Red River Campaign

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Red River Sections
1 (pages 1-13) | 2 (pages 14-21) | 3 (pages 22-30) | 4 (pages 31-39) | 5 (pages 40-50) | 6 (pages 51-59) | 7 (pages 60-69) | 8 (pages 70-76)

Union Leaders didn't mince words when it came to the treatment of captured guerrillas and bushwackers. Stanton, Secretary of War said "Let them swing". General Dix "Shoot them on the spot", General Schofield, "Execute them immediately", General Blunt, "Give them no quarter", and General Halleck, "Let them be tried immediately by a drumhead court and punished with death". Confederate leaders also condemmed bushwackers.

Bushwacking bands were common in Yell County. One was led by "Wild Bill" Heffington. He was considered a "Mountain Fed", that is a union sympathiser when the Federals were there, but would retreat to the mountains, and carry on depredations. He was finally killed by Confederates near the Arkansas river in 1864.

Things got steadily worse for the women of Yell County. With all the able bodied men gone, they had to do there work also. I remember my Grandmother telling me that her mother Dene Nunnally had to kill and butcher a hog, by herself, as there were no men to do the work,

Near Dardanelle, there was a grist mill to which the women of the surrounding country brought their corn and wheat to be ground into meal and flour. This mill was patronized entirely by the women. Often there would be a large number waiting their turn, many of whom would have come long distances, generally in groups. Some walked, carrying the corn on their backs; some came horseback with the corn or wheat either in front or behind them on the horse. Others used their ingenuity in improvising a wagon in which to ride and carry the corn or wheat, it being drawn by a yoke of oxen or yearlings. If the latter, one or two of the women had to walk in order to keep them in the road.

Payment was made by a part of the corn or wheat, or a few yards of cloth which they had woven. If the woman was very poor, they miller would sometimes forego payment.

Both Federal and Confederate troops were known to conviscate grain and meal and flour. Everything had to be hidden-, both from troops and bushwackers.

Some women in the county acted as spies for both armies, generally employed in carrying messages and dispatches through the lines of the opposing armies. In other cases women rode miles to warn confederate troops of approaching Federals.

It was against this background that two battalions of the Third Arkansas Cavalry, stationed at Lewisburg, prepared for operations. The other battalion at Little Rock was also getting ready for a campaign.



The Federal Army in Arkansas participated in only one strategic operation during the Civil war. This was the Red River Campaign. After the fall of Atlanta, General Sherman (USA) agreed with General Banks (USA) that a combined military and naval operation up the Red River could capture Shreveport and Northern Texas. General Banks (USA) felt that if Texas could be knocked out, the whole of the Trans-Mississippi would fall. He wrote, "The rebellion in Louisiana is kept alive only by Texas"

General Sherman (USA) was eager for the plan, and planned to take part, but when getting approval from General Grant (USA) was ordered not to take part himself.

The general plan as ordered by General Sherman (USA) was for two divisions to proceed up the Red River to Alexandria, there to meet General Banks (USA), and proceed on to capture Shreveport. General Frederick Steele (USA) commanding the Department of Arkansas, was to proceed to Shreveport, aid in it's capture, and the combined Federal troops were to then invade Texas.

Here we are concerned only with General Steele's roll in the operation. He was not optimistic. He wrote to Grant and Sherman "...My cavalry has not had a remount for a year... Many are dismounted and in poor condition... I shall do the best I can...". The plan was for General Steele to march South from Little Rock and for General Thayer (USA) to march Southeast from Ft. Smith and join forces at Arkadelphia, and proceed on to Shreveport.

However it would appear that General Steele had the city of Camden, on the Ouachita River, on his mind from the start. On March 23, 1864, the day he left Little Rock, he wrote General N. Kimball (USA), who he left in command at Little Rock, "...If we go to Camden it is my purpose to open back Communication with Pine Bluff for supplies etc...." Camden was definitely not on the way to Shreveport. He was concerned not only with his supply lines, but also word had reached him concerning the fortifications at Camden.

General Kirby Smith (CSA) foresaw, as soon as. he took over command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, for the Confedracy, that the Red River Valley was the only practical invasion route into Texas. He also felt that Camden would be a likely point to mount an expedition from Arkansas. So, her ordered General T. Homes (CSA) to concentrate his scattered and demoralized forces at Camden. By the fall of 1863, large numbers of ragged Confererate troops arrived in Camden, and were put to work building redoubts and other fortifications around the town, with


the idea of making it into sort of a Confederate Gibraltar on the Ouachita River. Reports, probably greatly overblown, of these fortifications had reached General Steele, as he prepared for the march to Shreveport.

