Union Expeditions into Arkansas in 1864

Reports of guerrilla activity in the Missouri counties of Dunklin, Mississippi, and Pemiscot prompted federal leaders to field an expedition into Arkansas in the spring of 1864. The objective was to find and destroy enemy camps.  U. S. Major John Rabb, Second Missouri Artillery headquarter at New Madrid, was ordered to lead the expedition. He was convinced that the trouble in Missouri were Confederate guerrillas operating from around Osceola and the Pemiscot Bayou area were the responsible groups.

Rabb’s plan had troops moving into Arkansas in two components. One group, traveling overland would go to Pemiscot. Bayou some thirty miles north of Osceola. The rest of the troopers would travel by steamboat to Osceola and approach Pemiscot Bayou from the south. On April5, 1864, Rabb left New Madrid with two-hundred men from Companies H, I, and K of the Second Missouri Artillery on the steamer Silver Moon.

At Barfield’s Point, some twenty miles above Osceola, the steamer landed to disembark one-hundred men led by Captain W.C.F. Montgomery with orders to march to Chickasaw Settlement (Blytheville) on Pemiscot Bayou. After landing at Osceola the remaining one-hundred Union troopers led by Major Rabb started marching to a point ten miles south of Montgomery’s targeted area.

On the morning of April 6, the second phase of Rabb’s plan started. Captain Valentine Preuitt led First Missouri Militia Cavalry units of Companies G, K, and M out of New Madrid towards Arkansas.

Rabb’s troops on their march from Osceola soon became very difficult. They soon found themselves in water from one to three feet deep as the road went through a swamp filled with dense cane and timber.

By April 6, they had traveled twelve miles. So far they had killed five or six guerrillas they had met on the road. That night they made camp at the home of a Confederate sympathizer whose son was in one of the guerrilla bands, Mark Walker.

As attack was expected, the men were ordered not to build fires although there was a cold rain falling. Seventy-five men under command of Lieutenant Winfred from Company K were stationed around the Walker home. About fifty yards out, were the remaining men under command of Lieutenant L.J. Philips.

Around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of April 7th, a gun battle quickly started after Rabb found himself facing a Confederate standing several feet away demanding he surrender. Members of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry were fighting an estimated one-hundred Confederates from Osceola. The battle ended as quickly as it started. Rabb’s Union troops quickly left the area with prisoners and carrying they wounded on litters.

With casualties on the Confederate side unknown, the Rebels quickly faded into the night. Both sides suffered a number of Casualties, of which Union Lieutenant Phillips was one.

After leaving the steamer Silver Moon at Barfield’s Point, Montgomery’s men had not encountered any Southern troops. Rabb and Montgomery’s men joined up on the evening of April 7. Next morning, the combined forces marched back to Barfield’s Point and boarded the steamer Darling to return to New Madrid.

Meanwhile Captain Valentine Pruett’s First Missouri Militia Cavalry encountered Confederate Guerrillas forty-five miles out of New Madrid. On April 6, they killed two guerrillas. They next morning, they entered Little River Swamp.

About ten miles west of Osceola, they chanced upon a group of some twenty-five Confederates.  In the skirmish that followed, twelve Southern were killed, with five prisoners taken. The others escaped into the swamp. On the body of Confederate Captain Williams papers were found that told the enemy strength in Mississippi County numbered about one thousand men. Colonels McGee, Kitchen, Clark, and Freeman were the officers in charge of these men. 

From the orders found on Captain Williams the Union troops moved to dense canebrake, known as Blue Cane. Hidden in this thick thicket were several house, with a store of stolen goods, a distillery, and a large amount of cattle. A skirmish left three of Valentine’s men wounded but none were killed.

Colonel Kitchen’s Confederate troops and guerrilla activity was persistent in Mississippi County, Arkansas even with sporadic raids by the Union army into the area. Colonel J.B. Rogers, at Cape Girardeau received a telegram from Captain Pruiett on June 9. Rogers was informed that Kitchen was in Osceola. With him were some eight-hundred men. His plans were to get supplies by seizer of steamers.

A letter on June 29 from acting provost-marshal Lieutenant Steel at New Madrid outlined to Lieutenant Colonel John Burris of the Tenth Kansas Volunteers at Cape Girardeau a horrible situation with Kitchen with four-hundred men were murdering, cutting wires, and stealing.

