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Chapter XVI

in March, 1864, Lieut.-Gen. T. H. Holmes was relieved of command of the district of Arkansas and ordered to report to Richmond. Maj.-Gen. Sterling Price succeeded him in command of the district. Late in March Shelby's brigade was sent north of the Ouachita river to watch the movements of the enemy, for it began to be suspected that two expeditions were being organized with Shreveport as their objective point, one from the south moving along the line of Red river, and the other from the north starting from Little Rock and passing through the southern part of the State. Shelby made his headquarters at Princeton, and it was not long before he had the enemy confined closely to Little Rock and Pine Bluff. The belief of a Federal advance soon became a certainty, and there was the excitement of preparation in every command in the district.

The infantry were ordered from Camp Bragg to Shreveport to reinforce Gen. Dick Taylor, who was preparing to oppose General Banks' advance from the south, while General Price remained in Arkansas to oppose with the cavalry the advance of General Steele from the north. The infantry, under the command of General Parsons, constituted a division of two brigades, the First composed of the Eighth Missouri infantry, Col. C. S. Mitchell; the [159] Ninth Missouri infantry, Col. John B. Clark; and Ruffner's four-gun battery. Colonel Clark, being the ranking officer, commanded the brigade. The Second brigade was composed of the Tenth Missouri infantry, Col. William M. Moore; the Eleventh Missouri infantry, Col. S. P. Burns; the Sixteenth Missouri infantry, Lieut.-Col. P. W. Cumming; Pindall's battalion of sharpshooters, Maj. L. A. Pindall; and Lesueur's Missouri four-gun battery, Capt. A. A. Lesueur. Colonel Burns commanded the brigade.

General Churchill's Arkansas division was at the same time sent to Shreveport. The two divisions aggregated about 4,500 men, and made General Taylor's force about 13,000. He had fought the battle of Mansfield before the arrival of the reinforcements and driven one corps of Banks' army back upon the other, and at the time of their arrival was preparing to attack his army concentrated at Pleasant Hill, aggregating about 18,000 men. About four o'clock on the evening of the 9th of April he attacked Banks in a strong position. Parsons' division was on the extreme right of Taylor's line, while next to it on the left was Churchill's Arkansas division, the two divisions forming Churchill's corps. The battle opened with a heavy artillery fire, and a charge of a regiment of Texas cavalry on the enemy's center. The charge was repulsed, but the regiment formed again behind rising ground and charged gallantly, with the same result. Churchill then ordered Parsons to charge with his division, which he did, driving the enemy before him, capturing 300 prisoners and taking a battery, but found his command subjected to a heavy cross fire and ordered it to retire, losing in doing so two of the guns he had captured and 150 of the prisoners he had taken. On the center and left the Confederates were more successful. There Polignac, Walker, Green, Bee and Major drove the enemy steadily before them until night closed the conflict, leaving the Confederates in possession of the [160] field. After the battle the Missouri and Arkansas commands moved back to within four miles of Mansfield and went into camp to rest preparatory to their return to Arkansas.

About this time the district commander received official information of the promotion of Colonel Shelby to brigadier-general, which was only a proper recognition on the part of the Confederate government of the services of a brave, intelligent and successful officer. Some changes had taken place in Shelby's brigade, too, during the winter. Shanks had become colonel of Jeans' regiment, and Shelby's promotion made Gordon colonel of his regiment. Smith had succeeded Thompson in command of Coffee's old regiment. Blackwell was lieutenant-colonel of Gordon's regiment, and George Gordon, major, while Irwin became lieutenant-colonel of Shanks' regiment, and McDaniel became lieutenant-colonel under Elliott, and Walton, major.

