On August 20, 1862, Brigadier-General E.B. Brown wrote to Brigadier-General John M. Schofield in Saint Louis that a spy had returned to their camp from Cross Hollows and reported that a group of Confederates from Van Buren under the command of Rains as well as a group from Fort Smith under the command of Carroll, were moving. “I have not learned what the force is composed of.” Concluded Brown.
Also on this day in 1862, Assistant Adjutant-General Robert C. Newton drafted General Orders Number 5 from the Headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department. The document stated in part III that the District of Arkansas was now composed of the States of Arkansas and Missouri and, “the Indian country west thereof, Major-General Thomas C. Hindman commanding.”
Also on this date in 1862, the Federal army was on an expedition from Helena, down Mississippi and up Yazoo River that left on August 16.
On this date in 1864, General Fredrick Steele wrote to Major-General E.R.S. Canby in New Orleans that Magruder, “superseded Price, and is at Camden.” The dispatch included information of Confederate movement in south Arkansas. Steele reported that three cavalry brigades under the command of Cabell were seen seventeen miles from Pine Bluff. He related that telegraph service had been interrupted and that a small steam boat en route from Little Rock to Pine Bluff “on private business” was burned by Confederates two days ago [perhaps he is referring to the steamer Miller].
The dispatch went on to note that two day ago there was a brigade of Cavalry at Benton and have since then crossed the Saline River. Steele tells Canby that he has cavalry in pursuit of those Confederates. The dispatch noted that General J.O. Shelby, as of the night before, was ten miles below Jacksonport and McCray was then twenty miles above Batesville.
Pine Bluff had been used as a Union garrison since October, 1863. Steele believed that if Pine Bluff is held, “there is no necessity of keeping a force at Saint Charles, on White River.” However, Steele writes that in the case Pine Bluff does have to be evacuated, “the rebels would probably move on Saint Charles.”
Because of the increased threat in certain areas of the state, General Steele ordered two regiments, from the line of the railroad to Pine Bluff, and I recommend that the command at Saint Charles be sent immediately to DeValls Bluff for temporary service.”
Steele went on to note that if Powell Clayton could not hold Pine Bluff for the Federals, he could retreat across his pontoon across the Arkansas River. Clayton at this date in 1864 had three mon’s supplies readily available to he and his troops. The dispatch concluded with a post script noting the Saline River was low, “and bottom consequently must be practicable for artillery.”
Also on this date in 1864, General Orders Number 65 was issued by the Headquarters of the Department of Arkansas which assigned Brigadier-General Joseph R. West with the U.S. Volunteers to the duty as “chief of cavalry of the Department of Arkansas.”
A dispatch was sent on this date in 1864 from DeValls Bluff telling Steele that the 126th Illinois Infantry Regiment left on a train from that place en route to Pine Bluff. The 106th Illinois was expected to travel with the 126th. In DeValls Bluff, C.C. Andrews, Brigadier-General, wrote to Captain C.H. Dyer in Little Rock, the 1st Nebraska was, “at station two miles this side of Ashley’s now” and “the 3rd Michigan has gone to Brownsville.”
The same dispatch inquired as to whether Dyer would like the 1st Nebraska as a guard for the Federals’ animals. On this date he relayed there were ninety serviceable horses and about two hundred men of the same detachment. “The men are all recruits, unassigned, and have never been drilled [and] It would be well if they could be instructed.” Andrews concluded, “I have recommended Lieutenant-Colonel Stephens’ resignation.
Also on this date in 1864, Colonel A.H. Ryan in Lewisburg wrote to Brigadier-General E.A. Carr that he had at his post “120,000 rations, about 250 tons.” He went on to say that the only way to move these rations was to use transportation that belonged to the regiments, “and not sufficient to haul the Government property in possession of the regiments.” In the case Ryan might have to abandon the area, “it would force me to destroy about two hundred tons of Government stores, unless transportation can be furnished from Little Rock.”
The report goes on to note that if Ryan were attacked by J.O. Shelby, he told Carr, with what troops are here I think I can hold this place…and if you can spare another infantry regiment I know I can.”
He warns Carr that if anyone thought the Federal army was withdrawing from Lewisburg, that would have a negative effect on the troops and the civilians in the vicinity. “I trust, general, that you will permit the troops that are here to remain…In a moral point of view, as far as this section of the country is concerned, I think it will have a bad effect on our cause, as the people here abouts have been led to believe that we are firmly fixed at this post and they act accordingly.”
“The mere appearance of a withdrawal of troops from this post will seem to them to be an acknowledgement that we are unable or afraid to cope with the forces under Shelby, and I should be sorry to have them believe either.
Also on this date in 1864, General Carr wrote to Colonel Powell Clayton in Pine Bluff that Clayton needed to keep watch over the telegraph lines near his garrison. He then tells Clayton, “Your troops must not be occupied in guarding plantations when it interferes in the slightest degree with their other duties or their comforts.” In a separate dispatch Clayton responds to this accusation, “Your order in reference to my guarding plantations is unnecessary, as I am not engaged in that business at present.”
Carr goes on to tell Clayton that a wagon train was being sent to forage in the vicinity of Clear Lake and tells Clayton to send a warning of any force of Confederates were moving up the north side of the Arkansas River.
Intelligence report of one hundred Confederate cavalry in Benton, “and a report that Carwford’s brigade had been there two hours before.” He also notes, “The Saline rebels seem to be moving somewhere. 106th and 126th Illinois Infantry Regiment will embark for your post unless something happens.”
