Scout from Batesville to Denmark, Fairview, Hitcher's Ferry and Bush's Ford
The Scout from Batesville to Fairview, Denmark, Hilcher’s Ferry, and Bush’s Ford took place on June 16–17, 1862, as the Union’s Army of the Southwest sought to determine the location of Confederate troops in the uncertain days that followed the abandonment of its advance on Little Rock (Pulaski County) during the Pea Ridge Campaign.
Following the Union victory at Pea Ridge on March 7–8, 1862, Major General Samuel R. Curtis pulled his Army of the Southwest back into Missouri to protect that border state from other possible incursions by Confederate troops. By late April, though, Curtis’s commander, Major General Henry Halleck, concluded correctly that Major General Earl Van Dorn had moved his Confederate Army of the West across the Mississippi River, so he ordered Curtis to return to Arkansas with the goal of capturing the capital at Little Rock.
Curtis entered Arkansas near Salem (Fulton County) on April 29 and marched to Batesville (Independence County), arriving there on May 3. Brigadier General Frederick Steele brought a separate Union army from southeastern Missouri and occupied Jacksonport (Jackson County) on May 4, and Curtis incorporated those troops into the Army of the Southwest, reorganizing the army into three divisions, with Steele commanding the First Division, Brigadier General Eugene Carr leading the Second Division, and Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus at the head of the Third Division.
On May 7, Osterhaus led his troops south from Batesville, arriving at the Little Red River two days later. The advance of Carr’s Second Division joined Osterhaus on May 19, the day a Union foraging party suffered heavy casualties in the brutal action at Whitney’s Lane. The Union drive on Little Rock was ultimately abandoned because of the tenuousness of the supply line from Missouri, and the Federal troops who had threatened the capital were ordered back to Batesville on June 4.
Curtis was in a challenging position, as communications with his superiors in Missouri had become more difficult and the supply line from that state had effectively failed. On June 16, he dispatched a scouting expedition led by Colonel George E. Waring Jr. of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry (US) to Fairview (White County), near where U.S. troops had skirmished with Confederate forces on June 7. From there, the troops would spread out across the area to gather intelligence on Confederate troop positions.
From Fairview, Waring dispatched Lieutenant James K. McLean and a company of the Third Illinois Cavalry out about two miles on the road toward Grand Glaise (Jackson County) to establish a picket line. Captain B. C. Ludlow took four companies of the Fourth Missouri Cavalry to Camp Rattlesnake, which was about four miles toward Searcy (White County), from which he established picket posts at Denmark (Jackson County) and on the roads toward Searcy and Grand Glaise.
Major William D. Bowen led a company of his self-named Missouri battalion, Bowen’s Battalion, accompanied by a mountain howitzer, to occupy Hilcher’s Ferry, located on the Little Red River thirteen miles north of Searcy, while Major Joseph T. Jewett placed a company of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry with a mountain howitzer on the same road about four miles from the ferry in support of Bowen. Lieutenant John T. Tucker led a small party of Fourth Iowa troopers to Bush’s Ford, about seven miles above Hilcher’s Ferry, while a company of the Third Illinois covered the road to Clinton (Van Buren County) about a mile and a half from Fairview.
Waring led the force back to Batesville early the next morning with reports of an undetermined number of Arkansas and Texas troops on the other side of the Little Red River and that small parties of Confederates were crossing the rivers from Augusta (Woodruff County), West Point (White County), and Searcy every day to conscript Unionists and neutral residents into their army. He also reported “vague rumors, of no reliable character” that militia and Native American troops were gathering in northwestern Arkansas to attack Springfield, Missouri.
While these vague reports of enemy troops in the area might not have influenced his decision, Curtis soon learned that a supply flotilla had been stopped by low water on the White River after the June 17 Engagement at St. Charles. The Union general decided to abandon hope of succor and to live off the land while marching across eastern Arkansas to Helena (Phillips County), which he reached on July 12, 1862, ending the Pea Ridge Campaign.
For additional information:
Akridge, Scott H., and Emmett E. Powers. A Severe and Bloody Fight: The Battle of Whitney’s Lane & Military Occupation of White County, Arkansas, May & June, 1862. Searcy, AR: White County Historical Museum, 1996.
Christ, Mark K., ed. Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
Shea, William L., and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 13, pp. 123–124. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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