Skirmish at Monticello (September 11, 1864)


Location: Drew County
Campaign: None
Date: September 11, 1864
Principal Commanders: Colonel Albert Erskine (US); Colonel Richard Philip Crump (CS)
Forces Engaged: 300 men of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry, Fifth Kansas Cavalry, First Indiana Cavalry, 1 field piece (US); 1 brigade of Confederate cavalry (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 2 killed, 5 wounded, 13 missing (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Union victory

After the Camden Expedition in the spring of 1864, Confederate forces were primarily based in southern and eastern Arkansas. Union forces in the state continued to gather intelligence from their bases in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), as well as other locations. This skirmish occurred when a Federal column from Pine Bluff stumbled into a large unit of Confederate troops in the Monticello (Drew County) area.

On the morning of September 9, 1864, under orders from Brigadier General Powell Clayton, Colonel Albert Erskine departed Pine Bluff with 300 men. Erskine and his men scouted in the direction of Monticello. That night, the command camped about fourteen miles from Monticello. Approaching the town early the next morning, the Federals pushed the Confederate pickets back and captured three prisoners.

The prisoners informed Erskine that three brigades of infantry were stationed in the town, along with one battery of artillery, for a total of between 3,000 and 4,000 men. These units were under the command of Brigadier Generals Thomas Dockery, Mosby Parsons, and Alexander Hawthorn. They also told the Federals that another 7,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry under the command of Major Generals Prince Polignac and John Walker were marching toward Monticello from Louisiana and were currently at Bayou Bartholomew, about twenty-three miles away. Another 2,500 infantry under the command of Major General Thomas J. Churchill were in the area of Princeton (Dallas County) and were moving toward Camden (Ouachita County). Finally, the prisoners reported that Major General Sterling Price was leading between 8,000 and 15,000 men on a raid into Missouri.

With this information in hand, the Federals began to fall back toward Pine Bluff. On September 11, the Union troops were attacked by Colonel William P. Lane’s brigade of Confederate cavalry, operating under the command of Colonel Richard Philip Crump. Simultaneously attacking on three sides, the Confederates were able to throw the Union column into confusion. After a battle lasting approximately one hour, the Federals escaped and returned to Pine Bluff. The Federals lost two men killed, five wounded, and thirteen missing. Confederate casualties are unknown but were estimated by the Federals at between twenty and thirty killed, with eight prisoners taken by the Union soldiers.

The Federal forces accomplished their mission, determining that a strong Confederate force was in the Monticello area and that Price was launching a raid into Missouri. The Confederate force was able to push the Federals back but only after the needed information was gathered. While only a small engagement, this action allowed Federal forces to prepare to meet Price in Missouri and when he returned to Arkansas.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 41, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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