Scout from DeValls Bluff to West Point (November 16–18, 1864)

The Federal scouting expedition from DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) to West Point (White County) was conducted between November 16 and 18, 1864, in an attempt to capture guerrillas operating in White County.

Union brigadier general Christopher Columbus Andrews reported on November 14, 1864, that guerrilla captains Howell “Doc” Rayburn and A. C. McCoy were operating around West Point and suggested sending a detachment of infantry and cavalry up the White River to “scour the settlements where some of these fellows lurk,” adding that he felt Rayburn “can be surprised at some house and captured.” Brigadier General Eugene A. Carr approved the expedition.

Andrews issued orders that same day for 150 infantrymen and 100 cavalry troopers to proceed up the White River on the steamboat Ella to Peach Orchard Bluff (Woodruff County) to “capture any of the enemy that may be at the houses there” before proceeding to Negro Hill—present-day Georgetown (White County)—no later than 5:00 p.m., where 100 infantrymen would be landed to march toward West Point. The cavalrymen would then be taken about a mile up the Little Red River to “scour the country along Little Red” before joining the foot soldiers at West Point. The Ella would take the remaining fifty infantrymen to Augusta (Woodruff County), “capturing any of the enemy that may be there,” with Andrews adding: “Surpass the enemy in craft, caution, endurance, and enterprise, and no doubt the scout will be remarkably successful.”

The Ella, however, was not ready to travel and could only take sixty cavalrymen in addition to the infantry, so it was not until the morning of November 16 that 150 men of the Third Minnesota Infantry Regiment under Captain Otto F. Dreher and sixty Ninth Kansas Cavalry Regiment troopers under Captain Henry Flesher set out from DeValls Bluff. Unfortunately for them, Rayburn and McCoy left the West Point area on the same day “with about seventy-five men for a scout into the prairie country and on the railroad.”

The Ella dropped off 100 of the Minnesotans at Negro Hill, and they marched overnight to West Point, where they captured “Lieutenant Oliphant, a notorious fellow,” and ten other Confederates before returning, “having marched thirty miles in the rain on heavy roads.” The Kansas cavalrymen, meanwhile, were set ashore about two miles up the Little Red River and “scouted ten miles between that river and the White, capturing 6 prisoners, 10 horses, also destroying some saddles.” One source says the Union force reboarded the Ella and proceeded to Augusta, where they captured thirty-six Confederates before returning to DeValls Bluff on November 18.

While the scout from DeValls Bluff to West Point did not achieve its original goal of capturing guerrilla chieftains, it did result in several Confederate soldiers being made prisoners of war and disrupted rebel operations in the area.

For additional information:
Fitzharris, Joseph C. The Hardest Lot of Men: The Third Minnesota Infantry in the Civil War. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, p. 921; part 4, p. 557–559, 575, 605. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

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