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Chapter 11:

  • Hindman Prepares for a campaign
  • -- the battle of Prairie Grove -- both armies retreat -- Holmes Abandons the upper Arkansas valley -- Hindman relieved of command in the West -- Marmaduke Moves into Missouri -- repulse at Springfield -- a hard fight at Hartville.

Previous to the fight at Cane Hill, Hindman had been quietly concentrating an infantry force in the vicinity of Van Buren. They came from Little Rock and from White and Black rivers. After his check by Marmaduke in the Boston mountains, Blunt returned to Cane Hill with about 7,000 men. General Herron was to the east of him, in the vicinity of Yellville and Huntsville, with 6,000 men. Hindman, by dint of much persuasion, obtained permission of General Holmes to cross the mountains and fight Herron, or Herron and Blunt if they succeeded in uniting their forces; but with the condition that win or lose, he should immediately recross the mountains and march to the succor of Little Rock, which was not threatened from any direction. Marmaduke's cavalry was at Dripping Springs, in a position to take part in any movement Hindman might make. Hindman had 9,500 men of all arms. He moved from Ozark on the 3d of December, 1862, with Marmaduke in advance. The weather was stormy and cold, and as the army moved without wagons or tents, the suffering of the men, particularly at night, was severe. Up to a certain point it was impossible for the enemy to tell which road Hindman intended to take—the Cove Creek road which would take him in front of Herron, or the Cane Hill road [108] which would put him in front of Blunt. When this point was reached and it was decided to march against Herron, Monroe's brigade of Arkansas cavalry was sent down the Cane Hill road, ordered to make Blunt believe it was the advance guard of the main force. Monroe performed his work so well that he entirely deceived Blunt. At the same time Hindman, with Shelby's brigade in advance, moved out on the Cove Creek road. Between daylight and sunrise Marmaduke struck Herron's cavalry, routed it, took nearly a hundred prisoners and drove it back on the main body. The infantry were coming out of the mountains just at the time the cavalry fight occurred, and hearing the firing and seeing the prisoners moving to the rear, they were so inspired and so eager to get into the fight that with a shout they struck a double-quick of their own accord.

When he came to the direct road connecting Blunt and Herron, Marmaduke sent Gordon's regiment down it, with orders to hold Blunt in check at every cost. Gordon chose a strong position and drove back every detachment sent out on that road, which induced Blunt to make a march north of eight miles, and then east four miles to form a junction with Herron. Hindman's force consisted of Marmaduke's cavalry division, Parsons' and Frost's Missouri infantry divisions, and Shoup's and Fagan's Arkansas divisions. When Hindman arrived on the field (December 7th) Marmaduke told him where Herron was and advised an immediate attack. Hindman ordered Shoup to take position on the center, and to attack Herron at once and vigorously. Shoup left, but returned in about twenty minutes and informed Hindman that he had formed his division en echelon—so that he could front to meet an attack from either Herron or Blunt—and he thought that the best disposition to make. Frost endorsed what Shoup had done, and both of them being West Pointers and plausible talkers, Hindman permitted himself to be persuaded to accept their view, and told [109] Shoup to retain the position he had taken for the time being. Hindman's formation was, Marmaduke on the right, Fagan and Shoup in the center, and Parsons and Frost on the left.

For three or four hours the army remained in position without firing a gun. Off to the southwest the glint of the sunlight on the bayonets and musket barrels of Blunt's soldiers could occasionally be seen, as they wound their way over hill and vale in their line of march of twelve miles around Hindman's left to form a junction with Herron. Then the attack came from the combined Federal forces. Herron was much stronger in artillery than Hindman, and shelled his lines furiously before assaulting them with his infantry. Marmaduke's battery, under Lieutenant Collins, was forced to change its position repeatedly. The infantry attack was directed chiefly against the center and right wing, and was gallantly met and successfully repulsed by Fagan and Marmaduke. The battle was stubbornly contested by both sides, but the Confederates steadily gained ground, and never yielded a foot they had gained. On the left Blunt was fiercely assaulting Parsons, who was barely able to hold his own, but after an hour or more of fighting, gathered all his strength and forced Blunt back to a line of timber, when he in turn was checked by a fire of thirty pieces of artillery massed in the edge of the woods. Herron reformed his broken ranks and charged the center and right again, but with less vigor and determination than the first time, and was driven back in greater confusion. A little open field of not more than fifteen or twenty acres, near the right center of the line, was fought over several times, and a Federal battery was taken, retaken and taken again, the last time by a regiment of Shelby's cavalry, dismounted, remaining in the hands of the Confederates. After the battle one might have walked over this field and never stepped on the ground, the dead and the wounded covered it so thickly. Night closed the fight with the Confederates [110] in possession of the field. They had advanced their lines nearly a mile. But neither Herron nor Blunt was whipped or hopelessly disabled. The rank and file of the Confederates confidently expected a renewal of the battle next morning.