In another report, General Steele sent Clayton a dispatch asking, “What has become of the Annie Jacobs? She was aground yesterday morning.” Intelligence reports from local citizens note that, “the rebels are advancing on us in force from Texas and Louisiana, and Magruder in command at Camden.” He then tells Clayton that General Price had been assigned to the Confederate cavalry. Two regiments of infantry were ordered to Pine Bluff, and, “The steamers are ready to take them.”
Canby has been trying to get the Federal forces to abandon Pine Bluff, but Steele refuses to have Clayton abandon the city. He tells Clayton, “If you cannot hold the place I presume you can retire across the pontoon and come up the other side of the river.”
The report also told of a steamboat Empress that had sixty-three shots put through her along the Mississippi River at Gaines Landing, now in Chicot County. The boat was disabled and towed with a gunboat. The report noted twenty were killed and wounded, including, “the captain’s head was taken off.”
A report was sent from Powell Clayton to General Steele noting, “Cabell, with about two thousand cavalry, is eighteen miles from here, on the road leading from Mount Elba to Pine Bluff.” He noted the Confederates have been there a few days. “I cannot tell what his object is unless it is to cover movement of troops in this direction.” In another dispatch, Clayton tells Steele, “looks as if a movement was taking place in the rear that they desired to screen.”
To compound his problems with an already-small garrison in Pine Bluff, Clayton reminds Steele that the term for service for the 1st Indiana Cavalry expired yesterday and they would be ordered to Little Rock and sent aboard the Annie Jacobs. Addressing his outposts, Clayton tells Steele, “I have been compelled to mount what is left of the 3rd Minnesota, say about two hundred men.”
Regarding the capture and burning of the Miller, Clayton notes that it was one of the most “pusillanimous affairs upon the part of those on board that I have ever heard of…She was Captured and destroyed by three men.” Clayton and his command felt the brunt of its demise, as mail and stores were en route to the Pine Bluff garrison. Because of this event, Clayton recommends that all official government and military documents be duplicated.
Clayton does realize, however, the dire situation he might find himself in soon. He sends a scouting party to see if the Confederates are crossing the Saline River, which he believes is the case. He tells Steele, “To allow the enemy to obtain this point [Pine Bluff] would be to give them a strong foothold and a good base for operations upon our communications.”
The James Ginnett Collection had a few entries:
Lemuel Moore, from Atlanta, Illinois, served in Company E of the 106th Illinois Infantry Regiment. He died at Pine Bluff on this date in 1864. He enlisted in the 106th on August 6, 1862.John F. Wilcox, from Mt. Pulaski, Illinois, served in Company A of the 106th Illinois Infantry Regiment. He died at Brownsville today in 1864.
Robert F. Cass from Company D of the 106th Illinois Infantry Regiment, died at Brownsville.
After having left out on an expedition in the Arkansas Delta, Confederate General J.O. Shelby’s report continues from the August 6, 1864 entry:
I now determined to make a direct attack upon the railroad, having received communications from General Price to the effect that he would probably cross it on August 24. So on the 20th I started with 2,000 armed men and Collins’ battery and traveled rapidly in that direction. Big Cypress Creek was running out bank full, which caused me to march almost due south to Austin, forty miles from Little Rock, and then back north again. Leaving Colonel Dobbin at Austin to cover the crossing with his command, I reached the railroad, six miles from Devall’s Bluff. Marching quietly along in column, with no flags flying, and everything well closed up, the appearance presented was that of a returning Federal expedition. The entire prairie was dotted with little knots and groups of the enemy, some cutting hay, some on guard, some drilling, and some lolling listlessly in the sun. Williams, with his advance, broke their noonday sleep with the ring of revolvers, and the surprised and frightened enemy ran away to cover. Sending Colonel Hunter and Major McDaniel down the road to watch Devall’s Bluff, and forming Colonel McCray as a reserve, I opened fire on Redoubt Numbers 1, which, after a few well-directed shots, surrendered. Numbers 2 and Numbers 3 re-enforced Numbers 4 and made a vigorous stand. Dismounting Colonel Shanks’ brigade and bringing up Collins’ battery, I opened with artillery and moved up with the infantry at the charge. The garrisons did not wait, however, until the test came, but surrendered unconditionally. Numbers 5, seeing the result, re-enforced Numbers 6, which was held by Colonel Mitchell and the veteran Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry. They held out well under the splendid and pitiless practice of Collins’ artillery, and I again dismounted Shanks’ brigade and moved forward to the attack. Time was pressing. A very large force of infantry and cavalry came hurrying down from Devall’s Bluff, driving back Hunter and McDaniel slowly and painfully. Another force of similar size came from the direction of Little Rock, and these two columns, like dark clouds, united with a somber, sullen glare. Out from the doomed fort now the garrison rushed for hope and help and made a beautiful run for their friends. I had anticipated this, and held in reserve a sufficient force of cavalry, which now dashed away after the fugitives. In ten minutes they were overtaken, ridden over, and double-quicked to the rear, the bullets from the enemy plowing in among their ranks. While the fight lasted, and before it commenced, large details were tearing up the railroad, burning forage, breaking reaping machines, and destroying all kinds of Federal property. The enemy came down upon me in large numbers, but calling up Jackman and getting in all my detachments, I moved off. They charged twice feebly, but were easily repulsed, and I marched back toward Austin, followed by them and fighting them during all the rest of the day. I traveled all night and reached Austin at daylight, having marched forty miles and fought six hours.
The result of the expedition was gratifying. Over 450 Federals were captured, 300 killed and wounded, 6 forts taken and destroyed, vast quantities of forage destroyed, ten miles of railroad torn up, the rails heated and bent and the ties consumed, the telegraph broken down, and hay machines, oxen, wagons, and supplies used up or driven off. Our loss in killed and wounded, 170.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.