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Chapter 13:

On the 18th of March, 1863, General Holmes was relieved of the command of the Trans-Mississippi department, and Lieut.-Gen. E. Kirby Smith assumed control. At the same time General Holmes was assigned to the district of Arkansas, including Indian Territory and the State of Missouri. General Smith's headquarters were at Shreveport and General Holmes' at Little Rock. On the 1st of April General Price, having reached the Trans-Mississippi department, was assigned to the command of the infantry division commanded by General Frost, and Frost was given a brigade. The only force in north Arkansas at that time, except some unattached companies in the northwest, was Marmaduke's division of cavalry, which was camped in and around Batesville. All the infantry had been withdrawn to Little Rock and other points of the Arkansas river. Marmaduke's division consisted of Shelby's brigade and Porter's brigade. The latter had been reorganized and was known as Greene's brigade.

Early in the spring Marmaduke went to Little Rock and got permission of General Holmes to make an expedition in southeast Missouri, for the purpose of recruiting and interfering with any preparations the Federals might be making to invade Arkansas and disturb the repose of the [131] commander of the district at Little Rock. General Holmes further showed his approval of the movement by temporarily assigning to General Marmaduke, Col. George W. Carter's brigade of Texas cavalry, which, with a four-gun battery, aggregated about 1,500 men. This gave Marmaduke a force of about 5,000 men and two 4-gun batteries.1 He moved April 20th. The first garrisoned town after crossing the Missouri line was Patterson, where Colonel Smart, a notorious marauder, was stationed with an equally notorious militia regiment. Marmaduke particularly desired to capture the regiment and its commander, and Colonel Giddings, of Carter's brigade, was given the honor of taking in the pickets and surprising the town, while Shelby made a detour with the view of capturing those who escaped. But Giddings, instead of capturing the pickets or charging them and entering the town with them, opened on them two miles from town with a section of artillery, and Smart and his regiment took to instant flight, not taking time in their haste to destroy some valuable commissary and quartermaster stores.

Marmaduke learned that Gen, John McNeil, of infamous memory, was at Bloomfield with about 2,000 men, and under orders to move to Pilot Knob. Of all men in the State the Missouri troops would rather have captured McNeil. Marmaduke sent a strong force to drive him toward Pilot Knob, intending to intercept him at Fredericktown, [132] but with instruction to the commander of the force, if he retreated toward Cape Girardeau, a strongly fortified post on the Mississippi river, not to follow him, but to rejoin the main body at Fredericktown. Colonel Carter solicited and obtained command of the force. He had his own brigade, and was given about half of Greene's brigade. Marmaduke, with Shelby's brigade and the other half of Greene's, reached Fredericktown on time, but there was no sign nor sound of McNeil or Carter. He waited a day, and then moved his command to Jackson, about half way to Cape Girardeau. Then he waited again, in the meantime sending scouting parties in every direction in search of Carter. At the end of two days he learned that McNeil had gone to Cape Girardeau and that Carter, becoming excited in the chase, had followed him, and that McNeil was inside the fortifications with a largely increased force, and Carter outside and unable to get away.

It took another day to march to Cape Girardeau and extricate Carter from his dangerous position. This was accomplished by Shelby attacking the fortifications and giving McNeil all he could do to defend himself. In the attack Shelby lost forty-five men killed and wounded, and was compelled to leave under the care of a surgeon a number of officers and men who were too badly hurt to be removed. Marmaduke got back to Jackson on the night of the next day, having lost four days by Carter's escapade—Shelby reached Fredericktown on the morning of the 22d and Marmaduke returned to Jackson on the evening, 26th—and given the enemy time to mass a heavy force in his front. Before daylight, on the morning of the 27th, he commenced his retreat, with General Vandiver and a larger force than his own close on his rear. McNeil was ordered, as soon as Carter was rescued, to throw his command south of Marmaduke and block his way, while Vandiver closed on him from the north. It would not have been difficult for McNeil to do this. He [133] would have had the shorter road and a day the start. But he was wary, and had no idea of putting himself in a position where a Confederate force could get at him. He purposely took another road, and allowed Marmaduke to pass the critical point unopposed, and get the whole pursuing force behind him. McNeil's conduct gave rise to a newspaper controversy shortly afterward, in which the facts came to light.

