Scout on the Arkansas River near Pine Bluff

The Scout on the Arkansas River near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) was undertaken to determine the location and intentions of Confederate troops in the vicinity of the Union base at Pine Bluff.

Rumors were swirling among Union leaders as Major General Sterling Price gathered Confederate forces in Arkansas in late August 1864 to begin a raid into Missouri. Brigadier General Eugene A. Carr contacted Colonel Powell Clayton, who was commanding Union troops in Pine Bluff, on August 26, warning him to protect telegraph lines in his area and to be aware of any Confederate movements on the north side of the Arkansas River that could endanger Federal foraging operations. Major General Frederick Steele on the same day asked Clayton if he was aware of Confederates putting a pontoon across the Arkansas.

While discounting the bridge rumor, Clayton did report that a deserter from the Twelfth Texas Cavalry Regiment told him about a “camp rumor” that Price was going to feint toward Little Rock (Pulaski County) to draw forces away from Pine Bluff, which was the Confederate general’s actual target, adding, “I send this for what it’s worth.” Nonetheless, Clayton decided to send a scouting expedition toward Arkansas Post the next day.

Captain James M. Wightman of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US) led 100 troopers—possibly from Company A of the Seventh, which reported “parts of the company have been in numerous skirmishes,” or Company C, which reported a “portion of the company has been in various skirmishes with the enemy”—out of Pine Bluff on August 27, 1864. They made it about thirty miles before running into Confederate troops, and, Clayton reported that “they skirmished with the enemy for several miles and found that it would be unsafe to proceed further.” Wightman did confirm, though, the absence of a pontoon bridge below Pine Bluff. The scouts returned to Pine Bluff on August 28.

Price left Camden (Ouachita County) on the same day, beginning a disastrous invasion of Missouri that would decimate the Confederate forces of Arkansas. The Confederates crossed the Arkansas at Dardanelle (Yell County) on September 6–7, 1864, and his failure to detect the Confederate movement would lead to Steele losing command of the Union Seventh Corps.

For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 35. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1996.

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 1, p. 296; part II, pp. 877–878, 911–912. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 05/06/2022

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