Scout from Pine Bluff to DeValls Bluff

aka: Skirmish at Pine Bluff (February 11, 1865)

Location: Jefferson and Prairie counties
Campaign: None
Date: February 9–19, 1865
Principal Commanders: Captain John H. Norris (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 75 cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None (US); 3 killed (CS)
Result: Union victory

The scouting expedition in February 1865 between Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) was typical of many such operations carried out by the Union army during the duration of the war. Facing minor organized resistance, the Federal troopers easily defeated the small guerrilla bands opposing them. Skirmishes such as this were typical in the last days of the Civil War in Arkansas.

Captain John Norris of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry received orders to depart Pine Bluff on February 9 and proceed to DeValls Bluff. Accompanying the captain were seventy-five men, as well as a number of horses deemed unfit for active service.

Although the area between the two Union posts was regularly patrolled by Confederate and guerrilla forces, the Union troops encountered little opposition during their trip to DeValls Bluff. Several short engagements with Confederate guerrillas, including one on February 11, were fought, with the Federals claiming to have killed at least three and to have wounded several more.

Upon arriving at DeValls Bluff on February 12, the Union troops remained at the post for several days to rest and recuperate before their return trip to Pine Bluff. Departing for the city on February 15, Norris led his men in search of cattle during the return march. Moving through the countryside, the Federals acquired sixty head of cattle by unknown means. The animals slowed down the Union troops, causing the return trip to take an extra day.

During the march back to Pine Bluff, Norris used a guide and gathered intelligence about enemy operations in the area. He learned that a steamer had visited the area on February 15 and traded with the local population. Continuing to Pine Bluff, the Federals had several small skirmishes with guerrillas but were unable to inflict any casualties.

A running fight occurred between the Federals and a group under the command of Marcellus Vaugine, a guerrilla commander. Seeing three captured Union soldiers being escorted by the Confederates, Norris tried to stop the enemy in order to free the prisoners. But, as the Federals were moving slowly, Norris eventually abandoned the chase. The Union troops did capture several horses, mules, and guns, as well as some ammunition. After destroying the guns and ammunition in the field, the scouting party returned to Pine Bluff on February 19.

With little organized and effective resistance in areas north of the Arkansas River, Union scouting parties like this one continued to disrupt Confederate operations.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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