The Last Two Years of the War
Steele's route drawn by Jon Kennedy
After the summer of 1863 the Federals controlled the Mississippi River and most of Arkansas except the southwest. The Red River campaign and Price's raid into Missouri ended the major fighting, and the Arkansas Confederate government disintegrated as the war came to an end.
The summer of disaster.
Vicksburg, the great Confederate stronghold on the east bank of the Mississippi River, was the major Union objective in the West in 1863. Vicksburg was the principal obstacle to Federal control of the river. Union commanders had considered Arkansas Post a threat to their plans, and with it destroyed the advance on Vicksburg was resumed. As the Confederate position became more desperate at Vicksburg and elsewhere, many Southern troops were moved out of Arkansas to provide reinforcements. The people of Arkansas became deeply discouraged, and some began to fear that the Confederate cause was lost.
In an attempt to restore Confederate confidence and to help relieve the pressure on Vicksburg, Generals Holmes and Sterling Price decided to attack the Union garrison at Helena. From several points in the state Southern troops converged on the city. The attack, made on July 4, 1863, was a tragic failure, and the Confederates were thrown back with heavy losses. On the same day Grant captured Vicksburg and the Federals gained control of the Mississippi. At about the same time General Robert E. Lee lost the great Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.
With the Mississippi under their control, the Federals again turned their attention to the Arkansas. In August an army commanded by General Frederick Steele set out from Helena and advanced by way of DeValls Bluff and Brownsville, near the present city of Lonoke, toward Little Rock. Instead of attacking the prepared Confederate defenses north of the Arkansas opposite Little Rock, Steele built a pontoon bridge across the river below the town and advanced up both sides of the stream. After skirmishing at Bayou Fourche, the Confederates withdrew in the direction of Benton. Union forces occupied Little Rock on September 10, 1863. The state government fled to Washington in Hempstead County where it remained until the close of the war.
A few days after the fall of Little Rock, Steele sent a detachment of troops under Powell Clayton to seize Pine Bluff. Later Benton and other nearby points were occupied. Before the end of 1863 the area controlled by Confederates had been reduced to little more than the extreme southwest. Confederate forces were still strong enough to annoy the Federals with raids and hit-and-run attacks, but there was little chance that they could ever drive the Union armies out of Arkansas. Confederate plans to recapture Little Rock were abandoned after the failure of an attack on Pine Bluff in October.
Arkansas and the Red River campaign.
For the spring of 1864 Federal leaders planned a campaign which they hoped would complete the conquest of the Southwest. General Nathaniel P. Banks was to lead a joint military and naval expedition up Red River to Shreveport in Louisiana. General Frederick Steele would move south from Little Rock and join forces with Banks. After completing the occupation of Louisiana and Arkansas, the Federals would invade Texas and bring the war in the West to an end. The Confederate armies of General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, would be crushed and forced to surrender. In Texas the Union leaders expected to secure large stores of cotton, which was much in demand by New England textile mills.
Steele's army left Little Rock for the south on March 23, 1864. After crossing the Ouachita River at Rockport, near present-day Malvern, on a pontoon bridge, the Federals moved to Arkadelphia and toward Washington. On April 9 a Union army from Fort Smith joined Steele, giving him a total force of 13,000 men, 30 cannons, 800 wagons, and 12,000 horses and mules.
On Prairie De Ann, near the present city of Prescott, Steele came up against a Confederate force and for three days skirmishing continued. The state government prepared to leave Washington, and the archives were moved to Rondo near the Texas border. But the Union forces suddenly turned eastward and occupied Camden, one of the most important Confederate strongholds in south Arkansas.
The Federal stay of eleven days in Camden proved uncomfortable because of a shortage of supplies. On April 18 a Union wagon train loaded with corn and other food supplies was captured by Confederates at Poison Spring, a few miles west of Camden, and the escorting force of about 1,100 men was scattered. On April 25 an empty wagon train headed for Pine Bluff was taken by Confederates at Marks' Mills, along with most of the guard accompanying it.
News of the rout at Marks' Mills, where the Southerners captured more prisoners and military equipment than at any other battle in Arkansas, caused Steele to decide to return to Little Rock. Banks had been defeated in Louisiana, arid Confederate reinforcements were beginning to arrive from Red River. At Jenkins' Ferry on April 30 the Federals fought off a Confederate attack with difficulty, and made good their escape across the Saline River to Little Rock. Steele's Camden expedition had cost the Union forces dearly in men and supplies, and had accomplished nothing.
The closing scenes.
