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Chapter 14:

The Arkansas river from the Indian country to its mouth was in possession of the Federals, and Shelby decided to go well up toward Van Buren before attempting to cross it. In the Caddo mountains he met Col. David Hunter with 150 recruits from Missouri. Hunter had resigned the command of an infantry regiment to enter the cavalry service; was an experienced scout and fighter, familiar with the country in which Shelby proposed to operate, and promptly accepted the proposal to return with the latter to Missouri. The Caddo mountains south of the Arkansas river, like the Boston mountains north of it, were infested with numerous bands of marauders, made up of robbers and deserters from both armies, who tortured and plundered the people indiscriminately. These bands received scant mercy at Shelby's hands. One beyond Caddo Gap, which was the terror of the country, was surprised by Major Elliott and annihilated. Before he reached the Arkansas river Shelby met, unexpectedly to each, an Arkansas cavalry regiment, composed principally of Confederate conscript deserters, charged it on sight and killed, captured or scattered it. Near Ozark he forded the river and took the town, Major Shanks killing and dispersing a band of plunderers who had possession of it. The command was halted and rested one day near Huntsville. At Bentonville, the wreck of a town, having been burned by Sigel's men, Colonel Coffee and a hundred men recruited by him joined the column. Here Shelby threw forward beyond Springfield [142] three bodies of scouts under trusty and experienced officers, with instructions to cut telegraph wires and in every way interrupt communication with St. Louis. They were to move in advance of him toward the Missouri river at Booneville, and communicate with him from time to time. For the rest, to mystify and mislead the enemy, he depended upon his own strategy and rapidity of movement.

At Neosho, Mo., twenty-five miles from Bentonville was a Federal garrison about 400 strong, quartered in the brick court house in the center of the town. They were well armed, well mounted and well clothed, and their equipments were more attractive than they were themselves. Maj. George Gordon approached the town from the east, Coffee from the north and Hooper from the west, while Shelby advanced on it from the south, with Shanks and the artillery. The Federals, in their strong position, were confident until the artillery opened on them, and then very promptly the white flag went up and they surrendered unconditionally. The guns and horses here obtained armed and mounted the unarmed and dismounted men, and put the column in good condition for traveling. While the prisoners were paroled and the spoils secured, a large scouting party came down from Newtonia, and those who composed it, except a few who escaped, shared the fate of the captured garrison.

Bowers' Mill, a militia rendezvous and headquarters, was taken and purified by fire of its filth and immoral surroundings. After a night march Greenfield and its garrison of 50 militia were captured and the court house burned, because it was used by the Federals as a fort. Then the 25 militia who held Stockton were captured and their fort, the court house burned; and then Humansville, which was held by a force of 150 cavalry, was captured after the garrison had lost seventeen men killed and wounded. Warsaw showed fight, but Gordon flanked it on the right and Elliott on the left, [143] while Hooper attacked it by wading the river in its front, and its garrison succumbed, surrendering a large quantity of stores of every kind. Cold Camp was a German settlement and a militia headquarters, on a productive and highly cultivated plain. The people had good houses, fruitful orchards, prolific fields, of grain and abundant supplies of cattle. They expected to be despoiled of their property and have their houses burned. But Shelby did not make war on non-combatants, nor take private property without paying for it. Court houses and buildings used as forts by the enemy were different. Those he destroyed as a matter of course. Florence was an abandoned town. Its inhabitants—men, women and children—had fled, leaving all their household property behind. The soldiers did nothing worse than take what they wanted to eat.

Tipton was an important point on the Pacific railroad, and its garrison made a pretense of defending it, but only a pretense. The exchange of a couple of volleys and an attack in flank by Gordon did the business, and the Federals fled for their lives. The railroad was hardly torn up and what supplies the men needed taken from the military stores left behind, when Col. Thomas T. Crittenden appeared on the prairie, with about a thousand men—the number Shelby had—and both commands were formed for battle. It would have been a great thing for Crittenden to have captured or defeated Shelby, and fate had been kind in giving him as good an opportunity as a brave man would ask But when Shelby's command, with Shelby at its head, moved forward to the attack, Crittenden's heart failed him, and before a shot had been fired his command turned and fled, he leading the advance in its flight.

