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Iowa Infantry, forming the front line of Colonel Engel-



THE CAMDEN EXPEDITION. 2/1

mann's brigade, Colonels Krez and Garrett, command-
ing those regiments, ordered their men to open fire upon
the enemy, which they did, giving them several effective
volleys before they had passed out of range. Almost at
the same instant that the infantry opened fire, the guns
of Vaughn's battery belched forth in several volleys a
perfect storm of canister into the charging cavalry, and
sent them back over the prairie in so much disorder that
they made no further demonstrations against the Federal
front that night.

The next morning at daylight skirmishing commenced
again between the outposts of the opposing forces, and
in the afternoon General Steele ordered the Third Divi-
sion in line of battle on the prairie, and it advanced to
within a mile of the Confederate fortified position in the
edge of the forest skirting the southwest part of Prairie
d'Ane. General Price, who had concentrated his avail-
able forces behind his works, and who commanded in
person, declined to be drawn outside of them to accept
the gage of battle offered by General Steele. Part of
General Rice's brigade drew the fire of the Confederate
artillery; but after some movements on the field in front
of the Confederate works, to ascertain their position, it
was too late to make an assault that evening, and General
Steele's troops were withdrawn after dark to very nearly
the position they had occupied the night before. The
Confederates had taken up a strong defensive position.
They had rifle-pits nearly a mile in length, with posi-
tions for artillery, and on the flanks they had made breast-
works of logs and felled trees nearly a mile in length,
which would have been a great protection in an assault.

Having by his reconnoissance in force ascertained the
position of the rifle-pits and breastworks behind which
the Confederate troops had been forced to retire, General
Steele ordered another advance of the three divisions of
his army early on the morning of the 12th, with the view



272 THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

of attacking Price in his works. In this movement, Gen-
eral Rice's brigade on the right, Colonel Engelmann's
brigade on the left, with General Carr's cavalry on either
flank, formed General Steele's line of battle. The Fron-
tier Division, under General Thayer, formed the reserve
of the army. With colors flying, and with the batteries
of the different brigades in proper positions, the troops
moved forward over the beautiful prairie, breathing valor
all, with the determination of carrying the fortifications
of the enemy by assault. When the movement com-
menced, a heavy line of skirmishers, consisting of one or
two companies from each regiment, covered the advance
of each brigade, and soon came upon the Confederate
line of skirmishers and steadily drove them back to their
intrenchments, when they disappeared. The Federal
line continued to advance until the troops came in sight
of the Confederate works, when General Steele, with
Rice's brigade and a brigade of cavalry, turned Price's
left flank, and without resistance he abandoned his forti-
fications and fell back to within eight miles of Washing-
ton. He was still under the impression that Steele desired
to reach that point, and to conceal his real movement as
long as possible, Steele sent part of his cavalry several
miles in pursuit of the retreating Confederates, while with
the rest of his army he turned to the left and marched
for Camden as rapidly as practicable. General Carr, with
a brigade of cavalry under Colonel Ritter, taking the
advance.

The road General Steele was moving on intersected
the Washington and Camden road on the prairie in front
of the intrenchments, so that his troops and trains on
coming to the junctions of those roads took the left-hand
road to Camden, the head of his column encamping on
Terre Rouge Creek that night. The recent heavy rains
having made the road crossing the bottom of this stream
impassable for the trains and artillery, the pioneer corps.



THE CAMDEN EXPEDITION. 273

under Captain J. B. Wheeler, Chief Engineer, was sent
forward with heavy details to repair it. As long stretches
of the road had to be corduroyed and bridges repaired,
much time was expended in collecting rails and timber
for the purpose, so that the movement of the army was
delayed until noon the next day. On the morning of the
13th, General Price was informed that, instead of pursuing
him vigorously after he was manoeuvred out of his in-
trenchments at Prairie d'Ane, the Federal forces had
turned to the left and were marching rapidly for Camden.
There were three roads leading from Washington to Cam-
den, the most northern of which the Federal forces were
marching on. When, therefore, Price found that he had
been deceived as to the intentions of the Federal com-
mander, he sent forward most of his cavalry and some
light batteries, under General Marmaduke, on the middle
Camden road, to get in front of the Federal forces and
contest their advance on Camden, while he took the
divisions of Maxey and Fagan and moved forward rapidly
and attacked General Steele's rear under General Thayer,
commanding the Frontier Division, near the little village
of Moscow on the south side of Prairie d'Ane.

