Affair at Fort Smith

Location: Sebastian County
Campaign: None
Date: September 26, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Benjamin Henry (US); Fitz Williams (CS)
Forces Engaged: 46 cavalrymen of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry (US); 340 guerrillas (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 13 killed, 1 wounded, several missing (US); None (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

This short and bloody Civil War engagement outside Fort Smith (Sebastian County) erupted when a foraging party of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry was attacked by a number of guerillas. The enemy reportedly consisted of a mixed group of white and Native American troops, leading to claims of barbarism after the fight. While the official records list the engagement as occurring on September 23, the actual skirmish was fought on September 26.

A group of the Fourteenth Kansas under the command of Captain Benjamin Franklin Henry set out from Fort Smith to gather needed forage. Moving southward, the group stopped about thirteen miles from the post to gather corn. While the Federals were gathering their supplies, a group of Confederate guerrillas under the command of Fitz Williams attacked.

The Federal troops estimated the enemy strength at forty white men and about 300 Indians. After two hours of fighting, the guerrillas began to gain the upper hand and forced the Federals to fall back toward Fort Smith. Henry was wounded through his arm and shoulder, and thirteen men were killed. Contemporary accounts claim that several men were missing, but the number is not known. The remainder of the force escaped to the safety of the fort.

When other troops reached the scene of the engagement, they found the bodies of the dead soldiers mutilated and stripped of their clothing. A civilian living nearby was also found dead and stripped. Confederate casualties were not reported. Local news reports blamed the Indians for the treatment of the dead.

While this was only a small engagement, the ferocity of the fighting in western Arkansas and its aftermath are clearly displayed in this skirmish.

For additional information:
“Attack on Forage Train.” Fort Smith New Era, October 1, 1864, p. 2.

“History of the Fourteenth Regiment Volunteer Cavalry.” The Weekly Kansas Chief (Troy, Kansas), March 8, 1883, p. 2.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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