Skirmish at Dardanelle (September 12, 1863)


Location: Yell County
Campaign: None
Date: September 12, 1863
Principal Commanders: Colonel William F. Cloud (US); Colonel Ras Stirman (CS)
Forces Engaged: 200 men of the Second Kansas Cavalry, 1 artillery section, unknown number of volunteers (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); 10–15 killed, 21 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

A small engagement occurring after the Action at Devil’s Backbone, this skirmish was part of an effort between Union forces in northwestern Arkansas to link up with their comrades moving toward Little Rock (Pulaski County) from Helena (Phillips County).

The Action at Devil’s Backbone was fought on September 1, 1863, when a Union force under the command of Major General James Blunt defeated a Confederate unit under the command of Brigadier General William Cabell. The Union commander on the field at Devil’s Backbone, Colonel William F. Cloud, returned to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) after the battle, where he remained until September 9. On that date, Cloud took 200 men of the Second Kansas Cavalry and a section of artillery toward Little Rock in an effort to link up with Federal forces under Major General Frederick Steele and to push any Confederate units in the area out of the Arkansas River Valley.

After arriving at Dardanelle (Yell County), Cloud encountered a Confederate unit under the command of Colonel Ras Stirman. Cloud estimated that the enemy consisted of around 1,000 men and four pieces of artillery, but this number is likely too high. As the Federals entered the town, they were joined by around 300 local Unionist volunteers organized into six companies. Some of these men had previously served under the command of Cabell at Devil’s Backbone and subsequently deserted Confederate service. Attacking the Confederates head on, Cloud and his men pushed the enemy back for several hours before the enemy broke and ran. The Confederates crossed the Arkansas River in an effort to escape, and Cloud reported that between ten and fifteen men were killed. Another twenty-one Confederates were captured, along with 200 head of cattle, several hundred bushels of wheat, some flour, and other items.

The Union force under Cloud was joined in the battle by the local volunteers. At the conclusion of the fight, the Federal force under Cloud continued downriver, using the supplies captured from the Confederate forces to subsist on, while the volunteers remained behind. Cloud and his force arrived in the Little Rock area on September 18 and joined the Federal army under Steele, who ordered the colonel to utilize the Unionist volunteers if possible along the Arkansas River.

This skirmish at Dardanelle came about during the first joining of Federal forces based in northwestern Arkansas and Helena. The inclusion of Confederate deserters in the fight made Union commanders aware of the possibility that these men could inflict damage on the enemy in the Arkansas River Valley.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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