Skirmish at Van Buren (August 12, 1864)

Location: Crawford County
Campaign: None
Date: August 12, 1864
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant John C. Anderson (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: 70 cavalry (US); 200 men (CS)
Estimated Casualties: Unknown (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

Fought in the aftermath of the July 31, 1864, Action at Fort Smith, this skirmish was just one of many that continued to take place in western Arkansas late in the Civil War.

Fort Smith (Sebastian County) served as an important Federal post at this point of the war, and nearby Van Buren (Crawford County) was also held by Union forces. The late July skirmish was one of only a few organized movements by Confederate forces against the fortified settlements. Federal troops more typically faced guerrilla attacks at this time.

Colonel Thomas Bowen of the Thirteenth Kansas Infantry served as commander of the Federal garrison at Van Buren and regularly reported to Brigadier General John Thayer, commander of the District of the Frontier with headquarters at Fort Smith. Bowen sent out regular patrols to search for enemy movements. One of these patrols under the command of Captain Marion Beeler attacked a group of bushwhackers on the night of August 11, 1864. This took place about twenty-five miles northeast of Van Buren. Several of the Federals were wounded in the skirmish, including Beeler, who later died from his wounds. Bowen sent out an ambulance and more troops to escort the soldiers back to Van Buren.

Even though his command had just suffered losses in combat, Bowen continued to send parties outside the city. On the morning of August 12, seventy men under the command of Lieutenant John Anderson of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry set out from Van Buren. This unit was tasked with escorting the mail and a sutler’s train.

About thirteen miles north of the city, the command was attacked near Lee’s Creek. The enemy numbered around 200 and quickly overwhelmed the Federals. The mail and the train were both lost, but only seven of the Union troops were unable to escape easily. No casualties for either side during the engagement were listed in Bowen’s report, and the fate of the remaining troops is not known.

An extremely brief skirmish, this fight demonstrates just how dangerous it was for Union troops in Arkansas outside of their fortified outposts.

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

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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