Skirmish at Shallow Ford (September 2, 1863)

Location: Pulaski County
Campaign: Little Rock Campaign
Date: September 2, 1863
Principal Commanders: Unknown (US); Lieutenant Colonel B. Frank Gordon (CS)
Forces Engaged: Unknown (US); Brigadier General Joseph Shelby’s cavalry brigade (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Union victory

A brief and inconsequential Civil War skirmish, this engagement was part of the Little Rock Campaign and saw Federal troops working to establish a foothold near the capital city.

Confederate forces worked to prevent Union troops marching out of Helena (Phillips County) from capturing Little Rock (Pulaski County). However, the losses suffered at the July 4, 1863, Battle of Helena—coupled with a disorganized command structure—hampered defensive efforts. Confederate units were shifted around to meet the Federal threats, but the lack of troops prevented every avenue of approach to the city from being consistently guarded.

Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby’s Missouri cavalry brigade was posted east of Little Rock with other units in an effort to watch Federal movements. Shelby was not in command of the unit, as he had been wounded at the Battle of Helena, so command fell to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Gordon. Through late August and into early September, Gordon led the brigade in numerous skirmishes against Federal forces.

On August 28, the brigade was recovering from a sharp skirmish fought the day before when the unit received orders to move closer to Bayou Meto. There, the brigade remained in camp until August 31, when one regiment was detached to support Colonel Robert Newton’s Arkansas cavalry brigade located near Shallow Ford. Newton’s unit was unable to prevent a major Union crossing of the ford on August 30.

On August 31 and September 1, Newton’s men continued to skirmish with the enemy, but no major advances or attacks were made. At 11:00 p.m. on September 1, Newton received orders to move most of his brigade to a new position, and Shelby’s brigade took its spot near Shallow Ford.

The next day, the Missourians engaged Federal forces at the ford as the Union troops tried to move across the bayou. The Federals prevailed, as they already had a foothold on the western bank and the Confederates could not push them back across the water. It is unclear how many additional troops made it across or if any losses were suffered.

While ultimately a minor skirmish in a much larger campaign, this engagement could have pushed the Union forces back. It did not, however—allowing the Federals to continue their advance on Little Rock.

For additional information:
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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