But as soon as Hindman had heard from his division commanders and counted his losses he determined to retreat. Having once reached this conclusion he lost no time in carrying it into effect. The men were stripped of their blankets to muffle the wheels of the artillery and ammunition wagons, and by midnight his army was on the road to Van Buren, moving as silently in the cold moonlight as a column of spectres. Marmaduke, with Shelby's brigade, remained behind to care for the wounded and bury the dead. The field being in the possession of the Confederates, a flag of truce was sent in by the commander of Herron's cavalry, asking permission to care for the Federal wounded and bury their dead. Then it appeared that Herron had retreated with the same promptness that Hindman had. Marmaduke camped on the field that night, and in the morning the Federal cavalry was gone.

Hindman never recovered from the mistake he made in following Shoup's and Frost's advice. He said to Marmaduke almost pathetically, when he determined to give the order for retreat, that he had trusted Shoup and Frost and they had ruined him. It was not only the loss of a battle he should have won, it was the irrevocable end of a career of an ambitious man, conscious of his own capacity for command; and therein was the bitterness of the sting. The loss of each army in the battle was severe. The Confederate loss in killed, wounded and missing was fully 1,800. The Federal loss was estimated to be greater. Among the Confederate officers killed were Gen. Early Steen, commanding a Missouri brigade; Colonel Grinstead, commanding a Missouri regiment; and Colonel Young, commanding an Arkansas regiment. [111]

Hindman withdrew his troops to the Arkansas river and put them in camp opposite Van Buren, leaving a Texas cavalry regiment, under Colonel Crump, on the north side of the river to hold the enemy in check. But a few days afterward the Federals drove Crump's outposts in and came in with them, and shelled Hindman's camp across the river. He then marched his army through rain and storm, over muddy roads and across swollen streams, to Little Rock. Shortly after he was relieved of command in the West and ordered to report east of the Mississippi, where he did the Confederacy good service; but his dream of power and command was gone never to return.

Marmaduke remained with his division—Shelby's brigade and a new brigade commanded by Colonel Porter—for some time at Dripping Springs and in the vicinity of Lewisburg, when he was ordered to strike the Federal line of communication and supply between Springfield and Rolla, in Missouri, and force Blunt to let go his hold on the Arkansas river, where he was a menace to Little Rock. Porter moved far to the right with instructions to swing around on Springfield. Shelby, accompanied by Marmaduke, took the more direct route, picking up here and there a Federal garrison in some out-of-the-way town as he went. Capt. Ben Elliott, of Gordon's regiment, had recruited a battalion of picked men, men known for their steadiness, courage and powers of endurance, and the duty of capturing these outlying posts devolved by right of superior capacity on his command.

Marmaduke reached Springfield early on the morning of January 8, 1863. Two miles from the town he dismounted his command and moved up to the attack, driving the Federal outpost before him. Thompson's regiment held the right and Gordon's the left, with Collin's battery and Jeans' regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Gilkey, in the center, while Major Elliott's battalion remained mounted and held the extreme right, and Colonel [112] MacDonald's unattached mounted regiment held the extreme left. The line advanced over the open prairie under a heavy artillery fire. Springfield was strongly fortified. Inside the town were heavy earthworks, flanked by rifle-pits and deep ditches, and on the outskirts was a strong stockade protected by the guns of the earthworks.

The garrison was commanded by General Brown, and neither he nor his men appeared at all disturbed by the demonstrations being made against them. His soldiers marched to their places with perfect calmness, and he, with his staff and a strong escort, rode out and took a critical view of the number and disposition of his assailants. But for all that, his escort was charged and scattered and he was severely wounded before he reached the protection of his fortifications again. The whole Confederate line charged and one piece of artillery was captured, but that was all. The Federals fired the buildings outside of their line of fortifications, and the Confederates fought with the smoke and the flame in their faces. The men were falling fast and gaining no permanent advantage. Shelby led the charge into the town and beat back everything that opposed him in the streets, but was unequal to the effort when it came to assaulting the heavy earthworks and stockade.

