Skirmish at Kickapoo Bottom

aka: Skirmish at Sylamore (May 29, 1862)

Location: Stone County
Campaign: None
Date: May 29, 1862
Principal Commanders: Major William C. Drake, Major William D. Bowen (US); Sergeant William M. Chitwood (CS)
Forces Engaged: Companies E, F, G, and H of the Third Iowa Cavalry, Bowen’s Battalion Cavalry (US); Freeman’s Regiment, First Missouri Cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 killed, 2 wounded (US); 3 killed, 25 captured (CS)
Result: Stalemate; munitions effort on South Sylamore Creek secured for Confederacy, but the continuing Union mission to find and destroy munitions resulted in many local casualties

During the Civil War, present-day Stone County was part of Izard County. The county seat was at Mount Olive five miles upriver from Sylamore, present-day Allison (Stone County), on the west side of the river. (Due to the rail station established on the east side of the White River in 1902, the name Sylamore was usurped by the east side, and the western community was rechristened Allison.) The first military encounter in the area occurred here on May 29 and 30, 1862, at a place called Kickapoo Bottoms (or Kickapoo Bottom), today known as Harris Bottoms, three miles north of present-day Allison.

An “‘uprising” at Sylamore followed the November 1861 Izard County Investigative Committee’s arrest, detainment, hanging, shooting, and forced enlistment of members of the Arkansas Peace Society. To be ready to put down a possible insurrection, the Arkansas State Militia under Colonel John Jacob Kemp remained near Kickapoo Bottoms from December 1861 through February 1862. Local stories hold that a number of slaves escaped and hid out in the hills around Sylamore. Batesville (Independence County), some thirty-five miles away, fell to the Union on May 4, 1862, becoming Union headquarters on the White River.

Col. Kemp of the Arkansas State Militia at Riggsville—now Mountain View (Stone County)—had been put in charge of securing munitions for Arkansas troops. Munitions were being made from the saltpeter and bat guano from the numerous caves throughout the region. Gunner Pool in what is now the Ozark National Forest, Sylamore District, was a primary location of munitions for the state. With the port of Sylamore nearby, protecting these efforts was the duty of Freeman’s First Missouri Cavalry (Confederate). Over two-thirds of his men were local men from the White River valley of Stone, Izard, and Independence counties. On February 14, 1862, at Crane Creek, during the Pea Ridge Campaign, Freeman was captured with twenty-nine of his men by Major William D. Bowen’s Federal Missouri Cavalry Battalion. He was sent to the Federal Military Prison at Alton, Illinois, where he was paroled on June 18, 1862. He then returned to his regiment, with his headquarters at Spring Mill (on the Missouri side of the state line) and Mammoth Spring (Fulton County). Sergeant William M. Chitwood of Buckhorn—now St. James (Stone County)—was left in charge of the local guerrillas and protecting the munitions effort during Freeman’s imprisonment.

On the morning of May 28, 1862, a detachment of 150 men under the command of Major William C. Drake, Third Iowa Cavalry, reported to Major William D. Bowen at the Grigsby Ferry, where they joined his 150 men and two mountain howitzers (small cannons) and began their march. The next day, May 29, they captured a picket, who disclosed that a camp of Rebels was located at Kickapoo Bottoms along the White River, three miles north of Sylamore. They reached Sylamore the night of May 29. They proceeded about a half mile to the camp, where the Union soldiers dismounted and were given orders to surround the Rebels. However, owing to the cloud cover and extreme darkness, they became disoriented and lost. The Rebel camp of approximately thirty men was alerted and fired upon the Union soldiers, killing Sergeant Stanton B. Millan, a battalion saddler, and wounding two men—Private Joseph T. French (Company A) and Captain Israel Anderson (Company A), both shot in the thigh. Union soldiers chased the Rebels, capturing twenty-five men, forty horses and mules, and forty guns. They camped in the Rebel camp that night; encumbered by wounded men and a lack of supplies and rations sufficient for their men and captives, they decided it would be best to destroy the camp and return to Batesville the following morning.

Before breaking camp, the Union was fired upon from the east side of the river while the men were watering their horses. The howitzers were brought into position to shell the woods. Two Rebels were reported killed. The Union forces were able to break camp around noon, traveling south on the west side of the river toward Sylamore, where they secured a buggy. As they ascended the bluff line at Sylamore, they were again attacked by Rebel guerrillas, who were reported to have run when pursued by the rear guard. No one was reported hurt except one Union man, who was wounded by a shot that passed through his molasses-filled canteen.

Following the skirmish, twenty-five African-American men, including Richard Gravelly—born 1835 in Riggsville—followed the Union troops making their way back to Batesville. In June 1862, they formed one of the first black troops of the Union army.

For additional information:
Enlistment records of Richard Gravelly. Old Independence Regional Museum, Batesville, Arkansas.

Phillips, Freda Cruse. Voices of Our People: Stone County, Arkansas. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 2009.

The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 13. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.

Freda Cruse Phillips
Mountain View, Arkansas


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