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Union Expedition from Little Rock to the Little Red River
August 9, 1864
Brigadier General Joseph R. West, Captain Mulford Latimer (US); Colonel Thomas H. McCray (CS)
Third Michigan Cavalry (US); McCray’s Brigade (CS)
By late May 1864, Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby was in command of all Confederate forces north of the Arkansas River and was tasked with recruiting a fighting force from the local populace. Over the next three months, Shelby bolstered his command from an estimated 1,200 men in early May to more than 7,000, and his success in frustrating Union garrisons and supply lines along the White River prompted Union command at Little Rock (Pulaski County) to launch several expeditions to neutralize him.
During the summer, Shelby established his headquarters at Jacksonport (Jackson County) and set about harassing railroad lines and plantations being used to supply Union forces. In mid-July, Colonel Thomas H. McCray and his brigade made a successful expedition to a transport on the Mississippi River and obtained more than 800 firearms and badly needed ammunition. Shelby began an expedition to Clarendon (Monroe County) on July 27 and left Colonel McCray and other units in his rear to guard the White River between Jacksonport and Batesville (Independence County); the cache of weapons and other supplies remained at Jacksonport. Shelby quickly turned back after hearing word of a Union expedition against Jacksonport and reached Augusta (Woodruff County) on August 3, surprising a few Union troops who had arrived there earlier that day. At this time, McCray remained on the west side of the White River, northeast of Searcy (White County).
The Union expedition against Shelby was led by Brigadier General Joseph R. West, who departed Little Rock on August 6 and arrived in Searcy on August 8 after joining advance units en route. West, intending to split his force in two and march up both sides of the White to prevent Shelby and McCray from combining their forces, moved his column east toward Augusta.
On the afternoon of August 9, a skirmish occurred between a detachment of the Third Michigan Cavalry and about 300 Confederates at Hatch’s Ferry, four miles upriver from Augusta. No casualties or details of the skirmish itself were recorded, besides mentioning that the Third Michigan secured the only flatboat at the crossing and learned that Shelby was encamped across the river just north of Augusta. That evening, West sent a dispatch to DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) requesting steamboats to assist in crossing the river. On August 10, the Third Michigan crossed over to Augusta, driving Confederate pickets from the town. Union reconnaissance north of Augusta did not encounter Shelby.
Meanwhile, 1,000 cavalry were dispatched north toward Denmark (White County) as a feint, and the remaining units tried to cross the river, but it soon became apparent that the small boat could not sustain West’s artillery. Heavy rains on August 11 and vulnerability to attack while crossing the river gave West pause. By August 12, no steamboats were forthcoming to assist in crossing, so the units on the eastern side crossed back over, and West marched back to Searcy.
On August 13, a Union reconnaissance party skirmished with a detachment of McCray’s Brigade eight miles from Denmark before the Confederates fell back. Additional reinforcements encountered no Rebels, and the Union pursuit was called off. West concluded that “Shelby could successfully contest my crossing at that point [the river at Jacksonport] or fall back faster than he could be followed.” After learning on August 14 that only some stragglers remained west of the White River, the expedition was abandoned. West arrived back in Little Rock on August 16.
For additional information:Akridge, Scott H., and Emmett E. Powers. A Severe and Bloody Fight: The Battle of Whitney’s Lane & Military Occupation of White County, Arkansas, May & June, 1862. Searcy, AR: White County Historical Museum, 1996.
Muncy, Raymond Lee. Searcy, Arkansas: A Frontier Town Grows Up With America. Searcy, AR: Harding Press. 1976.
O’Flaherty, Daniel. General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1954.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! A History of Jackson County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Conway, AR: River Road Press. 1974.
Adam MillerSearcy, Arkansas
Last Updated 8/17/2016
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