Skirmish at Searcy County

Location: Searcy County
Campaign: None
Date: July 4, 1864
Principal Commanders: Captain David Hamilton (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 55 men of the Third Arkansas Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); 7 killed, 4 wounded, 56 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

The July 4, 1864, Skirmish at Searcy County was a Union response to the operations of Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby north of the Arkansas River after the Camden Expedition in 1864. During most of the summer, Shelby and his men had operated freely behind Union lines, causing much havoc, but this engagement was a rare Federal victory.

After the conclusion of the Camden Expedition in the spring of 1864, Shelby received orders to move northward across the Arkansas River and behind Federal lines. The Confederates were tasked with gathering recruits and stopping lawless bands roaming the area from preying on civilians. Shelby also used this opportunity to make strikes against Federal outposts and generally make himself and his men a nuisance.

As Shelby and his command moved across the state, recruiting officers spread out to gather new recruits to fill the thinning Confederate ranks. Union officers were aware of these actions, and while most of their efforts were focused on confronting Shelby, they also worked to prevent the Confederates from gathering more troops.

Major Thaddeus Clarkson of the Third Arkansas Cavalry learned that a recruiting officer was in the vicinity of Searcy County and decided to attack the Confederates before they could join Shelby. Captain David Hamilton led a unit of fifty-five men from Lewisburg (Conway County) on July 2. After moving through the countryside for two days, the Federals approached the enemy on July 4 undetected.

Attacking the Confederate encampment, the Union troops successfully surprised the enemy men and quickly overwhelmed them. In the brief engagement, the Federals killed seven Confederates while wounding four more. In addition, fifty-six men were captured: one captain, two lieutenants, and fifty-three enlisted men. The Federal troops did not report any casualties. Also captured were twelve horses and mules, fifteen stands of arms, and a set of colors.

Returning to Lewisburg, the prisoners were placed on a boat to move down the Arkansas River to be held in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Intelligence gathered during the expedition was also sent to commanders in Little Rock to help them formulate a plan to respond to Shelby.

This skirmish was just one of many engagements fought across the state in the summer of 1864 while Shelby operated behind Federal lines.

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

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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