Skirmish at Whiteley's Mills

Location: Newton County
Date: April 5, 1864
Campaign: None
Principal Commanders: Captain William F. Orr (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); Confederate guerrilla forces (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 killed, 1 missing, 1 wounded (US); at least 1 wounded (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

Shortly after mustering into service, on orders of Brigadier General J. B. Sanborn, the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US) moved into the Buffalo River region in an attempt to kill or capture Confederate guerrilla forces and increase Union patrol activity in the area north of the Buffalo River. On April 5, 1864, a Union force attacked a band Confederate guerrillas at Whiteley’s Mills on the headwaters of the Buffalo River. The skirmish was part of a larger operation aimed at Union control of the northwest region of Arkansas in April 1864.

The Second Arkansas, while encamped near the Buffalo River, had encountered some resistance from Confederate guerrilla forces in the area before the Skirmish at Whiteley’s Mills. Major James A. Melton, commander of the Second Arkansas Cavalry, reported to his superiors that, on March 29, a patrol had encountered a band of fifteen “bushwackers.” A second patrol encountered another small band of Confederate guerrillas on April 1.

On April 5, 1864, a scout patrol comprising men from Company C, Company F, and Company I of the Second Arkansas, numbering fifty men, under command of Captain William F. Orr and Lieutenant Henry C. Bell, attacked a 250-man Confederate guerrilla force under the leadership of guerrilla chiefs Sissell (likely John Cecil), Patton, and Cooper.

The Confederate forces had received warning of Captain Orr’s approach and, in preparation, set their forces in such a way as to surprise the approaching Union force. Upon the primary engagement of Union forces, Captain Orr attacked the enemy fighters and twice broke their lines. This, however, proved to be futile. After a two-hour exchange of fire, the Union supply of ammunition was all but exhausted, and Captain Orr was forced to withdraw from the engagement. During the engagement, Private John H. Murry of Company F was killed in action, and Private Gustavus Bishop of Company C was wounded. Additionally, Private Obed W. Patty of Company I was presumably captured. According to the Official Records and other records, during the engagement, Private Simeon Meek and Private John H. Murry of Company F were killed in action, and Private Gustavus Bishop of Company C was wounded.

Following the skirmish, the Second Arkansas maintained a presence in the area through April 1864 to diminish the threat of a Confederate stronghold. On April 17, 1864, the Second Arkansas once again came into contact with a Confederate guerrilla force led by Sissell (Cecil) at Limestone Valley.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 34, pp. 859, 871, 891. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891.

“Whiteley Mill, April 1864.” Buffalo National River, National Parks Service. (accessed October 3, 2023).

Jacob Worthan
Henderson State University


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