23Dec/07

Brief Description of the Battle of Poison Springs

The following is a little information on the Yankee artillery at the Battle of Poison Springs: On April 18, 1864, a combined southern force of Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery captured two units of federal artillery. The action took place on the Washington road twelve miles west of Camden, Arkansas in an area known as Poison Springs. A section of the Second Indiana Artillery commanded by Lieutenant Haines, consisting of two James Rifles, was in support of the First Kansas Colored Infantry. The First Kansas Colored Infantry, the Eighteenth Iowa Infantry, and the Sixth and Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry under the command of Colonel J. M. Williams were looking for food for the army. Two twelve-pound Mountain Howitzers commanded by Lieutenant Walker, supported the Sixth Kansas Cavalry.

When the battle commenced the two James rifles were moved forward. One was placed on the north and one was placed on the south of the road facing east. The two Howitzers were unlimbered facing south to protect the right flank. A very heavy artillery duel commenced at about 11:30 am. The two rifled pieces of the Second Indiana Artillery attempted to silence a six-gun rebel battery opposite them at about one thousand yards. Meanwhile, the two Howitzers exchanged shots with a four-gun battery at six to seven hundred yards Major Ward commander of the First Kansas Colored Infantry reported, "Although this was much the severest artillery fire that any of the men had ever before been subjected to, and many of the men were thus under fire for the first time, they were as cool as veterans and patiently awaited the onset of the enemy’s Infantry".

Just after twelve o’clock the confederate artillery fire slackened. Their Infantry attacked. After a heated encounter the southerners were forced to fall back. However, many of the Second Indiana gunners had been disabled. At one point one of the guns only had two men left to man it. The guns were ordered to withdraw. Just as one gun was being limbered, Private Alonso Hinshaw of the Second Indiana Artillery, single handedly double loaded the piece with canister and fired into an advancing column intent on capturing his gun. The effect of the double charge was terrible on the massed soldiers. The gun was able to withdraw and redeploy. The confederate forces continued the attack forcing the federal troops into a fighting retreat. The four union cannons could not be moved through the dense forest and swamp that was the only avenue of escape for the defeated force. The advancing confederates quickly captured these four pieces.

This battle proved very costly for General Steele’s army encamped at Camden. Three hundred and one men were killed, captured or wounded. Two rifled guns and two mountain howitzers, quartermaster’s stores, and one hundred ninety-eight teams and wagons were captured. Furthermore, the loss of the corn and food items in the wagons made the possibility of a starving army a very real worry for the Camden Expedition. Next month I will submit another installment of the story telling of the defeat of the union army in South Arkansas.

22Dec/07

A Tale of a “Borrowed” Rifle

A Tale of a “Borrowed” Rifle.

Here is a story taken from an account in W. A. Keesy’s 1898 book, “War as Viewed from the Ranks”. Moses Pugh, a corporal in the Fifty-fifth Ohio infantry, was looking at holes in the field in front of a battery near him. While counting over one hundred holes left during a great cannonade on the second day’s fighting at Gettysburg, he spied a beautiful new, bright musket lying near a dead Confederate soldier. It did not take him long to exchange it for his own, which was somewhat rusty and old. He found it to be a Richmond rifle musket of the same caliber as his old Springfield. Several days later while his regiment was part of the Federal force pursuing Lee’s army, the men were ordered to sleep on their arms. As it was raining slightly, Pugh greased “my precious gun with a piece of bacon rind.” The next morning his first act was to remove the cap from the cone. He placed his thumb upon the hammer. Being greasy, it slipped from his thumb and Pugh’s first “Johnny ball” went through three of his comrades’ blouses and killed the colonel’s horse, which was tied to a stake about twenty rods away.

His tent mates had earlier joked that Pugh’s new gun would “turn traitor,” and now with the terrific report still echoing, Pugh began to believe it. Colonel Gambee was much incensed at the death of his faithful horse and ordered that Pugh’s stripes be cut off and demanded that Pugh pay for the horse. The regiment had not drawn any pay for six months, so Pugh gave the colonel a promissory note, which still had not been paid by May 1864 when the regiment was in front of Resaca, Georgia. Just before the battle on 15 May, the colonel came over to Pugh with a sergeant’s commission and burned the note in his presence. Apparently the colonel had a premonition of an impending danger and wanted to settle up. The good and brave colonel was killed in that battle. Pugh did not bring his gun home.

