Expedition from Memphis to Southeastern Arkansas and Northeastern Louisiana (January 26 to February 11, 1865)

A sizable Union expedition set out from Memphis, Tennessee, on January 26, 1865, to drive off Confederate guerrillas attacking Union shipping from the west bank of the Mississippi River in southern Arkansas and northeastern Louisiana.

Led by Colonel Embury D. Osband of the Third U.S. Colored Cavalry (USCC), the expedition encompassed 2,621 cavalrymen from Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, and Wisconsin regiments and the Third USCC, traveling on fourteen steamboats. They disembarked at Eunice (Chicot County) in the early morning of January 28 and then began heading inland “through an almost impassible swamp.” The expedition seized horses and mules and burned “a large steam grist-mill which was in the employ of the Confederate Government,” along with a supply depot near Holloway’s Ferry.

On January 31, a detachment of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry was sent to Poplar Bluff (present-day Parkdale in Ashley County) to capture a steamboat reported to be loading corn for the Confederate base at Camden (Ouachita County); after this was accomplished, a distillery, a grist mill, and “a large lot of cotton and corn” were put to the torch.

The expedition headed into Louisiana on February 1, and Osband sent out detachments to seek Confederate troops, seize livestock, gather enslaved people, and burn cotton, corn, and other supplies before heading back toward Arkansas. An officer in the Second Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment observed: “Roads traveled led through swamps in which we lost many horses and mules, and most of our ammunition.” Osband and his advance troops reached Hamburg (Ashley County) on February 5; miserable roads and conditions kept other detachments from joining them until the next day, including the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, which reported burning 200,000 bushels of corn.

The Federals made it back to Gaines’ Landing by mid-afternoon on February 10, concluding what Osband called “the most fatiguing scout of my life”; he added that “to describe the roads, the poverty of the people, or the sufferings of my command during this terrible march would be impossible….[I]t is not an exaggeration to say that at one time one-half of a regiment might be seen dismounted, struggling with their horses, every one of which was mired and down.” They returned to Memphis on February 11.

Osband reported that he lost one man killed, two captured, and seven left behind sick, and that 203 horses, forty-nine mules, and a variety of weapons and equipment were lost during the expedition. The Federals captured 44 Confederates and seized 276 horses and 358 mules during the raid and “destroyed at various points large amounts of cotton, corn, and meat; also burned several mills, distilleries and store houses”; they also sank a rebel steamboat.

Around 440 enslaved men, women, and children who were gathered during the expedition accompanied the Federals to freedom in Memphis, and 200 of the men were enlisted into Union service. Osband estimated that around twenty of the freedom seekers died of exposure before boarding the north-bound boats.

For additional information:
Dobak, William A. Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862–1867. Washington DC: Center of Military History, 2011.

Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Vols. 7, 8, 74, 88. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995, 1998.

Main, Edwin M. The Story of the Marches, Battles and Incidents of the Third United States Colored Troops. Louisville, KY: Globe Printing Col, 1908.

Simons, Don R. In Their Words: A Chronology of the Civil War in Chicot County, Arkansas and Adjacent Waters of the Mississippi River. Lake Village: D. R. Simons, 1999.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, p. 68–72, 664–666, 805–806. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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