Camden Expedition: April 26, 1864

CAMDEN, Ark. 

The defeat at Marks Mills galvanized Union General Steele’s need for action. It also gave him the answer to his 3 questions:

1. Union gunboats couldn’t help him now.

2. He had too many Confederates confronting him to continue to Shreveport.

3. The only way he was going to save the army was to go back to Little Rock.

 

Steele had also received a report from his chief quartermaster Captain Henry that there were about 9000 mules and horses in Camden. There was only forage enough for 1000.

Steele called a meeting of his commanders and polled them as to what to do. All but one of them wanted to go back to Little Rock, which was now the only way open to escape.

On the morning of April 26th, word went out that the army would be leaving during the night. Captain Henry, the chief quartermaster, tagged all the wagons unfit for the trek north. Through stealth and secrecy, soldiers were issued rations that would have to last them on the march to Little Rock.  Each man received two pieces of hardtack and a half pint of corn meal.

At twilight, Union pickets were doubled on the perimeter. “Tattoo” was loudly sounded as well as “Taps.”

Captain Henry had organized fatigue parties, and once it was dark, they went to work destroying everything not transportable as quietly as possible.

Steeles route

The Union army would use their pontoon bridge to cross to the east side of the Ouachita River and head north on roads leading to Little Rock.

At about 8:00pm, the wagon train was the first to cross the Ouachita River. It took about 2 hours for all to get across. Next, General Carr’s cavalry division crossed, followed by General Thayer’s Frontier Infantry Division and their artillery batteries.

About midnight General Rice, 1st Brigade commander of General Salomon’s 3rd Division, VII Corps was ordered to cross – which he rapidly accomplished along with his artillery batteries.

The last to leave Camden was Engelmann’s Brigade of Salomon’s Division at about 1:00a.m. on the morning of April 27th.  Once on the other side of the river, Engelmann’s brigade provided protection while the pioneer units dismantled the pontoon bridge, deflated the rubber pontoons and loaded them in their transportation wagons. This was completed by early on the morning of April 27th.

Engelmann’s men couldn’t dally. The rest of the Union army had continued north, and his unit moved quickly to catch up.

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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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