General Dockery came upon and attacked and drove in
General Thayer's outposts about one o'clock on the 13th,
while General Steele's Third Division was crossing the
Terre Rouge Creek bottom. The Frontier Division had
encamped in the timber near the prairie, and the teams
of the trains were hitched up and the troops in readiness
to move when the attack was made. The Confederates
advanced over the prairie and deployed to the right
and left of the road in such large numbers that General
Thayer saw that he must make disposition of his troops
at once for battle. He had hardly completed the forma-
tion of his line and placed his batteries in position, with
his cavalry on his flanks, when Price opened with his
artillery and threw forward a brigade under Dockery,



274 THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

which made a furious charge in the direction of the
Second Indiana Battery with the intention of taking it.
When this charging force came up within range, the Fed-
eral infantry poured several volleys of musketry into their
ranks, with fatal precision, and the twelve guns in the
batteries of Thayer's division also swept their ranks and
the field in front with a storm of grape and canister,
causing them to retire hastily with a heavy loss of killed
and wounded. There was an almost incessant roar from
the artillery firing from one until five o'clock in the after-
noon, with several sharp conflicts with small-arms between
the opposing forces, when the Confederates were driven
from the field and pursued about three miles. In this
action the Second Indiana Battery fired 210 solid shot
and shell, besides a number of rounds of grape and
canister.

When General Thayer's troops returned from the pur-
suit that evening, his division resumed the march and
marched all that night through the swamp and over the
terrible road across the Terre Rouge bottom. Although
the road had been repaired and corduroyed across most
of this bottom, there were places in it where the rails
and timber laid down had sunk out of sight in the mud
from the weight of the loaded wagons of the trains and
the artillery which had already passed over it. While
the troops and trains of the Frontier Division were floun-
dering in the swamps and mud of Terre Rouge bottom,
General Steele's advance was delayed at Cypress Bayou
until the pioneer corps could repair several bridges and
corduroy the road in places across the low bottom-land of
that stream. Having received information on the 14th
that a large Confederate force of cavalry and artillery
was marching on the middle Washington and Camden
road to get in his front at the junction of that road with
the one he was moving on, General Steele sent forward
part of his cavalry under General Carr, and a brigade of



THE CAMDEN EXPEDITION. 2/5

infantry and Battery E, Second Missouri Light Artillery,
under General Rice, to reach the junction of the roads,
fourteen miles northwest of Camden, if practicable, before
the enemy. This force marched to White Oak Creek
that evening and encamped that night. On arriving at
that point. General Carr sent forward 250 cavalry to
make a reconnoissance to the junction of the roads, four
miles farther on, and 250 cavalry to make a reconnoissance
to the middle Washington and Camden road by turning
to the right on a cross-road a mile or so in advance.
These detachments of Federal cavalry met and skirmished
with the Confederate cavalry after dark, killing one and
wounding and capturing two men who belonged to Mar-
maduke's command. From these prisoners it was ascer-
tained that Shelby's and Greene's brigades had arrived at
the junction of the northern and middle Washington and
Camden roads that evening, and were prepared to oppose
the Federal advance.

The next morning, the 15th, Steele's advance, under
Generals Carr and Rice, marched only a few miles when
they met the Confederate skirmishers near the junction
of the northern and middle Washington and Camden
roads, and drove them nearly two miles, when they joined
Marmaduke, who had formed two brigades on each side
of the road, and who at once had five pieces of his artil-
lery open fire upon the Federal advance. General Carr
had been using his mountain howitzers to drive the Con-
federate skirmishers from several positions, but when the
Confederate field-guns opened upon him, Captain Stange's
battery, Second Missouri Light Artillery, under Lieuten-
ant Peetz of General Rice's brigade, was brought to the
front, supported by the Twenty-ninth Iowa on the left,
and Thirty-third Iowa Infantry on the right, and replied
very effectively to the Confederate guns.