At the crossing of Whitewater Vandiver undertook to force things, but was hurled back so suddenly and effectually by Shelby that he kept at a respectful distance until Bloomfield was reached. There Marmaduke halted and remained in line of battle all day. At Chalk Bluffs he had to cross the St. Francis river, and there was no bridge. He, therefore, sent Maj. Robert Smith of his staff, Maj. Robert Lawrence of Shelby's staff, and Gen. Jeff Thompson who volunteered for the occasion, in advance with a hundred men to build a bridge, and halted at Bloomfield to fight the enemy and give the bridge-builders time. But Vandiver was cautious, and though skirmishing continued all day and the fighting sometimes became sharp, he did not make a general attack. Again Marmaduke halted, early in the afternoon, when he reached the hills that border the St. Francis at Chalk Bluffs, and again Vandiver skirmished with him, but did not attempt to force his position.

The bridge was a rough affair, but it answered the purpose for which it was built. It was a raft rather than a bridge. During the night the artillery and wagons, with the water up to the axles, were pulled across by the men, the horses were driven into the river and swam across, and the men crossed in single file, and just as the sun rose the next morning the raft was cut loose from its moorings and sent floating down the turbid stream, leaving not a trace of evidence of how the command had crossed. An hour afterward the Federals reached the river, but there was not a wagon, a gun, a horse or a [134] man on their side, and in pure bravado they planted a battery and began to shell the woods on the other side. But this was a losing game, for Collins' battery had been masked on the farther side, and opened suddenly on the Federal battery and the crowd of soldiers about it, and sent them scurrying to the rear. Though Marmaduke had not been outgeneraled nor his command at any time worsted in a fight—in fact, the enemy declined every offer of battle he made—the expedition for all practical results was a failure. Colonel Carter was a new man—an accomplished gentleman, but an untrained soldier—and was anxious for an opportunity to distinguish himself, and Marmaduke was disposed to oblige him. Carter blundered and the expedition miscarried.

Shelby's brigade went into camp near Augusta, and Greene's and Carter's on Crowley's Ridge. It was not long before there was talk of a movement on Helena by the combined infantry and cavalry force of the district, with the hope of relieving the pressure on Vicksburg by stopping the navigation of the Mississippi river by all boats except heavy ironclads, and preparations began to be quietly made to that end. About the 1st of June General Price moved his command and headquarters to Jacksonport, and issued orders which clearly indicated the reason for his change of base. But days and weeks passed and nothing positive was done. At last orders looking to a movement of the troops were issued. On the 18th General Price ordered Marmaduke and his division to join him at Cottonplant, and on the 23d General Holmes issued an address to the army. The order of battle was issued on the 3d of July, the troops then being concentrated around Helena, with the full knowledge of the enemy. General Price, with Parsons' and McRae's brigades, was to assault the fort on Graveyard hill, Fagan the fort on Hindman hill, Marmaduke the fort on Reiter hill, and Walker was to hold himself in position to resist any troops that might approach Reiter hill and [135] when that hill was captured enter the town and act against the enemy as circumstances might indicate. The attack was to be made at daylight on the following morning. All the preceding day steamboats had been arriving at Helena with reinforcements for the Federals, a large part of which did not leave the boats.

The different columns promptly advanced, at the time designated, to the attack. General Price assaulted the fort on Graveyard hill, and after a stubborn fight captured it and turned its guns on the main fort in the center of the town. He led Parsons' brigade in person, but not being supported by the other columns failed to take it and was eventually forced to retire. Fagan assaulted the fort on Hindman hill, but after a hard fight was driven back. Marmaduke's route led along the crest of a ridge, exposed to the enemy's artillery and musketry fire, on the side toward the river. Walker's orders were to keep this flank clear, but he did not advance until nine o'clock, and then, after firing two volleys at the enemy at long range, retired and did not make his appearance again during the fight. Marmaduke's left and rear were thus exposed, and he had to hold half his troops back to prevent being isolated and cut off. Shelby's brigade in front, however, assaulted the fort on Reiter hill, but was not strong enough to take it. At eleven o'clock General Holmes ordered the troops to withdraw, which they did in good order, and were not pressed by the enemy. The attack was a foredoomed failure. The enemy knew it would be made a month in advance, and had twice as large a force there as was necessary to repel it. In withdrawing from the town General Price's division suffered severely, particularly Colonel Lewis' regiment. Colonel Shelby's wrist was shattered by a rifle ball, making a painful and dangerous wound, and Maj. Robert Smith of Marmaduke's staff was killed, as was also Capt. John Clark of his escort company. [136]