Early in April General Steele moved out of Little Rock and began his march southward to co-operate with Banks in the capture of Shreveport. Steele took particular precautions to keep his strength, the composition of his force and the object and direction of his movement secret. Marmaduke was ordered to delay Steele as much as possible. He ordered Shelby to fall in his rear and annoy and retard him, by striking and getting away, wherever opportunity offered. Shelby carried out his instructions to the letter. Captain Wilkinson brought in 18 prisoners. Lieutenant Wolfenberger brought in 20 more, together with the contents of several commissary wagons. Altogether ten or fifteen of these detached parties returned with supplies, prisoners and horses. Davidson's cavalry was demoralized and rarely ventured beyond the protection of the infantry. In the meantime Marmaduke, with his own brigade, had thrown himself in Steele's front and compelled him to halt and deploy his infantry so frequently that he made but slow progress [161] in his forward movement. When Steele crossed the Ouachita at Arkadelphia, Shelby crossed it eight miles below, keeping pace with him and looking for a weak place in his column in order to strike him a sudden blow in force. Beyond the river lay the broad road from Arkadelphia to Washington. Steele had just passed over it. Shelby took it and was soon close upon his rear. His order to the commander of his advance was to charge everything in sight. The first thing in sight was Steele's rear guard cavalry, halted temporarily at a spring. Captain Thorp charged it with Shelby close behind him. The rear guard, taken unawares, was broken and driven pell-mell on a supporting brigade of infantry, which in turn was thrown into disorder, and, Shelby charging it, the disorder became confusion and the confusion ended in a precipitate retreat. But before retreating they delivered a volley which sent Captain Thorp down badly wounded with his horse across him, and a dozen others, among them Lieut. Dan Trigg of Marmaduke's escort company, who had been sent the day before with five men to find Shelby and deliver some orders to him. Trigg with his small detachment joined the advance, and at the first fire, he and two of his men went down in death. A brigade of infantry and a battery were sent by Steele to the relief of the first brigade, and Shelby, encouraged by his first success, charged full upon both. The fight was short and desperate. After a stubborn resistance the two brigades retired on the main body, and night coming on Shelby took a by-road, passed around Steele's flank, and the next day reported to Marmaduke with several hundred prisoners and full information in regard to Steele's strength and the morale of his troops.

The audacity and vigor of Shelby's attacks had the effect on Steele of making him much more cautious in his advance than he had been. He kept his command well closed up and did not march more than eight or ten [162] miles a day. When he reached the Little Missouri he did not attempt to cross it until he had been reinforced by 2,500 or 3,000 men under General Thayer, which made his whole force probably 12,000 men of all arms. Then he threw a brigade across the river, which was promptly driven back under cover of his artillery by Marmaduke. The second day afterward, however, he crossed his whole force, and moving out of the bottom encamped in the timber bordering on Prairie d'ane. General Price with Fagan's Arkansas division and General Gano in command of several regiments of Texans and Indians, were camped about five miles away on the other side of the river, and Marmaduke a little to the north and nearer Steele. Every day the two forces skirmished on the prairie, and sometimes the fighting became lively. The third day, in the evening, Steele advanced in force, but Marmaduke resisted him so stubbornly that just after dark he drew back to the camp he had left and remained for the night. The next morning at sunrise both forces were in line of battle and confronting each other on the open level prairie. The sun shone brightly and Steele's army was an inspiriting sight. His line extended for more than a mile, with the infantry in the center, the artillery between the brigades and the cavalry deployed on the flanks, every flag displayed and the arms of the men flashing brightly in the sunlight.

General Price decided not to accept the challenge to battle. Two roads were open to Steele—one to Washington, the other to Camden. If he took the first it became evident that he had not abandoned his intention of going to Shreveport. If he took the last he had surely abandoned that intention and proposed to return to Little Rock, or perhaps attempt to hold Camden and southern Arkansas. Price divided his force, he with Fagan's division and Gano's troops falling back on the Washington road, and Marmaduke's division retiring on the Camden road. Steele went toward Camden, which had been fortified the [163] year before by Holmes. Marmaduke retired before him, skirmishing lightly, until he reached a point known as Poison Spring, about five miles from Camden, where he made a determined stand for an hour or more—compelling Steele to deploy his infantry and bring his artillery into action—to gain time to have the military stores and other government property in Camden destroyed. His orders were not to occupy Camden, but to leave it to the left and hold a road running southeast from the town. These orders he executed to the letter.

