Skirmish at Fayetteville (August 23, 1863)

Location: Washington County
Campaign: None
Date: August 23, 1863
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Edgar Barker (US); Captain William Brown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Total of 170 troopers from Second Kansas Cavalry, First Arkansas Infantry, Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); 150 men of Captain William Brown’s Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 6 captured (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

With both Confederate and Federal units operating in northwestern Arkansas during this period, fighting was often haphazard as towns changed hands multiple times. This skirmish is an example of how confusing the war could be.

Lieutenant Edgar Barker of the Second Kansas Cavalry received orders to lead a detachment of twenty men to guard a wagon train near Springfield, Missouri. Upon returning to that city, Barker found that his regiment had marched south in Arkansas, so he led his detachment in pursuit of the remainder of the unit.

Departing Springfield on August 14, Barker’s men moved southward to Cassville, Missouri, arriving on August 16. The Federals remained at Cassville until August 19, when they crossed into Arkansas heading toward Bentonville (Benton County). During the march, Barker and his men were joined by elements of the First Arkansas Infantry (US) and the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US). The combined force did not find any sign of their parent units, but Barker did learn that the rest of the men in the Second Kansas were at Fayetteville (Washington County).

When Barker and his men arrived in that city on August 22, citizens told them that their comrades were at Cane Hill (Washington County) and were expected to arrive shortly. Barker remained in Fayetteville to wait for his unit, setting up a picket line to protect his men while they waited.

On the morning of August 23, the Federals were joined by about 150 “Mountain Federals” under the command of Captain James Vanderpool. Immediately after these new troops arrived, a Confederate force attacked Fayetteville. Under the command of Captain William Brown and numbering around 150, the Confederates achieved complete surprise.

The newly arrived Mountain Federals fled in confusion, and the other Union troops desperately tried to defend themselves. Barker ran to a nearby stable to get his horse but was quickly captured. Five troopers of the Second Kansas were also captured during the skirmish. The remaining Federals withdrew from the town, and the Confederates departed shortly after.

Barker and the other captured Federals were taken to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and were paroled on August 28. Returning to Cassville, the newly paroled Union troops arrived on September 8, where they were informed that their paroles were not recognized by Federal authorities and they could immediately return to duty.

The report filed by Lieutenant Barker is incomplete because he did not witness most of the skirmish, as he was captured at the beginning of the engagement. It is impossible to determine if the Federal forces suffered any additional casualties or if the Confederates lost any men in the fighting.

While quite brief, this engagement demonstrated the often confused fighting that took place in the state as well as the impact the parole system had on the war.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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