Fort Smith Expedition (November 5–23, 1864)

Location: Conway, Pope, Johnson, Franklin, and Sebastian counties
Campaign: Price’s Missouri Raid
Dates: November 5–23, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain David Hamilton (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 200 men of the Third Arkansas Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None (US); 11 dead, 15 prisoners (CS)
Result: Union victory

After the Camden Expedition in the spring of 1864, Confederate fortunes in Arkansas began to falter, and Confederates could no longer mount large-scale offensives to drive Federal troops out of the state. Union outposts were scattered throughout northern and central Arkansas, and much of the fighting that did take place was between Federal forces and irregular units. This expedition originated as a supply column and scouting party, but the Federal forces also participated in several engagements with Confederate troops who were retreating after Major General Sterling Price’s unsuccessful Missouri Raid.

Federal units in Arkansas and Missouri searched for any sign of the enemy as Confederates under Maj. Gen. Price’s command continued to retreat southward after suffering multiple defeats during their raid into Missouri. If discovered, the Federal forces could use the opportunity to defeat a weaker Confederate force easily.

Even though Federal forces in Arkansas had an opportunity to strike at Price’s Confederates, the normal operations of supplying an army in an occupied land continued. On November 5, 1864, Colonel Abraham Ryan of the Third Arkansas Cavalry (US) dispatched a supply train to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) from his post at Lewisburg (Conway County), near present-day Morrilton (Conway County). Under the command of Captain David Hamilton, the supply train consisted of approximately 200 men from the Third Arkansas. Capt. Hamilton was also tasked with scouting during the journey to locate any sign of the retreating Confederates. The men of the Third Arkansas were ordered to escort the train as far as Dover (Pope County). If needed, they could continue to accompany the train to Clarksville (Johnson County), where other troops would take charge for the remainder of the trip to Fort Smith.

During the expedition, Hamilton and his men fought several skirmishes with Confederate troops who were part of Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell’s command. Cabell was captured during the raid into Missouri, and his command was attempting to retreat southward to link up with friendly forces. Hamilton reported that the Confederates suffered eleven killed with fifteen more captured, including a lieutenant.

When the supply train arrived at Clarksville, Colonel James Johnson, the Federal commander of that post, ordered Hamilton and his men to continue with the wagons to Fort Smith. Col. Johnson, the commander of the First Arkansas Infantry (US), joined the train with two regiments of infantry and took command. Hamilton argued that his orders only allowed him to proceed to Clarksville, but Johnson insisted that the men of the Third Arkansas Cavalry continue the journey.

After arriving at Fort Smith, Hamilton and his men began the return trip to Lewisburg. During this journey, Hamilton reported capturing two wagon trains transporting southern civilians to the south. He and his men arrived in Lewisburg on November 23.

This somewhat successful expedition illustrates the typical nature of the war in Arkansas in late 1864. Union forces were free to travel between outposts almost without any fear of being attacked by the enemy. The expedition also proved to be successful in defeating a small number of men involved in Price’s Missouri Raid.

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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