J. H. Miller

The stern-wheel steamer J. H. Miller joined the Union navy’s Mississippi River Squadron and served under charter on the Mississippi River and its tributaries during the Civil War, including expeditions on the White River. The capture and destruction of the J. H. Miller illustrates the ongoing battle for control of significant interior rivers in the Trans-Mississippi Department, almost a year after Union forces took control of Little Rock (Pulaski County).

In February 1864, the J. H. Miller, displacing 130 tons, began chartered service on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. According to Captain Stephen R. Harrington of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, reporting from camp thirty miles from Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on the north bank of the Arkansas River, an indeterminate number of Confederate guerrillas attacked and captured the Miller on August 17, 1864, from the south side of the Arkansas River and burned the vessel about ten miles below Pine Bluff.

Harrington also reported that the stern-wheel steamer Annie Jacobs stranded itself on a sandbar at the north bank of the Arkansas River near his camp, leaving the vessel vulnerable to a similar fate as the Miller. Although the vessel’s captain apparently freed it by the morning of August 18, Harrington’s force of 100 men and one howitzer was ready to defend the Annie Jacobs if necessary. Harrington also stated that Colonel Powell Clayton of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry learned on August 16 that five Confederate brigades under Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell were encamped on Big Creek at the crossing of the Warren and Pine Bluff Road, approximately seventeen miles from Pine Bluff; he did not identify any of these Confederates as responsible for the loss of Miller or the threat to Annie Jacobs, however. Other than the loss of the vessel, Harrington did not report any Union casualties. No Confederate reports or casualty figures exist for this incident.

Despite the Union capture of Little Rock in September 1863, small regular and irregular Confederate attacks on Union naval vessels continued to hamper operations on and along the state’s major rivers.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark. “‘What Three Boys Did’: The Capture of the J. H. Miller.” Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies 49 (December 2018): 183–190.

Gibson, Charles Dana, and E. Kay Gibson. Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels Steam and Sail Employed by the Union Army, 1861–1868. Camden, ME: Ensign Press, 1995.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41, Part I. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Robert Patrick Bender
Eastern New Mexico University–Roswell


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