Doc. 130.-General Steele's expedition.
Little Rock “Democrat” account.
little Rock, May 3, 1864.we have, heretofore, given such accounts as reached us of the movement of the army southward to cooperate with General Banks in his proposed expedition against Shreveport. We present, to-day, a succinct statement, which we have collected from all the statements of the operations of the gallant little army of General Steele, from the day he left here. The advanced-guard moved from Little Rock on the twenty-third of March, on the military road. On the twenty-fourth, the whole command moved, the head of the column resting that night on the Saline, beyond Benton. On the twenty-fifth, the command crossed Saline bottom, and on the succeeding day reached Rockport. On the twenty-seventh, a bridge was thrown across the Ouachita River and the troops crossed and moved in the direction of Arkadelphia. That night there was a heavy rain-storm, and the army encamped at Bayou Roche on the night of the twenty-eighth, and arrived at Arkadelphia on the succeeding day, where it remained until the first of April, waiting to be joined by General Thayer. From the time the head of the column reached Benton, the advance-guard was continually skirmishing. Our losses were some two or three wounded, and we captured a few prisoners. On the first of April, the army moved forward to Spoonville, a distance of twelve or fourteen miles. On the second, it moved from Spoonville in the direction of Washington, and at nine miles from the former place, encountered Marmaduke and Cabell, in considerable force. The next obstacle was Little Red River, a rapid stream and difficult to cross. General Steele had the choice of three crossings: that at Tate's Ferry, at the crossing of the military road, and at Elkins's Ferry. The enemy very truly supposed that the object of General Steele was to reach Camden, and occupied the road to Tate's Ferry in force, and had thrown up works, and made preparations to resist the crossing of our army. Learning this, General Steele moved his command forward, as if he intended to proceed directly to Washington, and leave Camden on his left. When within ten miles of the crossing of the military road, he threw forward some troops on the military road as if intending to pursue it, sent a detachment of cavalry to seize and hold Elkins's Ferry, and turned the direction of the main body of the army southward, at right angles with the former course. The troops sent forward on the military road encountered Marmaduke and Shelby in force, and kept them in play; but at the same time, Shelby attacked the rear of the army, under command of Brigadier-General Rice, near the crossing of the Terre Noir. The enemy attacked with great bravery, and were repulsed with heavy loss.  On the third of April, the entire command crossed the Little Red River at Elkins's Ferry, and so well planned had been the movement, and so promptly executed, that it was not until the evening of that day, and by accident, that the enemy learned that the army had crossed. On this day, Colonel Engleman's brigade had a serious engagement at Okolona, and soundly thrashed the enemy. On the succeeding day, Marmaduke and Cabell, with a force of four or five thousand men, made a furious attack, but were easily driven off, our army capturing, among other prisoners, two lieutenants, one of them a member of Marmaduke's staff. The army remained here a day or two, waiting for General Thayer to come up, who had been obliged to come by a different route from the one originally intended, on account of forage and bad roads. Our forces found that the enemy had thrown up works to cover the road through the bottom. Immense labor had been expended here, as they were over a mile in length, consisting of felled trees and heavy earth-work. After a sharp skirmish, the enemy left their defences and our troops occupied them. On the evening of the seventh a terrible storm came up, with thunder and lightning and a deluge of rain. The river rose three feet, and the succeeding day was spent in corduroying the bottoms and throwing a bridge across the river for the passage of Thayer's command, which had come up and now joined the main army. On Sunday, the tenth, a bright and beautiful day, the army moved on to Prairie E'Ann, where, it was understood, Price had determined to make a final and desperate stand. At a point on the prairie two branches make off from the direct road. The right hand goes to Washington, the direct road goes to Spring Hill, which is on the direct route to Shreveport, and the left leads to Camden. This point was covered by the enemy, who did not know which road General Steele proposed to take. An artillery fight took place, the enemy having two or three batteries, which ceased at nightfall. After dark, the enemy, having discovered the position of our artillery during the day, made a desperate effort to capture the guns, but were repulsed with severe loss, and retreated to the earth and timber-works over a mile long, commanding the Washington