SALINE RIVER, Ark.
Union General Steele issued orders the night of April 28th that the column would again move out at 4:00a.m. the morning of April 29th. This was accomplished with General Carr’s cavalry, again, taking the lead, with the wagon train and infantry following.
After a grueling march, the Union column passed through Tulip, AR and just about noon, the skies opened and it began to rain. This wasn’t just a thunderstorm. It rained non-stop for the next 18 hours. General Carr’s cavalry and the pontoon wagons arrived at Jenkin’s Ferry to find the Saline River filling up fast and too swift to cross.
The engineers went to work, and by 3:15, they had the pontoon bridge in place for crossing. Captain Wheeler, the Union engineer, then put his fatigue parties to work constructing better approaches to the bridge.
Unfortunately, the rain had turned the road bed across the Saline River bottoms into mud. Wagons and artillery caissons sank to their axles, while mules strained to pull them out of the mud. Officers and enlisted men lent a hand to move the wagons along, but it became so slow moving that Commander Steele ordered the road to be corduroyed (the engineers laid down small saplings, muskets and rocks perpendicular to the road bed to provide traction for the wagons.) By 6:00p.m. General Carr’s cavalry and about half of the wagon train had made it across the Saline River.
During the night of the 29th, fires were started along the line of march through this boggy area. Efforts to get the wagons and artillery out of this morass of mud were multiplied, but the work finally had to be suspended for the night.
Meanwhile on the Confederate side, about noon on the 29th a portion of General Marmaduke’s cavalry force, that had ridden all night, finally made contact with the cavalry scouts of Union Colonel Engelmann – the rear guard force for the Union column. Skirmishing between the two forces lasted for about an hour and a half. Colonel Engelmann hadn’t had to deploy his brigade because Company C and K of the 6th Kansas Cavalry under Captain Rogers had been able to keep the Confederate 8th Missouri at bay.
However, as the Union rear guard got closer to Jenkin’s Ferry, Colonel Engelmann topped a rise in the terrain and was able to see that a bottom land near a small stream called Guesses Creek to his north was a sea of mud with bogged down wagons. Engelmann deployed his force with the 40th Iowa and two cannons from the Springfield Light Artillery across the road. A few companies of the 43rd Illinois were called forward and utilized as skirmishers and support for the artillery.
Engelmann deployed the rest of the 43rd Illinois and the 27th Wisconsin as reserves behind the main battle line. Almost immediately, the Confederates called up Harris’ battery of 4 cannons, and a spirited artillery duel ensued.
Confederate cavalry units under General Greene continued to reach the field. After some time, Engelmann received word the wagons in the Guesses Creek bottoms had been cleared. So he moved across the bottom land to a rise in the distance that overlooked the bottom lands leading up to Jenkin’s Ferry. It was here he received orders to hold this line to allow Steele to cross the bottom land to Jenkin’s Ferry.
Engelmann designated the 43rd Illinois and 40th Iowa, along with the section of the Springfield Artillery, to hold the ridge. Companies C and K of the 6th Kansas Cavalry covered the flanks of the blocking force.
The Confederates, after some time, followed Engelmann and attacked again, but they were repulsed. Skirmishing continued until sunset, at which time, Confederate General Greene pulled his forces back for the night.
Further north, Union General Thayer’s Frontier division was camping for the night in the bottoms, as was General Rice’s 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division of the VII Corps. As mentioned before, during the night, parties of Union soldiers pulled as many of the bogged down wagons out of the bottom land mud, until a halt was called late early on the morning of April 30th.
In regard to the three Confederate Infantry Divisions that had left Camden on April 28th, they hit the road by 2:00a.m. April 29th, and after marching 28 miles, arrived at Tulip,AR.
Without the burden of wagons the Confederates had moved swiftly. At night on the 29th they were just 14 miles from Jenkin’s Ferry. Confederate Commander Kirby Smith still believed that his force might overtake the Union column due to the rain probably bogging down the Union wagon train.
In regard to Confederate General Fagan’s cavalry division, at about 4:00p.m. April 29th, the scouting party, dispatched by General Shelby to find the Union army position, arrived at Pratt’s Ferry, northwest of Jenkin’s Ferry, and reported to General Shelby. Fagan’s division had moved on, and no local residents knew where they had gone. The Confederates had missed a chance of imparting a disastrous defeat on Steele’s army.