The march of two days to Booneville was continued without interruption, as far as the enemy were concerned. Shelby's objective point in starting had been Jefferson City or Booneville. But at Tipton he learned that a heavy force of Federals had been massed at Jefferson [144] City—much too heavy for him to meet in the field, to say nothing of attacking in the strongly fortified position they occupied. At Booneville he was received most hospitably by the people, particularly the women, who were nearly all Southern in their sympathies and made no effort to conceal their feelings. As soon as it became apparent that he was going to Booneville, the greater part of the force at Jefferson City under General Brown, the dashing officer whom Marmaduke and Shelby had fought unsuccessfully at Springfield, moved out in pursuit of him. Brown had 4,000 men under his command; Shelby had 1,000. He knew, too, that an equally heavy force under Gen Thomas Ewing was bearing down upon him from the west, and that troops were being concentrated south of him to intercept his retreat. He had reached the turning point in his expedition, and had now to fight the enemy massed in solid columns instead of dispersed at detached garrison towns. But he went into camp at Booneville and remained there thirty-six hours, determined to rest his men and horses for the terrible struggle before them.

When he left the town Brown was close upon him, and the rear of one force and the advance of the other skirmished hotly. But Shelby was in no hurry. As long as his enemy was behind him he was not apprehensive. The skirmishing continued until the LaMine river was reached. The banks of the river were steep on either side and slippery from the crossing of Shelby's command. Here he ambushed 250 men under Hunter, and waited for the enemy to attempt to cross. Brown was pushing things and his advance cavalry regiment rode boldly into the stream. Then Hunter's men opened upon them a deadly fire, and in a few minutes the stream was full of floundering men and horses who could neither advance nor retreat, and a steady and effective fire was kept up upon them. How many were killed and wounded or drowned was never known, but the impetuosity of [145] Brown's pursuit was suddenly checked, for at the cross. ing of Blackwater, the same day, his attack was confined to the use of artillery at long range. Before he reached Marshall the next day, Shelby learned that General Ewing was in his front with at least 4,000 men. The supreme struggle was at hand. Brown's force was thundering on his rear, and Ewing's force was not two miles away, ready to block his path or close on him if he stopped an hour to fight Brown. He destroyed the bridge across Salt Fork, and left Shanks with 300 men to dispute the passage and hold Brown, while he, with the remainder of the command, made a desperate effort to break through Ewing's lines. He dismounted his men and for an hour the fighting was furious. Ewing's lines extended beyond his and almost inclosed them. But he pressed the fighting and continually advanced, though portions of his line at times were checked and temporarily forced to give ground.

In the meantime Shanks was holding Brown at bay at the crossing of Salt Fork, but at a great sacrifice of his men. Once he sent to Shelby for a piece of artillery, but Shelby was so nearly surrounded and was fighting against such odds that he could not spare a man or a gun. At last Shelby saw an outlet—a weak point in Ewing's lines —and under cover of his artillery mounted his men, sent to Shanks to join him, charged with all his force on the weak point and with terrible loss cut his way through, bringing off one of his cannon and leaving the other dismounted behind him. Shanks in attempting to join Shelby was so hard pressed that he had to stop every few hundred yards to repel a charge. But Shelby's charge had broken Ewing's left wing, and Shanks having lost sight of Shelby, rode down everything in front of him and forced his way through the broken line. Shelby and Shanks were thus separated and neither knew what had become of the other, but each supposed the other lost.

As soon as Shelby got clear of the Federal lines, he [146] halted and waited for Shanks. Shanks did not come, but Ewing's cavalry did. They were beaten back, and Shelby moved up the river in the direction of Waverly, in Lafayette county, and when night came halted and went into camp to feed and rest his men and horses, issue his remaining ammunition to the men, and free himself from the incumbrance of a train by throwing his wagons in the river. The command passed through Waverly just at daylight and turned directly southward. The retreat that Shelby was about to make meant taxing the power of endurance and strength of his men and horses to the utmost, with every now and then a more or less serious engagement with the enemy. It was the farthest possible remove from a precipitate and headlong flight. He had foreseen and prepared for retreat when he halted and rested thirty-six hours at Booneville, while the enemy were concentrating around him in overwhelming numbers, and again when he halted and rested during the night near Waverly after the desperate fight near Marshall. Notwithstanding the hard service they had seen, his men and horses were in fairly good condition for the long and exhausting march before them.