22Dec/07

Brief History of the 1st Arkansas Light Artillery

The 1st Arkansas Light Artillery C.S.A. was organized in September 1861 at Fort Smith Arkansas. The battery was commanded by Captain David Provance. The other officers were First Lieutenant Stephen McDonald, Second Lieutenant John Humphreys and Third Lieutenant William Gore.

The battery fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge, then transferred east of the Mississippi. They participated in the Kentucky Campaign and ,fought at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta. A member of the 1st Arkansas Artillery, Private John Campbell served with the battery since it was organized. During the battle of Murfreesboro, Private Campbell earned the Confederate Medal of Honor. The last commander of the battery was Captain John W. Rivers. Captain Rivers, who had risen from the ranks, became the commander in October 1863 and served in that capacity until the end of the war. During the latter days of the war and even now, the battery is referred to as “Rivers’ Battery” in honor of Captain Rivers.

While the 1st Arkansas Light Artillery was fighting in the Eastern Theatre of the War of Northern Aggression another battery also called the 1st Arkansas Light Artillery was being organized at Fayetteville, Arkansas. However this battery belonged to the Federal Government. Formed early in 1863, the U.S. 1st Arkansas Light Artillery served in Missouri, the Indian Territory and Arkansas until the end of the war. They saw action at Cross Timbers Arkansas in 1863. More important, the battery was part of the Camden Expedition and fought at Prairie D’Ann, Poison Springs and Jenkins Ferry in 1864.

[DES ARC, ARK.] THE CONSTITUTIONAL UNION, April 5, 1861, p. 3, c. 1 Cavalry Company. “This corps, at their last meeting, adopted as their name, The Des Arc Rangers. On last Saturday they paraded through our streets, for the first time, in their uniforms, presenting quite a soldier-like appearance. appearance. The uniform adopted by the Rangers is a red flannel shirt, with a deep blue breast and back, blue cuffs and black velvet collar, with three rows of brass buttons in front; black pants, with red stripes up the sides; United States cavalry fatigue cap, with ostrich plume, with colt’s Navy repeaters and United States dragoon sabers”.

11Dec/07

Hygiene in the Field

1. Stay in shape.

We could all do to stay in shape as much as possible. I am not saying we should work our butts off trying to be Mr. America, but we can do ourselves and our families a favor by at least staying in as good of health as possible. Walk 30 to 40 minutes a day at least 6 days a week. Nutritionists recommend this at a minimum to maintain your current weight and to keep your cardiovascular system in somewhat decent shape. It makes no sense at all knowing you are going to an event that will require a great deal of walking and the only walking you do prior to the event is to the refrigerator to get another beer. Eat right and exercise, before doing strenuous activities. Why ruin a good event with a heart attack?

2. Hydrate or die.

Drink water, drink water, drink water! Even if it is not summertime, you can still dehydrate in the winter time if you are exerting yourself more than you are accustomed too. Depending on the heat you need to
drink about ½ to 2 quarts of fresh water per hour. Drink even though you don’t feel thirsty. Thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration. If you urine is dark yellow you are not drinking enough water. Refill your canteen with potable water at every opportunity. If you feel the effects of heat or exertion and feel you may get sick, fall out. This isn’t the real army; so if you feel faint, take some time out. Just be sure the members of the unit know why you are going down, so that they can come looking for you later. Let them know if you are going back to camp or if you are going to stretch out under nearby trees. Many units have another member stay with someone who gets ill. If you are truly sick or injured, shout “Medic!”

3. Wear the right shorts.

It’s cool to wear the authentic muslin underwear that our ancestors did, but stop to consider, that is what they were used to wearing on a daily basis. When we go to the field once a month and start trying to wear things like they did, our bodies are not “hardened” against the friction that these type garments cause. I recommend Boxer-Briefs under your muslin underwear. These come down low enough to keep down the friction and hold tight enough to keep that which is important high and tight!

