Attack on Steamer Alamo (Arkansas River)

Location: Arkansas River near Dardanelle
Campaign: None
Date: November 29, 1864
Principal Commanders: Second Lieutenant John T. S. Fry (US); Colonel Robert C. Newton (CS)
Forces Engaged: Fortieth Iowa Volunteers (US); Robert C. Newton’s cavalry (CS)
Estimated casualties: None (US); 2 killed, 1 wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

As the Civil War in Arkansas progressed and Federal forces advanced farther into the interior of the state, the rivers became important byways for the transportation of soldiers and supplies. The steamboat Alamo was one of the many steamers put into service on the Arkansas River by Federal authorities. In November 1864, on a routine supply trip to Fort Smith (Sebastian County), the steamer was attacked by Confederate forces. Such attacks along the rivers were common.

On November 29, 1864, a detachment of thirty soldiers of the Fortieth Iowa Volunteers under the command of Second Lieutenant John T. S. Fry boarded the steamer Alamo at Dardanelle (Yell County). The detachment was to guard the steamer on a supply run to Fort Smith. Approximately two and a half miles above Dardanelle at about 2:00 p.m., Confederate cavalrymen appeared on a high rise on the south bank of the river, placing the steamer under almost constant fire for the next six miles. The only protection for the Federal troops who returned fire was breastworks constructed of bags of oats. Soon, the steamer captain informed Fry that they were approaching a sand bar which, in its difficulty to cross, would slow the progress of the steamer and make it more vulnerable. Fry ordered the steamer to be landed on the north shore, and almost immediately the Confederates demanded their surrender. A negative reply resulted in occasional firing for the next hour.

Both forces settled in for the night, expecting to continue the fight the next morning. Instead, the Confederates withdrew. Upon examining the Confederate camp, Fry became convinced that the force he had faced consisted of 250 to 300 cavalrymen under the command of Colonel Robert C. Newton. Locating two graves, Fry assumed that the attack had resulted in two Confederate deaths.

Though the Federal forces suffered no casualties, the pilot house of the Alamo was reported to have been hit eighty-seven times. The steamer continued its mission delivering its cargo to Fort Smith.

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

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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