His line of march was east of Warrensburg and west of Clinton, and he stopped a few hours between them to feed his horses and wait for a body of men under Capt. James Wood that had been detached to burn a bridge over the LaMine river, which they did after capturing the troops guarding it. Below Clinton a force of Kansas cavalry struck his rear, but were so roughly handled that they retired and abandoned the pursuit as far as they were concerned. In thirty-six hours he was in the vicinity of Carthage, having marched in that time fully a hundred miles, halted five times to feed his horses, and repulsed two attacks upon his rear. He was now on comparatively safe ground, and camped near Carthage for a good night's rest. He allowed Major Pickler and a force of Coffee's command to camp in Carthage, and Pickler [147] permitted himself to be surprised just before day by Ewing's advance guard, and driven in confusion out of the town. But the Federal victory was short-lived, for Shelby heard the uproar and, understanding what it meant, ambushed the enemy and cut them up so badly that the pursuit was abandoned then and there. From the vicinity of Carthage Shelby moved leisurely to White river and camped near Berryville to rest his command and wait for information in regard to Shanks and his detachment.

Shanks had a rough time after he left the field at Marshall, but fortunately he liked a rough time. He was as sturdy a soldier as ever rode in front of an advancing column or held the rear of a retreating one. When the melee and confusion resulting from Shelby's charge at Marshall were the greatest, and he swung off to the left, Brown followed him so closely and held to him so tenaciously that he could make but slow progress, and when night came he had got but three miles from the battlefield. But when the enemy drew off at night he halted, fed his horses, distributed his ammunition and formed his plans. He followed very nearly the line in retreat that Shelby had followed in his advance. All night and a part of the next day he moved swiftly on, and luckily, just after he crossed the Pacific railroad, near Sedalia, he encountered a Federal forage train, dispersed the escort and captured the wagons. This furnished abundant supplies for his men and horses and enabled him to continue his march without much loss of time. At Florence, which he entered at night, he encountered a Federal force as strong as his own, but charged it out of hand and made short work of it. McNeil was in command of the Federal forces at Springfield, and it was perhaps fortunate for Shelby and Shanks that he was. McNeil was not a fighter. As far as he ever went in that way was to make a demonstration—a show of fight—to save his reputation and his commission. As a general thing his soldiers got [148] out of Shelby's and Shanks' way. They did this on Shanks' line of retreat at Warsaw, at Cold Camp and at the crossing of most of the streams. A command having information of his approach attempted to ambush him in a rocky gorge. But Shanks charged it without halting, and one volley was all the Federals fired. After passing through Humansville he became involved among a network of detached bodies of the enemy, and one of his lieutenants and a number of his men were captured. He soon cut his way out, and these were the only prisoners he lost. But constant marching and fighting, loss of sleep and lack of food, were telling on his men, and it became evident to the sturdy soldier that he must reach a place of safety soon or succumb. He made a detour around Springfield, passed between Mount Vernon and Greenfield, both heavily garrisoned by the Federals, and was approaching White river when his way was barred by 200 Federal cavalry. The cavalry were quickly dispersed and thirty horses fell into the hands of the victors, which served to mount the men whose horses had given out or been killed.

