Skirmish at Norristown (May 19, 1864)

Location: Pope County
Campaign: None
Date: May 19, 1864
Principal Commanders: Unknown (US); Brigadier General Joseph Shelby (CS)
Forces Engaged: Unknown (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

A brief engagement, this skirmish was part of Brigadier General Joseph Shelby’s expedition across much of Arkansas in the summer of 1864. While trying to cross the Arkansas River near present-day Russellville (Pope County), Shelby’s men were attacked by a Federal patrol tasked with shadowing the Confederates. Ultimately inconclusive, this skirmish was one of many between Shelby’s Confederate forces and Union troops during the expedition.

In early May 1864, Shelby and his brigade were ordered to move from southwestern Arkansas to northern and eastern Arkansas in an effort to prevent Federal forces from utilizing the White River and the Little Rock and DeValls Bluff Railroad to supply the Union-occupied capital city. Crossing the Ouachita River at Rockport (Hot Spring County), the Confederates approached the Arkansas River and planned a crossing near Lewisburg (Conway County). A sandbar, coupled with a high water level, prevented Shelby from getting his troops across, and the Confederates moved to the west to find another location.

Union troops in the area knew that Confederate troops were nearby but were unsure of their intentions or the size of the force. The Third Arkansas Cavalry (US) was stationed along the river at several outposts, and Colonel Abraham Ryan continually mounted patrols of the area while keeping his superiors in Little Rock (Pulaski County) apprised of the situation.

Shelby’s brigade approached Dardanelle (Yell County) on May 16 and prepared to take its Federal garrison in the morning, but it was instead attacked by Union troops that night. Chasing the Federals, the Confederates were able to capture about 100 men and a large amount of supplies. The remaining Union troops fled, with some crossing the Arkansas River.

Shelby and his men began crossing the river, and by the night of May 18, the entire command was on the north shore, camped near Norristown (Pope County). On the morning of May 19, a Federal party from Lewisburg approached the Confederate camp and attacked the pickets. Shelby responded by reinforcing his picket line, and the Federals were soon driven back. Neither side listed any casualties, but the Federals accomplished their fact-finding mission.

Ryan now knew that Shelby was on the northern side of the Arkansas River, and the Union troops began to evacuate Lewisburg as quickly as possible. The Confederates took the town on May 19, but, due to a smallpox epidemic in the area, did not avail themselves of the large cache of supplies left behind.

Shelby and his brigade continued their journey to eastern Arkansas, where they operated for the remainder of the summer. The Skirmish at Norristown, while short, was the last organized resistance that the Confederates faced while trying to cross the Arkansas River, and Union forces struggled to stop their movements for months.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark K. “The Queen City Was a Helpless Wreck: J. O. Shelby’s Summer of ’64.” In “The Earth Reeled and the Trees Trembled,” Civil War Arkansas, 1863–1864. Little Rock: Old State House Museum, 2007.

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, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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