Reconnaissance from Little Rock toward Monticello and Mount Elba (October 4–11, 1864)

The reconnaissance from Little Rock (Pulaski County) toward Monticello (Drew County) and Mount Elba (Cleveland County) was undertaken to determine the numbers and locations of large Confederate forces reportedly in southern Arkansas.

Major General Frederick Steele reported on October 4, 1864, that Confederate major general John B. Magruder was “making demonstrations against” Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Brigadier General Powell Clayton, in command at Pine Bluff, reported that four rebel divisions totaling as many as 18,000 men were at Monticello. Steele ordered Colonel John F. Ritter to lead a reconnaissance in force toward Monticello to find out if the reports were true.

Ritter left Little Rock on October 4 at the head of 777 men from Ritter’s First Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US), the Third Missouri Cavalry (US), the Third and Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US), and the Third U.S. Cavalry. Arriving at Pine Bluff on October 6, he picked up an additional 250 men of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry, Fifth Kansas Cavalry, Seventh Missouri Cavalry (US), and First Indiana Cavalry, and the group headed toward Monticello the next morning.

The Federals rode to within fifteen miles of Monticello on October 7, traversing bad roads and scattered cornfields. Camping that night at a Mr. Oldham’s, they learned that Magruder had ordered the troops at Monticello to go to Camden (Ouachita County), so Ritter changed the route of his command toward Mount Elba on the Saline River when they left the next morning.

The advance Union troops ran into a Confederate outpost of around ten men about nine miles from Mount Elba, but as the Federals charged toward them, an officer noted that “the road gets worse again; perfect swampy bottom; quick pursuit impossible.” As they neared Mount Elba, the Union advance under Captain Adolph Bechand of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry encountered fifty or sixty men of Colonel A. J. McNeill’s Fourth Louisiana Cavalry, and “Captain Bechand drove them across the Saline River in gallant style.”

After an uneventful day, the expedition returned to Pine Bluff at 2:00 p.m. on October 9, and Ritter led his Second Brigade troops back to Little Rock on October 11, reporting one man wounded and four as having deserted during the reconnaissance.

While the number of troops involved was unusually large, the reconnaissance from Little Rock toward Monticello and Mount Elba was typical of continuous Union patrols sent out from the various Federal outposts in Arkansas to seek signs of Confederate troops and evaluate possible sources of food and fodder.

For additional information:
Field, Charles D. Three Years in the Saddle from 1861 to 1865. N.p.: 1898.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, pp. 854–858; part 3, pp. 577–578, 605–608, 997. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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