Scout from Pine Bluff to Monticello (March 21–23, 1865)
Captain John H. Norris of Company M, Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry Regiment, led 112 men and two officers out of Pine Bluff on the afternoon of March 21, 1865, and headed south. Passing through Cornerville (Lincoln County), they turned west about nine miles from Monticello so that they would make their approach from that direction.
Monticello was manned by the “Old Man’s Company,” a home guard made up of men who could not be conscripted but who would “return deserters, enforce conscript laws, and furnish, in any manner they can, military information for the enemy.”
On March 22, Norris divided his troops, having a group under Lieutenant John C. Kennedy approach Monticello from the right while another under Lieutenant Ninean E. Orton attacked from the left; Norris charged into town with the remainder of the detachment. He reported that “they were completely surprised and ran in all directions,” some the Confederates escaping the Union snare while eleven were taken prisoner; two others were apparently killed.
The Federals then “proceeded to search the houses for the enemy, sealed papers, arms, or ammunition.” A Confederate officer later claimed in a letter to the Washington Telegraph that the Yankees ransacked the town and that “elderly Negroes were robbed of their life saving. The county jail was burned.” The search yielded fifty-four firearms of varying quality and “quite a quantity” of fixed ammunition, all of which were destroyed. A small amount of mail was also seized.
After learning that a battalion of Confederate cavalry was expected in Monticello, Norris abandoned plans to advance on Longview (Ashley County) and headed back toward Pine Bluff, hoping to attack the guerrilla bands led by R. A. Kidd and a Captain Owen on the way. The Illinoisans rode about ten miles and stopped to rest at the home of a Confederate officer, and as they were leaving, Norris reported that around sixty of Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s men attacked “until our carbines convinced them of the impropriety and impracticability of such a rash act…they [then] ran off promiscuously to the woods.”
The Federals arrived back at Pine Bluff at 6:00 p.m. on March 23, “having marched 140 miles.”
The scout from Pine Bluff to Monticello was one of many such operations radiating out from the Union base in Jefferson County as the Federals sought to disrupt Confederate activities in the waning days of the Civil War.
For additional information:
Ross, Margaret. “Federals Get Captives in Raid at Monticello.” Arkansas Gazette, March 22, 1965, p. 4B.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 148–150. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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