One hundred and fifty years ago, Brigadier-General John M. Thayer was very concerned about his Union garrison in Fort Smith. By early January 1865, Thayer was a seasoned Union veteran and knew all too well the importance in maintaining a secure supply line in the midst of an enemy threat. Having survived the Red River campaign of 1864, Thayer knew that he needed to maintain an adequate supply of food in the winter of 1865.
An increase in the threat of hostilities produced a need of more vital supplies to Fort Smith. Thayer wrote to Colonel William A. Phillips demanding the needed supplies for his garrison be sent in haste, including: “Forty-four thousand pounds of flour, 80,000 pounds of hard bread, 10,000 pounds of coffee, 18,000 pounds of sugar, 100 pounds of tea, and 5,000 pounds of salt.”
To ensure the safe arrival of the supplies to Thayer, the general commented to Colonel Phillips, “A dispatch has gone to Colonel Fair, commanding Fifty-fourth U.S. Colored Infantry, directing him, in case he has started from Gibson before this reaches you, to halt and send back to Gibson sixty teams to transport the additional subsistence stores which you have been directed in this to send down here.”
Thayer continued, “This order has been made for the reason that I have received information that a large force of the enemy are moving up to the Arkansas River about Dardanelle, and I do not know but that I may be detained by them in my movements to Little Rock. I shall expect you to send a sufficient force down, if one has not already started, to escort Captain Insley’s train and the artillery and ammunition I am to send you back to Gibson.”
Military operations in Arkansas during the opening days of 1865 included a skirmish in Bentonville on New Year’s Day; a skirmish in Huntsville on January 6; a skirmish on the 7th in Johnson County, a skirmish at Ivey’s Ford on the 8th; a skirmish near Pine Bluff on the 9th; an expedition from Helena to Harbert’s (Halbert?) Plantation in MS from the 11-13th; and an affair at Sugar Loaf Prairie on January 12. For a complete list of over 700 military actions in Arkansas during the Civil War, go to www.arkansastoothpick.com.