ON THE CAMDEN ROAD, Ark.
On April 24th, the Union wagon train was up and moving early. The column made good headway and was not harassed by any Confederates during the day’s march.
This didn’t bode well for the Union wagon train commander, Lt. Col. Drake. He knew something was afoot.
The wagon train made good time, considering the muddy roads, and arrived at the edge of Moro Bottoms, a low lying swampy area, late in the afternoon. As per orders from General Steele, Drake didn’t try to cross this area at night.
However, Lt. Col. Drake did make several plans for the following day. He also executed one of his plans by sending one of his staff officers, Lt. Schrom, ahead in an ambulance (buggy) to traverse Moro Bottoms; cross the Saline River at the Mt. Elba crossing; move on to Pine Bluff; and alert the supply depot there that, once the wagon train arrived, to have supplies ready so the wagons could be packed and quickly made ready for a return trip to Camden.
In addition, Drake had cavalry pickets posted 5 miles to the rear of the wagon train and two miles ahead of the wagon train to give a warning during the night of any Confederates in the area.
Drake also instructed his cavalry commander, Major McCauley, that early in the morning he was to take a cavalry detachment over Moro Bottoms and proceed to where a road running north-to-south crossed the Camden Road, the road they were presently traveling. This was called the Mt. Elba Road, and once the wagon train reached this intersection, it would turn north on the Mt. Elba Road and cross the Saline River at the Mt. Elba crossing, a few miles to the north.
McCauley was to hold this intersection and send patrols north, south and east to reconnoiter for Confederate forces. He would wait at the intersection close to Marks Mills until he had received the reports from all the patrols. If any action was needed, McCauley was to take it.
After these plans had been finalized, the Federals settled down for the night.
Meanwhile on the Confederate side, General Fagan’s cavalry force of 2 divisions left El Dorado Landing early in the morning of the 24th and rode hard for 45 miles, arriving at a point just 8 miles south of Marks Mills around midnight. They bedded down for the night.
Fagan believed he had stolen a day’s march on the Federals and could position his force between the Union wagon train and the crossing of the Saline River at Mt. Elba the next day.