On March 23, 1864, General Steele (USA) left Little Rock, and General Thayer left Ft. Smith. Their combined strangth was 11,500 men, 4658 of them cavalry. The troops were eager for the campaign. The 1st Iowa Cavalry waived it's right to a furlough to accompany the expedition. It must have been an impressive sight as General Steele left Little Rock. There were long columns of infantry, men from Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. There were horse drawn artillery batteries and their cassions, batteries from Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. The supply train had 800 wagons, with mule teams slogging their way carrying ammunition and supplies, And there was the cavalry, with guidons flying. The Cavalry Division was under command of General Eugene A. Carr, and the First Brigade was commanded by Col. Ritter. Along with the troopers from Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, was a battalion of the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry, the "Arkansas Feds" under command of Major George Lovejoy, and in this battalion was Company F, and riding with them was Pvt. Jim Nunnally.

On a Muster Roll, dated February 29, 1864, the Company was at it's greatest strength, numbering 3 officers, 22 non-coms and specialists and 62 privates. 3 men had died of disease since enlisting. They had made on 14 day scout into Yell County since enlisting, and this during January. They were mostly getting new recruits. Since the 1st of February they had been in Little Rock. 17 men were left in Little Rock on detached service, and the rest, with Captain Herring in the lead made the campaign. After all the training one can imagine they were excited over the prospect.

There is a Federal Officer's account of the Expedition, which was published in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. He is anonymous, but was a white officer with a black regiment. As to the beginning of the expedition he states:

...."The weather was rainy, cold and disagreeable, the roads soft and spongy. Numerous mud holes were found by the enterprising teamsters, and the wagons sticking fast in them, made our progress slow and difficult. We had to travel many hours each day, to make the distance that was necessary. Many places the road had to be "corduroyed" to render them passable. The country became mountainous and stony, which, with the mud holes, used up-the mules pretty fast. Such sitting up late of nights- getting up early of mornings-pushing wagons up the mountains-lifting them out of mud holes (meanwhile living on half-rations) was very wearing on the soldiers...."


If they were looking for action it was not long in coming. The next day Col. Ritter filed this report:

HDQ. First Brigade, Cavalry Division
Camp In Field, March 24, 1864

Sir: I have the honor to report that in the attack upon the pickets on the Benton Road yesterday, two men from the Third Arkansas Cavalry were captured. The pickets from Merrill's Horse drove them back, 2 of our men being wounded. The enemy were seen in Benton upon arrival of my advance guard; shots were exchanged between them. My advance guard were fired upon three or four times today by rebels lying in ambush ..... The Saline River is low and easily forded.

Respectfully etc.
Col. 1st Missouri Cav. Commanding

This dispatch would indicate that the Third Arkansas Cavalry battalion was in the advance guard, as they probably had some knowledge of the country. The men captured were not from F Company.

The army continued it's march on the Little Rock to Washington road. It was slow going. They were harrassed by guerrillas. On the night of April 2nd, the anonymous diarist wrote "We heard three shots, and learned the next morning that Capt. Benton, of the 12th Kansas, was killed while going from camp to Brigade Hdg. "

On April 4, 1864 the army arrived in Hot Springs, which the diarist reported " was once a flourishing place, containing many fine dwellings, but its glory has faded-the gloom of rebellion has settled on it."

On April 6, 1864, the diarist records an amusing happening. While camped at a fine plantation, inhabited solely by ladies, all well accomplished. The men were in the Southern Army. One of the Northern officers inguired if he knew where he could buy a good horse. She told him she knew where 7,000 were, each with a Southern gentleman astride it.

No rendezvous had been made with General Thayer (USA) marching from Ft. Smith. General Steele (USA) sent Captain Turner and a company of the Third Arkansas Cavalry to locate him. Turner and his command located Thayer, who had already passed through Hot Springs, and then Turner went on to Little Rock.


With all the problems he was having, General Steele, nevertheless, had full support of both Generals Sherman and Grant. In a dispatch dated April 7, 1864, General Grant puts Steele in complete charge of the Red River Expedition, and Sherman writes , ..... "If you can accomplish in Red River what you did in Arkansas, you will be entitled to the gratitude and admiration of all sensible men. From me you shall have every assistance and aid ....... ".

