March 12, 1863

March 12, 2013

One hundred fifty years ago, on March 12, 1863, a week-long Union expedition from Helena concluded:

COLONEL: In accordance with Special Orders, No.____, brigade head-quarters, and subsequent orders from Brigadier-General [B. M.] Prentiss, I proceeded with my command, composed of 50 infantry (Twenty-fourth Indiana Volunteers), 25 cavalry (Third Iowa Volunteers), and one section of the Second Ohio Battery (6-pounders), on board the steamer Hamilton Belle, up the Saint Francis River, starting on Friday, March 5, at 9 a. m. Nothing of interest occurred until we arrived at Madison, a small country town situated at a point where the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad crosses the Saint Francis River. We arrived at this point a little after daylight, and, from the nature of the river, we were entirely concealed from observation from the town until we arrived within a few hundred yards of it. Here we completely surprised a rebel force of about 75 strong, who fled in great confusion as the boat touched the landing, leaving behind everything except the clothing they had upon their persons. My infantry and cavalry landed with the greatest possible celerity, and pursued them in every direction, capturing and bringing to the boat 27 of their number. Of course, everything they left behind fell into our hands, consisting of arms, horses, horse equipments, blankets, & c.
Having instructions from General Prentiss to capture, if possible, the steamer Miller, which was said to be somewhere in Little River near its mouth, I therefore continued up the Saint Francis until I came to the mouth of that river; thence up the same for about 25 miles, when I reached the Miller, which, to my disappointment, I found in a sunken condition. The point where the Miller lay was about 250 miles from Helena, and believing that before I could return the rebels would probably collect all available troops together at some favorable point to dispute my passage, I seized, at different points and from different persons, sixty-four bales of cotton, out of which I had constructed very efficient breastworks, not only for the protection of the men, but for the protection of the boat in case they should bring artillery to bear upon us.
Upon my return, I captured, near the mouth of Little River, 3 men engaged in contraband trade. I found in their possession 13 barrels of salt, 2 barrels of flour, 80 ounces of quinine, and a large amount of percussion-caps. At Wittsburg I captured 15 hogsheads of sugar, and received information that the enemy had collected in considerable force at Madison, and had blockaded the river. Arriving within about 2 miles of Madison, I discovered a load, of cotton placed upon a conspicuous point on a high, sloping bank. Believing it to be a trap, I ordered the artillerymen to drop a few shells into the thick underbrush a short distance back of the cotton bales. I soon discovered, farther up on the slope, a large number of saddled horses, which convinced me that my suspicions were well founded.
I continued the shelling process, and, coming within nearer range, I swept the underbrush with canister. I then landed as rapidly as possible my entire force, leaving about one-half on the river bank by the boat as a reserve. The balance deployed as skirmishers and soon came upon the enemy, who had been previously scattered by our artillery. A running fight ensued, which resulted in the enemy retreating to the hills, leaving 4 of their dead upon the field.
In this skirmish Lieutenant [William C.] Niblack, of the Third Iowa Cavalry, received a severe buck-shot wound in the left breast while gallantly leading his cavalry. No other one on our side sustained any injury.
After securing the cotton used as a bait and some horses captured upon the field, I proceeded to Madison, where I found the river blockaded by means of a chain drawn between the piers of the railroad bridge. I landed above the bridge and sent out skirmishers to reconnoiter and cover the operations of a working party sent to remove the blockade. A little skirmishing ensued, and we captured 1 prisoner. My working party soon reported a safe passage through the blockade. I called in my skirmishers and without much difficulty cleared the bridge, which was no sooner accomplished than a heavy volley saluted us from a cane-break on the right, where the enemy were posted behind log breast-works. After about 25 rounds from our field pieces, the enemy retreated in great confusion, and we experienced no further interruption between that point and Helena, where we arrived on the morning of the 12th, it being the seventh day out.
I cannot but speak in the highest terms of the manner in which the officers and men of the different detachments conducted themselves throughout. It was truly gratifying and well worthy of imitation. We captured in all 46 prisoners, 10 of whom I paroled on account of being short of subsistence. The balance I have turned over to the provost-marshal-general. T
he following is a list of captured property (contraband) and property seized for military purposes:
Cotton bales.. 4
Sugar hogsheads.. 15
Salt barrels.. 13
Flour do…. 2
Bacon pounds… 500
Horses 23
Mules 3
Quinine .ounces. .. 80
Shot-guns, rifles, & c., about 30
Percussion-caps – 500 S
ixty bales of cotton seized for military purposes, claimants of which were permitted to return with the expedition to represent their claims.
Having nothing further to report, I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
POWELL CLAYTON, Colonel, Commanding.

Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission

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