DUGANNE - TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF

C H A P T E R   X L I .

OPERATIONS IN ARKANSAS.

 

How different might have been the fate of our Red River campaign, had the veteran Steel, or Blunt, or Canby, been in chief command, instead of such tried generals being subordinated to the whims and passions of arrogant staff-officers, those "powers behind the throne" who really governed military matters in our fine "Department of the Gulf." Steel was a thunderbolt on rebel war-paths, when he led out his frontier-men in earnest. Look at his resistless advance from Helena to Little Rock, in autumn of 1863; when with Gen. Rice and Col. McLean, leading their gallant Western infantry, in two divisions, Seven thousand Strong, and with Gen Davidson, marshalling his four thousand bold dragoons -- the whole force skillfully strengthened by forty pieces of artillery - he drove the rebel masses before him, day after day, in one continuous striding toward victory. First Brownsville fell under a dash of his cavalry; then the breast-works at Bayou Meteor were carried by assault; then, pushing the foe still harder, he crossed the Arkansas river, on a pontoon bridge; moved up its northern bank to attack the heavy line of fortifications held by rebels; dispatched his cavalry against that of Marmaduke, who kept the suburbs of Little Rock; and, finally, rushing forward impetuously, with all his forces, flanked Confederate General Price completely, and sent him flying across the country. Little Rock became ours, with a loss in the campaign, of scarcely a dozen killed or a hundred hurt, while at least three thousand of the enemy were killed, wounded, and made prisoners. Nor did the doughty Steel stop here. His cavalry hung on Price's rear, harrassing his retreat and chasing him twenty-five miles to Benton, where our bold Missourian dragoons captured his rearmost wagons, destroying the supplies they carried. On followed Steel, with infantry and field-pieces -- driving the rebel army into Arkadelphia, and swelling its list of "hors du combat" up to five thousand. Then Pine Bluff fell before our cavalry advance, and it was subsequently held by six hundred Kansas boys, against three thousand rebel cavalry, artillery, and infantry, in a bitter fight of half a day, which ended in another rout of Marmaduke. But Steel was active elsewhere all the while; his cavalry, under Clayton, surprising Gen. Dobbin, at Julip, and taking his camp-equipage, and routing Gen. Green's forces at Branchville, with terrible loss to the rebels. This is the style in which Steel conducted that Arkansas campaigning; meantime, re-organizing and disciplining his troops, till they moved and fought like veterans. Six months of such service cleared Central Arkansas of the guerillas who had made the capital their head-quarters; and, when the spring opened, our Federal commander pounced upon Arkadelphia, and thence marched for Camden to co-operate, thereafter, with the strength of the Gulf, which, under Banks, was threatening Texas. Shelby, the rebel general, made a dash upon our army's trains, at Spoonville, on the road to Washington; but he was beaten off with loss. Again, at Okalona, he attacked the 77th Ohio regiment, but was obliged to sound a brisk retreat. Then Marmaduke swooped down, with reinforcements of his cavalry, but was met by a brigade of Gen. Salomon's division, and a single squadron of horse, at Elkin's Ford, up on the Little Missouri. Here brave McLean, with his infantry, and the Iowa heroes, in their saddles, met the brunt of battle, and kept the Confederate army at bay, till Rice came up, with his brigade, and drove off Marmaduke again. The rebels rallied behind breast-works, but were speedily flanked by our advancing regiments, when they retreated to the Prairie d'Ann, where other strong defences sheltered them. Steel now led on, in person, re-inforced by Thayer's five thousand from Fort Smith, which had lately made a junction with his little army. Then followed the fight of Prairie d'Ann, and a rebel retreat, across the prairie, pursued by our victorious boys till far into the night. Two days elapsed, and then our army moved in line of battle across that wide prairie; presenting an unbroken front, with batteries supporting, and cavalry flanking, and sharpshooters advanced to skirmish with the foe. The march was a consummate piece of soldiership; our line flanking, and obliquing on the angles of rebel works, until, completely out-generalled, they were forced to evacuate once more, and fall back, in hot haste, on Washington. Then, Steel, without pursuing, wheeled upon the Moscow road, which led to Camden, and thus, abruptly, made the foe aware of his intentions in that quarter. But their discovery came too late. They were now in Steel's rear, instead of front, and their only chance of intercepting the crafty Federal general was to hasten by the direct highway, to reach the neighborhood of Camden first. They made some feints upon our rear, to cover this design, but Steel was not to be deluded. He only pressed on faster, and in three days more had entered Camden, driving its small garrison from their guns without much trouble. In the meantime, throwing out a force of Clayton's cavalry, he cut off a rebel brigade, and brought its train, with some three hundred prisoners, before his rear guard.