When the cannonading had lasted nearly two hours,
with some skirmishing with small-arms, General Rice or-



276 THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

dered Colonel Salomon, commanding the Ninth Wisconsin
Infantry, to turn the left flank of the enemy, the nature of
the ground not admitting of the formation of cavalry on
that part of the field. While this movement was being
made, Marmaduke withdrew his battery and fell back in
the direction of Camden, closely pursued by the Federal
forces, making only a few feeble efforts to check their
advance. He was pushed so closely by Generals Rice
and Carr that when within three miles of Camden he
turned to the right and moved over on to the lower Wash-
ington and Camden road, leaving one regiment under
Colonel Lawther to skirmish with the Federal advance
into the city. Generals Carr and Rice marched into Cam-
den before dark, with their commands; but the last of
the troops and the trains of the Third Division did not
get in until nearly midnight, and General Thayer's Fron-
tier Division did not enter the city until the next day.

At that time Camden was the second town in population
and in importance in the State, and, until the near ap-
proach of General Steele's army, had been the headquar-
ters of General Price, commanding the Confederate forces
in the District of Arkansas. It was a beautiful little
place, situated on high ground on the south bank of the
Washita River, which was navigable for good-sized steam-
boats to that point the greater part of the year. It had
for several months been the base of supplies for the
Southern forces in all that section, and the Confederate
authorities had constructed nine forts for the defence of
the place at a great cost of money and labor. General
Steele had executed a brilliant movement, for in manoeu-
vring Price out of his intrenchments at Prairie d'Ane,
he also manoeuvred him out of his strong fortifications at
Camden, and took the place without a general battle.
When Price saw that he had been outgeneralled, he made
every possible effort, by attacking the Federal forces in
rear and front, to detain them until he could hurry his



THE CAMDEN EXPEDITION.



277



mounted infantry and artillery over the lower Washing-
ton and Camden road, and get to Camden and reoccupy
the works before the arrival of his adversary. But his
interposing force was unable to check the Federal advance
more than a few hours.



CHAPTER XVIII.
THE BATTLE OF POISON SPRING, ARKANSAS.

On General Steele's arrival at Camden, information
had been received there by telegraphic despatches that
General Banks had been defeated above Natchitoches
and obliged to fall back in the direction of Grand Ecore
and Alexandria. This information by telegraph, which
had come through Southern sources, was soon confirmed
by the return and report of one of General Steele's spies,
who had been sent to communicate with General Banks.
A day or so later an officer on the staff of General Banks
arrived with despatches confirming the reports of his de-
feat, and that he was falling back to Alexandria. When
it was definitely known that Banks had been defeated
and was falling back, General Steele saw that it was use-
less for him to advance any farther in the direction of
Red River. His column was a cooperating one, and the
point upon which the several columns were converging
was now a point from which the other columns were re-
treating. At that time there were twenty-four feet of
water in the channel of the Washita River at Camden,
and General Steele thought that he might make that
place his base of supplies if he could get a gunboat to
convoy steamers up the river. But a crisis was rapidly
approaching when he must either get supplies up the
Washita, or fall back with his army to Little Rock or
Pine Bluff on the Arkansas River. Already there were

27S



BA TTLE OF POISON SPRING. 279

rumors that General E. Kirby Smith had promised to
send General Price eight thousand infantry and the
complement of artillery from the troops who had been
operating against General Banks in Louisiana. In the
march from Little Rock to Camden, General Steele found
that the country had been nearly exhausted of supplies
by the Confederate troops during the past winter and
spring, and that they had destroyed all the forage on the
Federal line of march, as far as practicable, which they
could not use or take away. His troops had been on
half rations of bread since he started out upon the expe-
dition, and less than that proportion of the meat ration
had been issued to them. His cavalry, artillery, and
transportation animals, numbering as many as ten thou-
sand, required a large amount of forage, and on account
of the short ration and hard service imposed upon them,
many of them were daily becoming unserviceable. In-
deed, the bread ration was so nearly exhausted that a
part of the corn ration for the animals was turned over to
the commissary department to be ground into meal for
the troops. As the Confederates were driven back they
destroyed nearly all the best mills in that section, to pre-
vent the Federal troops from using them, so that most of
the meal made had to be ground by the soldiers with
hand-mills. The large steamer Homer, with a cargo of
four thousand bushels of corn, was captured by General
Steele's cavalry, under Colonel Ritter, on the Washita,
thirty miles below Camden, on the night of the i6th, and
brought back up the river to the city and unloaded, and
the corn issued to the army, relieving the present situation.
There were a few Union people in Camden, and they
reported to Captain C. A. Henry, chief quartermaster of
the expedition, how much corn they could spare, and he
purchased it and paid them for it. He also ascertained
that there were considerable quantities of corn at a num-
ber of plantations in the vicinity of Camden, and made



