Scout from Little Rock to Benton (September 6–7, 1864)
Union cavalrymen conducted the scout from Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Benton (Saline County) to determine what Confederate forces were in the area as Major General Sterling Price began his invasion of Missouri in the fall of 1864.
Two women came into Little Rock on September 3, 1864, and reported that they had been detained by Price’s army about nine miles south of the Saline River two days earlier. They said that Price, Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke, and one other Confederate general were in the camp, that Brigadier General William Lewis Cabell and his cavalry brigade were in Benton, and that the Confederate troops “declared that they were going to have Little Rock before the end of the week.”
Brigadier General Cyrus Bussey dispatched a cavalry detachment under Captain Miles Kehoe of the First Missouri Cavalry (US) to investigate the women’s story. He returned on September 4, having ridden within three miles of Benton before encountering enemy pickets; he reported that he had “obtained, substantially, the same information brought in by the two women.” Kehoe’s report led Major General Frederick Steele to nervously order his troops to consolidate in Little Rock, though it was reported that “it is thought by some that the rebels intend going into Missouri, and are only demonstrating on this place.”
Price had indeed brought his army to within seven miles of Benton but divided his force, sending Major General James Fagan and his cavalry division to feint toward Little Rock as the main Confederate column marched west to cross the Arkansas River at Dardanelle (Yell County). Another Union scouting party under Captain George W. Howland of the Third U.S. Cavalry Regiment headed toward Benton on September 5 and was “attacked on his return…by a superior cavalry force and followed nearly to our pickets.”
Colonel John F. Ritter of the First Missouri was ordered to lead a scouting expedition toward Benton to further ascertain Confederate strength. Gathering “the available portion of my command, about 350 men,” he set out around 1:30 p.m. on September 6, 1864. The Federals found a small force of Confederate cavalry in the town and drove them across the Saline River, “skirmishing on the banks.” One Union soldier of the Fourth Arkansas Cavalry (US) was wounded in the fighting, and one horse was killed and two wounded.
Returning to Little Rock at 11:30 a.m. on September 7, Ritter reported that around 400 Confederate cavalrymen under Colonel John Logan were said to be camped three miles below the Saline, but there was “no other force in the vicinity.”
The September 6–7 scout from Little Rock to Benton was one of many scouting expeditions sent out by Union forces in the chaotic period in which Price moved north to Missouri, essentially escaping detection by Steele’s forces, which ultimately led to Steele losing command of the Seventh Army Corps.
For additional information:
Sinisi, Kyle S. The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition of 1864. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part I, pp. 742–743; part III, p. 44, 53–54, 68–69, 79, 93. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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