previous next

Doc. 145.-capture of little Rock, Arkansas.

General Steele's official report.


headquarters army of Arkansas, Department of the Missouri, little Rock, Ark., Sept. 12, 1863.
General: I have the honor to submit the following as a summary of the operations which led to the occupation of the capital of Arkansas by the expeditionary army under my command:

On the twenty-first of July I arrived at Helena, and pursuant to instructions from Major-General Grant, reported by letter to the commander of the Sixteenth army corps for the instructions relative to the fitting out of an expedition against Little [466] Rock. General Hurlbut placed under my command all the troops at Helena, and the cavalry division under Brigadier-General Davidson, then operating in Arkansas. The garrison at Helena had been reenforced by two brigades of Kimball's division, which had just arrived from Snyder's Bluff, and were suffering severely from the influences of the Yazoo country.

The proportion of sick and wounded Helena troops was also very large. Three regiments were designated to remain at Helena, and these, with the sick and convalescent, were to constitute the garrison of that place. The troops designated for the expedition amounted to about six thousand, of all arms. There were three six-gun batteries and one four-gun battery, including six ten-pound Parrotts. The cavalry--First Indiana and Fifth Kansas--amounted to less than five hundred for duty. The First Indiana had three small rifled guns. Davidson reported some less than six thousand present for duty in his cavalry division and eighteen pieces of artillery — showing an aggregate of about twelve thousand fit for duty. Brigadier-Generals Kimball and Salomon obtained leaves of absence, and the resignation of General Ross was accepted, which left me with but one general officer--Davidson.

The resignation of my Assistant Adjutant-General was accepted just at this time, and there were no officers of the Quartermaster's and Subsistence Department at Helena, except Captain Allen, A. C. S., and Captain Noble, A. Q. M., who were in charge of the stores in the depot. I ordered the establishment of camps for the sick and convalescents, and organized the command in the best manner possible. Davidson pushed on to Clarendon, and established a ferry for crossing the troops; corduroying two miles of bottom, and laying down the pontoon-bridge across Rock Roe Bayou. On the nineteenth of August, the Helena troops organized into a division, Colonel now Brigadier-General S. A. Rice marched toward Clarendon, with orders to reconstruct the bridges which had been destroyed by the rebels, and to make all necessary repairs on the road, which was in bad condition. Kimball's division, under Colonel William E. McClean, followed next day.

The whole command was at Clarendon and commenced crossing the river on the seventeenth of August. Before the crossing was effected I found my operations encumbered by over a thousand sick. To have established a hospital and depot at this point would have involved the necessity of occupying both sides of the river. Duvall's Bluff was a more healthy location, and the route to Little Rock possessed many advantages over the other as a line of operations. I therefore ordered all the stores and sick to be sent to Duvall's Bluff by water. The enemy had constructed rifle-pits in a commanding position, fronting the crossing on Rock Roe Bayou, but on the approach of Davidson's division had fallen back, leaving only a picket. This position could easily have been turned by the road leading up from Harris's Ferry.

On the twenty-third, Davidson was directed to move with his division to Deadman's Lake, and reconnoitre the enemy's position at Brownsville.

On the twenty-third, the rest of the command moved to Duvall's Bluff, the transports carrying the sick and stores, under convoy of the gunboats. An advantageous site was selected on the bluff for a hospital and depot, and details immediately ordered to throw up intrenchments, cut away the timber on the flanks to give the gunboats clear range, and to erect sheds, etc. On the twenty-fourth, Davidson advanced to Prairie Bayou, and, on the twenty-fifth, continued the march, skirmishing with Marmaduke's cavalry up to Brownsville, dislodging him at that place, and driving him into his intrenchments at Bayou Metou, on the twenty-sixth.

The attack was renewed on the twenty-seventh, and the enemy, driven from his works on the bayou, fired the bridges as he retreated. Davidson was unable to save the bridge, every thing having been prepared for its destruction beforehand. The bayou was deep and miry, and his pursuit of the rebels being thus checked, he withdrew to his camp at Brownsville, leaving pickets at the crossing on the bayou.

I received information that “True's” brigade from Memphis would arrive at Clarendon on the thirtieth, and immediately sent a party to construct a bridge across Rock Roe Bayou, and a ferry-boat to cross the troops over White River. True crossed on the thirty-first, and on the first of September moved up to Deadman's Lake. The advance from Duvall's Bluff also commenced on the first, the place having been put in such a state of defence that the convalescents, and a small detail left there, were deemed sufficient to hold it against any force the enemy would be likely to send in that direction.

