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)


May, 1864, and the military situation in Arkansas has changed. With the loss of so many men, supplies and wagons, as well as horses on the Camden debacle, the Union forces withdrew to hold only the Arkansas River Valley, from the Mississippi to Ft. Smith. Headquarters were still at Little Rock. Two battalions of the Third Arkansas Cavalry were in the Lewisburg and Darda- nelle area, and the 3rd Battalion, commanded by Major Lovejoy, was in Little Rock. Nunnally was with his Company there.

There would be no buildup of Union forces as General Grant had come to the conclusion that to defeat the Confederacy, he had to defeat two armies - the Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and Johnson's Army of Tennessee. As long as these two armies existed there would be a Confederacy. Whatever happened west of the Mississippi would affect nothing. General Steele was on his own and would have to make do.

To the South of the Arkansas River, General Kirby Smith (CSA) now had the Union supplies they had captured, as well as wagons, horses, and most of all the initiative. He began to formulate plans.

On May 5, 1864, he sent orders to General Jo Shelby to "march to the rear of General Steele, to occupy the White River Valley, to prevent it's navigation, and to use the Little Rock- DeVall's Bluff Railroad in every possible manner."

General Jo Shelby (CSA) was by far the best cavalry commander West of the Mississippi. He was stubborn, adventurous and a born leader. His strong pro-slavery views had led him to organize and equip a company of horsemen at his own expense at the start of the war. As a Colonel and regimental commander he had conducted raids into Missouri and had gained invaluable experience. There was a saying in the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department that "while Jeb Stuart had ridden around McClellan, Jo Shelby had ridden around Missouri." He was a formidable foe, and one the Third Arkansas Cavalry had come to respect.

General Shelby began his move May 9, 1864, moving up from the Camden area to Rockport. He complained of the "skeleton horses and ramshackle wagons" which were furnished him. He now moved up what is present Arkansas State Highway 7 into Yell County. Once again it was time for the farmers to hide their food supplies and livestock, or have it confiscated. On the Fourche La Fave River Shelby surprised and routed a "notorious nest of jayhawkers, boomers and deserters, routed,, 23 killed, 2 wounded, 2 captured, who were shot the next day". On May 13 he reached the Arkansas River and found it "high and wide" He had brought a flat boat and found one there so prepared


to ford the river that night. The location was 3 miles below Lewisburg. While they waited for night fall they were attacked by the Third Arkansas Cavalry. Shelby reported that he killed a lieutenant and 35 men, without loss on his part.

On May 14, 1864, Col. Ryan sent a dispatch to Little Rock:

Lewisburg, May 14, 1864

Major: Major Clarkson, Third Arkansas Cavalry, returned with his command during the night, bringing in the body of Lt. Ritter (Author's note, Lt. Ritter was with I Company) whom the rebels had robbed and stripped to his underclothes. Major Clarkson met the enemy in Perry County, 5 miles from the river; a skirmish ensued, the Major driving the enemy over and beyond Cypress Creek, destroying their camp, pursuing them a mile further; the enemy broke and ran. It being night, pursuit was discontinued. Enemy's loss not known. Receiveing orders, the command returned without the loss of a man. Enemy's loss not known. The Major reports the men as behaving remarkable well. I would respectfully ask if the General thinks it advisable that the Third Battalion of the Regiment be sent here? Yesterday the post was nearly stripped to furnish men to scout over the river, and I candidly believe the best interests of the service demand that they be taken from the influences that surround them in Little Rock.

Colonel, Commanding

Maj. William D. Green
Asst. Adj. Gen, Little Rock

The same day by Special Orders No. 3, the Third Battalion of the Third Arkansas Cavalry, commanded by Major Lovejoy was ordered to proceed to DArdanelle, and join the Regiment. One wonders about the influences surrounding them in Little Rock. I would assume that they were acting like troopers back from a campaign. So Jim Nunnally was on his way to Dardanelle.

Ryan sent another dispatch:

Lewisburg, May 14, 1864

Maj. W.D. Green
Asst. Adj. Gen, Little Rock

From a woman kept a prisoner by the rebels during the fight yesterday, I learn the rebels were about 150 strong, dressed in Federal uniforms and armed with muskets and carbines, and claimed to be Shelby's men. The officer claiming to be Shelby was a rather small man with whiskers. They left today towards Perryville, saying they were going after the balance of their command and three peices of artillery (now south of the Fourche) when they would return and clean us out. I think they were several bushwacking companies, combined to waylay steamers near Bently's


Not knowing the position of the rebel army south of the
river and the whereabouts of Shelby more particularly, I did not send a force over the river today, as the force here, 220
mounted and 100 dismounted, is not sufficient to risk it and hold the post. A boy just in was kept prisoner by the rebels till this morning. He corroborates the woman's statement; says the rebels were well mounted, with Federal muskets, pistols and saddles. He says that their talk was that they were going after more men, artillery, and a pontoon near Fourche La Fave; also that their camp was a large one......

