Skirmish at Oil Trough Bottom

Location: Independence County
Campaign: Occupation of Batesville
Date: March 25, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain Albert A. Irwin (US); Captain George Rutherford (CS)
Forces Engaged: Company B of Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); Rutherford’s Company (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None (US); 4 killed, 2 captured, 1 wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

The second Union army occupation of Batesville (Independence County) began on December 25, 1863, with the quiet entry of Colonel Robert Livingston’s command consisting of the First Nebraska Cavalry, Second Arkansas Cavalry, Eleventh Missouri Cavalry, and some smaller units. Livingston’s orders were to “keep the peace,” but he was surrounded by mobile Confederate units that knew the area well, led by General Dandridge McRae, Captain Thomas R. Freeman, and Captain George Rutherford, among others. The forces Livingston sent out from Batesville were mostly detachments to protect foraging wagons and larger “scouts” to patrol the area, gathering information and attacking the small Confederate units and bands of brigands when they could.

On March 15, 1864, Major Lewis Pace was sent from Batesville on a lengthy scout with a detachment of 200 men from the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry. They split, and half went south to Fair View (modern-day Pleasant Plains in Independence County) and the Little Red River, while the other half went down the White River to Oil Trough (Independence County) and Grand Glaise (Jackson County) before moving west to unite the command. Up the Little Red, they sought Rutherford at Buckhorn—now St. James (Stone County)—without success. They crossed the White and captured in Izard County four Confederate soldiers, then returned to Batesville with the news that “McRae’s camp was near Augusta and that Freemans camp was a few miles above Augusta.” Maj. Pace boarded with the Byers family in Batesville, and young Mary Byers described him in her diary as “a Northern Methodist preacher, a perfect monomaniac on the subject of slavery” with whom she loved to argue.

In the few days of Pace’s scout to the west, Confederates had filtered back into the White River valley below Batesville. On March 23, a detachment of 104 men of the Second Arkansas Cavalry arrived in Batesville from Missouri. Being from the area, many of the men were given leave to visit their homes, but a group of them were attacked at Sulphur Rock (Independence County), and the Confederates headed south. The Union detachment followed them to Magness Landing, crossed on their trail, and overtook them six miles south, in the Oil Trough bottoms.

The official report by Captain Albert A. Irwin, the captain of Company B in charge of the Federal detachment, does not tell quite the same story. He said that “a scout under my command, numbering 30 men,” left Batesville looking for Rutherford on the morning of March 25. “After arriving at Sulphur Rock…I found the enemy had crossed a short time ahead of me. I at once, at Magness Landing, crossed the river and resumed the pursuit, and after marching in a southeasterly direction I found the enemy, 40 strong, halted on a hillside in a grove of white oak, engaged in feeding their horses and resting. I immediately ordered my command to charge, and after a sharp skirmish of about a quarter of an hour, succeeded in routing the enemy, killing 4 men, capturing 2 more, 1 of them wounded, and releasing 3 Union men whom the rebels had captured and kept under guard.” Livingston reported that it was on March 24 that “25 men of the Second Arkansas Cavalry charged and routed 40 men of the enemy under Capt. George Rutherford in Oil Trough Bottom, killing Captain McGuffin and 3 others, capturing 2, and putting the rest to flight.”

Captain Samuel McGuffin was the organizer of the “Popcorn Company” in Batesville, called by that name because the privates were so young. As part of Rutherford’s force, they were local men attacking other local men who had joined the Union army, a fact that makes this incident typical of an Independence County skirmish.

For additional information:
Mobley, Freeman. Making Sense of the Civil War in Batesville-Jacksonport and Northeast Arkansas, 1861–1874. Batesville, AR: P. D. Printing, 2005.

Phillips, Samuel R., ed. Loyalties Divided: Civil War Years, 1862–1865, Batesville, Arkansas: The Journal of Mary Adelia Byers. N.p.: 2006.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compendium of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 34. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1974.

George E. Lankford
Batesville, Arkansas


    I was just reading about the Popcorn Company and saw where it is stated that Samual McGuffin was killed in battle in the Civil War. According to my information, he lived many years after the Civil War. My source says he died 9 July 1910. I read this in a Batesville historical magazine.

    Deloris Bookout