Mount Ida Expedition

Location: At least nine southern Arkansas counties
Campaign: None
Date: November 10–18, 1863
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Henry C. Caldwell, Captain J. Baird (US); Captain J. L. Witherspoon (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Iowa Cavalry, First Missouri Cavalry (US); Captain J. L. Witherspoon’s forces and unidentified units and guerrillas
Casualties: 3 wounded (US); 6 killed, at least 22 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

In November 1863, Lieutenant Henry C. Caldwell of the Third Iowa Cavalry led a force of Federal cavalrymen on an expedition through at least eight southern Arkansas counties. Engaging the Confederate forces on a number of occasions, he eventually reached the town of Mount Ida (Montgomery County), where he expected to find additional enemy forces. Along the way, the Federals also organized Unionist resistance to the Confederates.

Lt. Caldwell’s force, consisting of the Third Iowa Cavalry and First Missouri Cavalry, left Benton (Saline County) on November 10, spending the night in Hot Springs (Garland County). The next day, the force moved down the Murfreesboro Road to within eighteen miles of the town of Murfreesboro (Pike County), where they captured a Confederate soldier who informed the Federals that a detachment of Captain J. L. Witherspoon’s cavalry was camped about twelve miles away near the Fort Smith and Washington Road. Immediately, a force of 125 cavalrymen, led by Captain J. Baird of the First Missouri Cavalry and guided by the prisoner, rode to meet the enemy. The Confederates were caught by surprise and routed. Though approaching darkness hampered the Federal pursuit, a cache of supplies were taken as well as fourteen prisoners, including Capt. Witherspoon.

After this initial clash, area Unionists were sent out into the countryside to inform other like-minded citizens to gather at Caddo Gap (Montgomery County) to enlist in the Federal army. The next day, Lt. Caldwell reached Caddo Gap, where he left part of his force to organize any new recruits before moving on to Mount Ida. He anticipated the town being occupied by Confederates but, upon arrival, discovered that the Confederates had been driven from town the day before. During their occupation of the town, regular patrols were sent out into the surrounding area to inflict as much damage on the enemy as possible and to track down guerrilla forces, whom the lieutenant considered criminals.

On November 14, the troops previously left at Caddo Gap rejoined the main force, bringing with them some 300 Unionist recruits. These recruits were quickly armed and placed under the command of Colonel Shelton Arnold, who had previously engaged in organizing area Unionists. The new unit regularly patrolled the area, keeping the regular troops advised of Confederate movements. On one patrol, a fight occurred in which four Confederates were killed and seven captured.

The Federals left Mount Ida on November 15, beginning their return trip to Benton. Over the next three days, they were twice attacked by enemy forces but suffered no casualties. The expedition arrived in Benton on November 18. Caldwell reported that the area in which he had traveled was populated by many loyal citizens who greeted his force with “shouts of joy.”

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 22, Part I. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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