Augusta Expedition (December 7–8, 1864)

Location: Woodruff County
Campaign: Expedition from DeValls Bluff to Augusta, Arkansas
Dates: December 7–8, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Joseph H. Swan, Co. I, Third Minnesota Infantry (US); None (CS)
Forces Engaged: Company I, Third Minnesota Infantry (US); None (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None
Result: Union objective partially completed

Fearing that several Confederate guerrillas and partisan bands were operating in northeastern Arkansas, Brigadier General Christopher Columbus Andrews dispatched 100 men under Captain Joseph H. Swan to Augusta (Woodruff County) to capture enemy groups believed to be there. The expedition resulted in no combat, but intelligence was gathered regarding the movement of Confederates and the deprived condition of the civilian population.

For Union troops stationed in northeastern Arkansas, constant rumors of the movement of guerrilla and partisan units kept Union troops busy. During November and early December 1864, Andrews, commanding the Second Division, Seventh Army Corps at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), had received reports on the movements of small enemy units under the command of Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn and Colonel Archibald Dobbins. Believing that Confederates were consolidating in northeastern Arkansas and that Augusta was a likely location for Confederates to congregate, Andrews sent Captain Joseph H. Swan, Company I, Third Minnesota Infantry, to capture any force there on December 7, 1864. Using the steamer Mattie to transport the 100-man force, Swan was able to arrive undetected at Augusta the next morning. A search of the town revealed no enemy forces. Through interaction with the civilians, Swan gathered intelligence regarding Confederate movements in the area and noted that the civilian population was suffering from lack of supplies, including salt. Having achieved part of his objective, Swan returned to DeValls Bluff later on December 8.

The Augusta Expedition illustrates several obstacles the Union had to overcome during the conflict in Arkansas. Transportation had always been difficult in the state due to poor roads and the seasonal inaccessibility of some waterways. The successful use of the steamer Mattie illustrates that they could occasionally use steamboats to move men into northeastern Arkansas, something the Confederates could not do at this time. Secondly, the expedition itself shows some of the frustration of counterinsurgency warfare. Occupying a large, rugged place like Arkansas makes intelligence extremely important. Furthermore, commanders such as Andrews have to sometimes act on unreliable information. Often, this results in movements without contact, a nuisance to the commanders who want results and field officers like Swan who had to execute their orders.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 41, Part I, p. 983. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College


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