Skirmish at Orient Ferry

aka: Skirmish at Paroquet Bluff

Location: Independence and Jackson counties
Campaign: Pea Ridge Campaign (1862)
Date(s): July 8, 1862
Principal Commanders: Captain William Creitz (US); Colonel George H. Sweet (CS)
Forces Engaged: Company A, detachments of companies D and K, Fifth Kansas Cavalry Regiment (US); Fifteenth Texas Cavalry (CS)
Casualties: 1 drowned, 3 wounded, 3 missing (US); 7 killed, 7 wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

The Skirmish at Orient Ferry took place when troops in the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry attacked elements of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry as they ferried their supply wagons across the Black River at Paroquet Bluff, located on the west side of the river above Jacksonport (Jackson County) during their drive to join Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Southwest as it marched across eastern Arkansas toward Helena (Phillips County) on the Mississippi River.

The bulk of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry left Rolla, Missouri, on June 17 to join the Army of the Southwest. The veteran Kansans traveled fast and light, leaving their wagons and stores to catch up. Captain William F. Creitz and Company A, soon joined by detachments of companies D and K—a total force of about 200 troopers—crossed into Arkansas near Salem (Fulton County) on July 6. The Kansans skirmished with about 300 of Colonel William Coleman’s Confederates, driving them from the field, and surprised a party of Confederates who were dividing the spoils of captured Federal sutlers’ wagons before arriving at Orient Ferry on the Black River around 4:00 p.m. on July 8.

As some of the Fifth Kansas troopers swam in the river and others rested in the shade, Creitz sent the majority of the troops across the river and began ferrying the wagons across. Without warning, about 150 troopers of the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry under Colonel George H. Sweet, who had heard of the Kansans’ movements from their base in Batesville (Independence County), charged Creitz’s startled men. The Kansans recovered quickly, with the men on the Independence County side of the river opening fire as the men on the opposite shore formed a line of battle and began shooting at the Texans.

Sweet’s attack quickly faltered. The Texans’ shotguns were no match for the rifle-wielding Kansans across the Black River, and their forward elements were stopped cold by the troops guarding the wagon train. The Fifteenth Texas retreated in disorder toward Batesville, and the Fifth Kansas resumed its ferrying operation. The next morning, they burned tents and non-essential materials to lighten their load and speed their march. Creitz and his men continued across east Arkansas without any further significant interference, finally joining the Army of the Southwest near Helena on July 14.

Sweet reported that seven men of the Fifteenth Texas Cavalry were killed in the fighting at Paroquet Bluff and seven were wounded. Casualty reports differ for the Fifth Kansas. The Official Military History of Kansas Regiments states that one man was drowned, two severely wounded, and two captured. Two Fifth Kansas troopers recorded three wounded and three taken prisoner, while another reported one man drowned and three missing; Colonel Sweet wrote that two Kansans were captured. The Skirmish at Orient Ferry is listed in the index of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, but no reports are included.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark K. “‘Our First Whiff of Gunpowder’: The Skirmish at Orient Ferry, July 8, 1862.” Independence County Chronicle 53 (Summer 2012): 16–22.

Collins, R. M. Unwritten History of the War Between the States. St. Louis: Nixon-Jones Publishing Company, 1893.

Fry, Alice L. Following the Fifth Kansas Cavalry: The Letters. Independence, MO: Two Trails Publishing, 1998.

Hewett, Janet B., ed. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Part 2, Vol. 21, pp. 245–276. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1996.

Official Military History of Kansas Regiments during the War for the Suppression of the Great Rebellion. Leavenworth, KS: W.S. Burke, 1870.

Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission


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