Colonel, Cammanding

In the meantime Shelby continued to cross the Arkansas in force. He was at the Widow Brown's ford about 5 miles below Lewisburg, and bring up larger forces of his Brigade. The units of the Third Arkansas were no match for Shelby's men in number.

On the 17th Ryan's position with the 3rd Arkansas was getting worse. He sent the following dispatch :

Captain Clear (Co. D) , whom I sent to Norristown was in that vicinity last night. He was compelled,to fall back. He reports from reliable sources that Shelby's whole force, 5,000 cavalry, one battalion infantry, and four pieces of artillery is on the north side of the river. The rebels have left Dardanelle. They behaved shamefully while there, robbing Union families and burning some houses.

Colonel, Commanding.

Later he wired to Little Rock that Colonel Fuller and 200 of the regiment had arrived from Dardanelle. General Steele (USA) Commander at Little Rock saw that Shelby's plan was to cut the DeValls Bluff - Little Rock Railway. He wired to his Head­quarters at Memphis that "....Shelby was near Lewisburg yesterday and had a sharp fight with the Third Arkansas Cavalry..." He requested reinforcements, and through General Carr (USA) commanding his cavalry, ordered the Third Arkansas to abandon Lewisburg and fall back on Little Rock. A flurry of dispatches went back and forth concerning this. Carr ordered Ryan "....Keep patrols and pickets well to your rear and a heavy rear guard ..... His Asst. Adjutant C, H, Dyer remembered Major Lovejoy and the 3rd Battalion and sent him a dispatch:

Headquarters District of Little Rock, May 17, 1864

Major G.F. Lovejoy
3rd Arkansas Cavalry

Major: Colonel Ryan is evacuating Lewisburg and sending your arms and ammunition down the river on a flat boat. You will proceed tomorrow morning up the Arkansas on the South



side to meet this boat. The Arkansas bends to the southwest about 20 miles from here, which will be the most dangerous place for the boat. You will go above the mouth of the Fourche La Fave if you do not meet the boat sooner.... report any information with the upmost expedition. Shelby has taken Dardanelle and is probably across the river. ...

By order of Brig. Gen. E. A. Carr

Asst. Adj. Gen.

Orders also went to a Captain Snelling to proceed up the Lewisburg road to meet Ryan and his retreating Third Arkansas Cavalry.

In the meantime Shelby was active. According to his report he captured Dardanelle on the night of May 15th taking many supplies. He continued to move his Brigade across the Arkansas, and by the 18th all were across, and he had encamped north of the river at Norristown. Ryan with only 550 men of the Third Arkansas Cavalry were certainly no match for Shelby's brigade. He moved on swiftly towards the White River valley. His report says " ...... On through Dover and Clinton, over rough and sterile roads, over the Blue and Ozark mountains, through Richwoods and Buckhorn, I hastened forward. At the latter place the notorious Bill Williams, who commands a company of hybrid deserters, Africans, women-ravishers, and Federals, was encountered by Capt. D.A. Williams of my advance, charged, routed and scattered, 47 killed, 2 captured, who were shot the next day. Young girls and old women met us the next day and called down Heavens blessing on my command for what they termed a glorious and righteous deed ............. "

As has been stated General Steele (USA), Commander at Little Rock had forseen that Shelby's probable objective was to cut the Devalls Bluff to Little Rock Railroad. Steele ordered Brig. Gen. J.R. West to meet this threat. West immediately began his troop movements. On the 19th of May he ordered Col. Ryan and his Third Arkansas Cavalry, who had fallen back to Cadron Ferry to " ..... Cover all the front between the railroad and the enemy. .... Harass and delay the enemy by all means in your power. I shall be at Brownsville tonight with a sufficient force to support you ...... "

Ryan replied:                                           Cadron Ferry, May 21

Brigadier General West, Brownsville:

General ..... I moved the forces from Lewisburg yesterday morning towards Dover. Finding the enemy moving on our flank and rear we fell back on the line of the Cadron. I think he will move between Clinton and Searcy. Do you wish me to move regardless


of covering any particular point or let everything go and strike where I can? ......... Do you wish this ferry guarded or destroyed ?.... I have 515 effective men.

Colonel, Commanding

Gen. West replied to destroy the ferry and keep between Shelby and himself. He emphasized to keep on the enemy's right flank. West was moving to Austin and said " strike where you can, but bear in mind that the object is to unite with me." This was on the 21st. Early in the morning of the 22nd, at 3 A.M. he sent this dispatch:

Brownsville, May 22, 1864, 3 A.M.

