Scout from Little Rock to Clear Lake (March 10–13, 1865)
aka: Skirmish at Clear Lake
aka: Skirmish at Plum Bayou
The March 10–13, 1865, Union scout from Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Clear Lake by the Third Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment ended with an ambush by a large group of bushwhackers that left several Federal soldiers wounded—two mortally—and eleven men prisoners of war.
On the evening of March 9, 1865, Brigadier General Frederick Salomon sent a message to Brigadier General Powell Clayton, saying, “I am at this hour starting a small scout into the Clear Lake neighborhood”—near present-day England (Lonoke County)—after learning that around twenty-five Confederate guerrillas were gathering there. He warned Clayton that the bushwhackers would likely fall back toward Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and asked if he could send a force to intercept them, a request Clayton denied since too many of his men were already out on patrols.
Captain Julius Giesler of Company A, Third Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment, led a detachment of about forty troopers from companies A, B, C, D, and E out from their camp at Little Rock, “accompanied by the person who gave information as to the whereabouts of the band, as a guide” on March 10. The next day, as they approached Clear Lake, “the guide gave a signal and disappeared in the thicket.” Moments later, hidden guerrillas fired a volley, and Giesler—who had been cited as a “brave and efficient officer” after the January 14, 1865, Action at Dardanelle—fell from his horse, riddled with five bullets.
Four other Federals fell wounded, and eleven were captured by the guerrillas as the rest of the detachment scattered. While Union officials said the bushwhacker band, which a Little Rock newspaper said was led by Marcus Vaugine, numbered 200, the same newspaper reported that the forces on both sides were roughly equal. Many of the Wisconsin troopers returned to Little Rock to lead a stronger force back to recover Giesler and try to capture the treacherous guide. Seven other Third Wisconsin soldiers showed up at Pine Bluff on March 13 to bring news of the disaster. Giesler died on March 12, and Private Daniel H. Hooper of Company D succumbed to his wounds on March 15. Major Thomas Derry of the Third Wisconsin sent a list of casualties from the skirmish to Wisconsin, where it was published in several newspapers.
The scout from Little Rock to Clear Lake showed that the Civil War in Arkansas was far from over in the spring of 1865 as active Confederate irregular troops continued seeking opportunities to attack small bands of Union troops.
For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Vol. 74, pp. 795, 804. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1998.
“Losses of the 3d Cavalry at Clear Lake, Ark.” Wisconsin Lumberman, April 14, 1865, p. 2; Weekly Wisconsin, April 15, 1865, p. 2.
Quiner, E. B. Military History of Wisconsin. Chicago: Clarke & Co., 1866.
Ross, Margaret, “U.S. Detachment Falls in Trap; Captain Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, March 10, 1965, p. 6B.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 13, 138; part 2, pp. 1129, 1151. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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