Skirmish near Searcy (September 13, 1864)

Location: White County
Campaign: None
Date: September 13, 1864
Principal Commanders: Brigadier General Christopher C. Andrews (US); Unknown (CS)
Forces Engaged: Ninth Iowa Cavalry (US); Confederate partisan irregulars (CS)
Casualties: 6 killed, 4 wounded, 16 captured (US); Unknown (CS)
Result: Confederate victory

After the Union’s Red River Campaign of 1864 failed, most military action in Arkansas was limited to guerrilla maneuvers and quick cavalry strikes for the remainder of the war. By this time, Confederate forces across the state were too small and thinly concentrated to mount an effective frontal assault on Union-held areas. Local Union commanders were focused more on protecting their own garrisons and maintaining a hold on Arkansas’s rivers than on conquering additional territory, which would bring logistical problems of protecting longer supply lines and imposing local order.

This was the climate in which Confederate brigadier general Joseph O. (Jo) Shelby operated following his promotion on May 27 as commander of Confederate forces north of the Arkansas River. From his base at Jacksonport (Jackson County) throughout the summer, Shelby and his subordinate commanders successfully recruited hundreds of men of fighting age, most of whom were deserters, and effectively frustrated local Union forces. From May through August, detachments under Shelby’s direction were engaged in dozens of engagements between Jacksonport and Clarendon (Monroe County), and Shelby was responsible for most of the recorded skirmishes in 1864 that occurred at or near Searcy (White County) and nearby West Point (White County).

Union pursuit expeditions were launched periodically into White and Jackson counties “with the avowed purpose of driving me from the country,” as Shelby would later write, but each one was frustrated by some setback. Following a successful Confederate raid on the railroad near DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) on August 24, a two-pronged expedition in pursuit of Shelby was launched. Brigadier General Joseph West departed Little Rock (Pulaski County) and arrived at Grand Glaise (Jackson County) on August 31. Reinforcements from DeValls Bluff attempted to join West, but a shallow White River due to drought that year greatly delayed their movement and prevented their convergence, and the expedition was abandoned. Regardless, Shelby had already left Jacksonport on August 30 and was marching northeast toward Powhatan (Lawrence County) to rendezvous with Major General Sterling Price in preparation for their raid into Missouri, which commenced on September 19. The departure of Shelby on Price’s Raid left northeast Arkansas virtually empty of organized Confederate forces, but guerrilla companies and irregulars continued fighting in their stead until the war ended the following year.

The details regarding the September 13 skirmish are sparse. Brigadier General Andrews only tallied the casualties and reported that a party composed of part of the Ninth Iowa Cavalry had left a steamboat with dispatches for General West when it was attacked by superior numbers three miles outside of Searcy. The Confederate party was composed of bushwhackers or partisan irregulars. In a letter dated September 16, Andrews further referenced “a nest of bushwhackers…lurking about Searcy and West Point, and [on September 15] about 200 of them were down as far as Des Arc.” This skirmish is the last recorded Civil War engagement fought in White County.

For additional information:
Muncy, Raymond Lee. Searcy, Arkansas: A Frontier Town Grows Up With America. Searcy, AR: Harding Press, 1976.

O’Flaherty, Daniel. General Jo Shelby: Undefeated Rebel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954.

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

Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! A History of Jackson County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Conway, AR: River Road Press, 1974.

Adam Miller
Searcy, Arkansas


No comments on this entry yet.