Attacks on Waldron
|Campaign:||Advance on Arkadelphia and the Red River|
|Dates:||September 11, October 6, October 24, December 29, 1863|
|Principal Commanders:||Captain William Latimer, Colonel William Cloud, Captain J. M. Mentzer, Colonel James Johnson (US); Major George Featherston, Captain Isaac Bagwell, Captain John Gardner, Major William Gipson (or Gibson) (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry Second Kansas Cavalry, First Arkansas Infantry (US), Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); Various units (CS)|
The capture of Waldron (Scott County) was the beginning of the Federal sweep south of the Arkansas River to rid western Arkansas of Confederates and guerrilla bands, before consolidating with other forces in the spring of 1864 for the Red River Campaign.
When Colonel William F. Cloud of the Second Kansas Cavalry defeated Confederate brigadier general William L. Cabell’s forces at Devil’s Backbone Ridge south of Greenwood (Sebastian County) on September 1, 1863—on the same day that Fort Smith (Sebastian County) was occupied by Major General James Gilpatrick Blunt (US)—Waldron’s northern and western sides were defenseless.
More than one skirmish happened in Scott County before the order was issued to occupy Waldron. The first attack happened one day after the fall of Little Rock (Pulaski County), and, according to local historian Henry Grady McCutcheon, Waldron was attacked on September 11, 1863, when “the Federal forces, consisting of the 14th Kansas cavalry, arrived in the county and marched on Waldron. Major [George Washington] Featherston and Captain Isaac Bagwell were in command at that place with a small guard.” The Kansas official records confirm both this report and that Captain William Latimer Jr. (US) was in command of Company A, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, detached to Indian Territory. Latimer also reported that the Union losses were reported as one killed and one wounded. Unofficially, Confederate casualties, rendered by McCutcheon, consisted only of the wounding of Featherston. Because Acting Brigadier General Smith Pyne Bankhead (North Sub District of Texas, detached to Indian Territory) failed to connect with General Cabell in support of the defense of Fort Smith, and remained in Waldron until September 15, 1863, it can be known that the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry did not capture and occupy Waldron after their attack on September 11.
The official record of monthly events indicates that another skirmish took place on October 6, 1863, but history is silent on the details. However, local historian Charles E. Goodner bears witness to a skirmish occurring six miles south of Waldron on October 24, 1863, at Buffalo Mountain and Buffalo Creek. Captain Latimer’s field report for September 1–October 31, 1863, confirms Goodner’s writings. Latimer reported that he skirmished with General Bankhead (CS) near Waldron, reporting that “[o]n the 24th Private David Hise lost his left arm in the battle near Waldron,” as well as reporting that one of his men was taken prisoner but paroled ten days later by General Bankhead, while another was wounded.
After much high-level political maneuvering, Brigadier General John McNeil (US) arrived in Arkansas and, by late October 1863, directed his troops toward Fort Smith. Upon arrival, he assessed the military affairs of the fort in the absence of General Blunt and took command of the District of the Frontier on November 2.
Spies soon brought in reports of aggressive action being taken by the Confederate forces, about 4,000 strong, in Indian Territory to retake Fort Smith. Undeterred, McNeil, on the date he took command, ordered Colonel Cloud of the Second Kansas Cavalry to march toward, and occupy, Waldron. He was determined to clear away the Confederates from all the approaches to Fort Smith, protect the telegraph lines from Little Rock once they had been established, and reap the benefits of the bumper crop of wheat and corn harvested in the Waldron area. McCloud’s forces got only as far as James Fork, about twenty-five miles south of Fort Smith, before they pursued the forces of Brigadier General Richard M. Gano on the morning of November 3. Having captured some soldiers, wagons, and cattle, McCloud’s forces returned to Fort Smith the following day.
General McNeil, believing that the enemy had left the Poteau River valley on November 6, 1863, ordered the Second Arkansas—and Captain J. M. Mentzer, with a 100-man detachment of the Second Kansas Cavalry—to Dardanelle (Yell County), while sending the First Arkansas Infantry, under the command of Colonel James M. Johnson, to occupy Waldron. On November 13, 1863, McNeil reported to his superior, Major General John Schofield, that each company had arrived at its destination without incident. That same day, he sent additional troops: Captain John Gardner, Second Kansas Cavalry, was ordered to report to Waldron with fifty men. By November 30, 1863, General Gano’s spies reported 1,500 Federal troops stationed in Waldron.
Though the temperature dropped to -18º F in Waldron during the 1863–64 winter, 150 to 300 soldiers left for or returned from scouting expeditions daily. From their cold tents in Waldron, the soldiers turned their horses northeast to Booneville (Logan County), where Capt. Gardner’s small force collided, unsuccessfully, with the superior forces of Colonel W. H. Brooks. Week after week, Colonel James Johnson’s officers led their troops south to Montgomery, Polk, Howard, Garland, and Hempstead counties, where they routed, captured, and killed Rebel forces. Scouts were also sent down the Dutch Creek Valley east toward Yell County to rid that area of the enemy and bushwhackers. Due to the long distances to be traveled on scouting missions, Col. Johnson had mounted some companies of infantry immediately upon arrival in Waldron.
After the fall of Fort Smith and Little Rock, the Confederate forces took to the hills to harass the enemy. On December 29, 1863, in an effort to recapture the strategic Waldron location, former Scott County sheriff Major William Gibson (CS), with 100 men, attacked the outpost, three miles north of Waldron, manned by Capt. Gardner and thirty-five Second Kansas Cavalry soldiers. In this attack, Maj. Gibson was killed, and eight of his soldiers were wounded. After the death of Gibson, the soldiers fled into the brush. The Federal loss was one man killed and six wounded.
In February 1864, Private Christian H. Isely, Second Kansas Cavalry, Company F, stationed in Waldron, informed his wife, Elise, “A large portion of Waldron burned down today, the wind blew much.” Isely was assigned to an advance detachment to travel as far north as Jenny Lind (Sebastian County) to seek forage, and upon revisiting the site of the previously fought Action at Devil’s Backbone, he noted in his diary how sad it was to discover unburied soldiers’ remains. However, the Federal spring offensive to gain all of southern Arkansas to the Red River required a consolidation of forces, thereby bringing about the evacuation of occupying forces in Waldron. In order to render Waldron an ineffective military site, the Federals reduced it to ashes, as they had towns in Indian Territory. As Isely wrote to his wife: “Waldron evacuated! Glorious News for our Brigade! The place of starvation and sickness given over to flames!” The town of Waldron, reduced to ashes, was evacuated on March 22, 1864.
For additional information:
Angeletti, Charles. “Battle for the Devil’s Backbone.” The Key 1 (1966): 7–10.
Bearss, Edwin C. “The Confederate Attempt to Regain Fort Smith, 1863.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 27 (Winter 1969): 342–380.
Confederate Military History. Vol. 10. Atlanta: Confederate Publishing Company, 1899.
Goodner, Charles E. Scott County in Retrospect. Mansfield, AR: Frank Boyd, 1976.
McAfee, Joseph B. Military History of the Kansas Regiments. Leavenworth: William S. Burke, 1870.
McCutcheon, Henry Grady. History of Scott County, Arkansas. Little Rock: H. G. Pugh and Company, 1922.
McGuire, Katherine. Uncommon Writings by Common Folks: The Isely Family Letters, Papers and Diaries. On file at Ablah Library Special Collections. Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas.
Smith, Jodie Arnold. “Battle Grounds and Soldiers of Arkansas, 1861–65.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 6 (Summer 1947): 180–183.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vols. 22, 34. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1888, 1891.
Wanda M. Gray
Last Updated: 08/08/2020