Skirmish at Little Red River (June 6, 1864)
aka: Skirmish at Beeler's Ferry
|Date:||June 6, 1864|
|Principal Commanders:||Colonel Washington F. Geiger (US); Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Eighth Missouri Cavalry (US); Jo Shelby’s Iron Brigade (CS)|
|Casualties:||1 killed, 2 wounded (US); 1 killed, 5 captured (CS)|
On May 27, 1864, Brigadier General Joseph Shelby was promoted to command all Arkansas Confederate forces north of the Arkansas River. Earlier that month, Union forces concluded their disastrous Camden Expedition and for the remainder of the war in Arkansas were reluctant to launch any large-scale operations outside of defending their own garrisons and supply lines. Shelby had about 1,200 men under his command at the time of his promotion, and during the next three months, he aggressively recruited men of fighting age within his jurisdiction, many of whom were deserters evading conscription or bushwhackers. In a letter to Major General Sterling Price dated July 27, Shelby boasted that he had 5,000 men under his command. The number was likely exaggerated but testified to Shelby’s recruiting efforts and explains how he was able to frustrate Union forces across northeast Arkansas. Shelby’s Iron Brigade was thoroughly efficient at hit-and-run raiding, and Union commanders at Little Rock (Pulaski County) gave chase only when Shelby became sufficiently annoying or damaged enough property to warrant expeditions into hostile territory.
A skirmish on the Little Red River occurred on the evening of June 6, 1864, near a crossing known as Beeler’s Ferry (sometimes listed in official records as “Bealy’s Ferry” or “Bealer’s Ferry”). The ferry operated at a turn on the Little Red known as Moccasin Bend, about three miles north of what is now downtown Searcy (White County), and was an interchange for travelers along the road between Little Rock and Batesville (Independence County). The 500-acre Beeler plantation was also located on the east side at this turn in the river; a small community grew up around the plantation and the neighboring juncture along the Little Rock–Batesville road.
Colonel Washington Geiger accounted some details of the June 6 engagement, but the eyewitness account of twenty-year-old Nancy Cullum lends another perspective to the skirmish. Cullum was a neighbor of the Beelers who had hidden away much of her family’s ham and bacon in a nearby cave in anticipation of the arriving Eighth Missouri Cavalry (US), which was foraging and confiscating supplies from nearby homes. The foraging party still managed to confiscate the contents of the Cullums’ smokehouse, several bushels of corn, chickens, and quilts from the house. A nearby detachment of forty men from Shelby’s Iron Brigade (CS) lay in wait to ambush the Union foraging party along the road back to Searcy but apparently grew tired of waiting and crossed the Little Red to the north side. The Union forage train had already left by that time, but twenty-five men from the Eighth Missouri still remained when the Confederates arrived.
The fighting that commenced in front of the Cullum house was “a hot little skirmish, but quickly over,” as described by local author W. E. Orr. After the fighting, Cullum retrieved a pistol from a dead Union officer and enlisted some slaves from the Beeler plantation to bury the dead in a nearby cemetery. The Confederates were routed and pursued for four miles, with one man killed and five captured. Union losses were one man killed and two wounded. The recounting in Cullum family lore differs from Union records and listed four Union dead with no mention of any dead Confederates.
For additional information:
Hoofman, Tammy. “Scrimmage at Moccasin Bend.” White County Heritage 25.1 (1987): 60–63.
Leach, William E. “Beeler Ferry.” White County Heritage 25.1 (1987): 64–65.
Muncy, Raymond Lee. Searcy, Arkansas: A Frontier Town Grows Up With America. Searcy, AR: Harding Press, 1976.
O’Flaherty, Daniel. General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954.
Orr, W. E. “Lookin’ Down Main: The World from an Older Point of View.” White County Heritage 38.1 (2000): 80–82.
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, 1891.
Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! A History of Jackson County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1974.
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