Affair at DeValls Bluff (May 22, 1864)

Location: Prairie County
Campaign: None
Date: May 22, 1864
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Colonel Ezra Beardsley (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Men from the Ninth Iowa Cavalry (US); 20 cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 3 captured (US); None (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

One of the most dangerous missions Union soldiers could be assigned was to gather forage outside Federal outposts. Vulnerable to attack while they worked to gather food and other supplies, they often proved to be easy targets for Confederate units. This event shows how easily these groups could be surprised by the enemy.

With hundreds or thousands of men in small garrisons across the countryside, Union supply lines strained to feed them all. Horses and mules had to be fed as well, so Union commanders often tried to gather as much forage nearby for their livestock as possible. West of the important Federal outpost of DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), the Grand Prairie offered quality grazing opportunities for livestock.

On May 22, three men and a number of animals were outside DeValls Bluff taking advantage of the grazing area. The horses and mules belonged to the local remount camp that provided replacement animals to units in the area. On that day, about twenty enemy soldiers surprised the Federals and captured the entire group, including between 100 and 200 horses and mules. The Confederates fled with their prisoners and the animals. Lieutenant Colonel Ezra Beardsley of the 126th Illinois Infantry responded by sending seventy-five men of the Ninth Iowa Cavalry in pursuit of the enemy. Beardsley later reported that he sent 100 men after the Confederates.

Over the course of the next two days, the Union troops tracked the animals until eventually losing the trail a few miles from Des Arc (Prairie County). There, the Confederates split, and several groups each took a number of animals. The Union chase was successful in capturing four enemy soldiers and about forty horses and mules. Other mules continued to be found in the area and were returned to DeValls Bluff.

This event shows how effective Confederate forces could be in disrupting Union operations in Arkansas. With only a handful of men, the Confederates were able to disrupt the operations at a major outpost and make off with a large number of animals. Events like these were extremely common toward the end of the war as Confederate forces were reduced to hit-and-run tactics.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34, Parts I, III–IV. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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