Price's and Fagan's divisions returned to Little Rock, and Marmaduke's division, and Walker's brigade, consisting of two regiments, remained north of the Arkansas river. Marmaduke returned to White river and camped in the vicinity of Jacksonport. Shelby was disabled, and Col. G. W. Thompson commanded his brigade. The expedition to Helena over muddy roads and across swollen streams, without tents and frequently without rations, had been a hard one, but there was not much rest for the cavalry. Shortly General Davidson, with about 6,000 Federal cavalry, came down Crowley's ridge from Missouri, and Marmaduke prepared to meet him, but Davidson turned aside, without hazarding a fight, and went to Helena. As soon as Davidson had disappeared a light ironclad boat came up White river to very nearly where Shelby's brigade was camped, and Colonel Thompson undertook to capture it. But the boat was bullet-proof, and in the fight Lieut.-Col. Charles Gilkey, commanding Jeans' regiment, was killed, and Maj. David Shanks of the same regiment was severely wounded.

Davidson's column was only part of a force General Frederick Steele was concentrating at Devall's Bluff on the lower White river for the purpose of taking Little Rock. On the 24th of July General Price was assigned to the command of the district of Arkansas on account of the sickness of General Holmes, and General Fagan was assigned to the command of General Price's division. About the middle of August Marmaduke moved with his division from Jacksonport to form a junction with General Walker at Brownsville. When they met, Walker, as the ranking officer, took command. A few hours after Marmaduke reached Brownsville, the head of Steele's column, Davidson's cavalry in advance, appeared on the prairie. General Walker decided to retreat, and Marmaduke at his own request was given the rear, with Elliott's battalion and Pratt's battery. The [137] line of retreat lay across the prairie, but about twelve miles from Brownsville the road passed through a neck of timber, and it was arranged that the main body should be concealed in this timber, and that Marmaduke should draw the enemy's advance into an engagement, induce it to charge into the timber and give the main body an opportunity either to capture or disperse it. Marmaduke performed his part, but General Walker did not stop nor leave a man in the timber, and Marmaduke came near being captured instead of capturing the Federal advance.

At Bayou Two Prairie the enemy gave over the pursuit and went into camp, while Marmaduke continued his march and joined the main body in camp at Reid's bridge on Bayou Meto late at night. Bayou Meto and Bayou Prairie are about twelve miles apart, with no water for a cavalry command between them. Bayou Meto is a low, sluggish stream, with a miry bed and abrupt banks, and the sides are fringed with a heavy growth of timber. For several days Davidson's and Marmaduke's commands skirmished with each other. General Walker was in command, but never appeared at the front. His headquarters were some two miles back from Bayou Meto, in a brick church and school-house. On the fifth day, however, the Federals advanced in earnest, determined to secure ground for a camp on Bayou Meto. A substantial bridge spanned the bayou, which had been prepared for destruction by Marmaduke. After a considerable show of fight on the north side of the bayou, Marmaduke retired his force across the stream and fired the bridge. Three times the enemy advanced and tried to force him to let go his hold on the stream, and three times they were beaten back, bleeding and torn. In the interval between the first and second assaults, General Walker came on the field, but did not remain to exceed fifteen minutes. After the third assault, it became evident the enemy were weakening, and General Marmaduke sent a staff officer to request General Walker's presence, as he [138] could not himself well leave the field, and wished to consult him in regard to taking the offensive. General Walker refused to receive a verbal message. Then Marmaduke wrote him a note, and he refused to answer that. As a consequence the enemy were allowed to retire unmolested and undisturbed.

The relations between General Marmaduke and General Walker after the battle of Helena were strained; after the retreat from Brownsville they became more strained; and after the fight at Bayou Meto they were so intense that General Marmaduke informed Col. Thomas L. Snead, General Price's chief of staff, that his division must be removed from Walker's command or his resignation be accepted. This led to a correspondence between Walker and Marmaduke, which resulted in a duel and the death of Walker. Marmaduke and his seconds were put in arrest after the duel, but were released, on a petition from the officers of his division, when it became evident that General Steele intended to assault and take Little Rock, or be beaten in the effort. The release from arrest was temporary, but the affair was afterward quietly allowed to drop.