Brig. Gen. Carr

Lovejoy is in Austin. Heard nothing of Shelby. I am just leaving, 3 A.M.

Brig. Gen. Comm.

By this time the telegraph to Cadron Ferry had been cut. Just how and why Maj. Lovejoy and the 3rd Battalion of the Third Arkansas Cavalry got to Austin would be interesting to know. It was away from where there orders had told them to go. Nunnally and Co. F were with the unit, and he as a private would have known nothing of these messages. Later in the day Brig. Gen Carr (USA) who commanded all the cavalry units sent a message to be relayed to Gen West:

Brigadier General West:

I have no more news from Col Ryan. The telegraph to Cadron Ferry has failed. You can furnish Maj. Lovejoy's battalion with provisions from you infantry supplies and start them forward again. Major Lovejoy is much to blame for coming to Austin; you had better send hime in, as that command is not properly his, but keep all his men ..... My opinion is that Shelby has gone back towards the river.
If the squadron Ryan left at Cadron ferry leaves there,
they should destroy the boat ........

Brig. Gen., Commanding

Carr was certainly wrong in his assessment that Shelby had turned back. By the 23rd he was in the vicinity of Clarendon, having completely out manuvered the Federals. Here he attacked and destroyed the gun-boat Queen City on the White River, and captured her armament of 9 Parrot guns.


One thing was certain, Shelby had eluded the Federal forces. His fast and bold moves had caught the Federals off guard. Brigadier General West (USA) after moving troops here and there in the Clinton-Springfield area finally located Col. Ryan and the Third Arkansas Cavalry on the 25th and for the first time learned that Shelby was already gone. In his report dated May 28, 1864, he minces no words:

...Why the enemy got beyond my reach is attributable to delays upon the railroad, and to the fact that Col. Ryan never touched his right flank at all .... The enemy eluded them by the failure of Col. Ryan and his command to keep in contact with them.

The Third Arkansas had to shoulder the blame for Shelby's success. In defense of Col. Ryan it should be pointed out that his horses were in bad shape, he was without rations a good deal of the time, and by the inexplicable failure of Maj. Lovejoy to join him.

On May 27, 1864, Gen. West ordered his troops at Cadron Ferry to move to Springfield, all but the Third Arkansas Cavalry. On the 30th he sent this dispatch:

Little Rock, May 30, 1864

Col. A.H. RYAN
Cadron Ferry

The District Commander wishes you to occupy Lewisburg whenever you can, but not Dardanelle. Hereafter you will report directo Gen. Carr. The state of your subsistence supplies should command your attention.

Brig. Gen. Commanding

Ryan replied the same day that he would occupy Lewisburg that evening. He also reported that Shelby was in Batesville and reports that various Confederate units are about recruiting and conscripting.

General Carr, Commander of Cavalry sent Ryan the following dispatch:

Headquarters, District of Little Rock
May 30, 1864

Col. A.H. RYAN, Commanding

You can move the telegraph office to Lewisburg Lovejoy's battalion is ordered to join you. When it does, relieve the Fourth Arkansas, under Lt. Col. Moore. ... Try to clean out the conscriptors. You can rely upon itthat whenever you need support that it will se furniished you to the fullest extent in my power, and I shall keep my attention constantly directed upon you.


Report every day or oftener, even if you have no news. It would be a great advantage to us to have the telegraph through to Ft. Smith, even if it only held for a few hours.

Brig. Gen., Commanding

So at the end of May, 1864, the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry was at Lewisburg once more. Morale cannot have been very high. The Camden expedition had been a failure, and they had not stopped, or even slowed down Shelby, who by now was head of all Confederate forces north of the Arkansas River. As June and summer came on, the Cavalry was active.Col. Ryan reported:

Lewisburg, June 5, 1864

General Carr:

Major Van Houten, of Third Arkansas Cavalry, just in from Norristown and Dardanelle. He met nothing but bushwackers; lost 1 horse killed; killed two bushwackers near Dover. Jackman has crossed to south side of river and is near Danville with about 200 men. Captain Wood, of Fourth Arkansas Cavalry, is holding Dardanelle with 120 men.Lt. White of the Fourth, shot Boss Dawson, mortally wounding him, and badly wounding Banks, both noted guerillas.

Col. 3rd Ark. Cav.

