Skirmish at Benton (December 1, 1863)

Location: Saline County
Campaign: None
Date: December 1, 1863
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Alexander D. Mills (US); Captain H. S. Randall (CS)
Forces Engaged: 40 men of the First Missouri Cavalry (US); Third Missouri Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 3 killed, 2 wounded (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

After the fall of Little Rock (Pulaski County) in September 1863, Federal forces established defensive lines around the capital city but sent patrols and forage trains into nearby communities to gather both information and supplies. One city temporarily occupied by the Union troops was Benton (Saline County). A small engagement, the inconsequential Skirmish at Benton was a Confederate attack on one such patrol.

On December 1, 1863, Colonel Cyrus Bussey dispatched a patrol of forty men to scout the road between Benton and Hot Springs (Garland County). Departing at 3:00 a.m., the patrol was commanded by Lieutenant Alexander D. Mills of the First Missouri Cavalry (US). Moving out from Benton, the patrol rode about twenty-five miles before beginning its return journey to the city.

When the patrol was about ten miles from Benton, the group was attacked by a unit of Confederate cavalry estimated by Federal forces to number 400. Under the control of Captain H. S. Randall—commander of Company F, Third Missouri Cavalry—the Federals, having been surprised by the attack, fell back in the direction of Little Rock while fighting. The entire Federal unit was almost captured by the enemy, but the men were able to get away. The Confederates did not pursue the Federals, and the patrol returned to the city. Mills reported that he lost three men killed and two wounded. Two other men lost their horses and were forced to return to Little Rock on foot. Confederate captain Randall reported that the Federal force consisted of fifty men, which had two dead, four wounded, and one captured. Neither side reported any Confederate losses.

The Confederate forces were in the area to attack forage trains gathering supplies for Union forces in Little Rock. A train in the Hot Springs area on November 30 was forced to return to Little Rock after reports of Confederate forces in the area, which in fact was the unit under Randall’s command. Randall closed his report with the information that about 1,200 Federals and five pieces of artillery were in Benton and approximately 10,000 to 12,000 Federals were in Little Rock.

Similar actions would continue to take place through the winter of 1863–64 while Federal forces continued to work to improve their defenses around the capital city and continue to supply their troops. Confederate forces likewise continued to attack these patrols and other groups when possible.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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