Steele waited in Camden to learn the result of Banks' Shreveport expedition. Price waited outside Camden for reinforcements and for Steele to make a movement. Price's headquarters were at Munn's Mill, probably ten miles from Camden. Marmaduke was encamped within two miles of the town. Steele was short of provisions, and a few days after he occupied the town he sent out a foraging train on the Washington road of two hundred wagons, guarded by a regiment of cavalry, a regiment of white and two regiments of negro infantry and a battery, to replenish his commissariat. Marmaduke asked for Cabell's brigade and for permission to intercept and capture the train and its escort. The brigade was sent him and the permission given. Shelby's brigade was absent on detached service. Marmaduke's force consisted of his own and Cabell's brigade, aggregating about 2,000 men and Harris' and Hughes' four-gun batteries. When he reached the Washington road he learned the Federal column had been reinforced by a regiment of cavalry and a battalion of white infantry. But he pushed on and met the foraging party returning at Poison Spring.

Just as he reached there Genera Maxey with two small brigades—one of Texans and the other of Indians—joined him. Maxey was ranking officer, but declined to take the command. His force was at some little distance on a road coming in from the southeast. Marmaduke ordered the Texans and Indians to advance through the [164] woods from where they were, and make a noisy demonstration of attack on the Federal right, the whole Federal force being in line of battle fronting his and Cabell's brigades. The demonstrations on their flank deceived the Federals, and just as they were changing front to meet it Cabell's and Marmaduke's brigades charged them under cover of a heavy artillery fire and in less than fifteen minutes they went all to pieces. Marmaduke had kept Wood's battalion mounted, but when he ordered him to make pursuit of the fleeing enemy, Maxey countermanded the order, and directed him to put his men to gathering the spoils of the field. The spoils amounted to four pieces of artillery, with caissons, about 1,000 muskets, 200 six-mule wagons loaded with every species of plunder, and several ambulances. The enemy lost 60 white and 400 negro soldiers killed and wounded and 250 prisoners. All of them might have been captured if the pursuit had been made, but being unpursued the greater part worked their way around to a road going into Camden from the west and rejoined their army.

Steele was still sorely pressed for provisions, and in his extremity started out another foraging train, about as large as the first and about as strongly guarded, to Pine Bluff for supplies. After the affair at Poison Spring General Smith—who had come up from Shreveport, bringing Parsons' and Churchill's divisions with him—conceived the idea of sending three brigades of cavalry to threaten Little Rock. Fagan's division, consisting of Cabell's and Dockery's brigades, reinforced by Shelby's brigade, was selected. Shelby was at Miller's Bluff, and Fagan joined him there and crossed the river. He knew at that time nothing of Steele's foraging train, but when he reached Marks' Mill he learned of it, and that the next day it would cross the Saline river and probably be beyond his reach. It was, therefore, decided that Cabell and Dockery should attack in rear the next [165] morning and hold it, while Shelby, with Crawford's regiment of Arkansas cavalry, made a detour of ten miles to attack it in front. Dockery stopped to feed his horses four or five miles from the battlefield, and the burden of the fight fell upon Cabell. He was overmatched, but he held on with terrible tenacity, depending on Shelby's known rapidity of movement and impetuosity of attack for succor in the end. Shelby made the ten-mile ride in an hour by the watch. He never broke the gallop upon which he started, and when he made the last turn which placed him in the enemy's front—now his rear—one of his cannon stopped and fired two shots, to let Cabell know he was coming. The men of neither Shelby's brigade nor Crawford's regiment drew rein when they struck the enemy. This charge, without halting, relieved the pressure on Cabell and gave Shelby time to form his men and take the battery—the battery that had fought him under Blunt at Cane Hill and at Prairie Grove—and when the battery stopped firing the battle was won and Shelby and Cabell were undisputed masters of the field. Cabell's loss was heavy, because it had borne the brunt of the fight for an hour; and Shelby's was light, because of the suddenness and impetuosity of his attack.