4. Powder.

Need I really get into this? Bring along the right kind of powder for the job. DO NOT put medicated foot powder on your crotch It feels good for just a little while and then you have done more damage than the chaffing ever did. Use foot powder for your feet and crotch powder for your crotch.

5. Keep Clean.

I know it is impossible to take baths or showers in the field, but keep some sanitary handi-wipes in your knapsack. These can used for quick PTA baths. Take these whenever possible and follow up with the appropriate powder or Vaseline. Keep these with you on your trips to the toilet. After each “movement” take a few extra moments to cleanse yourself and powder up those areas that are prone to chaffing. Also,
brush your teeth at least twice a day to hold down on gum disease. There is no need in looking like your ancestors. Why do you think they called it a tooth brush and not a teeth brush? Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food, before and after eating and using the latrine. A sure way to get diarrhea (or worse) is to use dirty mess ware. Wash your mess gear kit with hot water or a disinfectant solution when possible, and use the campfire to sanitize your frying pan or canteen half before you start cooking.

6. Change your socks.

If you only have one pair of period socks, buy some more! You need a clean pair of socks everyday you are in the field. Whenever possible, take your shoes and socks off and let your feet air dry. Before putting them back on, use that powder!

7. Take care of injuries.

Why make worse injuries while taking care of small ones? Don’t use a safety pin to remove a splinter. Safety pins do not have the right kind of point and will only gouge holes in your skin. Always use a sterilized needle for this. You can sterilize it in the fire or buy pouring a little whiskey over it. Do not pop blisters on your feet. God gave you the blisters as a way to protect an injury. If you are hurt, tell someone. I know this does not cover every aspect of hygiene, but it does address some of the problems I noticed. Hopefully we will all be a little more conscience of our health when on an event.

09Dec/07

Protecting Your Investment- How to Clean Your Musket

It never fails to amaze me how some people treat their $500.00 plus weapons. With the amount of powder fired through them we cannot keep treating them like conventional firearms and expect them to last. Here are some tips to help you out.. Remember, YOU SHOULD NEVER CLEAN SOMEONE ELSE’S WEAPON! Take it upon yourself to be responsible for the care of your own property.

Field Cleaning.

1. Place a folded cleaning patch between the hammer and the nipple (cone) or leave an fired cap on it.

2. Fill a tin cup full of hot, soapy water. Pour about one half of the cup carefully (so as not to scald your hand) down the barrel. A funnel is helpful here. Cover the end of the barrel with your finger or place a tompion in the muzzle. Swish the contents up and down several times and then pour it out on the ground. It should look black and cruddy if you did it right.

3. Pour the other half of the hot, soapy water into the barrel. Place a bristle brush or wire brush on the end of your cleaning rod. With the water still in the barrel, run the brush up and down several times. Pour the water out and repeat if the musket is especially dirty. The water should be coming out more or less clean.

4. Run a few patches attached to a cleaning jag down the bore to remove residual fouling. Four or five patches should be adequate. NEVER PLACE A PATCH IN THE SLOT ON THE ACORN OF YOUR RAMMER!

5. Place hammer at half cock. Remove the nipple (cone) with a nipple wrench.

6. Using cotton swabs and pipe cleaners, or a patches and a nipple pick, clean all the fouling out of the bolster and flash channel. While you are doing this, soak the nipple (cone) in some hot water.

7. After the bolster is clean, remove any fouling from the inside of the nipple using a pipe cleaner or nipple pick. Hold it up to the sunlight and look through the larger end. You should be able to see light through the opening at the bottom. If not, continue until you can.

8. Lightly oil the threads of the nipple and screw it back into the barrel slightly past “thumb tight.” Do not over tighten.

9. Keep an oily rag in an empty cap tin with your field kit. If you choose to polish your metal parts, some field merchants sell emery powder in period envelopes. Keep in mind that this procedure is just for field cleaning. To really care for a firearm, read on.

Cleaning Once you Get Home.

