Scout from Pine Bluff to Douglas’ Plantation (February 21–22, 1865)

The Civil War scout from Pine Bluff to Douglas’ Plantation on a rainy night apparently started as a cattle raid but ended in sharp skirmishes with Confederate troops.

Captain Gurnsey Davis of the Union’s Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry Regiment left Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) at the head of fifty men of his regiment, riding down the south side of the Arkansas River in an apparent search of cattle to feed the Union garrison. Rain was “falling in perfect torrents,” so when the Federal horsemen arrived at Douglas’ Plantation around 10:00 p.m. on February 21, they sought shelter in an old cotton shed. Having spotted signs of as many as sixty Confederate riders on their way down and being warned by an African American man that a Colonel Clark was about three miles away with a rebel force “burning cotton and arresting deserters,” Davis doubled the pickets guarding their position.

At around 1:00 a.m., the Union pickets were rushed from two directions by Confederate troopers and forced back, “and in an instant a volley was poured into the men under the shed where they were huddled together to keep out of the rain.” The Federals returned fire, and the rebel horsemen fell back, but they soon made a second charge, “forcing my men back from their horses.”

Davis rallied his soldiers and sent them back to the shed to reclaim their horses, and the Confederates were forced to retreat behind a levee. Most of the Federals mounted their horses and formed a battle line while one platoon was sent in search of casualties. They found four wounded men, two of whom were so badly injured that they were carried to the Douglas house, “where I had every assurance that they should be cared for as well as circumstances would admit.” Three or four other men were missing, either shot down at their picket posts or overlooked by their comrades, “it being so very dark and raining.”

Davis decided to head back to Pine Bluff, taking a back road since he had no idea of the location of his Confederate attackers. Sheltering in a cotton gin until it got light enough to ride, they finally arrived at Pine Bluff around 8:00 p.m. on February 22. Davis reported that “the country is full of small parties of rebels,” including twenty-five who had eaten at a Doctor Jackson’s house shortly before the Federals arrived there. He also said that his party had chased Captain Henry Burt and two other officers of Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s command, though they escaped.

Davis also noted that the cattle raid was a failure and that he “could find no cattle worth driving” while the excessive rainfall precluded the Federals from searching the canebrakes, “the only place where cattle can be found at this season.”

The scout from Pine Bluff to Douglas’ Plantation offers evidence that even routine missions at this late stage of the war could prove deadly for Union soldiers.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 121–122. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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