Expedition from Lewisburg to Strahan’s Landing
The expedition for Lewisburg (Conway County) to Strahan’s Landing (Johnson County) saw a Union anti-guerrilla operation’s mission shift to protecting steamboats carrying desperately needed supplies to the garrison at Fort Smith (Sebastian County).
Major George L. Childress left the Union base at Brownsville (Lonoke County) on November 21, 1864, with 300 men of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US) and 200 troopers of the Ninth Iowa Cavalry under Major Willis Drummond for temporary duty at Lewisburg, where Colonel Abraham Ryan’s Third Arkansas Cavalry Regiment (US) was involved in heavy anti-guerrilla activity. After arriving on November 24, the cavalrymen from Brownsville were sent out two days later to “scour [the] country above Dover (Pope County) and on the Big Piney.”
After scouting for two days and “finding no enemy of consequence, only a few guerrillas,” Childress and his men started back toward Lewisburg but were intercepted by a messenger from Ryan who ordered them to protect the wrecked steamboat Doane near where the Big Piney Creek feeds into the Arkansas River. The Doane was one of three steamboats heading to Fort Smith with supplies when it broke in two and sank in about six feet of water. The others—the Chippewa and the Ad. Hine—were also at Strahan’s Landing, stranded by low water on the fickle Arkansas River. Childress reported that, with the 180 infantrymen who were aboard the three steamers, as well as his cavalrymen, there were 680 Union troops guarding the vessels.
Ryan reported on November 29 that the water on the Arkansas had dropped thirty inches since the Doane wrecked and that “the Hines and the Chippewa will have to remain where they are till [the] river rises. At present stage they can go neither way.”
On December 2, Childress reported that “our fleet has been increased by the steamboat Alamo,” which had been heading upriver when fired on while passing Dardanelle (Yell County) by Colonel Robert C. Newton’s Confederates. Childress sent 100 cavalrymen and seventy-five infantrymen to the south bank of the Arkansas to guide the Alamo in, and “the enemy did not show himself to the escort.” Union scouts reported that Newton was heading toward Danville (Yell County).
Soon afterward, Childress was ordered to take his troopers and “move on to Dover to clean out the enemy” after 200 Confederates were reported gathered at Buck’s Mountain near there, leaving eighty Third Arkansas cavalrymen under Captain David Hamilton to guard the steamboats. Childress and his men were to communicate with Ryan afterward to see if they would remain in Lewisburg; they returned to Brownsville on December 23.
By December 11, Major General Frederick Steele noted that he had reports that the Arkansas River had risen three feet and that he assumed the supply boats had reached Fort Smith. Brigadier General John Thayer reported on December 26 that he had sent a wagon train to the Doane to pick up the supplies salvaged from the wreck, noting days later that he was disappointed to see that the vessel had carried only forage, as he sought to feed his garrison troops and thousands of refugees.
The expedition to Strahan’s Landing and subsequent guarding of the stranded steamboats there underscore the difficulty of getting sufficient supplies to Fort Smith amid unpredictable river conditions and a tenuous overland supply line. Union officials in Arkansas planned to abandon Fort Smith in late December 1864 and early January 1865 until President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant reversed the decision.
For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C., and A. M. Gibson. Fort Smith: Little Gibraltar on the Arkansas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969, p. 294–295.
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 19. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995, p. 428.
Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion. Vol. IV. Des Moines, IA: Emory H. English, 1910, p. 1651.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, pp. 901–902; part 4, p. 712–713, 739, 753–754, 828–829, 934–935. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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