Skirmish at Limestone Valley

Location: Newton County
Campaign: None
Date: April 17, 1864
Principal Commanders: Major James Melton (US); Colonel Sissell (CS)
Forces Engaged: Units of the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); Unknown guerrilla units (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 0 (US); 30 killed, 8 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

A small skirmish between Arkansas Federals and Confederate-leaning guerrillas in the rugged Ozark Mountains, this engagement was part of an effort to keep Confederate forces both from attacking Union units and from terrorizing the local population. This engagement is typical of the type of fighting at this point of the war between Union forces and irregular units.

On April 14, 1864, Colonel John Phelps of the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US) ordered Major James Melton to take 110 men and move against a guerrilla force nearby under the command of a man known as Sissell (quite likely John Cecil). Melton and his men departed the next day. Captain John Bailey and his company were ordered to work with Melton’s unit in creating a pincer movement to ensure that the guerrillas were destroyed. Unfortunately, Sissell and his men had moved from the location where the Federals expected them to be, and the two Union groups joined forces to continue their mission.

After continuing their search for the enemy on April 16, the Federals camped for the night before receiving intelligence that Sissell and his men were at Limestone Valley, about three miles away from the Federal camp. At the same time, the Union troops were joined by a group of men from the Second Arkansas Infantry under the command of Lieutenant William Hunter. These troops made up a scouting party from Clarksville (Johnson County) that was scouting enemy movements in the area. The combined Federal force attacked early on the morning of April 17. The guerrillas were completely surprised and were unable to mount a defense against the Union attack, which hit their camp from two directions. Fleeing in disorder, the guerrillas were chased by the Federals about eight miles before escaping. During the engagement, the Union troops inflicted many casualties on the guerrillas, including thirty killed, an unknown number wounded, and eight captured. Additionally, the Federals captured twenty-three horses, twenty-five stands of arms, and additional materials including blankets and saddles, while not suffering any casualties.

After the conclusion of the skirmish, the Federals continued to search the surrounding countryside for any escaped enemy, as well as members of other guerrilla groups. Melton and his men were forced to return to camp on April 22 after running out of rations. Hunter and his men returned to Clarksville. Federal commanders in the area praised the success of their men but also spoke of the need for additional troops to continue hunting down guerrillas, especially in the face of minimal assistance from the local population.

With most Confederate troops in the state located south of the Arkansas River at this point of the war, actions like this one would only become more common as irregular units tried to operate near Union lines.

For additional information:
Henderson, Shannon J. “The Battle of Limestone Valley.” Ozarks Mountaineer, November 1965, p. 5.

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

David Sesser
Henderson State University


    Arkansas citizens needed protection from Union depredations, which were inflicted upon the Northwest inhabitants. The Arkansas “Union” forces were known to be ineffective and very poor soldiers.

    Jason Henly Jasper, AR

    Based on information on his tombstone in Adair Cemetery in Newton County, William Adair, age 27, was one of the guerrillas killed in this battle.

    Phillip Watkins Huntsville, Arkansas