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Augusta Expedition (January 4–27, 1865)

Location:

Lonoke, Prairie, White, and Woodruff Counties

Campaign:

Expedition from Brownsville to Augusta, Arkansas

Dates:

January 4–27, 1865

Principal Commanders:

Colonel Washington F. Geiger, Eighth Missouri Cavalry (US); None (CS)

Forces Engaged:

Eighth Missouri Cavalry, Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, and Ninth Iowa Cavalry (US); None (CS)

Estimated Casualties:

None (US); 7 prisoners (CS)

Result:

Union objective completed

In an effort to continue to conduct expeditions into northeastern Arkansas to disrupt Confederate and guerrilla activities, Union colonel Washington F. Geiger was dispatched with 1,050 men to occupy Augusta (Woodruff County) on January 4, 1865. Wet and cold conditions made travel difficult. Nonetheless, Geiger occupied the town from January 11 to January 24, 1865. Holding it for thirteen days, Geiger returned to Brownsville (Lonoke County); he had not engaged the enemy, but he captured seven prisoners and gained supplies from the region.

The fatiguing task of occupation duty often meant moving troops to demonstrate projection of force capabilities, gathering intelligence, and/or acquiring supplies. Concerned about the movements of small Confederate and guerrilla groups in northeastern Arkansas in late 1864 and early 1865, Brigadier General Eugene Asa Carr, commander of the District of Little Rock, ordered Col. Geiger, commanding the Third Cavalry Brigade, Seventh Army Corps, to march his men to Augusta and occupy the region until told to return. Geiger’s force, a 1,050-man unit with some experience in this region, consisted of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry, the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, and the Ninth Iowa Cavalry.

Departing from Brownsville on January 4, 1865, Geiger’s command moved up the Brownsville-Austin Road and then the Searcy Road, camping north of Austin (Lonoke County). Fortunately, the weather was good, and travel on Arkansas’s poor roads was reasonable, but this soon changed. On January 5, the command moved into the lower lands and roads during rainy conditions that included some snow. Flood water covered the roads, making travel arduous and establishing a theme for the expedition: cold and wet. As water continued to hamper travel, the wagon train became separated from the main column.

Regrouping at West Point (White County) by January 7, the steamer Ella arrived to move the men over the Little Red River. Crossing near West Point on January 8, Geiger’s command found better roads and somewhat easier traveling for a day. Within twenty-four hours, the rains returned and the roads worsened again, requiring the cavalrymen to swim their horses in the frigid water at some points. Suffering along the route, Geiger again linked with steamer Ella, with the addition of the Belle Peoria, to aid his men in crossing the White River. Landing north of Augusta on January 11, the Union troopers immediately took the town.

In Augusta, the Union forces knew they were on occupation duty of an unspecified time. Immediately, the troopers began seeking forage and other provisions, including cattle, horses, and mules. Staying in Augusta without major incident until January 24, Geiger sent his wagon train via steamer to a place dubbed Nigger Hill—present-day Georgetown (White County)—to avoid the bad roads while the remaining column traveled with him to the same point. Camping there, Geiger reported that the ship did not arrive before he moved on with the expedition on January 26. Oddly, he never clarified when the steamer linked with the land force. Traveling back through Searcy (White County), West Point, and Austin, the troopers arrived back in Brownsville on January 27. The slower-moving wagons, assumed to be those disembarked from the Ella at some point, arrived the next day.

Overall, Geiger’s expedition was relatively successful. He saw little enemy activity, only capturing seven prisoners from a few small, scattered bands detected near Crowley’s Ridge and Clarendon (Monroe County). No real skirmishes or Union casualties were mentioned in his report. A number of head of livestock were seized from the countryside, including some 407 head of cattle and an unspecified number of horses and mules. The majority of the cattle, some 330, were sent via boat to DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), and the remainder taken to Brownsville.

Geiger’s expedition to Augusta illustrates a few points about the war in Arkansas. Regardless of the year, poor roads and foul weather were the enemy to any force trying to move through the lowlands and swampy regions of northeastern Arkansas. It slowed movements, frustrated commanders, and separated units, making them more vulnerable to attack. Secondly, the number of cattle found in the Augusta region is surprising. Arkansas was often described as “picked-over” by Confederates, Federals, and guerrillas by 1865. Thus, the number of cattle seized shows that some pockets of animal production were still functioning to some degree in 1865. Finally, while the occupying Federals had to occasionally show force to maintain some appearance of control, the lack of contact made with Confederate or guerrilla forces in the expedition shows that enemy resistance in northeastern Arkansas was evaporating by the beginning of 1865.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 48, pp. 21–23. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College

Last Updated 9/6/2012

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