Skirmish on the Benton Road (January 22, 1865)

Confederate forces attacked a Union cavalry picket post on the Benton Road outside of Little Rock (Pulaski County) on January 22, 1865, leading Federal leaders to question the use of patrols along the road.

On January 5, 1865, Brigadier General Joseph R. West, commander of the Seventh Army Corps’s Cavalry Division, sent an order to Second Brigade head Brigadier General Cyrus Bussey for “the main road to be patrolled daily by a cavalry force of such strength…as you see expedient, and to a point from ten to fifteen miles distant from Fort Steele,” the major bastion of the Little Rock fortifications guarding the road toward Benton (Saline County).

The patrols apparently started immediately, but Brigadier General Frederick Salomon, commanding the post at Little Rock, reported on January 22, 1865, that he had received news that a cavalry post on the Benton Road about five miles out of Little Rock had been attacked and several cavalrymen captured. He ordered the Thirty-Sixth Iowa Infantry Regiment, which was camped near the picket post, to be on the alert.

Captain William Hawley of the Third U.S. Cavalry Regiment was ordered to gather details. On reaching the picket post, which had numbered one officer and fifteen men, he learned that the cavalrymen had patrolled toward Benton and were heading back toward Little Rock when twenty-five to thirty Confederates attacked. Three of the Federals were wounded, and one wounded Federal and three others were captured in the ambush.

Bussey sent West a recommendation that the patrols along the Benton Road be discontinued, writing that “it has been my misfortune to lose from my command within three years more than 100 men while on daily patrol duty. The roads in this country are such that the enemy have every advantage.”

West, holding that any such patrols should have from twenty-five to fifty men though “the cavalry force here at present is not adequate to furnish that number daily,” sent a full squadron of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry to join Major Augustus Hamilton of the Thirty-Sixth Iowa on the evening of January 22, before the horsemen ventured toward Benton the next morning. Captain William Wagner of Company B of the Third Wisconsin reported that their patrol did not “discover any enemy or rebel force in that vicinity.”

The skirmish on the Benton Road, an area that had seen similar attacks in March and July of 1864, highlighted the difficulties faced by Union leaders in Little Rock who needed timely intelligence on enemy movements but lacked sufficient troops to conduct such patrols safely. The January 22, 1865, skirmish, typical of the small-scale fighting taking place this late in the war, is the last one on the Benton Road that is reported in the Official Records.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 48, part 1, pp. 59–60, 419, 612–613, 619. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1896.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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