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Skirmish at Ross' Landing

 

Location:

Tecumseh Plantation (Chicot County)

Date:

February 14, 1864

Principal Commanders:

First Lieutenant Thaddeus K. Cock (US); Captain W. N. “Tuck” Thorp (CS)

Forces Engaged:

Company G, First Mississippi Infantry, African Descent (US); Company E, Ninth Missouri Cavalry (CS)

Estimated Casualties:

13–32 killed, 7 wounded (US); Unreported (CS)

Results:

Confederate victory

Early in 1864, Chicot County witnessed an event that characterized the increasingly brutal nature of warfare in the Trans-Mississippi Department during the last full year of the Civil War. On February 14, 1864, twenty-two self-described “half bushwhackers” from Captain W. N. “Tuck” Thorp’s Company E of the Ninth Missouri Cavalry (Elliott’s Scouts, serving as the advance of Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s brigade and sometimes called the First Missouri Cavalry Battalion) surprised and attacked a detachment of the First Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) under First Lieutenant Thaddeus K. Cock on the Johnson family’s Tecumseh plantation near Grand Lake.

While patrolling near Lake Village (Chicot County), Capt. Thorp’s men learned from an unidentified citizen that a detachment of black Union soldiers from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was collecting corn for forage at the Tecumseh plantation, located along the Mississippi River south of Lake Village and Lakeport Plantation. Approaching through canebrakes that allowed access to a road concealed by woods, Thorp’s men entered the plantation’s gate near the gin house platform and exchanged gunfire with a Union sentry. The men of the First Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) then formed in line of battle and fired one volley. With their rifles empty and the enemy too close to allow for reloading, the Union soldiers broke formation and scattered. According to a published account written in 1911 by a Confederate veteran of Thorp’s company, Thorp’s men—armed with Colt Navy and dragoon revolvers—seized the initiative and quickly killed every man in the Union detachment. The account went on to say that Thorp’s men then pinned the Union corpses to the ground with their own four-sided Austrian bayonets. However, another source reports that only thirteen were killed.

Wounded and left for dead on the field, Lt. Cock eventually died from his wounds in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on October 20, 1864. His sword, presented by friends and inscribed “for bravery,” was taken as a prize by one of Thorp’s men. Cock’s headstone at West Lawn Cemetery in Canton, Ohio, is inscribed: “THADDEUS K. COCK. Born in Jefferson Co. Died at Vicksburg Miss. He died for his country, a martyr to the cause of freedom, a victim to the barbarism of Slavery. 1st Lieutenant of Co. G, 1st Miss. Colored Infantry. Cruelly murdered after having surrendered as a prisoner of war.”

Although the skirmish was fought within the context of legitimate military action, the intentional mutilation of black Union soldiers’ bodies, as well as the apparent murder of Cock (these actions occurring only two months prior to the massacres at Fort Pillow in Tennessee and Poison Spring in Ouachita County), appears to draw influence from the Confederate congressional policy of May 1, 1863, that sanctioned severe treatment of black Union soldiers and their white officers.

No official report exists for this incident, but it is listed in the Official Records in the summary of principal events for operations in Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi states for January 1 through June 30, 1864. No official inquiry by Federal authorities appears to have been held.

On March 11, 1864, as part of the process to incorporate African-American soldiers into the Federal army, the First Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) had its regimental designation changed to the Fifty-first United States Colored Infantry. By at least one contemporary account, the Fifty-first exacted a measure of revenge on April 9, 1865, when they and other black Union regiments reportedly killed an indeterminate number of Confederate prisoners after the Battle of Fort Blakely, near Mobile, Alabama.

The lands that made up the Tecumseh plantation have changed ownership several times since the Civil War but remain under agricultural cultivation. There is no historical marker at the location.

For additional information:
Barnickel, Linda. Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

Bartels, Carolyn M. Elliott’s Scouts: The 1st Missouri Battalion of Cavalry & 9th Missouri Battalion of Cavalry: Colonel Benjamin F. Elliott, Commanding. Independence, MO: Two Trails Publishing, 2005.

Christ, Mark K., ed.“All Cut to Pieces and Gone to Hell”: The Civil War, Race Relations, and the Battle of Poison Spring. Little Rock: August House, 2003.

Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Vol. 1, Part 3. De Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.

Edwards, John Newman. Shelby and His Men: Or, The War in the West. Waverly, MO: General Joseph Shelby Memorial Fund, 1993.

Marshall, Weed. “Fight to the Finish near Lake Village, Ark.” Confederate Veteran 19 (April 1911): 169.

Urwin, Gregory J. W. “‘We Cannot Treat Negroes…as Prisoners of War’”: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in Civil War Arkansas.” In Civil War Arkansas: Beyond Battles and Leaders, edited by Anne Bailey and Daniel Sutherland. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 34, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell

Last Updated 1/14/2014

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