True's Brigade, Arkansas Expedition
August 1863 to November, 1863.
Third Brigade, Third Division, Sixteenth Army Corps en route from Helena, and not accounted for on the original returns till Sept. 10.
Col. James M. True (62d Ill. Infantry)
49th Illinois, Col. Phinease Pease
62d Illinois, Lieut. Col. Stephen M. Meeker
50th Indiana, Lieut. Col. Samuel T. Wells
27th Iowa, Col. James I. Gilbert
Vaughn's (Illinois) Battery, Capt. Thomas F. Vaughn
HEADQUARTERS ARKANSAS EXPEDITION,
Little Rock, Ark., September 12, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following as a summary of the operations which led to the occupation of the capital by the expeditionary army under my command:
On the 31st day of July, I arrived at Helena, and, pursuant to instructions from Major-General Grant, reported by letter to the commander of the Sixteenth Army Corps for instructions relative to the fitting out of an expedition against Little Rock. General Hurlbut placed under my command all the troops at Helena, and the cavalry division under Brigadier-General Davidson, then operating in Arkansas. The garrison at Helena had been re-enforced by two brigades of Kimball's division, which had just arrived from Snyder's Bluff, and were suffering severely from the malarious influences of the Yazoo country. The proportion of sick among the Helena troops was also very large. Three regiments were designated to remain at Helena, and these, with the sick and convalescents of the whole command, were to constitute the garrison of that place. The troops at Helena designated for the expedition amounted to about 6,000 of all arms. There were three six-gun and one four-gun batteries, including six 10-pounder Parrotts. The cavalry (First Indiana and Fifth Kansas), amounted to less than 500 for duty. The First Indiana had three small rifled guns. Davidson reported something less than 6,000 present for duty in his cavalry division, and eighteen pieces of artillery--showing an aggregate of about 12,000 for duty. Brigadier-Generals Kimball and Salomon obtained leave of absence, and the resignation of General Ross was accepted, which left me with but one general officer (Davidson).
The resignation of my assistant adjutant-general was accepted just at this time, and there were no officers of the quartermaster's or subsistence department at Helena, except Captain Allen, assistant commissary of subsistence, and Captain Noble, assistant quartermaster, who were in charge of the stores in the depot. I ordered the establishment of camps for the sick and convalescents, and organized the command in the best manner possible. Davidson pushed on to Clarendon and established a ferry for crossing the troops, corduroying 2 miles of bottom, and laying down the pontoon bridges across the Rock Rue Bayou. On the 10th of August, the Helena troops, organized into a division, under Col. (now Brig. Gen.) S. A. Rice, marched toward Clarendon, with orders to reconstruct the bridges which had been destroyed by the rebels, and to make all necessary repairs on the road, which was in bad condition. Kimball's division, under Colonel McLean, followed next day. The whole command was at Clarendon, and commenced crossing the river on the 17th of August. Before the crossing was effected, I found my operations encumbered by over 1,000 sick. To have established a hospital and depot at this point would have involved the necessity of occupying both sides of the river. Devall's Bluff was a more healthy location, and the route from there to Little Rock possessed many advantages over the other as a line of operations. I therefore ordered all the stores and sick to be sent to Devall's Bluff by water. The enemy had constructed rifle-pits in a commanding position fronting the crossing on Rock Rae Bayou, but, on the approach of Davidson's division, had fallen back, leaving only a picket. This position could easily have been turned by the road leading up from Harris' Ferry.
On the 22d, Davidson was directed to move with his division to Deadman's Lake, and reconnoiter the enemy's position at Brownsville. On the 23d, the rest of the command moved to Devall's Bluff, the transports carrying the sick and stores under convoy of the gunboats. An advantageous site was selected on the bluff for a hospital and depot, and details immediately ordered to throw up intrenchments, cut away the timber on the flanks, to give the gunboats clear range, and to erect sheds, &c.
On the 24th, Davidson advanced to Two Prairie Bayou, and on the 25th continued the march, skirmishing with Marmaduke's cavalry up to Brownsville, dislodging him at that place, and driving him into his intrenchments at Bayou Meto on the 26th. The attack was renewed on the 27th, and the enemy driven from his works on the bayou, and fired the bridge as he retreated. Davidson was unable to save the bridge, everything having been prepared for its destruction beforehand. The bayou was deep and miry, and the pursuit of the rebels being thus checked, Davidson withdrew to his camp at Brownsville, leaving pickets at the crossings on the bayou. I received information that True's brigade from Memphis would arrive at Clarendon on the 29th, and immediately sent a party to construct a bridge across Rock Rae Bayou, and a ferry-boat to cross the troops over the White River. True crossed on the 30th of August, and on the 1st of September moved up to Deadman's Lake. The advance from Devall's Bluff also commenced on the 1st, the place having been put in such a state of defense that the convalescents and a small detail left there were deemed sufficient to hold it against any force the enemy would be likely to send against it. On the 2d instant, all my available force was concentrated at Brownsville. It had been ascertained that the military road on the south side of Bayou Meto passed through a section impracticable for any military operations--swamp, timber, and entanglements of vines and undergrowth--and was commanded by the enemy's works. I therefore directed Davidson to make a reconnaissance in force around to the enemy's left by way of Austin, and, if practicable, to penetrate his lines and ascertain both his strength and position. Rice's division was ordered forward, to make a diversion in Davidson's favor on Bayou Meto. Rice drove in the enemy's pickets, shelled the woods on the south side of the bayou for several hours, and encamped for the night. In the mean time Davidson pushed his reconnaissance until the numerous roads on his flanks and rear rendered it dangerous for him to proceed any farther. The great length to which it would increase our line of communication with our base rendered it impracticable for us to attack the enemy on his left flank. This reconnaissance occupied two days.
