Action at Dardanelle and Ivey's Ford

Location: Yell and Johnson counties
Campaign: None
Dates: January 14 and 17, 1865
Principal Commanders: Major J. D. Jenks, Colonel Thomas Bowen (US); Colonel William H. Brooks (CS)
Forces Engaged: Cavalry Division, Seventh Army Corps (detachment); elements of units aboard steamers (US); Brooks’s Regiment, Newton’s Regiment, Stirman’s Brigade (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 17 at Dardanelle, 109 at Ivey’s Ford (US); 81 at Dardanelle, 16 at Ivey’s Ford (CS)
Result: Union victory

The actions at Dardanelle and Ivey’s Ford were fought as Confederate troops from southwest Arkansas tested the strength of Union outposts scattered along the Arkansas River in a last attempt to challenge Union dominance of the river valley.

On January 14, 1865, Colonel William H. Brooks led a Confederate force of 1,500 men consisting of his cavalry regiment, Colonel Robert C. Newton’s cavalry regiment, and Colonel Ras. Stirman’s cavalry brigade to the Arkansas River to assess the strength of Union garrisons along the river. The same day, a detachment of 276 Union men of the Cavalry Division, Seventh Army Corps, under Major J. D. Jenks of the First Iowa Cavalry Regiment disembarked from a small flotilla of Union steamboats and occupied the earthworks at Dardanelle. The flotilla, which consisted of the Ad. Hines, the Lotus, the Annie Jacobs, and the New Chippewa, continued upriver for Fort Smith (Sebastian County).

About two o’clock in the afternoon, Brooks attacked the Union force at Dardanelle as Jenks concentrated his men and two artillery pieces in stockades that guarded the roads into town. The Confederate cavalry, supported by a lone artillery piece, engaged the Union defenders of Dardanelle for four hours before withdrawing. The Union placed its casualties at one killed, fifteen wounded, and two missing, with Confederate losses at eighty-one killed and wounded. Confederate reports put the Union loss at eight dead, nineteen wounded, and two captured, and Confederate casualties at one killed and fifteen wounded. Union Sergeant William Ellis of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry received the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action at Dardanelle.

As Jenks called for reinforcements and began to strengthen the defenses of Dardanelle, Brooks headed west in pursuit of the Union steamers, establishing an ambush at Ivey’s Ford on the south bank of the Arkansas about eighteen miles above Clarksville (Johnson County). The flotilla reached Fort Smith on January 15, delivering badly needed supplies. Two days later, the four steamers, now under the command of Colonel Thomas M. Bowen of the Thirteenth Kansas Infantry, headed back downriver, guarded by small contingents of Kansas, Iowa, and Indiana soldiers and carrying Unionist refugees from Fort Smith. The New Chippewa led the way.

The New Chippewa approached the Confederate position at Ivey’s Ford at about one o’clock in the afternoon January 17 and immediately was raked with artillery and rifle fire, running aground on the south bank. Brooks’s men captured thirty men of the Fiftieth Indiana Infantry Regiment, forty freedmen, the vessel’s captain and crew, and several Unionist refugee families, seized all valuables aboard the boat, then set fire to the New Chippewa.

As the Annie Jacobs steamed into sight, Bowen spotted the stricken New Chippewa and ordered the Jacobs’s pilot to try to run past the Rebel guns. Brooks’s artillery piece hammered the steamer, which then grounded on the north bank of the river after being hit at least fifteen times. The Lotus soon steamed into range of the Confederate cannon and was hit five times before running aground on the north bank.

Bowen gathered the Union troops from the Annie Jacobs and the Lotus and sent word to a nearby forage train guarded by more than 100 Kansas cavalrymen to come to the aid of the stricken vessels. He also sent messengers to the Ad. Hines to keep her from steaming into the Confederate traps and to Fort Smith for reinforcements. Brooks, his artillery piece disabled by a broken axle and seeing the approaching cavalry reinforcements, broke off the engagement and headed to Caddo Gap (Montgomery County). Confederate reports put Union casualties at eighty-two captured and twenty-seven killed and wounded and their own casualties at one killed and fifteen wounded. There was no official Union tally.

The Annie Jacobs was abandoned, and the Ad. Hines and the Lotus continued downriver, escorted on both sides of the river by men of the FirstKansas Colored Infantry and the Fifty-fourth U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. They arrived at Dardanelle on January 22, where Jenks’s reinforced command still awaited a renewed attack from Brooks’s Rebel cavalrymen. The steamers arrived in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on January 24.

The actions at Dardanelle and Ivey’s Ford marked the last serious Confederate attempts to challenge Union control of the Arkansas River. Though both sides continued to make periodic scouts and raids into enemy territory, no other serious combat operations occurred in Arkansas during the remainder of the Civil War.

For additional information:
DeBlack, Thomas A. With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861–1874. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.

Moneyhon, Carl. “1865: A State of Perfect Anarchy.” In Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas, edited by Mark K. Christ. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 48. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1890–1901, pp. 11–17.

Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program


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