On July 3, General Ewin received notice that Burris would move what troops that could be spared into Arkansas on July 5 against Kitchen. With a battalion of the Second Cavalry Missouri State Militia under Lieutenant-Colonel Hiller along with Captain Preuitt leading a detachment of the First Cavalry Missouri Volunteer leading a scouting expedition through Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas left New Madrid on July 21, 1864. At Bloomfield, Major Wilson added reinforcement with a battalion of the Third Cavalry Missouri State Militia and a squadron of the Sixth Cavalry Missouri Volunteers.

The Federal expedition reached the swamps of Big Lake in Mississippi County, Arkansas, on August 1. After meeting a small group of “Bushwhackers and Thieves,” Burris’ men captured arms, horses and contraband slave. After burning five houses, they moved three some twenty miles of swamp towards Osceola.

After reaching Osceola on the afternoon of August 2, they met Confederate forces under Captain Bowen and Captain McVeigh. The Confederated were attacked which resulted in a running gun battle for several miles. No Union casualties were reported. Seven Confederates were reported killed with twenty-five captured including Captain Bowen the Father of Captain Fletcher, Colonel Elliott Fletcher. Burris’ men reported capturing a large number of arms and houses. 

Captain McVeigh along with seventy of his men pursued the Confederates with capturing any more of them.

 Captain Bowen was interned in Gratiot Street, St. Louis. Two months later, he escaped with another prisoner, John Hogan Grider, and returned to Osceola.,

The Union army, on August 3, headed towards Pemiscot Bayou and crossed back into Missouri. In his report to Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, the U.S.  Commander at St. Louis, Burris’ official accounting listed forty-seven Confederates killed, including one Captain and three Lieutenants, fifty-seven captured, including two captains and one lieutenant, along with forty wounded, They had also captured and destroyed more than two-hundred guns, and two-hundred thirty horses and mules which they turned in to the quartermaster. Twenty slaves were also brought north.

As the men started this expedition without food for themselves and their animals, they lived off of stolen and captured supplied. Burris also reported that his trek across the state line had largely cleared Confederates ad guerrillas from the area.

In Northeast Arkansas, guerrilla warfare and the bushwhackers activities became ever-decreasing. The lack of supplies curtailed military action against the Union army. Overall, the Confederate army was low on men with few replacements and a critical shortage of supplies.

The Confederacy had begun to unfold. On April 9, 1865, Robert E, Lee surrendered his armies in Virginia. Joseph Johnson surrendered his forces of seventy-five thousand in North Carolina on April 26 (the day before the Sultana exploded and sank near Marion, Arkansas with two-thousand and two-hundred ex-Union prisoners returning home).

Brigadier General Jeff Thomason ceased his operation on the White and Little Red Rivers on May 11.  When he surrenders, Thompson was reduced to seven-thousand four-hundred and fifty-four men who had only five-hundred guns, three of four hundred canoes, and no food. Kitchen’s Legion from around Osceola surrendered as part of Thomason’s army. On June 2, General Kirby Smith surrendered his Arkansas army. Next day General Thomas Dockery surrendered the remaining Confederate troops in Arkansas.

At the end came, many of the men had already deserted. Those that were left just went home.   

 


Comments

Dan Whittle
12/22/2013 8:11pm

Thanks Sir Norman .... most comprehensive picture I've seen regarding guerilla activity along Ark/Mo. border...
Was your reference to Little River Swamp the same as my book's sources account as Nigger Wool Swamp in Mo.

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08/29/2015 5:27am

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12/30/2016 2:29am

Thanks for such a nice reading stuff, the way you have elaborated the story of war is very impressive, I really appreciate it.This war was long and horrible and very astonishing facts are revealed in this story about these wars.

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    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

     These areas have been treated much like step-children by Jefferson City and Little Rock. They seem to believe nothing has ever happened here.  Our history has been long and varied. Hope you enjoy my trip.  

    Near Puxico is the swampy Mingo Wildlife Refuge. One hundred and fifty year ago, most of the Little River Valley appeared that way. This valley covering two million acres was part of the largest wetland in America.

    Floods frequently intimated the Valley. Between 1815 and 2011, 15 major floods covered or threatened the area.

    Timber companies came in at the end of the 19th Century to clean cut the forest. Louis Houck, a Cape Girardeau lawyer and railroad builder, envisioned a rail network that covered the wetlands.

    Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation was established in 1907 by an act of the Butler County (MO) Circuit Court. 

    Between 1909 and 1928 the LRDD dug nearly 1000 miles of ditches and constructed 30 miles of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of swamp and overflow land in Southeast Missouri. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama Canal.

    One surprise I had was the number of settlements in the area before 1811-1812. Another was the water connection between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis and I had no idea that Little River had enough current to run a grist mill.

    Norman Vickers

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