Scout to Searcy and West Point (July 26–28, 1864)
The scout to Searcy (White County) and West Point (White County) was undertaken to seek the location of the forces of Confederate brigadier general Joseph O. Shelby and his men, who had been rampaging through eastern Arkansas during the summer of 1864.
Union brigadier general Christopher C. Andrews sent the scouting expedition of four officers and 126 men led by Captain Charles A. Williams of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US) from the Union base at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) on July 26, 1864. The main force entered West Point, where they destroyed milling machinery, while a group of scouts rode ahead.
The scouts, who Andrews would later describe as “altogether too easy and confident,” stopped at a house to await the main column, neglecting to set out pickets to watch for enemy soldiers. They were surprised by a group of sixty Confederate guerrillas led by Howell A. “Doc” Rayburn, who operated in the area between West Point and Des Arc (Prairie County). Since most of the bushwhackers were in Federal uniforms, Captain George W. Weber, the leader of the scouts, ordered his men to hold their fire.
Rayburn’s forces opened fire, killing one Union soldier and capturing Weber, Lieutenant James S. Bainum, and sixteen men while losing two men to Federal fire. At least three Missourians escaped, reaching Brownsville (Lonoke County) on the morning of July 28.
Williams and his troops continued on to Searcy, where they destroyed more milling machinery and determined that there were no Confederate troops in the area. They captured a civilian who revealed that Shelby’s main force had been between Augusta (Woodruff County) and Jacksonport (Jackson County) on July 24 and that a few companies of men (likely Rayburn’s) were scouting and picketing between West Point and Des Arc. Williams also had twelve African American men with him when he returned to DeValls Bluff on July 28; these were recruits for the United States Colored Troops at the Union base.
While Federal officials speculated that Shelby may have been heading toward Missouri, Shelby and his men remained in Arkansas through August, attacking federally leased plantations outside of Helena (Phillips County) and capturing an entire Union regiment at Ashley’s Station before heading north as part of Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri Raid in the fall of 1864.
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.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 41, part 1, pp. 174–175; part 2, pp. 453–454. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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