Skirmish near DeValls Bluff (August 11, 1864)

The August 11, 1864, skirmish near DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) was one of a series of scattered fights between bushwhackers and Union troops guarding hay-cutting operations and the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad during the summer of 1864.

The sprawling Union base at DeValls Bluff was home to thousands of horses and mules, and Federal authorities hired civilian contactors to cut hay on the Grand Prairie to feed them. The herd, the hay stations, and the railroad running between DeValls Bluff and Huntersville—modern-day North Little Rock (Pulaski County)—provided tempting targets for Confederate soldiers and guerrillas. Attacks were frequent in the late summer of 1864, with bushwhackers skirmishing with troops of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US) at Hay Station No. 3 on July 30 and with the Third Michigan Cavalry at the remount camp on August 5.

On August 11, 1864, a lieutenant and twelve men of the Fifty-Fourth Illinois Infantry Regiment, which manned the five small forts guarding the hay-cutters, were sent with a wagon to get water. As they returned, they were attacked by “a superior number of bushwhackers” while about a mile from their camp as they headed through some of the timber on the edge of the prairie. The lieutenant was wounded and captured, along with his men, but a teamster managed to escape and notify the troops at DeValls Bluff of the attack.

Lieutenant George Lair immediately set out with a sergeant and seven men of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry in pursuit of the guerrillas, who they found and attacked, though the “Rebels [were] greater in number.” They killed two bushwhackers and captured their horses while the rest scattered, freeing the party of the Fifty-Fourth Illinois.

The Fifty-Fourth would continue guarding the hay-cutting operations west of DeValls Bluff until August 24, 1864, when the majority of the regiment was taken prisoner by Confederate brigadier general Joseph O. Shelby and his brigade in the Action at Ashley’s Station.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark K. “The Queen City Was a Helpless Wreck: J. O. Shelby’s Summer of ’64.” In The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled: Civil War Arkansas 1863–1864, edited by Mark K. Christ. Little Rock: Old State House Museum, 2007.

Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 12, p. 197; Vol. 35, p. 679. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995, 1996.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, pp. 235–236. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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