After such arduous and successful campaigning, whereby Arkansas was nearly recovered from rebel sway, it seems doubly hard that gallant Steel should almost fall a sacrifice to the disasters of our miserably-abortive Red River expedition, under Major-General Banks. That our Arkansas commander-in-chief performed his share of all preliminary fighting and defeating, needs no proof beyond the record of his march from Little Rock to Camden. But arrived there, where was our "Army of the Gulf ?" The battle of Mansfield had inaugurated its retreat, and the Red River expedition had degenerated into a disgraceful failure.

Gen. Steel now found himself at Camden; but in his front, and on his flanks, and gathering at his rear, were squadrons of rebels, elated with recent triumphs, and arrogant with future expectations. Already they coveted the capture of Banks, and the annihilation of his fleet and army. Already they looked upon Steel as an easy prey; and nothing less than the permanent expulsion of every Federal from Texas and Arkansas was accepted as the ultimatum of rebel conquest. Steel saw himself beset, and marked for destruction.

The first designs of the rebels were directed at our Federal trains. To cut off supplies from Steel, and to encompass Camden with their armies, was thought the safer method of proceeding against one whose prowess and infinite resources of strategy were so well known to his foes. The disaster at "Poison Springs" was a characteristic exploit of Texan warfare.

It was on the 18th of April. Two weeks had elapsed since our primary Red River defeat. A forage train was out on the old military road between Camden and Washington. It was guarded by a few companies of the 18th Iowa infantry, and the 2nd Kansas negro regiment. Within ten miles of camp, this train was attacked by rebel General Maxey, with a division, rebel General Marmaduke, with another division, of cavalry, and rebel General Cobell, with a third division. Maxey's division was composed of Gano's Texas brigade, Walker's brigade of Choctaw Indians, Khrumbaar's battery. There were Missouri regiments, Texan regiments, Arkansas regiments, and aboriginal regiments, with half a dozen Confederate generals to command them. All these were marshalled under Maxey, and marched against half a regiment of infantry, and a few black soldiers, guarding our forage trains, yet the battle was contested stoutly by our devoted boys. Not till two hundred and fifty of its number were killed or wounded, and nearly a hundred captured, did the little band fall back slowly, and yield four guns and about one hundred and seventy wagons to an overwhelming enemy. But very proud, nevertheless, were those rebels of their unusual good fortune against Steel; and Maxey made an official report of the affair which might have served, in details and bombast, for the bulletin of a Waterloo battle.

Another exploit against wagoners and their escorts, soon followed the battle of Poison Springs. On the 23d of April, an empty train of some two hundred wagons, left Camden for Pine Bluffs, to get supplies for our beleaguered troops. This train was placed in charge of the available force of a brigade that Col. McLean commanded, in Salomon's division. There were comprised in it, the 43d Indiana volunteers, in charge of Major Norris, the 36th Iowa regiment, Major Hamilton, and the 77th Ohio infantry, led by Captain McCormick. These regiments had been depleted greatly. With them were dispatched about two hundred of the 1st Indiana and 7th Missouri cavalry, under Majors McCauley and Spellman; the whole commanded by Lieut.-Col. Drake, of the 36th Iowa volunteers. They encamped, after being one day out, on Bayou Mars, and the next morning, as the train advanced, they found the enemy drawn up in line of battle on the road near Mark's Mills, five miles on the Pine Bluff road, and six miles from the Saline River.

