Skirmish at Benton Road (March 23–24, 1864)
|Dates:||March 23–24, 1864|
|Principal Commanders:||Colonel John F. Ritter (US); Unknown (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Pickets of the Third Arkansas Cavalry and the Second Missouri Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)|
|Estimated Casualties:||2 wounded, 2 captured (US); 1 captured (CS)|
In the spring of 1864, Major General Frederick Steele, commander of Federal forces occupying Little Rock (Pulaski County), was ordered to work in conjunction with Major General Nathaniel Banks in Louisiana to capture Shreveport and move into Texas. Steele was reluctant to participate in the scheme and departed Little Rock only after receiving direct orders to support Banks. This action was the first contact between Steele’s forces and the enemy after the march from Little Rock began.
The Federal army departed Little Rock on March 23 and marched to the southwest. Cavalry units were placed at the front of the army to warn the following units if the enemy approached. The Third Arkansas Cavalry and the Second Missouri Cavalry (Merrill’s Horse) were leading the advance when a small Confederate force attacked. Two men of the Third Arkansas were captured, and the Second Missouri responded, pushing the Confederates back. Two additional Union soldiers were wounded in the action, and the Confederate forces did not report any casualties.
On the next day, the Federal forces reached Benton (Saline County), engaging three more Confederates as the Union soldiers moved into the town. Small groups of Confederates continued to launch ambushes on the advancing Federals but made little progress in slowing them down. A member of the First Missouri Cavalry (Confederate) was also captured on March 24. This prisoner was dressed in a Federal uniform and gladly gave his captors information, as he expected to be hanged as a spy for wearing the enemy’s clothing. He informed the Federals that there were not any Confederate units at Rockport (Hot Spring County) and that his brigade was stationed at Camden (Ouachita County) under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Shelby. The Union forces ended the day by preparing to cross the Saline River, which was low at the time and easily fordable.
This was only the first of many engagements to come between the advancing Federal army and the Confederate forces in the area. Most of the engagements in the Camden Expedition were of this nature, involving just a few men and with few casualties.
For additional information:
TheWar of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.
Henderson State University
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