Skirmish at Remount Camp

Location: White County
Campaign: None
Date: August 5, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Charles A. Adamson (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Michigan Cavalry (US); Confederate Partisan Irregulars (CS)
Casualties: 2 wounded, 1 captured (US); None (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby assumed command of all Confederate forces north of the Arkansas River beginning in late May 1864. Union control of the Arkansas River and the capital at Little Rock (Pulaski County) effectively isolated Shelby from the secessionist state government and most Confederate fighting forces in the southwest corner of the state. Three years of warfare had taken its toll; poverty and devastation were rampant in Arkansas’s northern counties, and the area was full of deserters from both armies. Civilians who did not or could not flee their homes teetered on the verge of starvation, as passing Union and Confederate forces pressed the common citizens for supply and forage, while roving guerrilla bands freely plundered whatever was left. In this climate, Shelby was tasked with recruiting an army from the local population. In late May, Shelby’s standing force numbered about 1,200 men. Within three months, he had successfully bolstered his numbers to more than 7,000 and was very successful in orchestrating hit-and-run operations against Union garrisons and supply lines in central Arkansas.

At about 5:00 p.m. on August 5, a very brief skirmish occurred between three Union soldiers and five Confederate guerrillas near the Union’s Remount Camp in White County, near Searcy (White County). Captain Frederick C. Adamson was part of a detachment of eighty men from the Third Michigan Cavalry, which was standing guard over the herd of horses at the camp. That afternoon, Adamson, along with a corporal and a private, rode to a nearby house and asked for a drink of water but was followed and attacked by five Confederate guerrillas disguised in Union uniforms. The guerrillas wounded Adamson and the corporal, took the private prisoner, and quickly left with the horses and arms used by Adamson and his two comrades. Major Lyman G. Willcox was commander over this Third Michigan detachment and forwarded the details of this incident to Union command at Little Rock.

In retaliation for the mayhem wrought by Shelby and his Iron Brigade all throughout the summer, the Union mounted an expedition to White and Jackson counties to neutralize him, launching on August 6. The expedition was hampered by logistical problems and a low White River, which prevented adequate troop movement, and was abandoned after ten days.

The Skirmish at Remount Camp is a sterling example of how the war was fought across Arkansas, particularly toward the end of the war. Even in instances where there was no standing Confederate army in a given locality, the fighting carried on with partisan guerrillas who frequently fought in plain clothes or disguise to escape detection by local authorities. In the instance of the Remount Camp skirmish, clearly identified Union soldiers were attacked; all too frequently, both Union- and Confederate-leaning guerrillas targeted non-combatants for violence, plunder, or vengeance. These depredations compounded the horrors of war for the average Arkansan in a way the Union or Confederate armies almost never did.

For additional information:
Sutherland, Daniel E. “Guerrillas: The Real War in Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 52 (Autumn 1993): 257–285.

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

Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! A History of Jackson County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Conway, AR: River Road Press. 1974.

Adam Miller
Searcy, Arkansas


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