SALINE TERRITORY, AR. 1864
Copied from a Special Edition of "THE MERRY GREEN PRESS"
Article: THE RED RIVER EXPEDITION, Full Detail of Great Battle At Jenkins' Ferry. A Summary of Events From Recent Dispatches
We take this opportunity to inform our readers of the background of the recent expedition detailed in this paper.
In the fall of 1862 a cotton famine was plaguing the North and many textile mills had been forced to close. The only solution to the problem was to again look to the South for cotton. The only state not yet ravaged by war was Texas. Perhaps if that state could be occupied, the shortage could be alleviated. Back of this plan to establish a free-soil cotton colony in Texas was the New England Emigrant Aid Society and a Unionist named Andrew J. Hamilton. Hamilton convinced the Union politicians that an invasion was necessary to rescue fellow Unionists still in Texas. Therefore in December of 1862, the Federal government launched the Red River Campaign to invade Texas. An expeditionary force commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks sailed from New York on December 3, 1862. On his way to Texas, Banks was waylayed by General U. S. Grant and obliged to participate in the Battle of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. By 1863 these campaigns were over and Banks proceeded toward his original destination. The plan called for Banks and Rear Admiral David D. Porter to move up the Red River toward Shreveport, Louisiana. A second Federal force would move south from Little Rock, Arkansas and join Banks for the Texas invasion.
Banks was not a military man. He made serious blunders in leadership and tactics. As a result of these factors, combined with low water in the Red River and a superior force led by Confederate Major General Richard Taylor under General E. Kirby Smith, the Federal Army under Banks was forced to abdicate its invading plan.
The second Federal Army under Major General Frederick Steele moved out of recently occupied Little Rock on March 23, 1864, with a modern, well equipped force. Following the road from Little Rock to Benton, Arkansas, Steele crossed the Saline River with little difficulty and headed south toward Shreveport, Louisiana. His route took him close to the Confederate occupied city of Camden, Arkansas. This was too rich a prize for Steele to pass up. With little resistance he occupied the entire town on April 15, 1864.
The journey from Little Rock had been at a greater cost than Steele has estimated. Food for horses and men was running low, dangerously low. A forage train escorted by the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry and a section of artillery left Camden to search for corn. During this time the Confederate Army under E. Kirby Smith had moved in and around the perimeter of Camden. The wagon train was ambushed and destroyed at Poison Spring. The few survivors brought the tragic news back to General Steele.
In desperation, Steele sent an empty train east to Federal occupied Pine Bluff for supplies. This train was also ambushed and destroyed. This time at a place called Marks' Mills. Steele had no alternative but to retreat and reorganize his force. He decided to avoid the bad roads through the Noro Swamp to Pine Bluff and would proceed toward Little Rock, crossing the Saline River at Jenkins' Ferry. During the night of April 26, Steele's army, including wagons, artillery, and several hundered mules, crossed the Ouachita River at Camden and headed toward Little Rock up the Camden Road.
Kirby Smith's Confederates then entered the town and commenced a forced march to engage the retreating Federals. At 4 p.m. on the 29th of April the advance guard of Steele's column reached Jenkins' Ferry. The Camden Road at this point stretched from the highground on the west into a dismal swamp nearly five miles in width to the highground on the east. Rain had been falling for eighteen hours and the Saline River at the Ferry was too deep to ford. A rubber pontoon bridge was inflated and moored into position. The road through the west side of the swamp was corduroyed. Even so, the wagons and guns bogged down. Steele's train, stretching from the high ridge to the River, was unable to move. It was a this point that Kirby Smith's Confederates arived on the scene. The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry had begun.
The fighting raged from the highground through three fields alongside the road and through the swamp. Houses in the area were filled with dead and wounded Confederate and Federal soldiers dragged out of the swamp. Sounds of the battle could be heard for miles. By the evening of the 30th, the Federal wagon train and the last of the mud-spattered troops had crossed the Saline. The pontoon bridge and its wagons were destroyed, as well as all other unnecessary baggage. When the train reached the other side of the River, it bogged down again. Tons of supplies were discarded as the march began again. The Confederate Army hesitated in crossing the flooding Saline and Steele's army eventually reached Little Rock. The Red River Campaign with a loss of 2,750 men in Arkansas had been a total failure and many high ranking Federal officals will answer for its defeat. Confederate casualties are estimated at 2300.
Grant County Museum in Sheridan, Arkansas printed in observance of the 125th Anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Jenkins' Ferry that was fought April 29-30th, 1864 in what was then Hot Springs and Saline County Territory...later incorporated into Grant County in 1869.
The above information may be used for non-commercial historical and genealogical purposes only and with the consent of the page owner may be copied for the same purposes so long as this notice remains a part of the copied material. EDWARD G. GERDES
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