One hundred and fifty years ago, transportation and communication were at the mercy of an undeveloped and fickle infrastructure in Arkansas. As both were paramount to planning and managing military campaigns throughout the state, December 1863 proved to be difficult in trusting the fickle waterways, including the White River. This river was one of the only year-round navigable rivers in the state. Lieutenant-Commander S.L. Phelps notes in a dispatch in mid-December that, “I ordered all trading vessels out of White River and directed that none were to be permitted to enter it or the Arkansas through the Cut-off. The boats employed in convoying in that stream are considerably injured by the difficulties in the navigation. The water had risen some, making this risk considerably less.”
In the same dispatch, he noted that the freed slaves (contrabands) were performing their duty as well, “cutting wood for White River transports is of importance to the Government, and the rebels seek to destroy it and capture [them]. A refuge is provided for them in case of attack in some barges, moored for the purpose where they would be under cover of the gunboat and out of line of fire.”
There were three military actions this week one hundred and fifty years ago in Arkansas. On the 15th of December there was a skirmish at Clarksville, a scout left from Fayetteville on the 16th and returned on the 31st, and a skirmish at Jacksonport on December 23.