On the second instant all my available force was concentrated at Brownsville. It had been ascertained that the military road on the south side of Bayou Metou passed through a section impracticable for any military operations-swamp, timber, and entanglement of vines and undergrowth-and was commanded by the enemy's works. I therefore directed Davidson to make a reconnoissance in force around to the enemy's left, by way of Austin, and, if practicable, t( penetrate his lines and ascertain both his strength and position. Rice's division was ordered forward to make a diversion in Davidson's favor on the Bayou Metou. Rice drove in the enemy's pickets, shelled the woods on the south side of the bayou for several hours, and encamped for the night.

In the mean time Davidson pushed his reconnoissance until the numerous roads on his flanks and rear rendered it dangerous for him to proceed any further. The great length to which it would increase our line of communication with our base, rendered it impracticable for us to attack the enemy on his left flank. This reconnoissance occupied two days. By this time I had collected information in regard to the road leading by “Shallow Ford,” and Ashley's Mills to the Arkansas, on the right of the enemy's works, which [467] determined me to take that route. The march to the front was resumed on the sixth. Here we found ourselves encumbered with a large number of sick-near seven hundred. True's brigade and Ritter's brigade of cavalry were left to guard the supply train and the sick. On the seventh, we reached the Arkansas River, near Ashley's Mills. At this point Davidson's cavalry, in advance, had a sharp skirmish, with a loss of five or six wounded on each side, and one rebel captain prisoner. The eighth and ninth were employed in reconnoissance, in repairing the road back to Bayou Metou, and in bringing up the sick and the supply trains with the two brigades left at Brownsville. I had now definitely determined upon a plan of attack.

Davidson was directed to lay his pontoon-bridge at an eligible point, throw his division across the Arkansas, and move directly on Little Rock, threatening the enemy's right flank and rear, while I moved with the rest of the force on the north bank of the river, and assailed the right of his works. During the night of the ninth he made his dispositions for crossing the Arkansas, and on the morning of the tenth had the pontoon-bridge laid. The Second division was ordered to report to him at daylight, to assist in covering his crossing. The bridge was placed in a bend of the river, and the ground on the south side was so completely swept by the artillery that the enemy could not plant a battery in any position from which he could interrupt the crossing.

Two regiments of infantry passed over the river to drive the enemy's skirmishers out.of the woods, and the cavalry division passed on without serious interruption until they reached Bayou Fourche, where the enemy were drawn up in line to receive them, consisting of the brigades of Fagan and Tappan, and the cavalry division, under Marmaduke.

The rebels held their position obstinately until our artillery on the opposite side of the river was opened upon their flank and rear, when they gave way and were steadily pushed back by Davidson, the artillery constantly playing upon them from the other side of the river. Our two columns marched nearly abreast on either side of the Arkansas. Volumes of smoke in the direction of Little Rock indicated to us that the rebels had evacuated their works on the north side of the river, and were burning their pontoon-bridges. Heavy clouds of dust moving down toward Davidson, on the other side of the river, made me apprehensive that the enemy contemplated falling upon him with his entire force. He was instructed, in such event, to form on the beach, where his flank could be protected by our artillery on the other side, and where aid might be sent him by a ford. But they were in full retreat. Marmaduke's cavalry only were disputing Davidson's entry of the city. The rebels had fired three pontoonbridges, laid across the Arkansas at the city. Two locomotives were also on fire, but were saved by us. Part of the pontoons were also saved. Six steamboats and one gunboat were entirely destroyed by fire. We are informed that Price intended to have blown up the arsenal, but was pressed so close that he failed in this.

Our cavalry was too much exhausted to pursue the enemy's retreating columns far on the evening of the tenth. Next morning Merrill's and Clayton's brigades renewed the chase, and followed them twenty miles, taking a number of prisoners and causing the enemy to destroy part of his train.

Little Rock was formally surrendered by the municipal authorities on the evening of the tenth. Price had undoubtedly intended to give us battle in his intrenchments, but was completely surprised by our movement across the Arkansas, and did not suspect it until after the pontoonbridge was laid. When it was reported to him that our infantry was crossing, he took it for granted that our whole force was moving to cut off his retreat to Arkadelphia.

I have been assured by citizens that General Cabell with about four thousand (4000) troops, from Fort Smith, had joined Price on his retreat, he having failed to reach here in time to assist in defence of the place.

I marched from Ashley's Mills on the morning of the tenth with not more than seven thousand (7000) troops, having parked the trains and left a strong guard to defend them and the sick.

The operations of this army from the time that I commenced organizing it at Helena, have occupied exactly forty days.

Our entire loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, will not exceed one hundred, (100.) The enemy's is much greater, especially in prisoners --at least one thousand, (1000.)

I shall reserve the list of casualties and my special recommendations for a future communication. However, I will say that Davidson with his cavalry division deserve the highest commendation.

Very respectfully, General,

Your obedient servant,

Fred. Steele, Major-General Major-General J. M. Schofield, Commanding Department of the Missouri.

