SALINE TERRITORY, AR. 1864
Copied from a Special Edition of "THE MERRY GREEN PRESS"
Article: #2- STEELE'S REPORT TO GENERAL W. H. HALLECK, CHIEF OF STAFF CONTINUED
We received information through prisoners, deserters, and spies that Kirby Smith had come up with re-enforcements from Shreveport, and was present at the cannonading on our outposts on the 22nd. If we had been supplied at Camden I could have held the place against Kirby Smith's entire force, but on learning that my communications were effectually interrupted, and that the line of the Arkansas was threatened by so large a force of the enemy, I decided to fall back at once. The ammunition and baggage trains were put across the river on the pontoon bridge, and at nightfall on the 26th, the troops commenced to cross, the pickets being kept in position until everything was over, when they were quietly withdrawn and the pontoon bridge taken up with any suspicion on the part of the enemy that the movement had commenced. To aviod the bad roads through the Moro Swamp on the Mount Elba Road, the march was directed toward Jenkins' Ferry, via Princeton. Fagan with a considerable force, crossed our road a few hours in advance of us, moving toward Benton, where it was said he was going to cross the Saline for the purpose of threatening Little Rock.
Our advance reached the Saline at Jenkins' Ferry at 2 p.m. on 29th. It rained very heavily. The pontoon was laid, and the cavalry commenced crossing immediately. The stream was high and was continually rising from the rain which continued to fall. From the same cause the bottom, being cut up by our artillery and baggage trains, was becoming almost impassable and required corduroying. Before the rear of the column got into the bottom it was attacked by infantry and artillery. No damage was done us; the rebels were kept off by our skirmishers. The infantry bivouacked in the bottom, while the trains and artillery were being crossed all night.
At daylight on the morning of the 30th, the enemy commenced skirmishing with our pickets. I suppose it was Fagan's command, which had returned on our rear. The firing did not become very heavy for several hours. I directed General Carr, with nearly all the effective cavalry force, to move as rapidly as possible by the shortest route to Little Rock to intercept any rebel force that might be moving in that direction. The Saline bottom is 2 1/2 miles wide on each side of the river along the Jenkins' Ferry road. The rain continued and many of the wagons became irretrievably stuck in the mud on the east side of the river. Some of the animals, from exhaustion and want of forage, were unable to make their way through the miry places without the harness, consequently a good deal of baggage and some of the wagons had to be destroyed and teams doubled on the ammunition train. The trains and artillery were parked on the high grounds, two and a half miles from the bridge, as they arrived. They were guarded at first only by about 1500 dismounted and ineffective cavalry. As we did not know where the enemy might strike us, it was thought prudent to order forward two regiments of infantry to their support. While the crossing was going on General Salomon was left with his division, consisting of the brigades of General Rice and Colonel Englemann, supported by General Thayer's division of the Army of the Frontier, except two regiments that had been sent to the front to cover our rear and prevent the enemy from interrupting the crossing. The fire of the enemy became heavy, and Salomon formed his line of battle in a good position for defense, the right resting on an impassable bayou, and the left, which was protected by a wooded swamp against anything except, perhaps, skirmishers, was thrown back. The reserve was so posted that any part of the line which might be pressed could be promptly re-enforced. About 9 a.m. the enemy made a desperate assault in heavy force upon our line, but were handsomely repulsed, our troops having the advantage in cover as well as position. General Salomon asked for more troops, and expressed some doubts of being able to hold his position without them. I ordered up two regiments of infantry that had been sent to the front, and instructed him to hold his position at all hazards. This effort was renewed with redoubled energy, but they were again repulsed and driven back with great slaughter.
