Camden Expedition: April 19, 1864

CAMDEN, Ark. 

The defeated soldiers’ return from Poison Springs during the night of the 18th, along with the continuing shortage of food, brought the Union Army morale to a new low.

During April 19th, Union chief quartermaster Captain Henry informed General Steele there was only one days ration available for the command’s animals. He asked if some of the broken down animals could be released to graze for themselves. This would eliminate 2000 animals from having to be fed.

No archives have ever been found of Steele’s reply to Captain Henry.

Steele did get a communique that a supply train from Pine Bluff was nearing Camden with needed supplies.  Steele sent out a strong infantry column to meet and escort the train into Camden.

Steele hadn’t been able to get any information about Union General Banks’ Louisiana portion of the Red River Campaign. All he had heard were rumors from local town’s people. Steele sent out his own spies on April 17th and finally had gotten word that Banks had indeed fallen back down the Red River toward Grand Ecore, LA, where his river gunboats were located. On the 18th, a Union courtier arrived from Banks confirming the report Steele had gleaned from his spies.

Steele was in a quandary as to what action to take.

On the Confederate side, a large shift of infantry had commenced on April 16th. Overall Trans-Mississippi Commander Kirby Smith had taken three infantry divisions and headed to Arkansas, leaving General Richard Taylor with a small force to confront Union General Banks, if he decided to attack north again.

Confederate General Smith sent the three divisions in parallel routes on their trek to Arkansas.  General Thomas Churchill’s Arkansas Division was sent on the western-most passage that would take them through Magnolia, AR.  General Mosby Parson’s Missourians were put on the middle passage that would ultimately move them through Magnolia as well.  General John G. Walker’s Texans were sent on the eastern route to Minden, LA and then north to Camden, AR.

All three Confederate Divisions were on the march on April 18th and 19th. General Kirby Smith had preceded his divisions by traveling east to Calhoun, LA, which lay halfway between modern day Ruston, LA and Monroe, LA.  Calhoun was just a two hours ride south of Confederate General Sterling Price’s Headquarters in Woodlawn, AR.  Woodlawn was about 16 miles west of Camden.

Calhoun, LA had a telegraph link to Shreveport, and Kirby Smith wanted that link for a while before moving north.  It was here that he learned that the Union army was in Camden. Smith knew the Camden fortifications well. They were very strong and not easily taken.

On April 18th, Kirby Smith sent orders to General John G. Walker to stop in Minden, LA just in case Union General Banks decided to attack north again. Walker’s force could join with Confederate General Richard Taylor to thwart Banks, if need be, or be brought north to attack Steele’s Union army in Camden.

On the 19th, Kirby Smith rode north to General Price’s headquarters in Woodlawn, AR. Smith wanted Price to form a cavalry campaign of 4000 troopers to cross the Ouachita River to the east of Camden and attack Union General Steele’s supply lines to Pine Bluff, Little Rock and Devall’s Bluff.  Price put this campaign into motion.

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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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