28o THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

arrangements to secure it. In that section very few of
the slaves had left their masters on the arrival of the
Federal troops, and the last year the planters and small
farmers had raised an increased acreage of corn, and a
decreased acreage of cotton, for the demand for corn to
supply subsistence and forage for the Southern army and
for home consumption had increased, while the market
for cotton had become more uncertain.

The Confederate officers had made it a point to use up
and destroy the forage in the disputed territory occupied
by the outposts of the two armies between Arkadelphia
and Little Rock, up to the time General Steele's expedi-
tion started out, and had drawn as sparingly as possible
on the supplies of the citizens in the vicinity of Camden.
When the people found that the Confederates were burn-
ing the forage likely to fall into the hands of the Federal
troops, a good many of them endeavored to secrete their
corn. In the advance on Camden, Captain Henry had
ascertained that there was a large amount of corn, esti-
mated at from four to five thousand bushels, at several
plantations near the road on which the Federal troops
had passed, out about eighteen miles, and on the morn-
ing of the 17th made up a train of 198 wagons, and asked
for an escort for it of a regiment each of cavalry and in-
fantry, and a section of artillery, to send out and get this
forage. General Thayer was instructed to detail troops
from his division for the escort. He directed Colonel
James M. Williams, First Kansas Colored Infantry, to
take command of the escort, which consisted of the
Colonel's own regiment, under Major Richard G. Ward,
195 cavalry of the Second, Sixth, and Fourteenth Kan-
sas Regiments, and two pieces of the Second Indiana
Battery, under Lieutenant William W. Haines — in all,
695 men. Although the road near which the forage
would be found was the one over which the Federal
troops had just passed, it was by no means the rear of



BATTLE OF POISON SPRING. 28 1

the army — was, in fact, as much the front as the rear.
It was contrary to the general poHcy of military com-
manders to forage to the front. But in the face of this
sound military maxim, the train and escort were sent out,
and upwards of one hundred of the wagons loaded with
corn that evening and during the early part of the night.

The next morning details were sent out with teams,
and the empty wagons were to be loaded with forage
from plantations on either flank, with- instructions to join
the loaded part of the train en route to Camden. The
balance of the troops of the escort and the loaded part of
the train were at once put in motion on the road to Cam-
den, and about four miles east of the point where they
had encamped during the night, near Poison Spring, met
a reinforcement, under Captain William M. Duncan, of
383 men of the Eighteenth Iowa Infantry, 90 cavalry of
the Second, Sixth, and Fourteenth Kansas Regiments,
and two twelve-pounder mountain howitzers attached to
the Sixth Kansas, under Lieutenant A. J. Walker of that
regiment. This reinforcement halted until the train
passed and then became a part of the rear-guard. About
a mile east of this point the advance-guard came up to
and fired upon the Confederate picket in the road and
pursued it nearly a mile, when it joined the Confederate
line of skirmishers which occupied a good position in the
pine woods on each side of the Camden road.

