Action at Fitzhugh's Woods
|Date(s):||April 1, 1864|
|Principal Commanders:||Colonel Christopher Columbus Andrews (US); Brigadier General Dandridge McRae (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Third Minnesota Infantry, Eighth Missouri Cavalry (US); Various Confederate Cavalry Units (CS)|
|Estimated Casualties:||27 (US); 75–100 (CS)|
The Action of Fitzhugh’s Woods was a Civil War action fought on April 1, 1864, as Union forces ventured from Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Woodruff County in an attempt to stop Confederate recruitment efforts and disrupt Rebel attempts to attack Federal targets.
As Major General Frederick Steele led a Yankee army into south Arkansas in March 1864 on what became known as the Camden Expedition, Confederate Brigadier General Dandridge McRae was recruiting troops in the area between the White and Mississippi rivers. Aided by forty-six commissioned officers who were left without commands because of the flood of Confederate desertions that followed the fall of Little Rock in September 1863, McRae sought to bring the former soldiers back into the Rebel ranks for attacks against such Yankee targets as the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad.
Colonel Christopher C. Andrews, commander of both the Third Minnesota Infantry Regiment and the Union garrison at Little Rock, led 186 men of the Third Minnesota and forty-five troopers of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry (US) to Woodruff County on March 30, 1864, to disrupt McRae’s operations. The Yankee troops aboard the steamer Dove arrived at Gregory’s Landing on the White River at dusk and advanced toward a reported Confederate camp site. They found it deserted.
On the morning of April 1, the Federal troops arrived at Augusta (Woodruff County) and learned that McRae’s main camp was said to be at Antony’s plantation, seven miles north of Augusta. Andrews left a small detachment to guard the Dove and headed north with 160 men. His column soon encountered some resistance from Confederate cavalry, but Union troops nearly captured McRae himself as he watered his horse at a stream near Antony’s. However, the general and his companions managed to outrun his pursuers.
After marching about twelve miles north of Augusta, Andrews decided to turn back toward the town. While pausing at the Fitzhugh Plantation for lunch, the Federal troops were attacked by Confederate cavalrymen under Colonel Thomas R. Freeman and Captain John Bland, with a mixed force of about 425 troopers. Repelling this attack, the Yankee troops hurried south on the road to Augusta but were soon hit again south of the plantation at a forested area known as Fitzhugh’s Woods.
The attacking Confederates included the commands of Freeman and Bland, along with companies under Captain George Rutherford, Captain Sam McGuffin, Captain Jesse Tracy, and Captain Reynolds—a combined force of about 545 Rebel cavalrymen. The Southern cavalrymen struck Andrews’s men from the front, left, and rear, but the Federal soldiers stood their ground and fended off their attackers in a lengthy firefight that left both forces low on ammunition.
Perceiving a Rebel attempt to cut his retreat route south across a cypress bayou, Andrews ordered his men to fall back to a cluster of log huts and fences near the bayou. The Confederates moved into Fitzhugh’s Woods but did not seriously challenge the new Union line. The Federal troops returned to Augusta without opposition.
Andrews’s command suffered eight killed, sixteen wounded and five missing or wounded. McRae listed his losses as twenty to twenty-five killed and mortally wounded and sixty to seventy-five wounded. The fighting at Fitzhugh’s Woods slowed McRae’s attempts to recruit soldiers or reenlist deserters into the Confederate army; it would not be until summer that Brigadier General J. O. Shelby would implement serious conscription and begin organized attacks against Union forces in the region.
For additional information:
Andrews, C. C. “The Third Minnesota in the Battle of Fitzhugh’s Woods.” In Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle, Sixth Series, Papers Read before the Minnesota Commandery of the Loyal Legion of the United States, January 1903–1908. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1992.
Christ, Mark K. “‘It Was a Hard Little Fight’: The Battle of Fitzhugh’s Woods, April 1, 1864.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 64 (Winter 2005): 1–11.
McRae, Dandridge. “Confederate Report of Battle of Fitzhugh’s Woods.” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between 9 (Winter 1981): 2–6.
Simon, Donald J. “The Third Minnesota Regiment in Arkansas, 1863–1865.” Minnesota History 40 (Summer 1967): 281–292.
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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