Camden Expedition: April 10, 1864

PRAIRIE D’ANE, Ark.

By April 10th, Dockery’s Confederate Brigade was located on a small ridge southeast of the entrance to the prairie. Shelby’s Confederate Brigade was located further back, and to the east of Dockery, on the central ridge that is the highest ground on the prairie.  Cabell’s Confederate Brigade, Blocher’s Arkansas Battery and Crawford’s Confederate Brigade were located in positions along the southern and western sides of the prairie, as well as Gano’s and Walker’s Brigade and other Confederate artillery batteries.

By most accounts, the opening phase of the Battle of Prairie D’Ane started in the afternoon on April 10th when Steele’s Union Army slowly pushed south on the Military Road, heading toward the Confederate capital city of Washington, Arkansas.

Steele’s 12,000 men included a combination of infantry, artillery and cavalry.  His artillery consisted of 30 pieces of weaponry. His logistic support entailed 800 wagons and some 12,000 horses and mules.  About 30 Army wagons carried a pontoon bridge and planking.

Skirmishing began as General Salomon’s Third Division, the vanguard of the juggernaut, moved from the Federal camp at Cornelius Farm and began to enter Prairie D’Ane.   As previously described, Confederate General Shelby’s and General Dockery’s Brigades had been sent forward from the main Confederate line, located on the south and western edges of the prairie, to contest the Union infantry’s advance on the Military Road.

Dockery’s men deployed a Confederate skirmish line where the Military Road entered Prairie D’Ane.

The first Federals to emerge into the prairie were Steele’s 3rd Brigade of the Third Division, VII Corps, under Col. Engleman.  They deployed west of the Military Road and moved forward to confront the Confederate skirmishers. Voegele’s Battery was brought forward.  They unlimbered west of the Military Road and began to fire.

The second Federal force to emerge into the prairie was Steele’s 1st Brigade under Brigadier General Rice. This unit entered the prairie and deployed east of the Military Road. The 2nd Missouri Light Artillery was brought forward and deployed on the extreme right of the Federal line.

The last Brigade of the 3rd Division was the 2nd Brigade under Col. McLean. They had been charged with protecting the supply and pontoon train located north of the prairie on the Military Road.

Thayer’s Frontier Division was still encamped at the Cornelius Farm.

cannon firing

As the Federals went into battle line and advanced, the artillery batteries for both sides engaged in support fire for their troops and counterbattery fire.  The Federals pushed the Confederate skirmishers back to their brigade lines of defense on the highest ridge in the prairie.

Dockery’s Confederate dismounted cavalry was both outgunned and outnumbered. They gave ground grudgingly.  This unit was pushed back off their ridge and ordered to redeploy to the left of Shelby. The Union line continued its slow advance.

Meanwhile, an artillery duel erupted between the contending forces.  The Confederates, though outnumbered in cannons, held their own against the Union batteries.

A Union advance late in the day pushed Dockery’s and Shelby’s forces off the central ridge high ground.  Even though Steele’s Federals held the high ground in the prairie, Shelby’s men repeatedly counterattacked the Union line, while Confederate artillery kept up a steady fire on the Federal position.

Shelby pulled his men back to Gum Grove and redeployed his whole Brigade as skirmishers to halt the Federal advance. The firing continued after dark. The sky was lit up with artillery fire and musketry.  Shelby tried a night assault to take a Union battery, but was repulsed. The firing ceased about midnight, when a general calm descended on the battlefield, and the soldiers were able to rest for a few hours.

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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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