Skirmish at Morgan's Mill
aka: Battle of Martin's Creek
aka: Skirmish at Spring River (February 8, 1864)
|Date:||February 8, 1864|
|Principal Commanders:||Lieutenant Colonel John W. Stephens, Captain T. J. Majors (US); Colonel Thomas R. Freeman (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Elements of Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, Elements of First Nebraska Cavalry, Elements of Fourth Arkansas Mounted Infantry (US); Elements of Freeman’s Brigade, possible elements of Coleman’s Arkansas Cavalry (CS)|
|Estimated Casualties:||1 killed, 4 wounded, and 23 missing (US, Stephens’s detachment), unknown (US, Majors’s detachment); unknown (CS)|
After capturing Little Rock (Pulaski County) in September 1863 and forcing Arkansas Confederates to relocate their capital to Washington (Hempstead County), Union forces in northeast Arkansas sought to solidify their control in the region and safeguard important supply lines. On Christmas Day 1863, Colonel Robert R. Livingston and his Union forces reoccupied Batesville (Independence County), where they established the headquarters of the District of Northeastern Arkansas. Union forces in Batesville subsequently set out to suppress small bands of Confederates in the region. On February 8, 1864, a Union detachment composed of elements of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, the Fourth Arkansas Mounted Infantry, and the First Nebraska Cavalry encountered a larger Confederate force made up of parts of Freeman’s Brigade, Missouri Cavalry, and possible elements of Coleman’s Arkansas Cavalry, resulting in a Confederate victory.
On February 4, a small Union contingent of the First Nebraska Cavalry headed north from Batesville to Smithville (Lawrence County), Evening Shade (Sharp County), and Hookram (Sharp County) on a scouting and foraging mission. It is unknown whether this particular Union scouting party encountered any Confederate bands, but two days later, Confederate colonel Thomas R. Freeman sent a flag of truce to Batesville under the charge of Captain M. H. Wolf, who handed over four Union prisoners who had previously been captured by Freeman’s men. The following day, on February 7, a Union detachment composed of sixty-four men of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry and eight of the Fourth Arkansas Mounted Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John W. Stephens, along with forty men of the First Nebraska Cavalry under Captain T. J. Majors, left Batesville on a “special order” to attack Freeman’s Confederate encampment near Smithville. The Union detachment arrived to discover that Freeman’s Confederates had abandoned the camp and headed north, so Stephens, Majors, and their men continued through Smithville to a point on the Spring River, where they obtained “the first definite information of the whereabouts of the enemy’s forces” and decided to camp for the night.
The following morning, the Union detachment split its forces to march west along both sides of the Spring River toward the new Confederate encampment at Morgan’s Mill near the mouth of Martin’s Creek. Having marched seven miles, Stephens and his men confronted Confederate pickets on the north side of the river and drove them back, but it soon became apparent that the Union detachment was significantly outnumbered, as Freeman’s Confederate force of fewer than 200 men had been reinforced during the night by about 300 men under Colonel Joseph B. Love and Lieutenant Colonel W. O. Coleman. A Union battalion charged the Confederate front and, according to Stephens’s report, broke through the center of the enemy line at one point. Nonetheless, Confederate forces quickly closed in on Stephens and his men, forcing a Union retreat.
Fortunately for the Union detachment, Captain Majors and his Union men, having come from the south side of the Spring River, executed a timely attack on the Confederate rear that prevented Stephens and his command from being completely surrounded by Freeman’s forces. Stephens and his men “kept up a running fight” for eight miles, and about half of his Union detachment managed to escape and return to Batesville on February 10. Stephens reported that one Union soldier, listed only as Private Dean, Company F of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, was killed in the skirmish; four were wounded, and twenty-three were captured. It is unknown how many losses were suffered by Capt. Majors’s Union detachment of the First Nebraska Cavalry. The number of casualties for the Confederates is also unknown, but Stephens estimated their loss to be “an aggregate of 65 killed, wounded, and missing, including the prisoners taken by Captain Majors.”
The Skirmish at Morgan’s Mill was representative of the sporadic fighting in the region between Union scouting and foraging parties and bands of Confederates between January and May 1864. Union forces continued to encounter elements of Freeman’s Brigade and other Confederate bands in the region during the following months. In May 1864, Col. Livingston’s Union forces abandoned Batesville and Jacksonport (Jackson County) as large numbers of Confederates under Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby began moving into the region.
The Arkansas Gazette featured an article in 1943 on the skirmish that included an interview with ninety-two-year-old Helen Groves, who claimed to have watched parts of the skirmish as a thirteen-year-old girl from the window of her home. Her Union-sympathizing father, she told, buried a dead Federal soldier in the family cemetery after the skirmish and harbored a wounded soldier for several weeks until he was able to rejoin the Union army at Batesville.
On November 27, 2004, the Northeast Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail committee and the Sharp County Historical Society placed a marker along U.S. Highway 63/412 eight miles east of Hardy (Sharp County) to commemorate the skirmish.
For additional information:
Honnoll, Danny. “NEACWHT Dedicates at Sharp County Battlefield.” Arkansas Battlefield Update 12 (Winter 2004). Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/publications/archive.aspx?ID=30 (accessed May 13, 2022).
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 34, pp. 132–135. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.
White, Maude Shaver. “She Saw a Battle.” Arkansas Gazette Magazine, October 3, 1943, p. 4.
West Virginia University
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