Skirmish at Shallow Ford (August 30, 1863)

Location: Pulaski County
Campaign: Little Rock Campaign
Date: August 30, 1863
Principal Commanders: Colonel John F. Ritter (US); Major John P. Bull, Colonel Robert Newton (CS)
Forces Engaged: First Missouri Cavalry, one section of artillery (US); Newton’s Cavalry Brigade (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 5 wounded (US); 9 killed, 2 wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

A Civil War engagement during the Little Rock Campaign, the Skirmish at Shallow Ford was fought as Federal forces crossed Bayou Meto. Confederate forces tried to hold the enemy back but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Confederate colonel Robert Newton and his cavalry brigade were tasked with covering the Shallow Ford crossing of Bayou Meto to obstruct Federal forces under the command of Major General Frederick Steele. In late August 1863, Newton’s brigade moved around the area near the ford in response to multiple reports of Federal movements. On August 29, he received word that no sign of Union troops had been found in the immediate vicinity. He moved his command near Shallow Ford, where they camped that night.

The next morning, the Confederates moved closer to the ford and encountered a small group of Federal troops. A Confederate detachment under the command of Major John Bull pursued the enemy troops as they fled. Learning from a civilian that a large force of Federal troops was nearby, Bull eventually found a large body of Union troops hidden behind a railroad embankment. The Confederates attacked, but the Federals were reinforced and began to advance.

Bull and his men began a fighting retreat and were reinforced by a number of dismounted cavalry armed with long-range guns, which were more effective than the shotguns and carbines used by many of the Confederates. According to Confederate reports, the Union troops also used artillery during this part of the engagement, but the reports of the Federal commanders do not mention the use of cannon.

Eventually, the Confederates were in danger of being flanked on both ends of their line by the Federals, and repeated requests for reinforcements were not answered. Newton claimed to have only 180 men in the fight and slowly fell back. After nearly an entire day of fighting, the engagement ended near dark, and the Union troops pulled back to the ford. At this time, the first Confederate reinforcements arrived on the scene but did not engage the Federals as they fell back.

In the days that followed, the Federal troops continued to skirmish with Newton and his command as other Union units prepared to take Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Confederates were ultimately unable to prevent the Union troops from establishing a foothold at Shallow Ford, which helped lead to the capture of Arkansas’s capital city.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark. Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle for a State. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22, Part I. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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