Scout from Springfield, Missouri, into Northern Arkansas
aka: Skirmish at Bennett’s Bayou
aka: Skirmish near Buffalo City
The scouting expedition from Springfield, Missouri, into northern Arkansas, lasting from February 23 to March 9, 1864, was typical of Union operations in the Ozark Mountains in 1864 during which Federal troops sought to locate and destroy guerrilla bands in the region.
Captain Eli Hughes of the Sixth Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US) left Springfield, with 111 men of the regiment, on February 23, 1864, “with orders to proceed south into Arkansas.” They crossed the White River on February 25, and while riding south of Sugar Loaf Prairie in modern-day Boone County, they encountered a group of guerrillas, part of a band led by Major Louis M. Gunning. They killed two of this band and reached Yellville (Marion County) a day later. Hughes detached thirty men to escort a wagon train of Unionist refugees to Springfield “in conformity with an order received prior to my departure.”
Hughes and his remaining men left Yellville on February 28, riding southeast and setting up a base about six miles below Buffalo City (Baxter County) on the White River, from which they spent three days “scouring the country on both sides of the river.” On March 1, he sent about half of his men under Lieutenant James Overman to operate south of the White while he and the remaining forty men worked the north side.
That same day, Hughes and his troopers found a band of guerrillas near Buffalo City, where they killed a lieutenant from the Eighth Missouri Infantry (CS) “and a man named Charles Cain, known as a desperado and regarded with terror by all loyal citizens.” Overman and his men found a group of guerrillas led by Jesse Harrison Tracy in the same area and killed a man named Heron and another bushwhacker who was a Baptist preacher, while capturing three additional bushwhackers.
On March 2, the combined Federal column left the White River about eight miles north of Calico Rock (Izard County) and crossed a mountain to scout the area around Bennett’s Bayou. They soon ran into about fifty bushwhackers from Tracy’s band who had just killed a Unionist named Anderson and a Black man. “Tracy dispersed his men among the hills and fired upon my command from behind rocks and trees, but without effect,” Hughes reported.
The Union captain divided his command into “small detachments of skirmishers” on March 3 and “thoroughly scoured Bennett’s Bayou.” The Federals killed Frank Russell, “a notorious guerrilla from Wright County, Mo.,” and a Fulton County man named Howard while capturing a soldier from Colonel Thomas R. Freeman’s command. Hughes and his men headed back toward Springfield the same day. While Hughes’s report says they turned sixteen horses and various weapons seized during the scout over to the provost marshal after arriving in Springfield on March 9, it does not say what was done with the prisoners.
For additional information:
Blevins, Brooks. A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 2, The Conflicted Ozarks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 34, part 1, p. 152. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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