On the north side of the river, opposite Little Rock, heavy earthworks had been constructed by General Holmes for the protection of the town. The works were formidable, and there were fully as many men behind them as Steele had in his army. In this extremity Steele decided upon the hazardous plan of dividing his army, throwing his cavalry across the river below the town, and threatening it from the east and the south. Walker's brigade, commanded by Colonel Dobbins, was stationed at the ford where the cavalry had to cross, but Dobbins, after a feeble resistance, fell back and the enemy gained the point of getting a foothold on the south side of the river. Marmaduke was ordered to move his division from the front of the works on the north side and recover the lost ground. He crossed at the lower pontoon with his own [139] brigade, and sent in haste for Shelby's brigade, which was stationed at the extreme left of the line on the north side, to cross at the upper pontoon and join him. As the brigade passed through the city, Shelby, who had risen from his sick bed and mounted his horse, notwithstanding the protests of his surgeons, put himself at its head, amid the shouts of welcome of his soldiers, and went at a gallop to the assistance of Marmaduke. In the meantime Marmaduke, as soon as he arrived on the field with his brigade, formed it and Dobbins' brigade for a charge. But when ordered to charge Dobbins refused to do so, on the ground that the men would not serve under Marmaduke. Marmaduke promptly put Dobbins in arrest, and taking the battleflag of the brigade in his hand called on the men to follow. They answered with a cheer, and both brigades swept forward and drove the enemy back, capturing a section of artillery and several standards.

At this juncture Shelby's brigade arrived, and the division was never in better condition for a fight. Marmaduke had just made the boast that the Federals would not sleep in Little Rock that night, when an order reached him from General Price not to engage the enemy below the town, nor in the town, but to check them after they had passed through the town. During this time the earthworks on the north side had been abandoned, and the infantry marched across the river on pontoons and started southward in retreat, thus giving up the capital of the State, the pleasant city of Little Rock, and the productive valley of the Arkansas, without striking a blow in their defense. As General Price was doing exactly what General Steele wanted him to do, the latter did not interfere with him, but allowed him full time to abandon the works and evacuate the city. Marmaduke had no alternative but to obey the order he received. He fell back by successive regimental formations, retiring slowly and checking the enemy whenever they attempted to crowd him. [140]

After the evacuation of Little Rock the infantry were concentrated at Camp Bragg, near Red river, and the cavalry watched the movements of the enemy at Little Rock and Pine Bluff. The troops were dissatisfied. They confidently expected to fight the Federals at Little Rock and to whip them, and they could not understand why, when General Steele divided his force and took the chance of being beaten in detail, a retreat had been ordered, instead of advantage taken of his hazardous experiment. It has been stated that Colonel Shelby left his sick bed and took command of his brigade as it passed through Little Rock to join Marmaduke in checking the advance of the enemy below the town. Having escaped the bondage Shelby had no intention of returning to it, but, reduced almost to a skeleton and his shattered arm in a sling, he set to work to get permission to make an expedition into Missouri. This was not easily done, but he was persistent.

Some time before Governor Claiborne F. Jackson had died, and Lieut.-Gov. Thomas C. Reynolds had become governor of Missouri, and was recognized as such by the Confederate military authorities as well as the Missourians in the army. Governor Reynolds was a man of bold temper, and an expedition such as Shelby proposed appealed strongly to the chivalry of his nature. Backed by the governor, Shelby finally got the consent of Generals Marmaduke, Price, Holmes and Kirby Smith. On the 21st of September—eleven days after the evacuation of Little Rock—an order was made giving him 600 men and two pieces of artillery for the purpose of proceeding to north Arkansas and south Missouri, and all Confederate commanders and recruiting officers in those sections were ordered to report to him. The next day with a picked band from his brigade he rode away to what officers above him believed to be almost certain capture or death. [141]

1 The organization of Marmaduke's command, May 20, 1863, is given as follows: Carter's brigade, Col. George W. CarterCol. N. M. Burford's regiment, Lieut.-Col. D. C. Giddings' regiment, Maj. C. L. Morgan's squadron, Reves' partisan company, Capt. J. H. Pratt's battery; Burbridge's brigade, Col. John Q. BurbridgeBurbridge's regiment (Lieut.-Col. W. J. Preston), Col. R. C. Newton's regiment; Shelby's brigade, Col. Joseph O. ShelbyCol. Beal G. Jeans' regiment; Shelby's regiment (Lieut.-Col. B. F. Gordon), Col. G. W. Thompson's regiment, Maj. Benjamin Elliott's battalion, Maj. David Shanks' battalion, Capt. Richard A. Collins' battery; Greene's brigade, Col. Colton GreeneGreene's regiment (Lieut.-Col. Leonidas C. Campbell), Col. W. L. Jeffers' regiment, Col. M. L. Young's battalion, Capt. L. T. Brown's battery, Lieut. James L. Hamilton's battery.

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