1. Follow Field Cleaning steps Number 1 and 2 (above), then:

2. Remove the ramrod. Place the hammer at half-cock and loosen the lock assembly. Remove the barrel screw from the tang of the barrel. Remove the barrel bands. Turn the musket upside down and lightly tap the butt of the stock on the ground. Carefully lift the barrel from the stock.

3. Remove the nipple (cone) and place it in some Hydrogen Peroxide to soak.

4. Place the barrel in a pail of hot, soapy water.

5. Pour a little warm water down the barrel. Use a sectional cleaning rod with an un-slotted jag. The jag has a flat bottom to clean the back of the breech.

6. Run your cleaning rod with the un-slotted jag attached and run a patch up and down the barrel. Repeat with a wire brush attached to the cleaning rod, up and down the barrel. The brush will create suction drawing water from the pail. Remove the barrel from the pail after several passes with the brush.

7. Run a few patches down the barrel until they come out basically clean.

8. Soak a patch in Hoppes #9 and run it down the barrel until patches come out clean. Another product recommended is Shooters Choice or Rem Oil because it gets the lead and copper out of the pores in the metal. Soak a cleaning brush in solvent and run up and down the barrel a few times, and then go back to the patches again.

9. Dry the bore until the patches come out clean.

10. Oil the bore. Much has been written on the best oil for black powder firearms. Break-Free is recommended because it has the right consistency to stay on the metal without getting too gunky and attracting dirt (like grease). Oil both the bore and the outside of the barrel. Only use grease on the moving parts of the lock assembly.

11. Clean the bolster and flash channel with cotton swabs, a tooth brush and pipe cleaners. Clean any fouling from around the outside of the bolster area, light abrasives like Comet cleanser or a wire brush can be used for built up fouling if necessary. Remove any rust from barrel. Clean the inside of nipple (cone) with pipe cleaners.

12. Remove the lock assembly. Spray with penetrating oil such as Ballistol . Apply white lithium grease to the moving parts (tumbler and sear). Clean visible dirt away with pipe cleaners.

13. Reassemble the musket. Clean fouling or rust from ramrod if needed. Put some oil on the underside of the barrel bands and on threads of nipple (cone) before reinstalling. Grease is probably better because it is heat resistant and it will keep the threads from freezing up under fire.

14. Run an oiled patch, or some “bore butter’ (beeswax-based lube) on a patch down the barrel. Lightly oil the outside of the barrel and lock assembly.

15. Leave musket out of carrying case to “air.” Do not store in canvas bag or carrying case. Leave hammer at release position so all springs are stored un-cramped.

16. In about a week, run a couple patches down the barrel to remove any residual fouling that came out of the expansion cracks in the barrel as they cooled down. Place a folded patch between hammer and nipple (cone). Re-oil inside and out.

There, you are done until the next time you shoot.

09Dec/07

A Short Look at Pocahontas and Randolph County in the Civil War by Derek Clements

A Short Look at Pocahontas and Randolph
County in the Civil War by Derek Clements

The importance of Randolph County and the city of Pocahontas during the Civil War derives from its proximity to transport routes. The Southwest Trail (also known as Old Military Road, Congress Road, or the Natchitoches Trace) ran from Hix’s Ferry on the Current River (established before 1803) near Davidsonville (now Old Davidsonville State Park) down toward the opposite corner of the state. Heavily traveled, it was a critical crossing point between Arkansas and Missouri in this area. Well before the Civil War, the ferry was purchased by Peyton R. Pitman and has been called Pitman’s Ferry since then. Pocahontas was a significant riverboat landing (which was established in the 1810s as Bettis Bluff; the name was changed in 1835 to Pocahontas).

Due to the geographic importance of this area, Randolph County became an early Civil War assembly area for Confederate volunteers. In fact, more soldiers were in the county during 1861 than residents (As a result, people find training camp debris and think battles have occurred on their property). Confederate major general William Joseph Hardee established his headquarters in Pocahontas in the 1861 to transfer state troops to regular army service. As most of these troops were moved east of the Mississippi River in the fall of 1861, the entire area remained weakly defended. Small skirmishes and guerrilla activity became the norm in the region with several occurring around the Pocahontas area.