That night Shelby's scouts and Shanks' scouts met. The two commands were camped not five miles apart. About as quickly as a tired horse could travel five miles, Shelby was informed of Shanks' safety, and he at once aroused his camp and a shout went up that could have been heard for miles around. And then, at midnight, he marched with all his command to Shanks' camp and, tired as they all were, a night of jollity and rejoicing followed. The next day the re-united command moved slowly southward, and encamped in the vicinity of Huntsville, Arkansas. Colonel Hunter with a small detachment was sent to occupy the town and bring in some companies of recruits that were near there. Early next morning he returned and reported that he had been driven out of the town, and that McNeil with a large force was in possession of it. Shelby was not anxious to meet McNeil, because [149] his ammunition was reduced to ten rounds to the man, and he might have to fight to get across the Arkansas. He knew McNeil well enough to be satisfied that he had nothing to fear from him. So he continued to retire and McNeil continued to follow him, but keeping at least a mile in rear. Once he made a mistake and got too close, when Gordon drove him back with his single regiment. Nor did he attempt to interfere when Shelby crossed the Arkansas river and continued his march leisurely southward.

In this expedition Shelby marched more than a thousand miles through a country held by the enemy; fought forty-seven battles and skirmishes; took twenty garrisoned towns; destroyed eleven forts and blockhouses; killed, wounded and captured 3,500 of the enemy; remounted, re-armed and re-clothed his command; and returned with twice as large a force as he started with. He did more. He infused a new spirit of confidence and courage in the army of the Trans-Mississippi department by showing it what a bold leader with a few hardy and determined men could accomplish. The people of the beautiful and cultivated town of Washington, Arkansas, around which the cavalry were encamped, appreciated the arduous services he had performed and the wonderful successes he had achieved, and on his return received him as a conquering hero.

Late in October General Marmaduke got permission from General Holmes to attack and take Pine Bluff. The place was held by Col. Powell Clayton, a bold and enterprising Federal officer, with probably 1,500 men. Clayton was in the habit of making periodical forays in the direction of Ouachita river, and General Holmes thought it would be well to teach him a lesson. Marmaduke's command for the expedition consisted of his own brigade under Col. Colton Greene; Cabell's brigade under Col. J. C. Monroe; Dobbins' brigade under Col. R. C. Newton; the portion of Shelby's brigade that did not accompany him [150] into Missouri, under Col. G. W. Thompson; and three batteries—aggregating 2,300 men. This force was gradually concentrated at Princeton, nearly midway between Camden and Pine Bluff. By a night march Marmaduke reached Pine Bluff the next morning before seven o'clock.

Clayton was taken completely by surprise, but it was Sunday morning and his troops were in line for inspection. Marmaduke, supposing he would be overawed by superior force, sent in a flag of truce by a staff officer demanding his surrender. Clayton refused to surrender, but the sending of the flag of truce caused a delay of a half hour or more, and Clayton improved the time by constructing fortifications of cotton bales on all the streets leading to the court house in the public square, in which the greater part of his force was concentrated. Monroe was to attack on the left and Newton on the right, while Greene and Thompson held the center. Newton was slow in getting into position, which caused a further delay. Monroe attacked promptly and drove the Federals in his front into the fortifications, and Newton did the same in his front directly afterward. Clayton, however, behind his cotton bales and in a strong brick building which was practically protected by the surrounding buildings from the fire of the artillery, occupied a position from which it was difficult to dislodge him. Marmaduke got possession of the buildings fronting on the square, and a hot fire was kept up for several hours between his men in them and the Federals in the court house, without any particular result. Fire was tried, but the court house being a hundred yards from the burning buildings, the Federals were not seriously affected. At last the situation resolved itself into a charge on the fortifications and court house, with the certain loss of several hundred men, or an abandonment of the attack. After serious consideration Marmaduke decided to withdraw. The Fifth Kansas, Clayton's regiment, followed him, and in an open field about a mile from town Greene's regiment turned upon [151] it. Each regiment standing in open ground, not more than seventy yards apart, fired three volleys, and the Fifth Kansas fell back and gave up the pursuit. Greene's regiment lost heavily, and Marmaduke's horse was killed under him. Marmaduke's loss was 94 killed and wounded, and the enemy's probably not as large, as they fought mostly under cover.

During the winter of 1863-64 the Missouri troops in the Trans-Mississippi department remained generally inactive. The infantry were, and had been since shortly after the evacuation of Little Rock, in quarters at Camp Bragg. The cavalry were encamped in and around Camden, and except an occasional foraging expedition or a hurried march to check some imaginary movement of the enemy, remained quietly in camp. [152]

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