By this time I had collected information in regard to the road leading by Shallow Ford and Ashley's Mills to the Arkansas, and the right of the enemy's works, which determined me to take that route. The march to the front was resumed on the 6th. Here we found ourselves again encumbered with a large number of sick--near 700. True's brigade and Ritter's brigade of cavalry were left to guard the supply train and the sick. On the 7th, we reached the Arkansas, near Ashley's Mills. At this point Davidson's cavalry, in advance, had a sharp skirmish with the enemy. The 8th and 9th were employed in reconnaissance, repairing the road back to Bayou Meto, and in bringing up the sick and the supply train, with the two brigades left at Brownsville.
I had now definitely determined upon a plan of attack. Davidson was directed to lay the pontoon bridge at an eligible point, throw his division across the Arkansas River and move directly on Little Rock, threatening the enemy's right flank and rear, while I moved with the rest of the force on the north bank and assailed the right of his works. During the night of the 9th, Davidson made his dispositions for crossing the Arkansas, and on the morning of the 10th had the pontoon bridge laid. The Second Division was ordered to report to him at daylight, to assist in covering his crossing. The bridge was placed in a bend of the river, and the ground on the south side was so completely swept by Davidson's artillery that the enemy could not plant a battery in any position from which he could interrupt the crossing. Two regiments of infantry passed over the river to drive the enemy's skirmishers out of the woods, and the cavalry division passed on without serious interruption until they reached Bayou Fourche, where the enemy were drawn up in line to receive them. The rebels held their position obstinately, until our artillery on the opposite side of the river was opened upon their flank and rear, when they gave way and were steadily pushed back by Davidson, the artillery constantly playing upon them from the other side of the river. Our two columns marched nearly abreast on either side of the Arkansas. Volumes of smoke in the direction of Little Rock indicated to us that the rebels had evacuated their works on the north side of the river, and were burning their pontoon bridges. Heavy clouds of dust moving down toward Davidson, on the other side of the river, made me apprehensive that the enemy contemplated falling upon him with his entire force. He was instructed, in such event, to form on the beach, where his flanks could be protected by our artillery on the other side, and where aid might be sent him by a ford. But they were in full retreat. Marmaduke's cavalry only were disputing Davidson's entry of the city. The rebels had fired three pontoon bridges laid across the Arkansas at the city, and several railroad cars. Two locomotives were also on fire, but were saved by us; part of the pontoons were also saved. Six steamboats were entirely destroyed by fire, and we are informed that Price intended to have blown up the arsenal, but was pressed so close that he failed in this.
Our cavalry was too much exhausted to pursue the enemy's retreating columns far on the evening of the 10th. Next morning, Merrill's and Clayton's brigades renewed the chase and followed them 20 miles, taking a number of prisoners and causing the enemy to destroy a part of his train. Little Rock was formally surrendered by the municipal authorities on the evening of the 10th. Price had undoubtedly intended to give us battle in his intrenchments, but was entirely surprised by our movement across the Arkansas, and did not suspect it until after the pontoon bridge was laid. When it was reported to him that our infantry were crossing, he took it for granted that our whole force was moving to cut off his retreat to Arkadelphia. I have been assured by citizens that General Cabell, with about 4,000 troops from Fort Smith, had joined Price on his retreat, he having failed to reach here in time to assist in the defense of the place. I marched from Ashley's Mills on the morning of the 10th, with not more than 7,000 troops, having parked the trains and left a strong guard to defend them and the sick.
The operations of this army from the time that I commenced organizing it, at Helena, has occupied exactly forty days.
Our entire loss, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, will not exceed 100.(*) The enemy's is much greater, especially in prisoners; at least 1,000.
I shall reserve the list of casualties and my special recommendations for a future communication. However, I will say that Davidson and his cavalry division deserve the highest commendation.
I inclose Brigadier-General Davidson's report.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Commanding Department of the Missouri.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I--Volume XXII--In Two Parts. Part II -- Correspondence. Page 474 - 477.