Camden Expedition: April 2, 1864

TERRE NOIR CREEK, Ark. – April 2, 1864

Shelby  portrait

Gen. Jo Shelby, CSA

Confederate General Jo Shelby has his cavalry in position to attack the Federal Rear Guard when it passes near the Terre Noir Creek.

Confederate General Cabell’s Cavalry Brigade arrives at Antoine, AR, about five miles to the southwest, where the Old Military Road crosses the Little Missouri River. In this part of Arkansas in 1864, the stream was called the Union River.

Colonel Colton Greene’s Cavalry Brigade lies in reserve two miles beyond Cabell’s force.

The Federals proceeded through Spoonville, AR and continued down the Old Military Road. The main body passed over Terre Noir Creek. The rear guard, which protected the wagon train, consisted of the 50th Indiana, 29th Iowa, 33rd Iowa and the 9th Wisconsin regiments of the 1st Brigade of the VII Corps under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Rice.  The brigade was supported by two guns of Voegele’s Wisconsin Battery. The brigade was strung out alongside the column.

At about noon on the 2nd, Confederate General Shelby’s 1200 troopers, with 3 cannon in support, opened fire on the rear guard and the wagon train. The 9th Wisconsin was the Union regiment nearest the end of the column, and when Union General Rice heard the firing, he knew it was a major engagement. He immediately sent the 50th Indiana and 29th Iowa, plus the rest of Voegele’s Battery, to aid the 9th Wisconsin. These combined units repulsed the Confederate attack.

This allowed General Rice to cross all his force and the wagon train over Terre Noir Creek and begin to deploy his Brigade and Voegele’s Battery in a line of battle on a hill about a mile southwest of the creek.

Rice placed the 29th Iowa and the 33rd Iowa on the hill. The 50th Indiana was rapidly moving toward the Federal position while Voegele’s Battery was deploying.  The 9th Wisconsin was still protecting the supply train, which had proceeded further down the road away from the conflagration.

However, the fight wasn’t over. The Confederates, following the Federals closely, attacked the 50th Indiana as it ascended the hill.  The Confederates were delayed by a line of skirmishers, which allowed both the 50th Indiana to get into their position, plus the Federal Battery to also deploy.

The Confederates pressed the attack, trying to take Voegele’s Battery, but were again driven back with considerable losses.  Once the initial Confederate attack was repulsed, Federal General Rice sent the 50th Indiana to protect the rear of the supply train.

The Union commander decided to take the main body of the army by a different route than the Old Military Road. Steele turned off the Old Military Road and took a road running due south, which was a shortcut to Elkin’s Ferry.

The Old Military road would have continued southwest to Antoine, AR, and the Union forces would have run into Cabell’s and Greene’s Brigades. It was a smart move by the Federals.

Confederates continued to harass the Federal rear guard position near Terre Noir Creek, but ultimately retreated due to the strength of the Union position.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Samuel Well, commander of the 50th Indiana, moved his regiment along the Military Road toward the supply train to set rear security between the Union position and the supply train. The 50th drove off concerted efforts by the Confederates as it moved toward the supply train. It arrived at about 5:00 PM.  Almost at once, the Confederates attacked. The 50th repulsed the attack and countercharged, driving the Confederates from the field.

Colonel Charles Salomon, the 9th Wisconsin commander was ordered to protect the Military Road with 4 of his companies and to protect the intersection to Elkin’s Ferry with 3 companies, until all the wagons and the last of the Union regiments had turned south on the shortcut.

The main body of the Federals had, by this time, turned on the road to Elkin’s Ferry and proceeded a few miles south.

Confederate General Cabell had heard the fighting to his northeast along the Military Road and sent his force to attack the Federals.  Arriving on the scene, the Confederates attacked Union Col. Salomon’s force of 4 companies.

Salomon was forced to retreat to a hill where two Union cannon had been stationed. Due to artillery fire, the strength of the Union position, and the near dark conditions, Cabell’s Confederates broke off the attack. The harassment of the column attacks lasted until 6:00PM, when Shelby finally pulled his force back.

The Union supply train and the guarding brigade continued traveling south until they reached the main body of the army, near Okolona, about 4 miles north of Elkin’s Ferry at 10:00PM

During the afternoon of April 2nd Union Division Commander, Brigadier General Frederick Salomon, appreciating the importance of the Elkin’s Ferry Ford, ordered the VII Corps 2nd Brigade Commander Colonel William McLean to reconnoiter the crossing of the Little Missouri River. McLean conducted a forced march from Okolona to Elkin’s Ferry in a matter of hours.  Salomon also gave McLean a cavalry unit to lead the march.



About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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