On the same day General Steele sent a long dispatch to General Kimball, who he had left in charge at Little Rock. He writes ..... "We have been delayed a week by the failure of Thayer to make a junction with us .......... We have had two severe skirmishes with Maraduke (CSA) in front and Shelby (CSA) in the rear, and have lost in all something over 80 in killed wounded and missing ..... Shelby (CSA) charged our artillery three times in a most gallant manner....While this was going on the 1st Iowa Cavalry engaged Marmaduke's advance...General Carr pushed on and got possession of Elkin's ford on the Little Missouri river. Our left flank was attacked by cavalry at Okolona, but the rebels were repulsed ......... Up until this time nothing had been heard from Thayer (USA) , although I sent several scouts and two squadrons of the Third Arkansas Cavalry to comm­unicate with him. One of the Third Arkansas men , having become seperated from his command after they had been beyond Mt. Ida, returned bringing news about Thayer ......... Instead of taking the Caddo Gap road as agreed upon, he went to Hot Springs, having turned off his road above Mt Ida. It is expected he will join us tomorrow. He is entirely out of rations, and our consumption of supplies, caused by the delay, has used supplies which might have lasted us until Shreveport. I am now confident of having sufficient force to walk over the rebels wherever they may meet us this side of Shreveport. I shall therefore move straight on Camden after striking the prairie, and while supplies are reaching me from Little Rock or Pine Bluff will endeavor to clear you front ........... I omitted to tell you about the fight with Marmaduke. I suppose he attempted to get possession of the ford. His attach was fierce with artillery, cavalry and dismounted men, but he was repulsed with the loss of 1 Captain killed, 2 Officers prisoners (1 of his staff), 6 men killed and a good many wounded ....

It is now April 7, 1864, and the army has made about 80 miles in 16 days. It has been slow going and the army is badly in need of rations. General Steele also sent a dispatch directing his Quartermaster to send 30 days rations to Camden via the Benton, Tulip and Princeton road.

In the meantime Captain Turner of the Third Arkansas has arrived in Little Rock with his detachment, and is ordered to duty as escort to bearer of dispatches to the army near the Red River.


On April 8, 1864, the entire picture changed. General Banks (USA) advancing up the Red River from Alexandria, Louisana, was defeated in battle at Sabine Crossroads, also called the Battle of Mansfield, and thrown into retreat. General Kirby Smith (CSA) now saw a chance to knock out the Union army advancing from Little Rock, and perhaps regain the entire Arkansas Valley. He began to move troops immediately. In the meanwhile General Price (CSA) moved out of Camden to oppose General Steele (USA), and General Joe Shelby's (CSA) cavalry was also on the move.

On April 8, 1864, General Thayer (USA) finally joined General Steele, and the combined forces were now 13,000 men, 800 wagons, 30 guns, and 12,000 horses and mules. There had already been skirimishing with the rebels. On April 10, the Union army moved onto Prarie De Ann, to the west of present day Prescott, Arkansas. Here opposing them, were General Dockery's (CSA) brigade, and General Joe Shelby's (CSA) cavalry. To the west were the brigades of Generals Gano and Cabell (CSA). In all the Confederate troops were about half the strength of the Union army.

For the next four days there were several engagements. The rebels took the worst of it, but were not decisively defeated. They retreated towards Hope, Arkansas, with the Union cavalry in pursuit. At length, General Steele (USA) broke it off, and turned east to Camden, arriving there April 15, 1864. He was pleased to see the fortifications, writing to Gen. Banks that "the rebels have fortified it for us". He put his troops to work completing and strengthening the works.

On the 17th of April General Kirby Smith (CSA) Commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department joind General Price, and moved towards Camden.

The Union Army's position was getting difficult. They were some 80 miles into enemy territory, and always in need of supplies. They had 12,000 animals that needed forage. General Steele sent out a wagon train to gather forage, but on April 19th, it was attacked and overwhelmed, and 200 wagons were lost, as well as 4 artillery pieces. But on April 30, 1864, a. supply train arrived from Little Rock, and his situation improved. However the Confederate army was getting stronger. Steele had the troops working hard to improve the fortifications, improve the fields of fire, and close any weak points.