In early 1862, Confederate major general Earl Van Dorn established his headquarters in Pocahontas prior to hastily moving to Northwestern Arkansas to counter the invasion of the state by Union major general Samuel Ryan Curtis. With Confederate forces away from Pocahontas, Union brigadier general Frederick Steele’s column moved through Pocahontas in support of Curtis’ capture of Batesville and subsequent occupation of the Batesville-Jacksonport-Searcy Landing triangle. Traveling with the column, Dr. Charles Brackett of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry made the following observations of Pocahontas in April 1862:

“This town is nearly deserted by its residents, or citizens the idea having been prevalent that we would burn, pillage, & destroy as we advanced. One merchant who left wrote in large letters over his door ‘Yankees you may burn Pocohonotas, [sic] & be damned, but I wont stay to see it!’

That same year, the largest engagement in the county occurred at Pitman’s Ferry on October 27, 1862 (this is one of four skirmishes there in 1862 alone). “Colonel William Dewey of the Twenty-third Iowa Infantry marched thirteen companies and an artillery section to the ferry by force. Opposed by Confederate Colonel John Q. Burbridge’s estimated 1,500 men, the Union forces carried the position. The number of engaged forces is estimated at more than 2,500.”

In 1863, Confederate General M. Jeff Thompson and his staff were surprised at the St. Charles Hotel in  Pocahontas on August 22, 1863. One of the individuals taken prisoner, former surgeon of the 7th Arkansas who had been transferred to a unit under Thompson’s command Michael Beshoar, recounted that General Thompson sat in the St. Charles Hotel grinning because of all the excitement concerning him, even joking with the Union soldiers.

After 1863, the town had fallen well behind Union lines and the town exchanged hands several times. One county history reported that skirmishes occurred here on July 20, 1862, November 25, 1863, and August 22, 1863. I have not had time to research these as of yet. Overall, I think most of the skirmishing were like the one recorded by William Monks. In the meantime, the rebels had reached Pocahontas, on Black river, and had effected a crossing onto the east side of Black river, except the rear guard, which were in their boat about midway of the river, when the Federal forces reached the west side of the river. They fired on the parties in the boat, wounding some of them, but they succeeded in reaching the bank, and turned their boat loose. A strong line of rebels was drawn up on the east bank of Black river, and opened fire on the Federal forces on the west side. After considerable firing, both sides ceased. The rebels appeared to move east; the Federal forces again countermarched and returned to Batesville.

One skirmish between guerrilla bands was recorded at Tom Pulliam Spring about five miles Northeast of Warm Springs. The last major event known to me occurred in the region was the staging of Price’s 1864 Invasion of Missouri here.

30Nov/07

THE CAMPAIGINER

Reenactors should consider the fine example set by the soldiers they claim to represent, the next time they pack their gear for a two-day reenactment. The first resolution to make in lightening your reenactors load is to use no more than what you can comfortably carry in a single trip, and never bring your car into an encampment site. If a soldier could go eight days without issuing rations from wagon trains, then surely a hearty living historian can survive a two-day reenactment without having to use a motor vehicle for anything other than transportation to the event’s participant parking lot.

Once you arrive at the participants’ parking lot, don your traps and knapsack, shoulder your musket, and march into camp. Not only will you be more authentic, but you will also avoid the hazards and traffic problems associated with bringing your vehicle into and out of a campsite. The second (and final) resolution is to pack so that your knapsack and haversack contain only the essentials, and only items that a soldier of 1861-1865 would have had on campaign.

What each man packs is up to the individual, but remember, your pack should be light enough for you to comfortably wear into each battle scenario during a weekend-long event. If the pack is too heavy to wear to all the battles, then start lightening the load by casting off the non-essentials. Below is a packing checklist in preparation for a living history event. Your "essentials" may vary.

