Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Civil War Letter: Benjamin Fullager's Account of the Union Expedition against Van Buren

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Civil War Letter: Benjamin Fullager's Account of the Union Expedition against Van Buren

Article excerpt

As 1862 DREW TO A CLOSE IN ARKANSAS, the military situation looked particularly bleak for Confederates in the Trans-Mississippi. Earlier that year, the state received its first taste of battle at Pea Ridge, where the Rebels were badly defeated by the Union army. The year also saw the Federals establish a presence in many areas of northern Arkansas. Union troops were able to garrison select towns and provide a certain sense of security to some of the populace. But in many parts of northern Arkansas there was near anarchy. The conflict quickly broke down what order existed in the area, and barbarism ruled the day for thousands of Arkansans. In December, the opposing armies met once again in northwest Arkansas, this time at Prairie Grove. The bruising slugfest that ensued was crippling for both sides, but the battle was especially devastating for the Confederates. The Rebel army virtually disintegrated, and the resulting catastrophe left the state open to further Federal conquest.1

Shortly after their victory at Prairie Grove, Union generals Francis J. Herron and James G. Blunt began planning their next move. They decided on an expedition against the Confederate garrison at Van Buren. However, poor weather prevented them from immediately moving against the town. The Union commanders met again on Christmas night and finalized their plans for the campaign. On the morning of December 27, 1862, the Federals moved out with 8,000 picked men and thirty pieces of artillery.2

Among the Union troops was Benjamin Fullager, a quartermaster sergeant of Company A, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry. Born in London, England, Fullager heeded his adopted country's call for service and enlisted at Sparta, Wisconsin, on October 21, 1861. The twenty-six-year-old farmer joined for duty as a wagoner. He was promoted to quartermaster sergeant on October 20, 1862. Shortly before the close of the war he was promoted to the rank of captain and transferred to Company K of the unit.3

Fullager wrote home a few months after the expedition and described the events. His account of the campaign and his musings on army life provide great insight into the Civil War's impact on Arkansas.4 Also worthy of note is Fullager's candid discussion of "Copperheads, " as Confederate sympathizers in the North were known. His thoughts provide compelling evidence of the widespread disdain felt by many soldiers for those in their ranks who they suspected of being Copperheads. In fact his words border on the menacing. Fullager's contempt for some of his officers is indicative of the myriad of divisions that existed within the opposing sides, underscoring the complexity of the Civil War.

Camp Salomon, MO5 March 14, 1863

Dear Friend Mary

Your kind and welcome letter of Jan. 25 came to hand a day or two ago. I have been long looking for a word from you and scolded uncle Sam's mail arrangement a good deal for being so slow for I could not bring myself to think that the fault could be with you who has been so punctual heretofore and sure enough I was right for once. I am pleased to hear that you are having a pleasant time with your school but I hope you will not apply yourself so closely as to endanger your health for I do not think you owe enough to the rising generation to pay the debt by jeopardizing your own happiness but perhaps I am borrowing trouble on your account if so forgive me for I sin not intentionally in that case.6 Since writing you last I have been through many scene changes and vicisitudes incident to a soldiers life. Some pleasant and full of excitement, and some disagreeable and tending to depress our spirits and try our souls and health if not our patriotism.

On the 27th of Dec. at the rather early hour of four in the morning our bugle's shrill notes sounded the reveille and soon after Boots and Saddles then the assembly and we soon found ourselves drawn up in line with three days rations in our haversacks ready to march we knew not where as yet, it might be to Mis. …

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