The loss of these two trains left Steele in a desperate position. It was evident that he must evacuate Camden and force his way to Little Rock or Pine Bluff, or surrender. He was not disposed to surrender without first making an effort to escape. Shelby wanted Fagan to move his command down opposite Camden on the Ouachita river and keep him penned up where he was, or fight him every step he took along the corduroy road, which would be his only passageway through the swampy bottom after he crossed the river. Fagan said there was no forage there for the horses nor supplies for the men, and Shelby replied that the horses were already fat enough for the men to eat But Fagan marched his [166] command to the vicinity of Arkadelphia, thirty-five miles away, to get forage for the horses, and left the way open for Steele to throw his pontoons across the river and get at least a day's start in the race for Little Rock or Pine Bluff. On the 25th—the day after the capture of his train at Marks' Mill—Steele evacuated Camden. When it was known that he had left, the infantry, which was camped eleven miles back, was hurried to the front and occupied the town, but it was found that the pontoons were a day's march in the rear, and the river could not be crossed without them.

In the meantime Marmaduke was ordered to cross the river with his brigade and get in Steele's front at Princeton. To cross the river he had to go down it to Whitehall, fifteen miles, and ferry his men and swim his horses over, and he reached Princeton just as Steele was leaving on the road to Little Rock. He took up the pursuit at once, and there was sharp fighting at times between his advance and Steele's rear guard. About noon it began to rain heavily, and in a little while the arms, accouterments and clothing of the men were drenched, and the roads became almost impassable. Just before night Saline river was reached and the enemy disappeared in the gloom of its heavily wooded bottom. The cavalry felt of their lines and finding that they were too strong and firm to be successfully attacked, withdrew to the bluff, a mile and a half in the rear, and bivouacked under the trees for the night, without food or covering. The rain fell all night without ceasing, and through it all the infantry toiled onward to reach the front. Before daylight the head of the column appeared; the men wet, bedraggled, hungry and tired. General Smith ordered Marmaduke to locate the enemy, which he did, finding them in force in the positions they occupied the evening before. Two regiments of his brigade, dismounted, were deployed as skirmishers, and held their ground and [167] kept up a steady fire on the enemy until they finally crossed the river and escaped.

Along .one side of the road leading down to the river was a creek, sometimes without water, but now bank full. This creek protected the Federals' right flank. In their front was a large open field. On their left was a heavy wood. Through this open field, with the enemy protected by the timber on the other side, Churchill's division was ordered to charge. They went in with a rush, but the mud was deep, and as soon as they got in the field the enemy opened a terrific fire of musketry from the timber line on their front and right flank After a short and desperate struggle they were driven back. Then Parsons' division was sent in, and it too, after a bloody struggle, was repulsed. After a pause Walker's strong Texas division was ordered in, and after a tremendous struggle was beaten back. The fight was made by the divisions separately. They were not at any time within supporting distance of each other, and did not support each other. By deflecting a little to the right the woods could have been cleared of the enemy and a charging line have had only the enemy in front to contend with. A section of Ruffner's battery was ordered to take position in this field, but before it had fired two rounds the men and horses were shot down and the guns captured. It was a useless sacrifice. When the Missouri division made its charge and was shaken by the terrible cross-fire of the enemy, General Marmaduke and his aide-de-camp, Capt. William M. Price, rode among the men, and, each taking a battleflag in his hand, led them forward, but only eventually to be forced to retire.

General Price was in command on the field, General Smith being a mile and a half back on the bluff. When the infantry had been beaten in detail, and the fighting had ceased, with the exception of the firing of the skirmishers, General Marmaduke galloped back and explained [168] the situation to General Smith. General Smith did not think it necessary to come on the field in person, but made Marmaduke his chief-of-staff and told him to make what disposition of the troops he pleased. But it was too late. General Steele took advantage of the prolonged pause to withdraw his troops, and, having got them safely across the river, to destroy his pontoons and continue his march to Little Rock. [169]

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