Though the war dragged on for another year, Union armies mounted no more offensives in Arkansas after the Red River campaign. Most of Steele's troops were ordered east of the Mississippi to help General William T. Sherman batter his way into Atlanta and across Georgia to the sea. Steele held his line along the Arkansas River by keeping strong garrisons at Little Rock, Fort Smith and Pine Bluff with patrols working between those posts.
In the fall of 1864 the Confederates left their stronghold in southwest Arkansas to launch their last offensive. Kirby Smith believed that an invasion of Missouri might lead to the recovery of Arkansas and divert troops from Sherman. With an army that grew to almost 12,000 mounted men General Sterling Price forded the Arkansas River at Dardanelle and moved across north Arkansas. The raiders pushed deep into Missouri but met only defeat and disaster. In the long retreat down the Missouri-Kansas-Arkansas line to Texas, Price's army melted away.
Throughout the last year of the war there were dozens of skirmishes all over Arkansas. Guerrillas were active everywhere except near strong Union or Confederate posts. Many Southern soldiers simply walked away before the end came. After the Confederate armies of the east surrendered in April 1865, Kirby Smith tried to make an alliance with Maximilian, the French-backed emperor of Mexico. Smith was deposed by his own officers and the Trans-Mississippi armies surrendered on May 26, 1865.
Some of the Confederate generals fled to Mexico for awhile, but most of the Southern soldiers returned to their homes and began trying again to make a living. The last military action of the Civil War in Arkansas was a skirmish at Monticello on May 24, 1865.
At several sessions during the Civil War members of the General Assembly of Arkansas wrestled with the new and difficult problems created by the conflict. The secession convention had seized the public lands and other property owned by the Federal government, but the state still faced severe shortages of manpower, money and supplies. Confederate Arkansas was a frontier state and had little of the means needed to fight a great war.
Successive legislative sessions in 1861-64 tried to deal with the flood of paper money which circulated everywhere, help with the support of soldiers' families, and provide food for the armies and the civilian population. The use of grain to make whiskey was banned because the grain was needed for food. A limit was placed on cotton acreage with the hope that farmers would raise more corn and wheat.
The last session of the Confederate General Assembly met in Washington in the autumn of 1864. So much of Arkansas was under Federal occupation that many districts and counties were not represented. A number of acts were passed, including one establishing soldiers' homes at Washington, Camden, and Monticello. By this time final defeat was so near at hand that it was too late for lawmaking to be effective.
The Confederate government disintegrates.
The adjournment of the General Assembly on October 2, 1864 ended political activity in Confederate Arkansas. A Unionist state government under Isaac Murphy had already been formed in Little Rock, and as the war drew to an end Governor Murphy appealed for reconciliation. In an address to the people in May 1865 Murphy proclaimed that the fighting was over and asked that the Confederates work with him to rebuild Arkansas.
David Owen Dodd (1846 - 1864), known as the
"Boy Martyr of the Confederacy," was hanged as a
Confederate spy by Union forces at Little Rock,
January 8, 1864.
Confederate Governor Harris Flanagin urged that citizens and returning soldiers band together to preserve the peace in the different communities, and sent Augustus H. Garland to Little Rock to negotiate with the Federal commander. When Union authorities refused to treat with or recognize any act of his government, Flanagin delivered the archives and went home to Arkadelphia. The Confederate government of Arkansas, like the Confederacy itself, did not surrender but simply ceased to exist.
The war record of Arkansas.
From the Confederate point of view, the war record of Arkansas was a proud one. With a white population of only 324,000 in 1860, the state sent 60,000 men into the Southern armies. Arkansas regiments fought valiantly in Virginia as well as in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and other states. Most of the Arkansas troops served in the Army of Tennessee, which campaigned in the middle South.
Patrick R. Cleburne of Helena emerged as the most distinguished of Arkansas military leaders. During the course of the war Cleburne rose in rank from private to major-general, and was one of the first to advocate freeing the slaves and enlisting Negroes in the Confederate army. After saving the Army of Tennessee at Ringgold Gap and Missionary Ridge, Cleburne was killed at the Battle of Franklin in late 1864.
Arkansas produced other heroes. Joseph Fry, a naval captain, almost stopped the Federal ironclads at St. Charles on White River in 1862. David 0. Dodd, a youth of seventeen, became the "Boy Martyr of the Confederacy" when he was hanged for spying by Union authorities in Little Rock on January 8, 1864. But the real heroes and heroines were the people of Arkansas, who sacrificed and fought the war with little help from anybody.