 8am, Brigadier-General C.C. Andrews wrote to Captain C.H. Dyer that a loyalist Mrs. Jones, “who lives just below confluence of Bayou Metoe and Bayou Two Prairies”, said she overhead a conversation on August 23 between a couple of Confederate scouts that the Confederates deployed a pontoon bridge over the Arkansas River above Arkansas Post and were to cross by August 24, “that the plan was to attack Little Rock, the railroad, and Devall’s Bluff at the same time.”
At 12:30pm, Andrews added, “At about 12.30 p. m. a man from the First Nebraska came riding in haste up to my headquarters and reported that Shelby had captured Ashley’s Station, where were two companies of Fifty-fourth Illinois Volunteer Infantry and a detachment of the First Nebraska; that Shelby came upon the railroad from the north; that he had about 2,000 men, artillery, and wagon train; also that he was moving upon the other hay stations in this direction.”
By 2pm, a message arrived from Colonel G.M. Mitchell of the 54th Illinois Infantry Veteran Volunteers at Jones and Lane’s Hay Station noting, “I am surrounded by a large number of cavalry from the north of the railroad. Ashley’s Station surrendered, and hay burned. I have concentrated six companies at this station and will fight to the last; send help if possible. The enemy have two pieces of artillery.”
Andrews goes on to report that, “Colonel Geiger’s skirmishers began to engage the enemy about a mile this side of Jones’ hay station, and he reports that it was only a very few minutes after the firing had ceased at that station that they commenced. He moved on beyond Jones’ Station and there learned from a wounded man, as well as from appearances of things there, that Colonel Mitchell and the six companies with him had been captured. Although the enemy largely outnumbered Colonel Geiger’s command, he engaged him for about two hours in a brisk fight.”
As the Confederates began to retreat, they fell back into a wooded area to the north, “moving at the same time in this direction.” Andrews’ report continues, “At this, Geiger began also to fall back this way. Our men are reported to have fought very gallantly. Copies of reports of casualties in each regiment are inclosed. The number of killed, wounded, and missing is as follows: Eighth Missouri Cavalry, killed, 3; wounded, 36; Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, killed, 3; wounded, 7. Total, killed, 6; wounded, 43.”
Another dispatch from Andrews reveals that the prisoners taken during the action were taken in a southwest direction. The 1st Nebraska’s sutler escaped from the Confederates. It was from this sutler that Andrews learns, “any prisoner who fell out or was unable to keep up (and they were marched fast) was shot.”
W.F. Geiger, during the attack, was with 360 men from the 8th Missouri Cavalry (US), 210 men from the 9th Iowa, and 120 men from the 11th Missouri. His report begins with his command moving as rapidly as possible toward the direction of Ashley’s Station. He wrote, “within one mile and a half of Jones’ hay station I heard cannonading which appeared to be at the station, and deployed the 8th Missouri Cavalry as I marched.” His report continued, “When within a quarter of a mile of Jones’ Station the cannonading ceased, and seeing a line of about 2,000 of the enemy’s cavalry drawn up on the north side of the railroad, I ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Stephens to cross the railroad with the 11th Missouri and move on the enemy’s left flank, while the 8th Missouri attacked him in front, keeping the 9th Iowa as a reserve.” As Geiger’s troops got into position, “the enemy immediately opened a heavy fire of musketry, which was replied to by our carbines.”
Geiger’s account noted that the skirmishing lasted about two hours, “during which time my line advanced steadily while that of the enemy retired slowly, but in good order.”
The Confederates attempted three charges on Geiger’s left flank, to no avail. Geiger then reports that as he drove the Confederates off the field of battle and into the timber, he, “discovered two lines of dismounted men, who appeared to be endeavoring to outflank me on the left, and get between my force and Devall’s Bluff, [and with] Night coming on, I withdrew my forces, and returned to Devall’s Bluff, arriving at 9 p. m., having marched thirty miles and fought two hours after 2 p. m. with horses that had just returned from a hard scout without having feed for two days.”
Geiger’s recounting of casualties include: “8th Missouri Cavalry, killed, 6; wounded, 38; missing, 1. 11th Missouri Cavalry, killed 3; wounded, 5. Both officers and men behaved as soldiers should. Had my horses been in such a condition that I could have charged the enemy I might have punished him more severely.” Of Colonel Mitchell I know nothing. The officer in charge of my skirmishers said he saw the enemy hurrying the prisoners toward the timber as he advanced.”
J.O. Shelby’s report had the number of Confederate forces at 2500. His march began in Jacksonport , “and had to march within twenty-four miles of Little Rock to Austin to cross Big Cypress at the bridge there, which stream was running out bank full and irresistible.” When he got within six miles of DeValls Bluff, he found the 54th Illinois posted at Ashley’s Station Number1, “in a mixed fortification of logs, dirt, and hay.”