General Davidson's official report.

headquarters cavalry division, Department of the Missouri, little Rock, Ark., September 12, 1863.
Colonel F. H. Manter, Chief of Staff:
Colonel: I have the honor to report the operations of my division on the tenth instant--the day of the capture of Little Rock.

The plan agreed upon by Major-General Steele, the preceding day, was, that he, with the whole infantry force, should move up the north bank of the Arkansas, directly upon the enemy's works, while my cavalry division forced the passage of the river, and moved up the south bank, turning the enemy's right, and assaulting the city in the rear. All necessary orders were given by me that night. Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, Captain Hadley, and Captain Gerster of my staff, worked all night at the cutting of the bluff bank [468] of the river, the location of the batteries, and the laying of the pontoon-bridge.

A division of infantry, Colonel Ingelmann commanding, was placed temporarily at my disposition, and was in position at daylight. So also, Hadley's and Stange's and Lovejoy's batteries, and those of the Fifth and Eleventh Ohio. Merrill's and Glover's brigades were massed behind the crossing at eight A. M. of the tenth, and the laying of the bridge was completed at that hour. Ritter's brigade, with Clarkson's battery was ordered to make a demonstration four miles below, at Banks's Ford,. then held by the enemy. The passage of the river was effected by seven A. M.--all three brigades crossing at the same point-Ritter being ordered up to the bridge, the opposition of the enemy not lasting fifteen minutes under the concentrated fire of our batteries.

No further opposition was met by my division until we reached Fourche Bayou, five miles from Little Rock. Here we found the enemy, consisting of Marmaduke's cavalry, dismounted, and Tappan's and Fagan's brigades of infantry, with two batteries, strongly posted. A sharp fight of two hours duration, of Glover's brigade on one road and Merrill's on another, leading into the main one, during which the Second brigade lost two mountain howitzers, unavoidably, and captured a caisson, drove them from the position toward the city. Every advantageous foot of ground from this point on was warmly contested by the enemy, my cavalry dismounting and taking it afoot through the timber and corn-fields. I had previously sent an officer of my escort, Lieutenant Armstrong, with a guidon to follow along the bank of the river, to mark the progress of my advance to General Steele. The fire of his batteries from the opposite bank, progressively, was of great service to us.

My advance was here made slow by the fact that the enemy, finding themselves threatened in rear, evacuated their works in front of General Steele, and I did not know but that at any moment their whole force would be thrown upon me. I received a message from General Steele, in the event of such contingency, to withdraw my horses from below the bluff bank of the river, and his batteries would cover my flanks.

Finding, however, that the opposition of the enemy was not stubborn enough to warrant the belief that they were all in front of me, I ordered a vigorous advance of Glover's brigade, and when they became exhausted, within two miles of the city, threw Ritter's brigade, sabre in hand, and Stange's howitzers, supported by two squadrons of the First Iowa cavalry, under Captain Jenks, into the city, and on the heels of the now flying enemy. At seven P. M., the capital of Arkansas was formally surrendered by its civil authorities, and the arsenal of the United States, uninjured, with what stores remained in it, was “repossessed.”

Later in the evening General Steele, whose forces had entered the works on the opposite side, came over the river, the enemy being pushed too closely to destroy the bridges.

A column, consisting of Merrill's Horse, the Seventh and Eighth Missouri cavalry, the Tenth and Thirteenth Illinois cavalry, and the First In. diana cavalry, with Clarkson's and Stange's batteries, the whole under Colonels Merrill and Clayton, was organized to pursue vigorously the next morning.

My losses do not exceed seventy killed and wounded. That of the enemy is not yet known. Among their killed is Colonel Corley, commanding General Dodbins's former regiment.

My whole staff--Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, Captains Hadley, Gerster, Lieutenants Montgomery, McGunnegle, Gray, Sprague, and Surgeon Smith, Quartermaster Johnson, and Captain Thompson, Commissary Subsistence-served me faithfully throughout the day.

The brigade commanders, especially Colonel Glover, of the Second brigade, and Ritter, of the reserve brigade, deserve honorable mention. Colonel Glover deserves, for his services throughout this campaign, promotion to the rank of a general officer. Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, whose untiring devotion and energy never flagged during the night or day, deserves for his varied accomplishments as a cavalry officer, promotion to the rank of a general officer.

Beyond these, I must refer to the reports of brigade commanders, herewith inclosed, for the many cases of individual good judgment and gallantry displayed.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

J. W. Davidson, Brigadier-General.

1 See Doc. 124, page 417 ante.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 12th, 1863 AD (2)
23rd (2)
10th (2)
1000 AD (1)
September 1st (1)
August 19th (1)
August 17th (1)
July 21st (1)
31st (1)
30th (1)
27th (1)
26th (1)
25th (1)
24th (1)
7th (1)
6th (1)
2nd (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: