1863 – 1865

The Confederates conducted several major raids from Arkansas into Missouri during 1863, with the goal of raising recruits, disrupting Union supply lines, and slowing the Union advance on Little Rock. Shortly after the battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, in December 1862, General John S. Marmaduke swept north and struck Springfield, Missouri, a major supply deport supporting the Union operations that stretched from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Confederate attack on January 8, 1863, failed by a narrow margin. General Egbert B. Brown’s small Union garrison, supplemented by local militia and a band of hospital convalescents dubbed the “Quinine Brigade,” held off Marmaduke’s 1,600 cavalrymen. Marmaduke withdrew the next day and on January 11, reinforced by another column of raiders, fought Union forces at nearby Hartville. Failing a second time, he withdrew to Arkansas. The Confederate general was far from discouraged, however. He returned to Missouri in April 1863 with a force more than twice the size of his previous one, but many of his men lacked horses or arms. Despite this handicap he disrupted Union occupation forces across the state and held his own in a battle against a large pursuing force at Chalk Bluff, Missouri, on May 1. General Joseph O. Shelby conducted a far more successfully operation in September and October. Leading a small but well-armed and fully mounted force, he traversed some 1,400 miles, penetrating all the way to the Missouri River while fighting several engagements and destroying more than $250,000 of enemy property.

Such boldness won Shelby lasting fame and his men the postwar sobriquet “Iron Brigade.” But raids failed to halt the steady Union conquest of Arkansas, much of which was supported by the North’s “Brown Water Navy.” Helena, Arkansas, a strategic town on the Mississippi River due east of Little Rock, had fallen to the Federals on July 12, 1862, in the aftermath of the Pea Ridge campaign. The Union garrison at Helena then withstood a fierce Confederate attack on July 4, 1863, the same day the Union won victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Although Arkansas was not as deeply divided as Missouri, there were many in northwestern part of the state who favored the Union cause, and they rejoiced when Union forces captured Fort Smith on September 1 and Little Rock on September 10. The Confederate cause in the upper Trans-Mississippi was crumbling.

In the lower Trans-Mississippi Confederates enjoyed significant success. Although New Orleans, Louisiana, had fallen to the Union in April 1862 and the capture of Vicksburg in July 1863 opened the Mississippi, Northern attempts to conquer central Louisiana by advancing up the Red River in the spring of 1864 met with disaster. The Union expedition under General Nathanial P. Banks suffered several defeats and his accompanying naval forces were nearly trapped by falling waters of the Red River. Confederates also turned back a supporting movement by General Frederick Steele operating south from Camden, Arkansas. They offered no quarter to some of the African American Union soldiers who they met in battle at Poison Spring on April 18, Marks Mill on April 25, and Jenkins Ferry on April 30.

During the last week of August, General Sterling Price started toward the Missouri border with a force of 12,000 men, a third of them unarmed and a thousand without horses. His goal was to gather recruits and, by either capturing or threatening St. Louis, to force the Union authorities to shift troops to Missouri from the other theaters of war. After crossing into Missouri he halted at Pilot Knob to attack the Union garrison at Fort Davidson. His assault on September 27 failed and the Union garrison escaped that night under the cover of darkness. The Confederates then moved north, but found both St. Louis and Jefferson City too strongly defended to attack. They turned west, but near Kansas City they were forced to engage not only Union troops advancing upon them from Kansas but also Union forces that had pursued them. The Battle of Westport on October 23 was the largest engagement west of the Mississippi River. Although many of his units fought well, Price was forced to retreat southward quickly. On October 25, pursuing Union cavalry smashed through a blocking force Price left behind at Mine Creek, Kansas, capturing many of them. But three days later a portion of the Union pursuers were repulsed further south at Newtonia, Missouri. Price’s raiders escaped, some going all the way to Texas. Their success was mixed. Price won some small engagements, destroyed or damaged much enemy property, attracted thousands of recruits, and so frightened Union authorities that troops needed elsewhere were temporarily diverted. On the other hand his losses were high and his force was exhausted.

Further west, General Stand Watie initiated operations to support Price and reassert Confederate claims to the Indian Territory. Union authorities generally controlled the area north of the Arkansas River, but operations had devastated the countryside and thousands of Native Americans had fled either to Texas or Kansas. Isolated posts in the Territory such as Fort Gibson were critical to the Union. On September 14 Watie advanced toward the fort with his Indian Brigade, composed of Cherokee regiments plus a small battalion of Seminoles. He was joined by Texas cavalry and artillery under General Richard B. Gano, who by rank assumed command of the expedition. On September 19 at Cabin Creek they attacked and routed a Union force escorting supplies from Kansas to Fort Gibson. After this triumph the Confederates retired without attacking the fort. The Battle of Cabin Creek was a minor victory, but as one of the few Confederate successes that year it boosted morale.

The war in the Trans-Mississippi ended officially on May 26, 1865, when the top Confederate commander, General Edmund Kirby Smith, surrendered all Southern forces. Many units did not learn of this until much later, however, and the conflict actually petered out gradually. Stand Watie capitulated on June 23, but some Chickasaw and Caddo Confederate units remained in the field until July. A group of about 1,000 Confederates, mostly Missourians, refused to surrender and followed General Jo Shelby into exile in Mexico.