Scout from Fayetteville to Van Buren
On January 23, 1863, Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison, in command of the Union garrison at Fayetteville (Washington County), dispatched a large party of cavalrymen to seek enemy troops and information at Van Buren (Crawford County), which Federal troops had captured and abandoned less than a month before.
Lieutenant Colonel James Stuart led the scouting force of 150 men of his own Tenth Illinois Cavalry, with two howitzers, and the First Arkansas Cavalry (US) under Captain Charles Galloway. Taking the Frog Bayou Road, the Federals arrived in Van Buren on the morning of January 24. Stuart learned that the Julia Roan was heading to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) to pick up men and supplies, so he detailed some of his men to watch for the steamboat on the Arkansas River while the remainder patrolled Van Buren, capturing twenty-five Confederate horsemen who were on their way to Fort Smith.
Shortly after daybreak on January 25, Stuart learned that the Julia Roan was steaming toward Van Buren and made “arrangements to receive her.” Forcing the steamboat to stop, the Federals found a lieutenant, a doctor, and more than 200 men aboard, many of whom were sick. Stuart ultimately paroled three lieutenants and 246 men until they could be exchanged for a like number of Union prisoners; he then allowed the Julia Roan to continue its journey.
Later that day, the Federals “had quite a lively skirmish” with Confederates on the opposite side of the Arkansas, dispersing the rebels with the aid of their howitzer. While Harrison said the Confederates lost “6 killed and several wounded,” Stuart was not specific on the casualties, writing “several of the enemy were seen to fall from their horses, and, I presume, were either killed or wounded. None of my men were hit, although the bullets fell thick for a short time.”
Stuart was able to ascertain that Brigadier General William Steele was in command of the post at Fort Smith, leading between 400 and 500 men, and that a “skeleton brigade” of Texans had come through the area two days earlier on their way home to “recruit up.” He also learned “from a reliable source” that Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek Indians were interested in joining the Union army, wanting only “a nucleus to form on.” The Federal expedition returned to Fayetteville on the evening of January 27.
For additional information:
“From Arkansas.” Daily Missouri Republican, January 29, 1863, p. 2.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 22, part 1, pp. 220–221. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1888.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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