Our Indiana boys were in front, and speedily became engaged, assisted by a small detachment of the 5th Kansas volunteers, just coming up from Pine Bluff. Six thousand rebels thundered at our little vanguard, but more than once it drove the enemy's centre; and, reinforced by the 36th Iowa regiment, comprising scarcely four hundred men, which soon dashed up, our brave front withstood unshrinkingly the heavy fire of rifles and cannon concentrated upon it. For more than an hour, this unequal contest, of less than eight hundred against eight times their force, continued undauntedly. Again and again they pierced the serried centre of rebel battle; stubbornly did they dispute every foot of ground; until, at last, after two pieces of Stenge's 2d Missouri artillery had been literally overrun and captured, and retaken by our rallying boys several times, they began to give ground reluctantly before their foes. Not, however, till every horse attached to the battery was killed, and the gunners shot down at their pieces, did those glorious Western soldiers, bleeding and exhausted, give up their portion of the train.

In the meantime, Captain McCormick, who, with the 77th Ohio men, was guarding the rearmost wagons, had been summoned by Col. Drake, to hasten forward with all speed. The captain at once started his regiment on "double-quick," passing impeded trains and a section of artillery, which had become "mired" in the boggy Mars bottom. For five miles, the Ohio boys advanced at this rate, but only reached the front in time to see their comrades captured. The whole rebel force was now before the rear-guard, as it been before the van; but Captain McCormick, seconded by Captain Whitridge, adjutant-general of the brigade, brought his little force rapidly in line, and sought to save the wagons that were yet behind him. For another hour, the enemy was held in check at all parts, and twice forced to give way in front. But the woods were open all around the battle-ground; the rebel sharp-shooters could screen themselves, on either flank; heavy lines were massing about the train; and, at length, to their dismay, the Ohio soldiers found their ammunition gone. They were compelled to surrender; and thus the battle of MARK'S MILLS ended, after a most obstinate struggle by our small force against terrible odds. We lost two hundred and fifty, in killed and wounded, and about one thousand in prisoners, with two hundred wagons and a hundred teamsters. The enemy's loss could not have been less than a thousand killed and wounded; as our skirmishers, deployed in the timber, did fearful execution on rebel masses during the protracted engagement. Beyond mules, wagons, and arms, the enemy obtained nothing but prisoners; for the train was an empty one. The needy marauders solaced themselves, however, with an indiscriminate plundering of Federal soldiers. Money, watches, and clothing were "appropriated," with cool effrontery. Tattered headgear was replaced by Yankee hats; bare feet rejoiced in Uncle Sam's boots; and the "sans culottes" butternuts became speedily transformed into well-clad "Johnnies," provided with canteens, knapsacks, and comfortable blankets. Our brave Americans, robbed and maltreated, were then marched to the Red River, and soon afterwards arrived, weary and worn, at our populated prison-pen in Camp Ford. Contemplating this new accession of "Steel's men," our soldiers from Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and other parts, were prepared to appreciate yet more keenly the military foresight whereof they were common victims.

With Steel's soldiers, from "Mark's Mill" battle, and other engagements, arrived many teamsters, traders, and citizens; among the latter a son of John Ross, the Cherokee Chief, whose nephew, D. R. Hicks, I have already mentioned as among the Kansas prisoners. Ross and Hicks were both intelligent and loyal men, and had suffered severely in the cause of Union. Such martyrs as these and their compatriots of the "Nation," deserve well of our Republic in the future. I would gladly, if space permitted, relate the story of their trials and perils. But the rehearsal would involve a national history. I must hasten on with personal narrative.



 

Return to
Chapter 40

Proceed to
Chapter 42

Return to the 48th Ohio at Camp Ford

Return to the 48th OVVI Home Page

 

webmaster@48ovvi.org
12/23/2000