road. On the next day our army moved nearer the rebel position, and felt of it to ascertain its strength and disposition. On the twelfth, at daylight, General Steele pushed forward and so disposed his forces as to turn their left flank, when the enemy fled to Washington. They were pursued by cavalry for several miles, as if it was intended to follow them up, but our army then took the road to Camden. The next day was spent in crossing the Terre Bouge bottom, one of the worst in the State. It had to be corduroyed for miles and bridges made. While this was being done, the rebel General Dockery attacked the rear, commanded by General Thayer, who drove the assailants back and punished them severely. On the night of the fourteenth it was generally known that the rebels had found out that the real destination was Camden, that they had been outwitted, and that they had sent Cabell and Shelby in front of the Union army to resist the march to Camden. The fifteenth was spent in driving the rebels from position to position, and our army entered Camden. Camden was found to be strongly fortified, and, with boats on the Ouachita to bring supplies, could have been maintained against any rebel force. Deserters who came in reported that Banks had been defeated, and spies returned with the same intelligence. Some despatches from the enemy were captured, which confirmed the fact that if Banks was not defeated he had been so crippled as to make it necessary for him to stop. On the eighteenth, a forage team sent out by the quartermaster was captured by the enemy. This was the first disaster during the expedition. On the twentieth, a supply-train arrived from Pine Bluff, and on the twenty-second the empty train was sent back, escorted by a brigade of infantry, four pieces of artillery, and a proper proportion of cavalry. On the twenty-fifth, news was received that the train had been captured, and Lieutenant-Colonel Drake, of the Seventy-seventh Ohio, who was in command, was mortally wounded. Deserters, prisoners, spies, and scouts, who came or were brought in, gave information that rendered it certain that Kirby Smith, in person, with reinforcements of eight thousand infantry, had joined Price and were advancing. Taking all these things into consideration, the scarcity of forage, the difficulty of keeping open a line for supplies, and that the rebels could avoid a battle and go round Camden, General Steele decided to evacuate the place and return to his former lines. On the night of the twenty-sixth, the whole command crossed the Ouachita, and moved for Little Rock, by way of Princeton and Jenkins's Ferry, on the Saline, which point was reached on the twenty-seventh, and a pontoon thrown across. Here it was learned that the rebel General Fagan, with a large force and fourteen pieces of artillery, had left their camp, five miles above that point, and were moving up the river to where it could be forded, in order to cross and threaten Little Rock. A cavalry force was sent to intercept Fagan. About noon of that day it commenced raining, and continued to rain hard during that and the succeeding day. Price came up at this point, and the battle alluded to in yesterday's paper was fought on Saturday, the thirtieth. It was a splendid victory, the rebels retreating, losing three pieces of artillery and other material of war. After the defeat of the rebels, as the roads and weather prevented marching, General Steele decided to send General Carr to Little Rock to watch Fagan, as he felt confident of again whipping Price and Smith, should they conclude to attack again. As the rebels did not come to time, the army  took up its line of march, and while we are writing is marching through the city with the guns and trophies captured from the enemy. Such is an outline of the expedition as we have gathered it from those who accompanied it. Our losses in the various skirmishes were light, being only in wounded and those taken with the train. The report of the loss on Saturday has not been received, but it was small, and that of the enemy heavy, as the latter attacked while our men fought from position. Generals Rice, Solomon, Carr, and Thayer, all fought like bull-dogs, and, when their commands were attacked, successfully repulsed the enemy. The negro regiments fought well, and took two guns at Elkins's Ferry. It is evident that the check received by General Banks, and his falling back to Grand Ecore, made a further advance by General Steele, with his small army, impossible. It was useless to hold Camden and depend upon supplies from this point or Pine Bluff. As the Red River expedition had been delayed, if not broken up, a return to Little Rock was the only alternative. The command has marched over three hundred miles, driven rebels nearly the whole time, giving them battle wherever they offered it, whipped them in every engagement, outwitted them when they attempted strategy, and has returned with comparatively little loss, if we except the return train, which was cut off and captured by superior numbers.