Skirmish at Cypress Creek (May 13, 1864)


Location: Perry County
Campaign: None
Date: May 13, 1864
Principal Commanders: Major Thaddeus Clarkson (US); Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Arkansas Cavalry (US); Shelby’s brigade of Missouri cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Draw

This action was the first engagement between Federal and Confederate forces during Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s movement into northern and eastern Arkansas during the summer of 1864. Near the Arkansas River, Federal forces worked to determine the strength of Confederate forces and keep them from crossing the river if possible.

After the conclusion of the Camden Expedition in early May 1864, Federal forces remained in several fortified cities across the state, while Confederate forces held southern Arkansas. Seeing an opportunity to operate more freely in central and northern Arkansas, Confederate commanders ordered units of cavalry to move across the state and determine Union strength, among other tasks. Shelby led his brigade of Missouri cavalry from southern Arkansas in an effort to move into the northeastern corner of the state. Shelby and his men were tasked with taking control of all regular and irregular troops north of the Arkansas River. The command was also ordered to stop guerrillas and deserters from attacking civilians in the area.

After three days of travel, the brigade arrived at the Arkansas River near Lewisburg (Conway County). Expecting to find an easily crossable ford, Shelby instead found a heavy and strong current with water levels approximately twelve feet higher than expected. The location of the ford was also directly between Federal forces at Lewisburg and a separate camp of Union troops. Quietly moving his men to the river, Shelby planned to use two boats to cross his entire command to the north shore. At sundown, the Confederate pickets were attacked by approximately 400 Federals from Lewisburg. Shelby slowly reinforced his men who were engaging the Federals in an effort to keep his true strength unknown to the enemy. The fighting ended when darkness fell. Shelby ultimately reported that the Federals suffered forty killed and wounded, while his forces lost only one man slightly wounded.

Federal reports from the engagement bring Shelby’s claims into question. Major Thaddeus Clarkson of the Third Arkansas Cavalry (US) reported engaging Confederate forces near Cypress Creek at the same time as the engagement near the river. The Federals reported pushing the enemy back and destroying their camp during this engagement. They also reportedly recovered the body of a Lieutenant Ritter, who had been killed by the Confederates. The Union troops did not lose any men in this engagement but were unable to estimate Confederate losses, if any. While it is unclear, it appears that the engagement at Cypress Creek and Shelby’s fight at the Arkansas River are the same skirmish.

Shelby and his men did eventually cross the river and spent several months in northern and eastern Arkansas, where they participated in several engagements with Federal forces.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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