Skirmish at Smithville (June 17, 1862)
|Location:||Smithville, Lawrence County|
|Dates:||June 17, 1862|
|Principal Commanders:||Major A. H. Seley (US); Captain Wiley C. Jones (CS)|
|Forces Engaged:||Fifth Illinois Cavalry, companies D, F, and L (US); Captain Wiley Jones’s mounted company of Coleman’s Regiment, Missouri Cavalry (CS)|
|Estimated Casualties:||1 killed, 2 mortally wounded, 5 slightly wounded (US); 1 killed, 2 wounded, 12 captured (CS)|
After securing Missouri for the Union by routing the Confederate Army of the West at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, the Union Army of the Southwest under General Samuel Curtis moved into northeast Arkansas and occupied Batesville (Independence County) on its mission to capture Little Rock (Pulaski County). There, Curtis divided his force in the region, and the Fifth Illinois Cavalry (US) moved into Pocahontas (Randolph County) from Doniphan, Missouri, to reinforce a Union division under General Frederick Steele. From there, a battalion of the Fifth Illinois under Major A. H. Seley was sent to the vicinity of Smithville, the seat of government for Lawrence County and a strategic location along the Military Road that connected to Batesville and Evening Shade (Sharp County). On June 17, companies D, F, and L of the Fifth Illinois engaged a Confederate contingent of Coleman’s Regiment, Missouri Cavalry, under Captain Wiley C. Jones of Smithville (Lawrence County) about four miles west of the town, resulting in a Union victory.
Seley’s Union force established an outpost at Cumberland Presbyterian minister John Milligan’s campground (near the present-day town of Strawberry in Lawrence County) about ten miles southwest of Smithville, and another at a farm about four miles east of the town. (Some sources say the camp was at Smithville rather than at Milligan’s campground near Strawberry, although it is common for records to refer to Smithville, a key reference point for the area, to encompass the broader geographical area, including Strawberry—which was not yet founded as a town at this time.) Seley sent a company of fifteen men into the countryside to obtain some cattle to feed the soldiers and to “assist a Union man with his family and effects into camp.” En route back to camp, a woman sympathetic to the Union warned the Federal troops that a Confederate force of about 100 men was pursuing them and informed them of the enemy’s whereabouts. Seley immediately sent three companies to the farm of “one McKinney” about four miles west of Smithville where Jones and his men were taking shelter. Jones and his men were caught off guard but, from the protection of a house and surrounding log structures, managed to fire a volley at the Union troops as they approached. Amidst “torrents” of rain, the Union troops charged the farmhouse and captured Jones and several of his men, along with nine horses.
There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties in the skirmish. General Curtis’s official report stated that the Fifth Illinois had two killed and four wounded, while the Confederates had fifteen captured, including Jones, and four wounded. Seley’s report, however, listed “1 man killed, 2 mortally wounded, and 5 slightly wounded” for the Union, with one killed, two wounded, and twelve others captured for the Confederates. The rosters of the Fifth Illinois list only one soldier killed in the skirmish, Private Marvin Welker of Freemanton, Illinois. If a Confederate was killed in the skirmish, the soldier’s name is unknown.
After the engagement, the Confederate prisoners were escorted to the Union outpost at Milligan’s campground. Years later, Jones recounted that he and the other prisoners were taken to St. Louis, Missouri, where they were held for six weeks and then transferred to the prison camp in Alton, Illinois. After about three months at Alton, Jones said that he was transferred to Memphis, Tennessee, where he escaped and swam across the Mississippi River “with the bullets of his captors singing about his ears.” Back in Arkansas, Jones rejoined his regiment in Pocahontas, organized Baber’s Regiment in 1863, and served for the remainder of the war.
For additional information:
“5th Illinois Cavalry Regiment.” Illinois in the Civil War. http://civilwar.ilgenweb.net/reg_html/cav_005.html (accessed January 31, 2022).
“5th Illinois Regiment Cavalry: Dyer’s Regimental History.” Illinois in the Civil War. http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org/cwc5-dyer.html (accessed January 31, 2022).
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeast Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.
“The Biography of John Milligan II.” Lawrence County, Arkansas, ArGenWeb. http://backwardbranch.com/arlawrence/TheBiographyofJohnMilliganIIRev2Athird.pdf (accessed January 31, 2022).
Drake, Edwin L., ed. The Annals of the Army of Tennessee and Early Western History. vol. 1. Nashville, TN: A. D. Haynes, 1878.
Lawrence County Historical Society. Mother of Counties: Lawrence County, Arkansas, 1815–2001. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.
McLeod, Walter E. Centennial Memorial History of Lawrence County. Russellville, AR: Russellville Printing Company, 1936.
Tipton, Jay Brent. “Skirmish at Smithville, Arkansas McKinney Farm, June 17th 1862.” Lawrence County Historical Journal 14 (Spring 2010): 20–23.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 13. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1885.
West Virginia University
My GGG-Grandfather, Moses J. Hardin, was a sergeant in McCarver’s 14th Regt. He was among those captured in this skirmish and was exchanged at Vicksburg in Sept. 1862. He was commissioner of schools in Lawrence Co. and was paid by order of the Arkansas legislature for school funds taken by Union troops. That’s the last record of him I can find; he did not return from the war, probate record was in Oct. of 1866.
As the historian for the Fifth Illinois, I find no primary sources that indicate the Fifth Illinois made camp at the Milligan Presbyterian campground. According to Seley’s report, and morning reports for Co. F, he made camp in Smithville, not 10 miles southwest at Strawberry. All orders tell Seley to establish a camp at Smithville, and Co. F’s morning reports indicate a march to and from Smithville, not Strawberry. This would be a 10-mile discrepancy, a very large distance in 1862. Henry C. Brown, 9th IL Cav., also mentioned the Fifth at Smithville in his June 7, 1862, diary entry (IL State Historical Library). There is even an account of the Fifth marching into Smithville (see: Dula McLeod Baker, History of Smithville School, Lawrence County Historical Quarterly 7, no. 3 (Summer 1984): 12).
There was no second camp. Though the Milligan history named the Fifth Illinois as the Union force that camped at the church, there are no Fifth Illinois documents, including diaries and letters written by Fifth soldiers, that support this assertion. Unless there are additional primary sources supporting Milligan’s claim, the location of the Fifth camp remains unidentified. I believe that the Fifth Illinois has been misidentified as the Union force that camped at Milligan, for there were many Union troops in and out of the county in mid-1862.
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