Skirmish at Madison

Location: St. Francis County
Campaign: None
Date: February 12, 1865
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Colonel John M. Crebs (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 175 men of the Eighty-Seventh Illinois Mounted Infantry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 captured (US); 2 killed, 19 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

By 1865, large-scale organized Confederate resistance had collapsed in much of the state. Federal patrols from Helena (Phillips County) and other occupied cities continued to find and destroy bands of the enemy when possible. This skirmish was part of such a patrol.

On February 8, 1865, Brigadier General Napoleon Buford dispatched a scouting party of men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Crebs. Numbering 175, the party departed Helena and moved to the northwest in an effort to find and engage any enemy forces in the area. During the course of the expedition, the Union troops encountered Confederate resistance on a regular basis. Crebs estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 enemy soldiers operated in eastern Arkansas at the time, scattered across the countryside. As the Federals moved, a series of signals were used by the Confederates to warn nearby comrades of the enemy advance, leading the Union troops to cross Bayou De View. The Federals moved to an area called “Vaughn’s,” where the headquarters of Colonel Archibald Dobbins was located. Commanding a Confederate military district in northeastern Arkansas, Dobbins was well known to the Union troops at Helena.

The Federals destroyed between 2,000 and 3,000 bushels of corn located at Dobbins’s headquarters and confiscated an unknown amount of bacon. The troops also destroyed several wagons and found some of Dobbins’s official papers. The Union troops soon continued their march toward Madison (St. Francis County).

As they approached the settlement, the Federals came under fire from an unknown number of Confederates. Quickly moving forward, the Union troops were able to push the enemy back quickly and force the Confederates to flee in confusion. Crebs’s command suffered a single casualty when a trooper’s horse was shot, leading to his capture by the Confederates. The Confederates lost two dead and one captured.

After this engagement, two armed Federal boats arrived at Madison and took the command down the St. Francis River and back to Helena. During the course of the entire patrol, nineteen Confederates were captured by Crebs and his men. Additionally, a Federal deserter and eighteen horses and mules were captured.

With most major military operations concluded in the state by this period near the end of the war, the majority of actions were small skirmishes and patrols like this one. Federal troops used this lack of major organized Confederate resistance to keep the enemy off balance and disorganized.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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