Fort Smith Expedition (November 5–16, 1864)

Location: Benton, Washington, and Sebastian counties
Campaign: Price’s Missouri Raid
Dates: November 5–16, 1864
Principal Commanders: Major James A. Melton (US); Major William “Buck” Brown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Second Arkansas Cavalry and the Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); Brown’s Partisan Rangers (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None (US); 7 killed, 1 wounded, 1 prisoner (CS)
Result: Union victory

In late 1864, the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department launched a final offensive into Missouri in an attempt to gather recruits and influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election by turning public opinion against Abraham Lincoln and the continuation of the Civil War. The Confederate forces under the command of Major General Sterling Price involved in this campaign were defeated at almost every turn and eventually retreated in confusion through Kansas and the Indian Territory in an effort to return to Arkansas. This Union expedition was tasked with gathering intelligence and finding any remnants of Gen. Price’s forces.

On November 5, 1864, Brigadier General John B. Sanborn ordered Major James A. Melton of the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US) to move from Cassville, Missouri, to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in an effort to find the retreating Confederates. Maj. Melton departed from Cassville the same day, accompanied by 210 men of the Second Arkansas, and was joined by 160 men of the Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry under the command of Major Milton Burch. The first night, the Federal forces camped within seven miles of Bentonville (Benton County). The next day, the Union force continued to move into Arkansas, passing through Cincinnati (Washington County). The Federals engaged Confederate forces in the area several times during the day. Under the command of Major William “Buck” Brown, the Confederates were better known as bushwhackers than as regular soldiers. During the actions, the Confederates had seven men killed, one wounded, and another captured.

On November 7, the Federals continued their search and covered more than forty-five miles, stopping near Fort Smith. The next day, the Union soldiers entered Fort Smith, but due to a lack of available forage, soon retreated several miles from the town in order to feed their horses. Melton reported to Sanborn that information he had gathered indicated that Price would likely cross the Arkansas River near Webber Falls in the Indian Territory and that the Confederates were suffering from a lack of forage for their animals. On November 9, the Federals continued to look for the enemy and camped at Dripping Springs (Crawford County). The units continued northward and, by November 11, arrived at Fayetteville (Washington County). The Federals departed the next day and slowly made their way to Springfield, Missouri, arriving on November 16. The trip between Fayetteville and Springfield was hampered by a lack of forage for the horses. The only casualties that the Federals suffered during the expedition were two horses, which were slightly wounded but were not abandoned.

The expedition was a success for the Union army. Melton was able to report Price’s movements to his superiors but was unable to do much more due to the shortage of forage for the unit’s horses; the Federals needed to return to more hospitable country. The skirmishes with Confederate guerrillas were of little consequence and did not deter the Union soldiers from their mission.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41, Parts 1 and 4. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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