  • Knapsack: 1 Blanket: One good 5 lb, 100 percent wool blanket is all any reenactor needs, even in cold weather. Make sure the blanket is good-sized; Gum Blanket: Essential for use as a ground cloth, raincoat, or shelter.
  • Shelter Half: A proper shelter half should weigh only 1.5 lbs., A shelter half is essential for protection from the elements. Individual soldiers should not carry full tents (i.e. two shelter halves) and evidence that triangular end-pieces for dog tents were ever available to the average soldier is exceedingly scant.
  • Journal Book and Pencils: A non-essential personal item which comes in handy for a soldier on campaign to record his thoughts, write letters home, use as a fire-starter, or to use as "paper" in "an emergency".
  • Extra Pair of Wool Socks: Perhaps the real soldiers did not always have extra socks, but it is recommended that all reenactors carry a second pair for warmth at night and for health-purposes. Further, one extra pair of socks is a small, light addition to your pack.
  • Extra Drawers: A non-essential item that was not available to most soldiers on campaign. Extra Shirt:
    Completely non-essential in the warmer months, an extra shirt is a necessity for colder-weather reenacting.
  • Vest: Non-essential, and used mainly for colder-weather reenacting. The idea that every soldier in the field
    had a vest is a "reenactor myth", so take your choice on whether you want to carry one.
  • Small Towel: Not the modern-day terrycloth variety, a period-correct towel, such as "Huckabuck" towels sold at Wal-Mart (unbleached, off-white, plain cotton towels usually sold in a pack of five for $5.00, in the dishtowel department), or the excellent NPS reproductions, is useful in washing up your person and/or your gear.
  • Carry a bar of lye soap (or, better yet, part of one) with the towel.
  • Extra Ammunition: Pack ammunition correctly in paper packages of ten rounds plus one paper tube with twelve percussion caps. This approach is authentic and takes up the least space in your knapsack. Roll of Twine (String): About 20-30 feet of twine or hemp is the campaigner’s essential companion for rigging up shelter. Make sure the twine has no modern fibers.
  •  Extra Food: Food for a two or three day reenactment should fit in the haversack but, in the event you pack heavy, or are bringing more than three days of food, put the extra into the knapsack.
  • Hygiene Items: "Haversack Stuffers": Minimize your haversack stuffers and, to increase room in the haversack (which is primarily for rations), place your "stuffers" into the knapsack. Authentic "stuffers" a soldier might well have carried include a tintype of his family, razor, religious items (rosary, scapulas, etc.), sewing kit, a few pieces of dry kindling, pipe and tobacco, and other personal items. Evaluate all your stuffers and determine if they are "essential" for a soldier on campaign. Chances are, after some soul-searching, you will decide that most of your stuffers especially "necessary" flasks are useless trash that take up important room in your pack.
  • Haversack Rations: Limiting campaign-rations primarily to salt pork, hardtack, and coffee not only makes
    one more authentic, but these items take up less room and weigh less than the rations consumed by most reenactors. Forget about canned food!
  • Tin Plate: A good tin plate is essential as a serving dish, frying pan and, if necessary, digging implement (for fire pits or fortifications). Assuming it fits inside, a plate adds rigidity to your haversack. A canteen half will serve the same purpose as a plate.
  • Eating Utensils: A knife, fork, and spoon are essential, and living historians may want to consider wrapping them in a rag or in a small canvas sack. Also, a pocketknife in your pants pocket or haversack is essential.
  • Tin Can: A period-correct tin can with a wire bail attached is excellent for use as a coffee cooler and as supplemental mess gear.
  • Candle: One beeswax candle is essential. A candleholder is not required but, if you do opt for one, make it as small as possible and carry it in the knapsack. As a less-bulky, more authentic alternative, an upside-down mess cup makes an excellent candleholder.
  • Matches and Matchsafe: It is a good idea for each reenactor to carry one box of matches in a matchsafe (i.e. a small box that protects the box of matches from being crushed). Matches can also be carried in a jacket pocket. Reproduction matchsafes are generally not very correct but, with some careful shopping at an antique store or relic vendor, one can find a fairly inexpensive period matchsafe.
  • Rags: Carry one or two period-correct rags (not the modern blue or red bandannas sold by the
    "sutlers"). These will come in handy as potholders, clean-up wipes, etc.