On the 22nd of April, General Steele started a supply train of empty wagons to Little Rock, consisting of 240 wagons with a brigade as escort. Federal Cavalry had been scouting the region between the Ouachita and Saline rivers, and had seen no activity, but on the 24th of April, General Fagan (CSA) forded the Ouachita near El Dorado, and crossed with Cabell's, Shelby's and Dockery's brigades, some 4,000 men. On April 25, 1864, they intercepted the train at Mark's Mills on the Camden to Pine Bluff road. The Federals made a fight of it, and although the Rebels outnumbered them two to one, resistance was very stubborn


but when Shelby's(CSA) cavalry appeared, the Union defense collapsed, The Confederates lost 41 killed, 108 wounded and 144 missing. About 100 Federal troops were killed, but 240 wagons and much equipment was lost. The Battle of Marks 1 Mills was decisive in another way, however. It would force General Steele to evacuate Camden.

General Steele's position in Camden was becoming very difficult. He was deep in enemy territory, short and running out of supplies, the local populance was less than cooperative, greatly resenting the presence of African troops in his command. With the defeat of General Banks (USA) on the Red River, and his loss of 440 wagons and some 600 casualties, since the beginning of the campaign, he decided to evacuate Camden and return to his well fortified and supplied base at Little Rock. The troops were ordered to drop their work on the fortifications. "Perhaps no order was ever more quickly or quietly executed",recalled one hungry exhausted soldier, " In a few moments we were on the march in the darkness of the summer night".

By April 29, 1864, General Shelby (CSA) reported that the Union forces were 8 miles from Jenkin's Ferry on the Saline River. The Confederate forces move to engage them. In a sharp action lasting from 6.30 AM to 2.00 PM, April 30, 1864, the Union army repulsed the Confederates, and crossed to Saline, and the rebels were in no shape to follow him. Casualties were 528 for the Union forces and 443 for the confederacy. General Steele returned to Little Rock. General Price (CSA) though defeated at Jenkin's Ferry took heart from the past weeks actions, and planned further campaigns.

The Red River Campaign had been a disaster. The Union forces did not get half way to Shreveport. The delay caused by the late arrival of General Thayer from Ft. Smith, and the appalling conditions of the roads made his success unlikely. General Steele had lost 700 men, 4,000 mules and horses, 500 wagons, and a great deal of military equipment. As a matter of fact, he had furnished the rebel army with more supplies than they received from their own government. However he wrote "If we had been supplied at Camden, I could have held the place against Kirby Smith's entire force...." One is tempted to point out that the idea was to defeat Kirby Smith. Kirby Smith's (CSA) strategy and tactics prevailed. Even General U.S. Grant would have to eat his words, as he had written "I cant imagine Kirby Smith making any move, except to avoid getting hurt."

And what of the Third Arkansas Cavalry during the campaign. We know that one battallion accompanied the expedition, and that Nunnally and Company F was involved. There is a Muster roll for the Campany dated April 30, 1864, at a camp on the Saline River. I have my doubts it was made that day, as that was the date of the Battle of Jenkin's Ferry. It shows Nunnally present, and that 3 men had died since the last Muster, February 28, 1864. One of these men evidently died of wounds. Total strength was 84, including the men left at Little Rock. The cavalry is considered


to have participated in all the battles, probably scouting for the enemy, and checking the roads ahead. There is no specific mention of the Third Arkansas Cavalry in the dispatches, but Carr's (USA) Cavalry brigade was in all the battles.

By the 4th of May, 1864, the troops were back in Little Rock. The anonymous diarist wrote, " We arrived at Little Rock May 4th, as tired and hungry a set of soldiers as ever drew rations" We can be sure that Jim Nunnally returned a changed man. He now knew what combat was like, the smoke of musketry, and the roar of artillery. He had been in the rain and mud, always in danger of snipers and enemy forces. He had made long rides and worked on fortifications, all of the time on half-rations. And he knew defeat, without probably, ever knowing what was going on. This was the life of a Civil War private. There is one other thing. None of the regiment had ever been paid.

Back at Little Rock, the position had changed. The Union forces held the Arkansas Valley. South were the confederate forces under Kirby Smith, now emboldened by their successes on the Red River.

And for the poor civilians of Yell County and the surrounding area, there was again the prospect of armies marching through, taking their grain and animals, and whatever property they could lay their hands on. It was a black time.





The above research, written by Paul P. Steed, Jr. is entitled Arkansas Fed.

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