Skirmish at Cane Hill (November 25, 1862)

Location: Washington County
Campaign: Prairie Grove Campaign
Date: November 25, 1862
Principal Commanders: Major George A. Purington (US); Captain William Quantrill (CS)
Forces Engaged: Second Ohio Cavalry, Third Wisconsin Cavalry (US); Captain William Quantrill’s Company Scounts and Spies (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 2 wounded (US); 2 killed (CS)
Result: Union victory

The November 25, 1862, Skirmish near Cane Hill, Arkansas, occurred as Union general James Gilpatrick Blunt reconnoitered Confederate positions in northwest Arkansas. His troops had already fought minor skirmishes with Confederate cavalry earlier in the month.

From his camp on Lindsey’s Prairie in Benton County, Gen. Blunt sent Major George A. Purington with a portion of the Second Ohio Cavalry and detachment of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry south toward the Cane Hill (Washington County), Cincinnati (Washington County), and Evansville (Washington County) area. Accompanied by a local guide on a white horse, Maj. Purington’s troopers proceeded to within four or five miles of Cincinnati, discovering signs that several hundred horses had recently passed by. Half a mile farther down the road, two southern horsemen fled when sighted. After conversing with local families, the Union advance discovered that several more Confederates had passed by only ten minutes before. Two miles down the road, the Confederates formed an ambush and fired on the approaching Federal cavalry.

A small skirmish ensued, with Purington encouraging his men to reload. The Rebels fled, and a portion of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry passed the Ohio horsemen, dismounted, and took the advance. Barely 100 feet ahead of the Second Ohio, the Wisconsin men also received small arms fire from a Confederate ambush, wounding two troopers. This proved the last exchange of fire, as the entire body of Confederate troops fled south.

Intelligence gathered by Union troops a few days later indicated that the Confederate troops encountered on November 25 had been 400 men of Captain William Clarke Quantrill’s command. The encounter further solidified Blunt’s belief that large bodies of Confederate soldiers were preparing to move north in an attempt to cut him off from reinforcements in Missouri and thus destroy his division. It also validated his belief that if the Confederate cavalry division should move up in force, his best option would be to bring his entire division to the Cane Hill area and fight them there, before the Confederate infantry could march north. Blunt acted on this belief just a few days later on November 28, 1862.

For additional information:
Tenney, Frances Andrews. War Diary of Luman Harris Tenney, 1861–1865. Cleveland: Evangelical Publishing House, 1914.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 22, Part I, p. 37. Washington DC:  Government Printing Office, 1888.

Stephen Burgess
Rogers, Arkansas


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