At this same time a very interesting personal letter was sent to President Lincoln, and I am reproducing it to show conditions in Arkansas at this time:

(PRIVATE) Hdqrs. 2nd Brig/, 2nd Div. 7th Army Corps

Little Rock, June 5, 1864

President, United States

Dear Sir: the enemy down this way is, of course, in excellent spirits, and even if General Grant takes Richmond I fear it would not render Kirby Smith's forces much less defiant and zealous than they are now. Informers from Camden say it is the positive intention of the enemy to move upon this place, and it is more than probable that such is the fact. I believe, by the desperate fighting which our Western and Northwestern men generally do, we can overpower him, or a least hold the place. But if we do, the credit will be due to the earnest valor of the men. At this late day earth-works being thrown up which ought to have been done last fall. The serious reverses of the late campaign have caused some depression in Union sentiment, so that the country seems to have degenerated into bushwackers. It is hardly safe to


go out of our lines a mile. I believe Union people are suffering more to-day in Arkansas than ever before since the war commenced. One cause is this is, we have but little mounted cavalry. Our horses died last winter for want of forage, and instead of replenishing our stock from the country, horses were left to be seized by the enemy within less than 30 miles of our garrisons; so that the enemy now has 10,000 men, well mounted, and we have little more than 1,000. I believe that we might have had 4,000 more efficient colored troops than we now have if recruiting had been encouraged with earnestness last winter by our higher officers. Earnestness is what we need, not simply passive obedience of orders.

There is no doubt that a large majority of planters who have taken the oath and pretend to acquiesce in the pro­ clamation setting slaves free, still cling to their slaves and to the hope that they will sometime again hold them as slaves. I heartily believe that Rogers, who was elected to Congress from this state, is such a man. Baxter and Fishback, Senators-elect, are unconditional Union men, and quite cultivated. No better men have ever represented Arkansas. I fear, however, they are not quite independent enough in their position yet to be specific and bold in their representations of matters here. I think you will be re-elected; hope and trust you will be. If Grant is triumphant you are sure to be. If fortune is averse to him it will affect you. It is the valor and good fortune of our arms that will most contribute to the popularity of your administration, at present with the people.

Most sincerely, your friend and obedient servant,

C.C. ANDREWS, Brig. Gen.

From this letter it is easy to see the mistrust that existed among the Union officers in the South. The military condition had certainly deteriorated, and by this time rumors were coming in about Confederate preparations.

But for the Third Arkansas Cavalry, life went on, as per the next dispatch:

Lewisburg, June 6, 1864

Brig. Gen. E.A. Carr:

Capt. Taylor, of Third Arkansas Cavalry (M Company), has just returned from scout to Wiley's Cove, Searcy County. Heard of nothing in that section but conscripting parties and a report that Shelby had left Batesville and gone towards Missouri. Lt. Col. Fuller left at daylight this AM with 180 men, on scout to Danville and vicinity. River falling.

A.H. RYAN, Col 3rd Ark. Cav.


Lt. Col. Fuller was back on the 13th and Colonel Ryan sent the following dispatch:

Lewisburg, June 13, 1864

Brig. Gen. E.A. Carr

GENERAL: Lt. Col. Fuller returned this evening from a scout through Perry and Yell Counties. Did not effect much on account of the enemy scattering in all directions. Had 1 man mortally wounded. Captured 2 of the rebels; brought in 28 men of the regiment who have been lying out since the fall of Dardanelle. Received order this evening to appear with Lt. Col. Fuller, Major Van Houten, Captains Herring (F Company) and Dunscomb (G Company), before a board of officers at Little Rock. One hundred Texans are reported holding post at Mt. Ida.

A. H. RYAN, Commanding

There are two interesting things in this dispatch. First he mentions bringing in 28 men of the regiment who have been "lying out" since the fall of Dardanelle. In the type of warfare here men were often cut off or overrun by the enemy, and would be ordered, or on their own, would scatter, and later rejoin their units when possible. Dardanelle had fallen around May 15, so the men had been hiding out for a month.

The next item concerns the Board of Officers at Little Rock, to be attended by the commanders of F and G Companies, and Major Van Houten, who would have been a battalion commander. If these companies were with Van Houten on the scout, did he make charges against one of them? Later events will indicate that Capt. Herring of F Company was probably the reason for the Board convening. A careful search has found no record of the meeting or what was done if anything. Col. Ryan was ordered not to attend until Col. Fuller returned, as "both were not to be absent at the same time".

But the nasty business of war went on, and the dispatches flowed to Gen. Carr or his adjutant.

Lewisburg, June 18, 1864

C.H. Dyer, Asst. Adg. Gen.

Lt. Williams (I Company) is in from scout 15 miles above Dover bringing 4 men conscripted by Coffee. Coffee is at Wiley's Cove, Searcy County. Captain Taylor (M Company) is in from Clarksville. Coming down, ran a party who were firing into a steamboat near Galla Rock. Lt. Carr (G Company), in from Perry County, sent after some rebels there and to destroy flat boats partly destroyed by Shelby, and to recover ferry flat drifted away by river rising; recovered flat. Shortly after


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

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