Skirmish at Little River

Location: Little River, Mississippi County, Arkansas
Campaign: Expedition from New Madrid, Missouri
Dates: April 6–7, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Valentine Preuitt (US); Unnamed (CS)
Forces Engaged: Companies G, K, and M of the First Missouri Cavalry (US); Unidentified guerrilla forces (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None killed, 3 wounded (US); 12 killed, undetermined numbers wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

Throughout the Civil War, dangerous bands of guerrillas roamed throughout Mississippi County, Arkansas, and the adjacent Missouri counties of Dunklin and Pemiscot, terrorizing citizens with looting, murder, and other forms of lawlessness. Due to the rampant activities of these renegades, composed primarily of Confederate deserters and civilian sympathizers, commerce in affected communities came to a standstill.

As part of a concerted effort by Union military commanders to suppress these activities, Captain Valentine Preuitt received orders on April 5, 1864, from Major John W. Rabb (Second Missouri Artillery, Commanding at New Madrid, Missouri) to lead a scouting expedition from New Madrid into the aforementioned districts. Departing camp in the early hours of April 6, Capt. Preuitt’s expedition, comprising Companies G, K, and M of the First Missouri Cavalry, marched forty-five miles south before stopping to camp. At daybreak, they continued their trek deeper into the region. Later that day, as darkness began to fall, Preuitt’s advance encountered two well-known guerrillas associated with the notorious Lewis “Bulge” Powell gang. One of these guerrillas, Luke Bussell, was killed after a pursuit by Sergeant J. E. Wright of Company G.

At daylight the following morning (April 7), Preuitt proceeded to move his forces farther into the swamplands, crossing Little River near Osceola (Mississippi County) around noon. After marching approximately one-quarter of a mile, however, they encountered a group of twenty-five Rebel partisans. Upon Preuitt’s order to charge, the outnumbered guerrillas were quickly routed, resulting in twelve dead and five taken prisoner. The Confederate wounded, however, appeared to escape back into the swamp. Union forces were relatively unscathed, with no fatalities and only three wounded.

Preuitt returned to New Madrid without incident, arriving back at camp on April 9. His report concerning this skirmish was filed on April 11 with Maj. Rabb. Although not mentioned in Preuitt’s account, Rabb stated in his own report filed on April 10 with Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. (Commanding District of St. Louis) that Preuitt had secured the capture of several papers (enclosed with Rabb’s report) from “the dead body of the guerrilla Captain Williams.” Rabb observed that these papers provided details on the location and number of guerrilla commands throughout the area. As a result of this information, Rabb recommended to Gen. Ewing that a heavy cavalry force be assigned from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, complemented by a “co-operating force” from the New Madrid post in order to eliminate guerrilla activity in the area. It was also his opinion that severe restrictions should be applied to the shipping of goods into the area, as it appeared that Rebels were obtaining more than half of their supplies from “professed good and loyal merchants.”

For additional information:
Canard, Howard Louis. Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri: A Compendium of History and Biography for Ready Reference. New York: The Southern History Company, 1901. Online at (accessed January 19, 2022).

Sutherland, Daniel E. “Guerrillas: The Real War in Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 52 (Autumn 1993): 257–285.

The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 34, Part I, pp. 872–874. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Toney Butler Schlesinger
Granite Bay, California


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