Shelby had the element of surprise on his side. He wrote, “As I debouched from the timber on the green and emerald prairie little squads of Federals were scattered here and there, and away to the east a dozen or more machines were busily engaged baling hay. My column was well closed up and marching in column of fours, and the white covered wagons with the artillery looked very much like a returning Federal Expedition. Very soon, however, their confidence was destroyed, and the rusticating bands dozing away the hot summer hours were fleeing the wrath to come.”
Shelby’s report continued, My forlorn hope of an advance under the brave and intrepid Williams immediately charged the retreating enemy, and a wave of steel overleaped and swallowed up the fleeing blue coats.” Shelby surrounded the fort, and, “the artillery opened at point-blank range, and high over the white bursts of the powder-cloud that drifted and floated away before the battle breeze a white flag waved out as a token of surrender.”
By the end of the action, Shelby reported 150 prisoners and the capture of two hundred small-arms, “besides a large quantity of supplies.”
Shelby then decided to attack Station Number 2, where he captured and destroyed the station and took one hundred more prisoners. Same was true with the third station having taken fifty prisoners at the latter.
Shelby went on to attack Stations numbers 4 and 5, which, according to his report, were more, “stubborn and defiant.” Shelby wrote, “Veteran Illinois and Indiana infantry were in these redoubts, and they had a hatred of surrendering, although I had never asked them to do so.”
The report continued, “The garrison grew uneasy, but over the sea of dark green prairie, over the white puffs of the bursting bombs, and the rippling shots of the skirmishers, a long blue line of Federal cavalry and infantry came looming up, and as they grew nearer and nearer out from the doomed forts the garrison rushed with frantic speed for help and hope too late. As the dismounted men reached the ditches and palisades the reserve cavalry, whose steeds had all the long forenoon been champing impatient bits, dashed away after them in a long, fierce gallop. Sharp and brief the chase. When within 500 yards of their friends the Federals were overtaken, surrounded, ridden over, and Colonel Mitchell and 450 of his officers and men surrendered unconditionally. They were immediately countermarched and double-quicked to the rear, the bullets of their friends all the while ringing fierce, discordant meter.”
Bad news for Shelby included reinforcement for his enemy. “From Little Rock another column had just arrived, and these two bodies were uniting with an ugly look, presaging the coming hurricane.” As the Federal reinforcements entered the field of battle, Shelby sent his artillery and wagon rain to his rear to protect it. Shelby became worried, “for I knew my skeleton animals could never take them from the moist and muddy prairie if a swift retreat was necessary, and now I faced them at an odds of one to five.”
The Federals formed their line of battle and began their push as Shelby fell back.
“Twice they feebly charged with the blare of bugles and the rattle of impatient arms, and twice the old veterans of my command drove them back in confusion and dismay. All day and night they followed me to Austin, which was reached by daylight, where I had left Colonel Dobbin, and where I halted for the day after marching forty miles from sun to sun and fighting six hours.”
Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas
Throughout the day’ actions, Shelby made off with valuable assets. Shelby wrote of his victory while calculating his recent gains. His report added, “577 prisoners, including 1 field officer and 11 line officers; over 200 Federals killed and wounded; ten miles of railroad track destroyed completely-the ties torn up and burned, the iron heated and bent, telegraph destroyed, bridges and trestle-works ruined; 3,000 bales of hay destroyed by fire; 20 hay machines chopped to pieces; 5 forts razed to the ground; 500 stand of small-arms distributed to my unarmed men; many fine horses captured; 12 barrels of salt brought off the field and given to a command suffering for it, besides supplying. All this was done within blankets, shoes, boots, hats, and clothing. All this was done within six miles of Devall’s, Bluff, and my detail was tearing up the track while the enemy’s bullets, fired at the covering regiments, were throwing the splinters from the ties in their very faces.”
Shelby’s loss included 173 killed and wounded.
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The James Ginnett Collection
had a few entries for August 24, 1864:
– 3rd Lt. Aaron G. Burleson from Company B of the 19th (Dawson’s) Arkansas Infantry Regiment was captured near Pine Bluff.
– John S. Countryman, aged 28, was born in New York. He enlisted in Company F of the 3rd Minnesota Infantry Regiment.
– Robert Poor, aged 21, was born in Ohio and died in Pine Bluff. He was in Company F of the 3rd Minnesota Infantry Regiment.
– Private John Brashears from Company G 5th Kansas Cavalry died on this date of congestion in Pine Bluff.
– Samuel Bently served in Company I of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. He was from La Fayette, Wisconsin and he died of disease at Pine Bluff.
– Corporal Patrick Feely, from Murwonago, Wisconsin served in Company H of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. He died of disease at Pine Bluff.
– George F. Huck served in Company H of the 1st Indiana Cavalry. He died on this date at Little Rock.
Military actions in this “Today in Arkansas During the Civil War” column can be traced better using the Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas. You can trace the same roads they walked in many cases in this atlas. You can find obscure references to communities mentioned in Civil War records that can be located in this atlas. Civil War Arkansas: A Military Atlas is the perfect companion book for this “Today in History” series.
If you know of any other military actions or other things that happened that we did not post on a certain day, send us an email to email@example.com.