Capture of Dardanelle

Location: Yell County
Campaign: None
Date: May 17, 1864
Principal Commanders: Colonel Abraham Ryan (US); Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Arkansas Cavalry (detachment), several companies of the Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US); Shelby’s Confederate Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: At least 100 (US); unreported (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

The Capture of Dardanelle marked the opening action of Confederate Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s summer operations north of the Arkansas River, much of which focused on trying to thwart shipping operations on the White River and raiding the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad.

After the failure of Union Major General Frederick Steele’s Camden Expedition into south Arkansas, Federal troops consolidated at Little Rock (Pulaski County), DeValls Bluff (Prairie County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Helena (Phillips County), and Fayetteville (Washington County). Scattered Union detachments were stationed at places such as Dardanelle (Yell County), Clarksville (Johnson County), Norristown (Pope County), and Lewisburg (modern-day Morrilton in Conway County) to operate against guerrillas and raiders preying on U.S. shipping and communications along the Arkansas. In early May 1864, Shelby, one of the Trans-Mississippi region’s ablest and most feared cavalry commanders, set out from south Arkansas with 1,200 to 2,000 cavalrymen and four pieces of artillery to conduct operations in northeast Arkansas during the summer.

Shelby initially approached Lewisburg from south of the Arkansas, intending to attack a force of 400 troops of Colonel Abraham Ryan’s Third Arkansas Cavalry. Stopping on the Arkansas about three miles from Lewisburg on May 13, Shelby placed guards around his camp and awaited darkness before attempting a river crossing. The Confederates were attacked by a large scouting party of the Third Arkansas, which was repulsed before entering the Confederate camp and discovering the size of Shelby’s force. Bad conditions on the river foiled a river crossing that evening, and Shelby turned his forces west toward Dardanelle.

On May 16, the Confederate cavalrymen approached Dardanelle, which was garrisoned by another 400 troops of the Third Arkansas Cavalry Regiment and several companies of the Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US). Shelby planned to charge into the town early the next morning, but the plan was thwarted when a party of Third Arkansas troops attacked the Rebels’s advance pickets around midnight. The two sides engaged in a firefight for several minutes; the Union cavalry then broke off and raced toward Dardanelle.

Shelby ordered a general advance, and despite several Union attempts to slow them, the Rebels easily overcame the limited resistance and dashed into Dardanelle. About 100 men of the Third Arkansas surrendered immediately as the rest of the garrison tried to escape. The Confederate general reported that many of the fleeing Yankees overloaded a small flatboat and died trying to cross the Arkansas. Besides capturing the Union cavalrymen, the Confederates freed eighty-six Southern prisoners and seized eleven army wagons, four sutler stores, several commissary wagons, and several freed slaves. Confederate casualties were unreported, as were Union casualties other than the 100 Yankees who surrendered.

The Confederate troops crossed the Arkansas on May 17–18, then proceeded toward Batesville (Independence County). During the rest of the summer, Shelby continually raided and attacked Union troops and outposts, including sinking a Federal warship, while trying to rein in the lawless bands of bushwhackers who operated in northeast Arkansas. His operations ceased when his troops joined Confederate Major General Sterling Price in his raid into Missouri that fall.

For additional information:
Edwards, John N. Shelby and his Men: or, the War in the West. Waverly, MO: General Joseph Shelby Memorial Fund, 1993.

Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 2. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1994.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1890–1901, pp. 923–928.

Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program


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