Article: #3- STEELE'S REPORT TO GENERAL W. H. HALLECK, CHIEF OF STAFF CONTINUED
At 10:30 a.m. another assault was made along the whole line and the rebels repulsed and driven off the field, our troops charging them as they fell back. The Second Kansas (colored) took 2 guns and the Twenty-ninth Iowa 1, under the immediate direction of General Rice. A number of prisoners were captured, officers and privates, all of whom concurred in saying that Kirby Smith and Price were both present, and that they had nine brigades of infantry. Smith did not know that we had evacuated Camden until noon the next day, when he immediately gave orders for the pursuit. His troops were crossed on a raft constructed of logs with planks nailed across them, at the very spot where our pontoon bridge lay. The artillery was crossed in a flat-boat. They marched without baggage, with five days' rations in haversacks and expected to capture our entire command. They did not capture a man except those whom I thought it necessary should be left on the battlefield. This necessity I regretted, but thought it of more vital importance to secure the safe passage of my command across the Saline than to attempt to bring off wounded men for whom I did not have proper transportation. More were brought off than we could have carried away had they been as severely wounded as those who were left behind. Some of our troops pursued the retreating rebels a mile, and even over the whole field. they say the enemy's loss was five to one compared with ours. I cannot now give a correct estimate of the loss on either side, but will endeavor to do so in my detailed report. The number of our troops engaged did not exceed 4,000. I have no means of estimating that of the enemy, but it was at least three times this number, with artillery. All our artillery had been sent across the river early in the day except one section, and even that was withdrawn to get it out of the mud. At the time the enemy was routed, all of our trains and artillery had just completed the passage of the river.
The enemy having disappeared from the field our troops were withdrawn and passed over the bridge without interruption from the enemy. The bridge was kept two hours to pass over our wounded men and stragglers. It was nearly worn out (India rubber floats), having been in use over two years; some parts of it were 2 feet under water and I ordered it to be destroyed. We had no transportation for it, the mules were exhausted, the wagons were destroyed. It had done good service; without it my whole command would in all probability have been lost. General Halleck sent it to me two years ago last March, to operate on Current and Black Rivers. One surgeon and two assistant surgeons, with sufficient number of hospital attendants, were left to attend the wounded. Hospital supplies were also left. The rebels did not attempt to follow us. The rain continued until late in the evening and the road toward Little Rock had become almost impassable for trains and artillery. I ordered the worst of the wagons and the least valuable baggage to be destroyed, and the best teams to be put to the artillery and the remaining wagons. the ambulances and wagons carrying the sick and wounded and all the refugees were started toward Pine Bluff, that being the nearest route to the Arkansas and the one least liable to interruption from the enemy. The command and the trains were started toward Little Rock, in order to frustrate the designs which the enemy was supposed to have on that place. Owing to the state of the roads, for the first five miles progress was very slow, and it became necessary to destroy a few more wagons which could not be got along. We moved on as rapidly as possible and reached this place on the 2nd instant, without having seen the enemy after they retired from the battlefield near Jenkins' Ferry. It was reported, however, that Fagan crossed some artillery and part of his troops at Benton for the purpose of threatening Little Rock. If this were true they retired on learning that we were marching on the same point. Our troops behaved in all the engagements of this campaign in the most gallant manner. I have never seen troops in whom I had more confidence on the battlefield, and I regret exceedingly the necessities which have caused me to lose so many brave men in detail, while I firmly believe that while together they could not have been routed on a fair field by the superior force which Kirby Smith could have brought against them. The conduct of the colored troops of my command proves that the African can be made as formidable in battle as a soldier of any other color.
I wish to recommend to the favorable consideration of the Government, for gallant and meritorious conduct on the field, Brig. Gen. F. Salomon, commanding division; Brig. Gen S. A. Rice, commanding brigade. These are both officers of superior merit. General Rice has been twice wounded during recent campaigns. At Jenkins' Ferry he received a wound which would cause the loss of his right foot. His self-possession, good judgement, energy, and faculty for managing men in the camp as well as in the field entitles him to distinguished honor. He was wounded in a charge upon the enemy's battery, after which his brigade fell to the command of Col. C. E. Salomon, Ninth Wisconsin Infantry, who managed it with skill. Brig. Gen J. M. Thayer, although commanding the reserve, was frequently under fire and deserves special mention. Colonel Englemann, Forty-third Illinois, commanded a brigade of Salomon's division.
Very respectfully, general, your obedient servant,
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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