Skirmish at Pine Bluff (July 30, 1864)


Jefferson County




July 30, 1864

Principal Commanders:

Lieutenant James E. Teale (US); Unknown (CS)

Forces Engaged:

40 men of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)

Estimated Casualties:

2 killed, 2 wounded, 8 missing (US); Unknown (CS)


Confederate victory

By the summer of 1864, Federal forces held Little Rock (Pulaski County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and several other posts along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. While most Confederate forces in the state were concentrated south of the Arkansas River, small units operated behind Union lines in an effort to disrupt and harass Federal occupiers. This skirmish is typical of the type of action fought during this period of the war in the state.

Communication between Union commanders in Little Rock and the garrison at Pine Bluff relied on a telegraph line stretching between the two cities. On July 29, 1864, Second Lieutenant James Teale of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry led forty men from Pine Bluff to repair the telegraph line. After locating the cut line about sixteen miles from Pine Bluff, Teale realized that he did not have enough replacement wire to make the necessary repairs. Camping nearby for the night, the Federals picked up more materials early the next morning before returning to the cut in the line. Completing the repairs, the Union troops continued back to Pine Bluff, stopping several times to perform additional repair work on the line.

The advance party leading the Federals moved too far ahead of the main body and stopped near a house whose inhabitants reported Confederate forces in the area. About twenty minutes later, the Union advance party was fired upon by enemy forces. Lieutenant Teale quickly pushed forward to support his men, but the main Union party was ambushed as it advanced. In the confusion of battle, Teale became separated from his men and fled into the nearby woods to escape the pursuing Confederates. Teale eventually returned to Pine Bluff on foot and raised the alarm.

Major Frederick Behlendorff of the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry immediately led 100 men from the city to the site of the engagement. Upon arriving, the Federals discovered two of their comrades dead and two wounded. As the Union forces began their return march to Pine Bluff, Behlendorff ordered the house near the site of the skirmish to be destroyed. Even though the inhabitants, who argued that they were Union sympathizers, provided care for one of the wounded men, the structure was set ablaze. The entire force then returned to Pine Bluff.

Some controversy erupted after this action as Federal officers in Pine Bluff investigated the burning of the house. Two reports were filed by officers involved in the action, but no record exists of the ultimate outcome.

Short and bloody, this skirmish serves as a good example of the type of fighting that occurred across Arkansas at this point of the war. The actions of Confederate units compelled Federal forces leave the comparative safety of their strongholds and venture into the countryside in an effort to respond.

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

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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