On September 13, 1862, Colonel William Vandever of the 9th Iowa Infantry Regiment, drafted his report after completing his expedition from Clarendon to Lawrenceville and Saint Charles. Before leaving out from Clarendon on September 11, Vandever divided his command. He sent the 1st, 4th, and 5th Missouri Cavalry Regiments as well as the 4th Iowa Cavalry back to the main garrison at Helena, “by the middle or Hickory Ridge road.” He noted that the remaining 900 troops in the 6th Missouri, 5th Kansas, 3rd Iowa, 1st Indiana, and 5th Illinois Cavalry were taken to the lower Helena Road to Lawrenceville, where he made camp on the first night of September 11.
Not long after setting up camp in Lawrenceville, his men were fired upon by the enemy, “from the opposite side of Mattox Bayou by a straggling party of the enemy.” He related that no damage was done, however.
In his report he commented that Lawrenceville is twenty miles from Clarendon, “a little distance south of the lower Helena road.” He then learned that Confederates were near at or in the vicinity of Saint Charles on the White River. This area was being fortified by the Confederates.
On the morning of September 12 Vandever set out for and reached the White River a mile above Saint Charles by noon. He commented that some of the road through the White River bottoms was “very difficult for artillery”. Because of the difficult roads, “I was obliged to cut a way through the cane for near half a mile to a point opposite Saint Charles.”
As they arrived, Vandever wrote that they saw groups of enemy soldiers near the bank. A large ferry was also being unloaded on the opposite side of the river. “The first notice the enemy had of our presence was a shell from one of the howitzers in their midst, quickly followed by another and another.” He continued, “They took the hint and speedily left, taking shelter in a large mill near the bank… Several shells were thrown into this, and soon not a living soul was to be seen.”
Vandever’s report commented that the, “large ferry-boat laid quietly moored to the other shore, and, thinking it important to obtain possession of that, a call was made for two men to swim the river and bring the flat over to our side.” With this in mind, a Lieutenant Hackney and a Sergeant Wilson, both of Company E of the 6th Missouri, “promptly volunteered and gallantly executed the duty.” They found tha the ferryboat was loaded with scrap iron which he notes was taken from a sunken gunboat in the White River below Saint Charles. To keep the Confederates from using the ferry anymore, Vandever commented that, “The flat was destroyed and sunk [and] I did not deem it prudent to attempt a crossing of any portion of my command.” Throughout the operation of retrieving the ferry, examining it, and destroying it, “we were performing this service [while] the rain was falling in torrents.”
As the day came to a close, Vandever and his command withdrew from the vicinity of the White River, “moving back on the road by which I came to the Lambert Plantation, some 6 miles distant, where I encamped for the night.” About the time the men began to set up camp, the sound of artillery was heard in the direction of Saint Charles, not far in the distance, “which I supposed to be an effort of the enemy to shell us out of the woods, but we had left some time before.” He noted that they heard the enemy guns again about 11pm.“Information obtained from negroes and others in the vicinity satisfies me that a large number of laborers have been employed there in the erection of fortifications and that a force of some sort is encamped not far off. The latter fact is evident from the arrival of artillery so soon after our attack upon the place. Owing to an impassable bayou making in from the river, nearly opposite Saint Charles, I could not extend my observations down the river far enough to detect any fortifications.”
On September 13, Vandever wrote in in report that, “from the Lambert farm this morning I set out on my return, and arrived all safe, without the loss of a man.” He included that several enemy prisoners were taken by his command on his route, “mostly soldiers on leave, who will be sent to the provost-marshal.”
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.
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