Expedition from Pine Bluff to Bass’s Plantation (March 17–20, 1865)

A March 17–20, 1865, expedition from the Union base at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) came close to capturing a notorious guerrilla chieftain who was active in southeastern Arkansas.

Captain Gurnsey W. Davis of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry Regiment led a detachment of 100 men out of Pine Bluff on March 17, 1865, crossing to the north side of the Arkansas River and heading northeast, passing through several plantations before fording Five Forks Bayou and riding through “about five miles of horrible swamp road.”

They ended up at the Creed Taylor plantation, where they learned that guerrilla leader Captain Marcellus Vaugine, who had ambushed a scouting party of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry at Clear Lake near modern-day England (Lonoke County) a week before, was staying at the home of a Doctor Bass about three-quarters of a mile away. Davis determined to capture the bushwhacker.

The Federals rode to the Bass place, where Davis dismounted fifteen troopers to surround the house and snare the guerrilla. Before they were in place, though, a soldier with the rear guard of the detachment, which had become lost in the dark, blew a bugle. “Vaugine,” Davis reported, “at the sound of the bugle, sprang from his bed and made his escape” along with a Confederate soldier named Smith, but left his wife behind. She told the Yankees that Vaugine “had no intimation of our approach until the bugle sounded, and that we would undoubtedly have captured her husband.”

The disappointed Illinoisan rode farther until 1:00 a.m. on March 18 before camping for the night; Davis sourly noted that “my rear guard did not come up with me again, but made the best of their way back to Pine Bluff, undoubtedly on double-quick time.” As they rode toward Swan Lake and back along the Arkansas River the next day, Vaugine taunted the Union column, with Davis reporting the bushwhacker was “playing around us at a respectful and safe distance, showing himself at certain points, I suppose more for annoyance than any purpose of attack.”

The Federals began gathering cattle as they headed back toward Pine Bluff on March 19, Davis noting that “as far as possible I avoided taking milch cows and work oxen belonging to citizens living on their own plantation.” They reached Pine Bluff on March 20, crossing the Arkansas River on the steamboat Argosy with around ninety cattle, of which at least twenty were found “entirely unfit for beef.”

The interaction between Davis and Vaugine would continue into the final days of the war, with the Illinoisan parleying with the guerrilla after the surrender of the Confederate armies in the east. In early May 1865, Davis met with Vaugine and Captain Michael F. Mayberry (or Maybery), who had attacked a Memphis to Little Rock Railroad train in the April 2, 1865, Skirmish at Hickory Station; both bushwhacker chieftains “declare[d] they and their men have fired their last shots us” and wished to surrender. On May 14, 1865, though, Mayberry killed Vaugine “in a personal matter.”

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 141–142; part 2, pp. 384, 451–452, 466. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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