Scout from Brownsville to Cotton Plant (October 26–November 2, 1864)
The scouting expedition from Brownsville (Lonoke County) to Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) began as an effort to gauge the level of Union support around Madison (St. Francis County).
On October 25, 1864, Brigadier General Joseph R. West ordered Major George T. Snelling of the Tenth Illinois Cavalry Regiment to take 200 men from his regiment and go from Brownsville to the White River, where a boat would transport them across and they would ride on to Madison. “The scout was not deemed a military scout, but rather a political scout,” Snelling reported, adding that “there would be an election held in Madison to see if there were any Union men in that locality or not.” West ordered Snelling to return by way of Cotton Plant “if [he] thought it prudent to do so.” West also told him to “bring in all the horses and mules and cattle that [he] could find.”
Snelling and his men set out from Brownsville on the morning of October 26 and arrived at the Union base at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) around 4:00 p.m. After hearing of Snelling’s orders from West, Brigadier General Christopher C. Andrews changed the mission. He augmented the scouting force with seventy-five men of the Ninth Kansas Cavalry Regiment and ordered Snelling to head straight to Cotton Plant surreptitiously, “scouring the country in that locality, bringing in all the stock there was in that part of the country and all the negro men [he] could get.”
After riding from DeValls Bluff on October 27, the Federals camped for the night about twelve miles from Cotton Plant. They reached the town early the next morning and took “all male citizens prisoner, sending them to the rear.” Snelling sent Captain Henry Flesher of Company E, Ninth Kansas Cavalry, and his men north of Cotton Plant while Snelling led fifty Illinoisans south, “scouring the country of all horses and mules.”
Snelling and his detachment captured three Union deserters and burned a pair of houses. One house belonged to “a noted bushwhacker by the name of Simpson” who maintained “a gang of bloodhounds for chasing conscripts out of the swamps.” The other was owned by a member of Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn’s band, who fired at the Yankees before being chased down and killed. Flesher returned to Cotton Plant around 9:00 p.m., “bringing in 4 Confederate soldiers, a lot of stock, mules and horses.” The Kansan also reported killing a guerrilla and burning a house.
On October 30, Snelling sent detachments “in all directions with orders to bring back all the stock they could find.” The Federals headed back toward DeValls Bluff the next day with their prisoners and booty, arriving around 1:00 p.m. on November 1. Snelling and his men returned to Brownsville from their seven-day foray the next day, with the Illinoisan reporting that they “killed 3 bushwhackers, broke up 150 small-arms, shotguns and rifles, bringing in 73 head of horses and mules, 11 prisoners.”
Brigadier General Eugene A. Carr was displeased with the change in orders, the original of which had apparently come from Major General Frederick Steele, writing on November 9 that “neither General West nor General Andrews had any authority from me to alter his instructions, which required [Snelling] to go to Madison by way of Clarendon (Monroe County) and return by way of Cotton Plant.” There were apparently no disciplinary actions taken.
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 1, pp. 862–863; part 4, pp. 271, 399. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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