The place was stronger in men and defenses than Marmaduke had been led to believe. There was nothing for it but to protect his troops as well as he could, and wait for night to enable him to withdraw successfully. Porter's brigade had not come up, and he was compelled to make the attack with hardly more than half his force. Had Porter's brigade been present, the result might have been different. The capture of Springfield, however, was not the primary object of the expedition. It was to cut Blunt's line of communication and supplies, and to compel him to abandon the upper Arkansas river. To accomplish this, Marmaduke turned his attention to the road between Springfield and Rolla, and destroyed everything [113] on it likely to be of use to Blunt or the Federal commanders south of Rolla. This was easily done, for the Federal force at Springfield remained there behind their fortifications, and made no effort to interfere with him. There were numerous depots of supply along the road, and these were destroyed, together with telegraph lines and stockades, and the militia garrisoning the latter were captured or dispersed. He remained on this line for a week and completely destroyed all communication between Rolla and points further south.

At Sand Spring Porter joined him, and he left the Rolla road and moved in the direction of Marshfield, in Webster county. On the second day's march from Marshfield, Porter in advance met a heavy force of Federal cavalry on the main road between Marshfield and Hartville, and promptly attacked it. The Federals gave way and it was a race between the two columns on different roads for Hartville. Just before reaching that point there was a considerable stream to be crossed, and the crossing was disputed by a strong body of Federals, but Porter drove them back and crossed. Marmaduke was informed by his scouts that the Federals were retreating from the town, and, without waiting for Shelby to come up, ordered Porter forward, who obeyed the order, moving in column, without advance guard or flankers. The Federal wagons were leaving the town, but the Federal soldiers were ambushed in a heavy black-jack thicket bordering the road, with a strong rail fence on the other side. When Porter got well in the trap, the concealed line rose and poured into his extended flank a terrific fire. In an instant his command was a struggling mass of men and horses. They could not charge into the scrub-oak thicket, and the fence held them firmly on the other side. As speedily as they could Porter and his officers got the men on more open ground, but the Federals followed them closely, firing volley after volley into them and preventing them rallying and reforming. [114]

Shelby in the rear heard the uproar, and with intuitive knowledge divined the cause. Without waiting for orders he rushed his command forward, crossed the stream at the nearest point and, dismounting his men, charged through an open field to gain possession of the fence and strike the enemy in flank. But the Federals held the fence with terrible tenacity, and twice his brigade was beaten back. The third time he accomplished his purpose, drove the enemy before him and saved Porter's brigade and the day. But the loss was fearful. Col. John M. Wimer and Col. Emmet MacDonald were killed, and many other field and company officers. Col. John C. Porter was shot from his horse and seriously wounded, at the head of his troops. Shelby mentioned of his command, Maj. G. R. Kirtley and Capt. C. M. Turpin, of the First, killed; Captain Dupuy, of the Second, lost a leg; and Capt. Washington McDaniel, of Elliott's scouts, fell with a bullet through his breast just as the enemy retreated. Lieutenant Royster was left on the field badly wounded; Captains Crocker, Burkholder, Jarrett and Webb, of the Second, were also severely wounded; Capt. James M. Garrett fell in the front of the fight. Captains Thompson and Langhorne, and Lieutenants Elliott, Haney, Graves, Huff, Williams, Bullard and Bulkley were also severely wounded. Shelby was hard hit on the head, and his life was saved by the bullet glancing on a gold badge he wore on his hat.

That night, January 11th, the dead were buried by starlight, and the next morning the command moved slowly and sorrowfully southward. Col. John M. Wimer and Col. Emmet MacDonald were citizens of St. Louis. Colonel Wimer had been mayor of the city and was universally respected. Colonel MacDonald was born and reared there, and, though a much younger man than Colonel Wimer, was almost as well known and as highly respected. The bodies of both were taken to the city by their friends for burial. But the provost marshal there, [115] Franklin A. Dick, refused to allow them decent and Christian burial, and had their bodies taken from the houses of their friends at night and buried in unknown and unmarked graves in the common potters' field.

The retreat to Arkansas was a severe one. It was now the middle of January, and the weather suddenly became very cold. The change was ushered in by a snow, which lasted ten hours. The snow covered the earth to the depth of nearly two feet, and, freezing on top, made marching difficult and dangerous to man and horse. Many of the men were poorly clad and suffered greatly, some of them having their hands and feet frozen. Davidson's command of Federal cavalry followed hard after, forcing the men to keep with the column and preventing them stopping at farmhouses for any length of time. At last Batesville was reached, and the warmth of the hospitality with which the command was received by the generous people there made amends for all the hardships of the campaign. [116]

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