Skirmish at Cherokee Bay

Location: Randolph County
Campaign: Scout from Patterson, Missouri, and Skirmish at Cherokee Bay, Arkansas
Date: May 8, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Abijah Johns, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 missing (US); 12 killed, unknown number wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

Continuing the Union strategy of raiding northeastern Arkansas from Missouri to harass guerrillas or Confederate regulars in the area, Captain Abijah Johns of Company A, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, engaged in a sharp skirmish before defeating the unknown Confederate forces near Cherokee Bay (Randolph County) on May 8, 1864.

The term “Cherokee Bay” was often used by Union officers to refer to the general areas between the Current and Black rivers in Randolph County. In fact, Lieutenant Colonel George C. Thilenius of Fifth-sixth Regiment of Enrolled Missouri Militia simply referred to the swampy region as Cherokee Bayou. Therefore, any specific location in the Cherokee Bay area used by Union officers may be difficult to pinpoint, as it could mean a large geographic region. Cherokee Bay, the location with the modern name, may not necessarily be the location for any Civil War event, as the name seems to be used for slightly different locations at different times in Randolph County history.

Colonel John F. Tyler, commanding the post at Pilot Knob, Missouri, ordered Captain Abijah Johns of Company A, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, to begin scouting for Confederate forces in the Missouri-Arkansas border area on May 6, 1864. Arriving near Pocahontas (Randolph County) by way of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Johns’s rapid advance came to a halt. The ferries on the Current and Black rivers had been destroyed, and the rivers were simply too dangerous to ford. Attempting to strike northward along the Current River to find a crossing, Johns entered the Cherokee Bay swamp. While traveling northward, Johns’s advance guard engaged unidentified Rebels on May 8. After an exchange of fire, Johns charged the Confederates, scattering them into the brush and inflicting twelve killed and an unknown number of wounded. The Federals were not without damage after this event. Johns reported one casualty, a man missing who was believed to be taken prisoner, and two horses killed. Searching the Cherokee Bay area and finding no additional Confederates, Johns moved his force over the Little Black River and to Buckskull before pitching camp.

Finding scant enemy forces and even less forage in Randolph County, Johns turned his column northward on the morning of May 10. Arriving in Patterson, Missouri, on May 11, Johns reported the Confederates in the region to be a number of small, scattered commands, and he described the countryside as generally quiet outside of his skirmish.

The Skirmish at Cherokee Bay is typical of the engagements in Randolph County in the later portions of the war in that the Federals were usually raiding the county, the numbers involved and lost were rather small, the Confederates went unidentified by the Federals, and the Federals usually left the region after the engagement. Furthermore, the vast majority of these skirmishes had little strategic value for either side.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891. Series 1, Vol. 34, Part 1, p. 915.

Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College


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