Skirmish at Pine Bluff (January 9, 1865)

aka: Pine Bluff Expedition (January 7–9, 1865)

Location: Jefferson County
Campaign: None
Date: January 9, 1865
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant James W. Sanders (US); Captain Marcellus Vaugine (CS)
Forces Engaged: 67 cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 wounded (US); 4 killed, 4 wounded, 1 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

Federal outposts across Arkansas continued, in early 1865, to send out regular patrols to ascertain the movements and intentions of the enemy in an effort to keep organized resistance to a minimum. This engagement took place on January 9, 1865, during a Federal effort to capture a number of mules held by Confederate forces near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).

On January 7, Captain John Toppass of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry (US) received orders from his superiors to launch a scouting expedition to capture mules held nearby by the enemy. Organizing a group of 150 men, including fifty troopers from the Thirteenth Illinois Cavalry and 100 from the Seventh Missouri, the patrol departed from Pine Bluff at 7:00 p.m. the same day. After covering about fifteen miles over bad roads, the Federals stopped around midnight.

Continuing their march the next morning at daylight, the Union force captured a Confederate soldier before crossing Bayou Wabbaseka on a bridge. Interrogating the prisoner, Toppass learned that the livestock was no longer in the area. In the face of a recent Union patrol from Brownsville (Lonoke County), the Confederates and mules were now scattered on the other side of the Arkansas River. Determining that he could not accomplish his mission, Toppass ordered his men to return to Pine Bluff.

Crossing the bayou again, the Federals marched to within twelve miles of Pine Bluff. Toppass then detached thirty-seven men from his command to take a detour to the left of the road. After several minutes, Toppass heard gunfire from the direction of this detachment and sent an additional thirty men as reinforcements. Toppass halted his column, but after not hearing any more firing for an hour, he continued to Pine Bluff. About an hour after Toppass arrived, his detached troopers returned to the city.

Under the command of Lieutenant James Sanders, the Federal detachment surprised a group of guerrillas and forced the enemy to retreat. After a running battle, the Confederates charged the Federals’ lines but were repulsed, and they retreated again. The Federals pursued, but the Confederates escaped. Sanders reported suffering one man wounded, one horse captured, and one horse shot. Sanders also estimated that the Confederates suffered four killed, four wounded, and eight horses badly wounded or killed.

While the goal of the scout was not accomplished, the ultimate outcome still found the Federal troops enjoying some success with keeping the enemy off balance in the Pine Bluff area.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 48. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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