Skirmish at Cache River Bridge
|Campaign:||Reconnaissance from Jacksonport toward Augusta and Des Arc, Arkansas, and Skirmish at Cache River Bridge|
|Date:||May 28, 1862|
|Principal Commanders:||Lieutenant Colonel Hiram F. Sickles (US); Captain Richard Hooker (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Ninth Illinois Cavalry (US); Hooker’s Company (CS)|
|Estimated Casualties:||2 wounded (US); 3 killed, 4 wounded, and 2 taken prisoner (CS)|
On May 28, 1862, a reconnaissance under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hiram F. Sickles of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry prevented Captain Richard Hooker’s Confederates from completely destroying the Cache River bridge near Augusta (Woodruff County).
Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn’s departure from Arkansas to the Western Theater with the bulk of Arkansas’s defensive capabilities left the city of Jacksonport (Jackson County)—and the rest of the state—unprotected. Hastily attempting to build a substantial Confederate defense of Arkansas, Major General Thomas Hindman—the newly appointed commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department—commissioned a number of local officers, such as Capt. Hooker in Jackson County, to raise units across the state. These units were encouraged to harass the Federals wherever they were found while Maj. Gen. Hindman attempted to build a new Confederate army.
The power vacuum in Arkansas did not go unnoticed by the Federals. Major General Samuel Curtis, who commanded the Army of the Southwest, moved into Arkansas, setting his sights on Little Rock (Pulaski County). Brigadier General Frederick Steele, commanding a division of the District of Southeast Missouri, was ordered to support Maj. Gen. Curtis by marching south through Pitman’s Ferry (Randolph County) and Pocahontas (Randolph County). Harsh weather and difficult roads slowed the advancement of both Federal columns, forcing Curtis to stop in Batesville (Independence County) on May 3, 1862. The next day, Brig. Gen. Steele’s advance guard arrived in Jacksonport. Attempting to wait for better weather and seeking means to improve faltering supply levels, the Federals began attempts to clear supply and communication lines and also began general foraging activities. As small Federal units moved about, they began to clash with scattered Confederate companies and guerrilla bands in the region.
Colonel Albert Brackett of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry was placed in command of Camp Tucker, the Federal position at the junction of the White and Black rivers. Tasked with keeping the Federal lines clear as well as destroying targets of opportunity, he received orders from Steele to send a reconnaissance force in the direction of Des Arc (Prairie County) with permission to travel as far as Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) to ascertain the condition of the telegraph station there. Having already sent three companies of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry on a scout toward Augusta, Col. Brackett held his position at Camp Tucker with two companies, support personnel, and a section from a battery from Ohio, dispatching Lieutenant Colonel Hiram F. Sickles with companies B, D, G, H, and M on the morning of May 27, 1862.
The next morning, Lt. Col. Sickles’s column engaged Hooker’s Company at the Cache River Bridge. Union reports simply describe Hooker’s force as “considerable” without stating a specific number. Dr. Charles Brackett, who was in Jacksonport at the time of the skirmish, recorded in his journal that Union participants in the skirmish claimed the Confederate force to be 350 men; however, Hooker reported having only 130 men under his command on March 31, 1862. Regardless of the number of Confederates, the 200-man Federal force struck the Confederates, who had been attempting to destroy the bridge when the Union column appeared, chasing them away. Sickles took possession of the bridge, prepared for a counterattack, and immediately began inspecting the structure, which he found to be seriously damaged. It was questionable if the bridge could be used at all. With no more action at the site, Sickles continued to the Cotton Plant telegraph station, finding the station destroyed. By May 29, Sickles’s column had returned to Camp Tucker.
In the engagement, the first Federal report stated that two Union men were wounded. The figures regarding the number of Confederate casualties vary among reports. Col. Brackett’s initial account on May 28states that one Confederate was killed and two were taken prisoner. His next report on May 29 changes the statistics to three killed, four wounded, and one taken prisoner. Dr. Charles Brackett in Jacksonport noted in his personal journal the same number of Federal casualties, but he recorded eleven prisoners and four killed for the Confederates.
Typical of the actions around Jacksonport, the Federals were attempting to clear lines of communication and transportation. The longer they stayed at Jacksonport, as well as Batesville, the harder it was to keep these lines open for supply. Accordingly, a number of small skirmishes, such as the Skirmish at Waddell’s Farm and the Skirmish at Stewart’s Plantation in June 1862, illustrated the need for the Federal force in Jacksonport to forage for supplies. Overall, these supply and communication issues forced Curtis to shift his planned objective from Little Rock to Helena (Phillips County), a river port on the Mississippi River.
For additional information:
The War of The Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 13, p. 83. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.
Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive: A History of Jackson County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1974.
Wheaton, James W. Surgeon on Horseback: The Missouri and Arkansas Journal and Letters of Dr. Charles Brackett of Rochester, Indiana, 1861–1863. Carmel: Guild Press of Indiana, Inc., 1998.
Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College
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