When the Federal train and escort left Camden, Gen-
eral Price's headquarters were at Woodlawn, sixteen
miles southwest, and about ten miles southeast of the
place where Colonel Williams encamped that night.
The Confederate scouts had watched the movement of
the train and escort from the moment they left Camden
until they went into camp that night, and knew the
number of wagons in the train and approximately the num-
ber of troops in the escort, and reported all this to Gen-
eral Marmaduke near Woodlawn that evening. Later in



282 THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

the evening these scouts also reported to General Mar-
maduke the advance of the troops under Captain Duncan
which left Camden in the afternoon of the day the train
and escort left there in the morning to reinforce Colonel
Williams. With this information it vfas determined that
night by General Marmaduke to make an effort to cap-
ture the train, and preparations were made to start early
the next morning with picked men from three divisions —
the divisions of Marmaduke, Cabell, and Maxey, with
a four-gun battery to each division — the whole force of
thirty-seven hundred men and twelve pieces of artillery
to be under the command of General S. B. Maxey, the
senior officer of the three brigadier-generals who were
to direct the movements of the troops. In the plan of
attack, Marmaduke's division was to form on the right,
with a battery near his centre; Cabell's division in the
centre, with a battery near his centre; and Maxey's
division of Texans and Indians on the left of the Con-
federate line, with a battery near his centre. In taking
their positions on the field, Marmaduke's and Cabell's
lines faced west, covering the Federal front, and Maxey's
line faced north, covering the Federal right.

Of course, when his advance-guard fired upon and drove
in the Confederate picket, Colonel Williams knew nothing
about these dispositions of the Confederate troops in his
front and on his flanks, nor of the strength of the force
confronting him. But from what he saw of the move-
ments and boldness of the Confederate skirmish-line, he
suspected that the situation might be a serious one, and
one that demanded of him extreme caution. Up to that
moment it was thought that if an attack should be made
on the train, it would more likely be made on the rear
than in front, and in consequence most of his troops who
were not out with his forage details were in the rear of
the train. He ordered the train halted and parked, and
forming in line the small force of his cavalry advance,



BATTLE OF POISON SPRING. 283

directed Lieutenant Haines, commanding the section of
the battery, to open fire upon the Confederate position
for the purpose of ascertaining whether the enemy had
artillery, and that the sound of the artillery firing might
warn his forage details which were out to come in. The
fire of his two guns did not have the effect of at once
drawing a response from the Confederate artillery, but
the Confederate skirmishers opened a brisk fire of mus-
ketry at long range, doing very little damage.

The moment the Confederate skirmish-line was ob-
served, Colonel Williams ordered his colored infantry,
under Major Ward, to the front. As they came up they
formed in line on each side of the road at the top of a
hill, the right of the line overlooking the north end of
a field which was a hundred yards or so in front. The
field may have had twenty to thirty acres in it, and the
north end of it was about two hundred yards south of
the Camden road. Nearly all the high ground in that
section not in cultivation was covered with pine timber,
and in some places with a young growth of pine, making
it impossible to see objects more than a hundred yards or
so in front.

While the Confederate commander was making dis-
position of his troops on his left, most of Colonel Wil-
liams' forage details which were out, on hearing the
cannonading of the first skirmish, hastily came in, and
Lieutenant Robert Henderson, of the Sixth Kansas, who
had been out with a train of eighteen wagons, on return-
ing turned them over to the quartermaster, and then
marched to the front and reported. Colonel Williams
had just noticed through openings in the pine woods a
movement of Confederate infantry towards his right;
but, still desiring to know the nature of the force in his
front, sent forward from his right Lieutenants Henderson
and Mitchell with their cavalry, with instructions to press
the Confederate line, and if possible ascertain the position



284 THE CIVIL WAR ON THE BORDER.

and strength of the enemy. While moving along the
north end of the field in the pine woods between the field
and road, and just as it wasnearing the northeast corner,
this cavalry received a heavy volley of musketry from the
enemy posted in the brush in front, wounding Lieuten-
ant Henderson severely, who was held on his horse and
taken to the rear. On returning the fire with their car-
bines this cavalry was driven back upon the line of
colored infantry, and were then ordered to take a posi-
tion on the extreme right of that regiment. On bringing
up the colored infantry, a skirmish-line was thrown for-
ward about a hundred yards in front, covering the left
wing. This skirmish-line was kept out upwards of half
an hour, exchanging shots with the Confederate skir-



Online LibraryWiley BrittonThe Civil War on the border.. → online text (page 23 of 44)