Skirmish at Arkadelphia

Location: Clark County
Date: April 1–2, 1864
Campaign: Camden Expedition
Principal Commanders: Brigadier General Samuel A. Rice (US); Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby (CS)
Forces Engaged: 1 infantry brigade and 1 battery of artillery (US); 1 cavalry brigade and 3 artillery pieces (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 63 (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Union victory

After capturing Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Fort Smith (Sebastian County) in September 1863, Union forces were in control of much of the state. From these two occupied cities, Federal troops could launch an attack into southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana, and eastern Texas. In March 1864, an attack on northwest Louisiana and eastern Texas was launched from both Arkansas and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Leaving Little Rock on March 23, Major General Frederick Steele set out to help the Union column from New Orleans capture Shreveport, Louisiana, which was the headquarters for the Confederate Trans-Mississippi. Arriving in Arkadelphia (Clark County) on March 29, Steele remained for three days waiting for reinforcements from Fort Smith under the command of Brigadier General John Thayer. The progress of Thayer’s Frontier Division’s was hampered by bad roads and a lack of provisions. After three days, Steele was forced to continue his mission without the extra men.

Brigadier General Samuel A. Rice was in command of the brigade at the rear of the column and was tasked with defending the force and the wagon train from Confederate cavalry attacks as the expedition departed Arkadelphia on April 1. Just outside the town, the first of many attacks throughout the day was launched by Confederate troops under the command of Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby.

Shelby’s mission was to harass the rearguard of the Federal force and slow its advance. This allowed time for other Confederate units in front of the Union forces to prepare defensive works. After repeated clashes, Shelby launched a major attack near Terre Noire Creek around noon on April 2. All 1,500 of Shelby’s men charged the Union lines, supported by three pieces of artillery. Rice rushed to the growing sounds of battle and deployed his entire brigade and a battery of artillery to repel the attack. After pushing the Confederates back, Rice and his men returned to the wagon train, which had continued to advance with the rest of the Union force. The Union force then repulsed another attack that was under the command of Brigadier General William L. Cabell. This was the last major attack of the day on the Union force. Rice and his command rejoined the main body near Okolona (Clark County) after more than six hours of fighting.

The skirmishes fought near Arkadelphia were all Union victories. Rice was able to protect both the Union force’s rear and its wagon train. The Confederate cavalry was unable to effectively hamper the movement of the Federals and was unsuccessful in causing any major losses within the Union ranks.

For additional information:
“The Civil War in Clark County, Arkansas: A Guide to the County’s Significant Civil War Sites and Structures.” Clark County Historical Journal (1998).

Forsyth, Michael J. The Camden Expedition of 1864 and the Opportunity Lost by the Confederacy to Change the Civil War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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