Skirmishes at Des Arc and Peach Orchard Gap

The skirmishes near Des Arc (Prairie County) and Peach Orchard Gap in early December 1864 were among many erupting as Union cavalrymen based in Brownsville (Lonoke County) sent regular scouting expeditions out in search of food and enemy troops.

Colonel Washington F. Geiger of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry Regiment (US) sent a party of fifty men of the Ninth Iowa Cavalry Regiment, Company E, under First Lieutenant Henry W. Harmon out from Brownsville to seize beef cattle for the use of Union troops. On December 6, 1864, when six to ten miles west of Des Arc, they ran into a “superior force” of Captain Howell “Doc” Rayburn’s Confederate irregulars. In the sharp skirmish that followed, three of Rayburn’s men were killed and two Iowans were wounded; five Federal horses also were killed in the gunfire.

Another party, a group of Eighth Missouri troopers under Captain William W. Langston of Company D, returned to Brownsville on December 7, 1864. They had ventured as far as Peach Orchard Gap on the White River, where they had skirmished with bushwhackers, killing one and capturing Captain Jeff Allison and five horses.

Geiger, reporting on the skirmishes on December 7, wrote that he wished to cross the White River to “clean out McCray and Dobbin” as soon as Major George L. Childress returned from the expedition to Strahan’s landing with 500 men of the Eight Missouri and Ninth Iowa Cavalry Regiments; Major General Frederick Steele had reported a day earlier that Colonel Thomas McCray was below Augusta (Woodruff County) with 200 men and that Colonel Archibald Dobbins’s men “are either on furlough or have deserted.”

Childress would not return to Brownsville until December 23, however, and by that point Colonel Hans Mattson of the Third Minnesota Infantry had already led the unsuccessful December 13–15, 1864, White River Expedition in pursuit of the Confederate leaders.

For additional information:
Hewett, Janet B., et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Vol. 19. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995, p. 428.

Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion, Vol. IV. Des Moines: Emory H. English, 1910, p. 1651.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 41, part 1, p. 977; part 4, p. 780. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System

Last Updated: 06/10/2022

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