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Chapter 10:

  • Battle of Poison Spring
  • -- battle of Marks' Mills -- battle of Jenkins' Ferry -- subsequent disposition of troops -- Shelby captures the Queen City -- operations of Marmaduke on the Mississippi -- Price's Missouri expedition -- final organization and plans -- the cartel of May 26, 1865.

On the evening of April 15, 1864, said General Price in his report of the campaign, the enemy occupied Camden, ‘Colonel Lawther, with his regiment, gallantly disputing their advance, and giving them volley after volley, as he slowly retreated through the streets of the town.’ Having made his headquarters at Woodlawn on the 16th, General Price disposed his troops to watch all the approaches of Camden south of the river. Shelby was ordered to Miller's bluff, and Marmaduke, with Greene's brigade of about 500 men, maintained the picket force around Camden. General Fagan, who had not until recently commanded cavalry, was at Jordan's farm. On the 17th, Marmaduke informed him that a large train of wagons, with a guard of three regiments and four pieces of artillery, had started out on the road to Prairie D'Ane to obtain forage for Steele's army.1 [249]

Marmaduke, as he had only 500 men, wrote to General Fagan for assistance. Fagan sent him Cabell's and Crawford's brigades, but on marching out to attack the train, he learned that it had been reinforced, and sent for more assistance. General Maxey, with Gano's Texans under DeMorse, and Walker's Indians, was tendered and accepted. Cabell's, Crawford's and Greene's brigades took position about noon across the road between the train and Camden, with Hughey's battery in the road. Maxey's Indians were stationed to attack the escort on the flank and rear as the train passed and approached the line of Cabell and Crawford in its front, going toward Camden. Greene's brigade was held in reserve. General Maxey was senior to Marmaduke as to grade, but yielded the command.

Thus came on the engagement known as the battle of Poison Spring, April 18, 1864. Crawford's brigade was to the right of the road and the battery. Cabell's brigade was to the left of the line, Monroe on the right, Gordon at the center, Harrell on his extreme left; the latter brigade being drawn up on a pine ridge commanding the road which lay between sloping pine hills. General Maxey explained the plan of battle to the officers on the left of the line: ‘When Gano shall be well engaged with the enemy in his rear, this line is to advance and strike him in the flank. This is the wheeling flank, and should advance at double-quick.’ He was on foot, whittling a piece of white pine, which has been described as the attitude of General Longstreet on more momentous occasions. Gano opened from the rear, half a mile off, and the woods resounded with their fire. Cabell's left, extending along the ridge west of his battery, when ordered forward, went at double-quick, while the enemy's battery cut down the pine saplings around them. Descending from the wooded crest into and across the deserted fields, through the alder bushes, as it struck the road it delivered volleys into a line of [250] negroes in uniform, who stood but a volley or two, when they fled in disorder through the opposite woods. Away trotted, the poor black men into the forest, clinging to their rifles, but not using them, while the pursuing Confederates cut them down right and left. To the honor of the men, be it said, not a man on the left stopped at the tempting train of 200 wagons and mules standing in the road deserted by the escort Some white men lay dead by the train, killed by artillery, but received only a glance of the victorious troops who were after prisoners, batteries, and the mounted men and officers. The batteries were captured, but not a horse with them. A thousand or more mules and 200 wagonloads of corn were taken. The scene furnished proof of the plundering that had been done by the Federals, for piled upon the wagons were little children's and women's clothing in quantities. The negroes of Thayer's command had stripped the houses of the region they had visited of little baby frocks, shoes, stockings, women's bonnets, shawls and cloaks, to take home to their families in Kansas. It was an illustration of the ruling spirit, or the impelling influence of these war movements generally, ‘that he may take who can.’ On the march to the battlefield that day the Confederates passed a neat frame residence, at which a Confederate guard was placed. The only occupant, a woman, had been stripped of all clothing by the Federal foraging party, the bedclothes taken, and she had only the drapery of the windows left.

Of the enemy, 350 were killed on the field, white and black; all they had taken was recaptured by the Confederates, and this was done within hearing of Camden, where the doughty Salomon, Benton and Engelmann were. The Confederates took about 100 wounded prisoners, four pieces of artillery and many hundreds of arms. As a creditable achievement, it is stated that Cabell's command first broke the enemy's line, his left wing drawing the first fire. Lieutenant Shipman, of Harrell's battalion, was [251] mortally wounded, and in all, 40 men were killed and wounded.

This achievement was a severe blow to Steele's army, and was due to Marmaduke's strategy and the resistless valor of Cabell and his men, valiantly assisted by Maxey and his command, composed of volunteers, directed with sagacity and military skill. It led promptly to other and even more important results. The affair was regarded as a brilliant victory by General Fagan, who looked with gratification at the fancy matched mules brought back to Cabell's headquarters, and the ambulances and trains. On some of the fine mules the brands of the owners who lived along the enemy's line of march were plainly visible. General Fagan was now at the head of his first command of mounted men. Said he, ‘I could have commanded that attack, but might not have made so complete a success. I will try the next one.’

General Cabell, in his report, omitting any mention of the capture of mules and wagons and at least 3,000 bushels of corn, upon which the horses fed sumptuously for several days, says:

The enemy's strength was about 2,500, from all the information I could get—1,500 negroes and about 1,000 white troops, with four pieces of artillery. The number of killed of the enemy was very great, especially among the negroes. I estimate his loss, from what I saw and heard from reliable officers, as follows: Killed, negroes, 450; Indians, 7; white troops, 30; total, 487.2 No estimate of wounded can be made. . . . Never were men known to tight better than my whole command. It was a continuous huzza from the moment the command to charge was given to the close of the fight. Both officers and men behaved with the greatest coolness and the greatest gallantry. It would be doing wrong to particularize when every one did so nobly. I must mention, [252] however, the gallant conduct of

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