Skirmishes near Elm Springs

Location: Washington and Benton counties
Campaign: None
Dates: July 30–31, 1864
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant John Phelps (US); Multiple (CS)
Forces Engaged: 28 members of the Second Arkansas Cavalry (US); Unknown (CS)
Estimated Casualties: 1 injured (US); 5 killed, 9 wounded (CS)
Result: Union victory

The Skirmishes at Elm Springs were small-unit Civil War engagements fought in northwestern Arkansas during the summer of 1864. While not part of any larger campaign, this series of skirmishes was typical of the warfare that existed throughout much of the state during this period. Federal units based at outposts patrolled their immediate areas to disrupt and destroy both regular Confederate units and guerrilla groups. These engagements were part of that effort.

The Second Arkansas Cavalry (US) was stationed in southwestern Missouri, patrolling the surrounding countryside and recruiting men to the ranks. On July 28, 1864, Lieutenant John Phelps led a patrol of twenty-eight men from the unit out of Cassville, Missouri. The group accompanied another patrol from the First Arkansas Cavalry (US) under the command of Major Thomas Hunt. The combined force marched to Mudtown, Arkansas—present-day Lowell (Benton County). The two groups separated at this time, and Phelps led his unit to Elm Springs (Washington and Benton counties).

Learning from local intelligence sources of an enemy force under the command of a Captain Arrington, the men of the Second Arkansas began to follow the group on July 29. Stopping for the night, Phelps and his men continued their pursuit early the next morning and attacked the rear of the enemy column about six miles from Elm Springs on the road to Fayetteville (Washington County). The attack led to the death of one Confederate and the wounding of four more, with one horse captured. The remaining Confederates were able to escape.

The Federals continued into Fayetteville, where they linked up with Major Hunt and his men from the First Arkansas Cavalry. The entire group returned to Elm Springs, where they camped on the night of July 30.

On the morning of July 31, the two units once again separated, and Phelps moved with his men toward Maysville (Benton County). About eight miles from Elm Springs, the unit once again encountered an enemy group. It is unclear if this was the same unit that they engaged with the previous day, but the Federals estimated the enemy to number around twenty-five. Attacking once again, the Union troops forced the Confederates to retreat. During the brief engagement, four of the enemy were killed and five wounded. Three horses were also captured by the Second Arkansas.

The patrol continued to Maysville, where Phelps learned that Colonel John Coffee was operating in the area with about 500 men. Realizing that he would not be able to engage such a large force, Phelps led his men back into Missouri and arrived at Springfield during the first week of August.

While these small-scale engagements were ultimately unimportant to the overall war effort in Arkansas, they do effectively demonstrate the type of warfare that most soldiers experienced in the state.

For additional information:
Robertson, Brian. “Men Who Would Die by the Stars and Stripes: A Socio-economic Examination of the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry (US).” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 69 (Summer 2010): 117–139.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Part 1, Vol. 22. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1889.

David Sesser
Henderson State University


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