Skirmish at Branchville


Location: Lincoln County
Date: January 19, 1864
Campaign: None
Principal Commanders: Colonel Powell Clayton (US); Colonel Robert Lawther (CS)
Forces Engaged: Fifth Kansas Cavalry, First Indiana Cavalry, Seventh Missouri Cavalry, four pieces of light artillery (US); Tenth Missouri Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 2 killed, several wounded (US); 16 killed, several wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

By late 1863, the area surrounding Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) was routinely occupied by violent guerrilla bands. When local citizens asked for assistance, Major General Frederick Steele dispatched Colonel Powell Clayton and his Fifth Kansas Cavalry (US) to secure the area. After repelling a major attack on the city on October 25, 1863, Clayton mainly patrolled the surrounding area to maintain control locally. His units occasionally clashed with enemy forces; one such clash was the 1864 Skirmish at Branchville.

Around midnight on January 18, 1864, a detachment of some 600 troopers from the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, First Indiana Cavalry, Seventh Missouri Cavalry, and four pieces of light artillery, under the command of Col. Clayton, rode out of Pine Bluff on a typical reconnaissance mission. About twelve miles south of Pine Bluff, near Bayou Bartholomew, the Union force first made contact with enemy pickets. After easily pushing the pickets aside, Clayton briefly halted his force for rations. About daylight on January 19, the force once again began to advance. Confederates were clearly in the area, evidenced by the many campfires discovered along the road. Upon advancing approximately five miles from Bayou Bartholomew, Confederate pickets were once again engaged. Advancing another three miles, Clayton found the main Confederate force, believed to be the Tenth Missouri Cavalry, deployed in a line of battle in thick timber blocking the road. Clayton ordered the Fifth Kansas and the First Indiana to take up position on both sides of the road. The artillery was positioned in the center, with the Seventh Missouri Cavalry holding the rear of the line of battle in reserve. A steady fight ensued for approximately thirty minutes before the Confederates began slowly to withdraw. Clayton pursued them for the next seven miles, with sharp fighting along the entire route. The Confederates were eventually driven through their main camp at Branchville (Lincoln County). About two miles past the camp, the Confederates broke off the fight, making a hasty retreat.

Running low on ammunition and fearing an attack by unseen forces, Clayton decided to return to Pine Bluff. Additional concerns about the security of the weakened Pine Bluff garrison also contributed to his decision. After halting for rations, Clayton led his men back to Bayou Bartholomew, where they rested for a brief time. Remounting, they rode through the night, arriving at Pine Bluff around midnight.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Part 1, Vol. 34. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1890.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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