Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Federals Raid Van Buren and Threaten Fort Smith

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Federals Raid Van Buren and Threaten Fort Smith

Article excerpt

MAJ. GEN. THOMAS C. HINDMAN, AT THE END OF THE THIRD WEEK of August 1862, boarded a steamboat at Little Rock. In accordance with instructions from Maj. Gen. Theophilus H. Holmes, Hindman disembarked at Fort Smith on August 24 and assumed command of the newly constituted District of Arkansas.1 At that time, the Confederates held the line of the Boston Mountains to the Arkansas border, and west of there they controlled the area south of the Arkansas River. Sections of Arkansas and the Indian Territory north of the region held by the Rebels, Hindman found, were "overrun by marauding parties of jayhawkers, tories, and hostile Indians, and was fast being depopulated." Adjacent to the territory occupied by the Confederates, the countryside had been almost exhausted of subsistence and forage. Examining the muster rolls and returns, Hindman found that he had assumed command of "about 2,500 armed white infantry, about 3,600 armed white cavalry, and an unknown number of Indian cavalry, estimated at about 3,000 armed men." The situation in regard to ordnance and quartermaster's supplies was not bright. There were fourteen cannon and little camp equipage in the hands of his troops and in the magazines, while the troops' "small-arms scarcely deserved the name."2

Despite the bleak outlook, the aggressive Hindman promptly seized the initiative. A column of five regiments led by Brig. Gen. James S. Rains pushed northward from Fort Smith, while a second led by Col. Douglas H. Cooper advanced beyond Fort Gibson in Indian Territory. Within a short period, Rains' troops had crossed the Boston Mountains, reached the Arkansas-Missouri boundary, and had taken position around Elkhorn Tavern. Cooper's Indians at the same time occupied Carey's Ferry, covering the Texas Road. Two cavalry brigades, which were advanced into the extreme southwest corner of Missouri, guarded the region between Elkhorn Tavern and the Indian Territory.3 Outposts were thrown forward to Cassville, Newtonia, and Neosho. Behind the line taken up by Hindman's troops, there was "ample subsistence and forage for double our force for perhaps ninety days and many good mills." A camp for instruction was established at Elm Springs, Arkansas, and, within a short time, about 4000 recruits had been assembled there to receive their basic training, arms, and accoutrements.4

On September 10, orders reached General Hindman's advance command post at Pineville, Missouri, calling for him to return to Little Rock to confer with General Holmes. Before leaving the point of danger, Hindman placed his next senior officer, General Rains, in command, instructing him "in writing to make no aggressive movement, but if assailed to hold the line occupied as long as practicable."5

Upon reaching Little Rock, Hindman briefed Holmes on the situation in northwestern Arkansas. If the troops along the Missouri line were reinforced, Hindman confidently told his superior, he would push deep into Missouri and Kansas. Holmes liked what he heard. Orders were issued at Little Rock on September 28, relieving Hindman from "command of the District of Arkansas;" instead he would "assume command of the troops in Northwestern Arkansas, Southwestern Missouri, and the Indian Territory, and will organize the same into an army corps, to be styled First Army Corps, Army of the West."6

To bolster Hindman's corps for the anticipated offensive, Holmes issued orders for a number of units (McRae's Arkansas Infantry Brigade, Etter's Arkansas Battery, and the Nineteenth Texas Cavalry) to march into northwestern Arkansas, where they would report to General Rains at Elkhorn Tavern. Two units (the Thirty-third Arkansas Infantry and Brig. Gen. J. H. McBride's Missouri footsoldiers) were to proceed to Yellville, Arkansas, and report to Brig. Gen. M. M. Parsons. Two brigadier generals (John S. Marmaduke and J. S. Roane) and two colonels (James Deshler and F. A. Shoup) were to join Hindman - the colonels to be placed in command of brigades, Roane of the troops in the Indian Territory, and Marmaduke of the corps' cavalry. …

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