Skirmishes at Buckskull (October 1 and 10, 1863)

Location: Randolph County
Campaign: Expedition from Pilot Knob, Missouri, to Oregon County, Missouri, and Pocahontas, Arkansas
Dates: October 1 and 10, 1863
Principal Commanders: Captain William T. Leeper, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); None (CS)
Forces Engaged: Companies D, M, and L, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 wounded, 2 missing (US); 6 killed, 15 prisoners (CS)
Result: Union victory

On September 28, 1863, Captain William T. Leeper with elements of the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry moved into Randolph County, Arkansas, to engage guerrillas in the area. On October 1 and October 10, skirmishes occurred on the Arkansas-Missouri border near Buckskull due to its location near Pitman’s Ferry on the Current River.

Traffic crossing the Current River just south of the Arkansas state line on the Southwest Trail (also called the Military Road, Congress Road, or the Natchitoches Trace) made Pitman’s Ferry a major entrance point in the region. Over time, the towns of Pitman (Randolph County) in Arkansas and Buckskull on the Arkansas-Missouri border developed around the location. Periodically, Confederate forces were stationed in this region to attempt to hold the ferry.

On September 28, 1863, Union brigadier general Clinton B. Fisk, commander of the District of Southeastern Missouri, sent elements of the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry on raids near the Missouri border to eliminate guerrilla activity in the region. One column focused on the Oregon County, Missouri, region, while Captain William T. Leeper’s column swept through several Missouri counties and descended into Arkansas toward Pocahontas (Randolph County).

Leaving Pilot Knob, Missouri, with 150 men from Companies D, M, and L of the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry on September 28, Leeper arrived in Doniphan, Missouri, without incident on September 30. Traveling on multiple routes south to gather intelligence on the Confederates, Captain Robert McElroy’s detachment engaged six guerrillas near Buckskull on October 1, killing four and wounding one.

Consolidating his force at Pocahontas on October 2, Leeper remained there gathering intelligence until October 6. Determining to strike deeper into Arkansas, he moved to Smithville (Lawrence County) on October 7 and Powhatan (Lawrence County) on October 8 before crossing over the Black River. Following the east side of the river, Leeper crossed the Black River again above the mouth of the Current River before striking northward between the rivers. On October 10, his advance guard engaged unidentified rebels. After a short exchange, the Confederates vanished. Suffering one soldier wounded and two missing, the Federals killed two Confederates. While Leeper does not clearly identify this location, rough estimates place it near Buckskull and the Arkansas-Missouri border region.

Having completed his mission, Leeper marched out of Arkansas through Doniphan to Patterson, Missouri, on October 12. The expedition killed six guerrillas and captured a total of fifteen prisoners, 136 guns, and twenty horses and mules.

While disturbing the guerrillas in the area, the skirmishes at and near Buckskull were not strategically influential. Instead, they are typical of the raids and military actions that occurred in Randolph County during the later stages of the war.

For additional information:
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 1. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1890–1901, pp. 681–685.

Derek Allen Clements
Black River Technical College


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