Skirmish at Spavinaw (May 13, 1864)


Location: Spavinaw Creek (Benton County)
Date: May 13, 1864
Campaign: None
Principal Commanders: Major Milton Burch (US); Colonel William Penn Adair (CS)
Forces: Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); Second Cherokee Regiment (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 0 (US); 2 killed, several wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

On May 10, 1864, Major Milton Burch led a force of forty troopers of Company M, Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US) and twenty infantrymen under captains John R. Kelso and Ozias Ruark of the Eighth from the Union base at Neosho, Missouri, on a scouting expedition down the Grand River onto the Cowskin Prairie in the Indian Territory and on to Spavinaw Creek in Arkansas.

After three days, the infantry soldiers turned back to Neosho while Burch and the cavalrymen continued toward Spavinaw Creek. Around 11:00 p.m. on May 13, 1864, they spotted campfires and initially thought the fires might be from another Union contingent operating in the area but soon determined that around thirty men of Colonel William Penn Adair’s Second Cherokee Regiment (CS) were camped there.

Burch initially planned to attack the camp in the morning, but the presence of several houses in the area made him concerned that residents might alert the Confederate Indians to his presence, so he ordered his troops to dismount and creep toward the enemy picket line. Finding no guards, the Missourians charged, with “the enemy being some in their beds and some lazily lounging by their fires.” The attack led to “a general skedaddle” of the Confederates, two of whom were killed while several others were wounded.

The Federal commander reported capturing “22 head of horses [another account said twenty-five horses were taken], 10 stand of arms, saddles, pants, hats, shoes; in fact, everything pertaining to making them comfortable.” Returning to Neosho on May 14, Burch estimated that there were between 100 and 150 of Adair’s men in the area and noted: “I intend starting another party in a few days to ascertain more correctly their numbers and give them a thrashing.”

While a relatively minor affair, the Skirmish at Spavinaw was typical of the small-unit raids and clashes that characterized the Civil War in the Ozarks in the spring of 1864.

For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 35. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1996.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 34, part 1, pp. 921–922. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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