JENKIN’S FERRY, Ark.
In the opening scenes of the movie “Lincoln,” the fighting sequences are supposed to dramatize the fighting at Jenkin’s Ferry in the mud and rain. The bottom land over which the forces actually fought might not have been quite as deep in water as depicted in the movie, but it was reported that the water was ankle to shin deep.
At midnight, the Arkansas Confederates of General Churchill’s Division were awakened from their camp in Tulip, AR and put on the road. At 1:00a.m. General Parson’s Missourians began their march two miles south of Tulip toward Jenkin’s Ferry. General Walker’s Texans were located further south of Tulip and didn’t begin their march until 2:30a.m.
Rain continued to fall.
The area over which the battle was fought on April 30th was a narrow strip of land. A ridgeline about 3 ½ miles south of the Saline River overlooked the Saline Bottoms, a low area between the ridgeline and the Saline River. The road to Jenkin’s Ferry was paralleled on the west side by Cox’s Creek, with the creek very close to the road. Along the eastern side of the roadway were three fields: Jile’s Field, being the southern-most, then Cooper’s Field and lastly Kelly’s Field being the northern-most field closest to the Saline River. There were about 200 to 300 yards between each field. Between each field and to the east of these fields were woods with trees so thick in some places that it prevented movement of cavalry units with any cohesion.
On the Union side, during the night of April 29th, Union Infantry General Salomon decided to change his battle lines. He ordered Colonel Engelmann to redeploy his rear guard off of the ridgeline overlooking the Saline Bottoms and to get closer to the Saline River, out of range of any Confederate artillery.
At daybreak on April 30, it was reported to Union Commander Steele that all the artillery and about half of the wagons still hadn’t crossed the Saline River.
The only Confederate force that opposed the Union army at daylight was General Greene’s cavalry division under the overall command of General Marmaduke.
Union General Rice’s 1st Brigade of General Salomon’s 3rd Division of the VII Corps had taken over the rear guard and had deployed his brigade in the woods between Cooper’s Field (the middle field) and Kelly’s field (the northern-most field) with his right on Cox’s Creek and his left on a slough to the east of the road that had more mud and water than the rest of the bottoms.
On the Confederate side, at daybreak General Greene had his 3rd and 4th Missouri troopers move forward with the 8th Missouri and Wood’s battalion in reserve. They reached the ridgeline overlooking the Saline Bottoms, dismounted, and advanced down into the bottoms. Once they entered Jile’s Field, they came under fire of Union General Rice’s soldiers. The Confederates drove the Union skirmishers back. Union Colonel Engelmann’s 3rd Brigade was ordered forward to help Rice.
Confederate General Greene had deployed the 3rd Missouri on the left and the 4th Missouri on the right in the advance. Greene maneuvered the 4th to the right, trying to get around the Union’s left flank. The 4th entered Cooper’s field and fired at the Yanks, which sent the Yanks scurrying for the woods between the Cooper’s field and Kelly’s field. Greene’s troopers tried to cross the field and were repulsed.
Meanwhile, at 7:30 a.m. Confederate General Churchill’s Arkansas Division, along with General Price the overall commander of Churchill’s Infantry Division and Parson’s Missouri Infantry Division, were close to the ridgeline overlooking Saline Bottoms. Price met with General Marmaduke, and it was decided to use a brigade from Churchill’s Division to relieve Greene until Parson’s Division could arrive. The combined units would then assault the Union line. General Churchill was ordered at 8:00a.m. to send General Tappan’s brigade forward.
General Tappan moved the 19th/24th Arkansas Consolidated regiment, under Lt. Colonel William Hardy, and the 27th/28th Arkansas Consolidated regiment under Colonel R. G. Shaver forward. The 33rd Arkansas under Colonel Grinsted was held in reserve. The units moved forward, relieved General Greene’s dismounted cavalry, and advanced.
Hardy’s regiment on the left of the line came to the southern edge of Cooper’s Field, the middle field, and charged the Yanks in the woods at the north of the field. The Union line was protected by breastworks and a fence. The Yanks poured a galling fire into the Rebs. This forced the Confederate charge to a halt. The Rebs sought protection in a swale about midway across the field and returned fire.
Colonel Shaver’s regiment on the right also relieved Greene’s Troops and continued through heavy woods, seeking the Union line. The Rebs were able to get closer to the Yanks by utilizing trees for protection. There ensued a fire fight resulting in the Confederates being unable to advance.
General Tappan committed Colonel Grinsted’s 33rd Arkansas. They reached Cooper’s Field and charged. The Union 29th Iowa and 9th Wisconsin volleys from behind the breastworks at the north end of the field again stymied the Confederates, and they joined their compatriots in the swale midway of the field.
On the right side, the Yanks counterattacked Shaver’s Confederates. The call went out to the Confederate high command for reinforcements. General Churchill decided to commit General Hawthorne’s Brigade.
In the meantime, Union General Rice called up the 50th Indiana to bolster the left of his line. He also sent two companies of the 29th Iowa and soldiers from the 2nd Brigade to wade Cox’s Creek on his right to prevent a flanking movement by the Confederates in that direction.
Before Hawthorne’s Confederates arrived, Col. Shaver rallied his troops and counterattacked the Union left. Union General Rice heard the sharp musketry and sent the 33rd Iowa to provide added protection. However, Col. Shaver’s soldiers were able to turn the 33rd Iowa’s left flank. The Yanks fell back about 250 yards.
General Charles Adams of General Thayer’s Frontier Division, which was camped between the Union battle line and Jenkin’s Ferry, had learned that General Rice was hard pressed and marched the 12th Kansas and 1st Arkansas U.S. to Rice’s aid. Rice immediately put the two regiments into line on the left of the 33rd Iowa. General Adam arrived at the left of the Union line and attacked Shaver’s Confederates. Shaver, in turn, had his right flank turned and had to give up all the ground he had previously taken.
General Hawthorne Confederate Brigade arrived on the scene. Hawthorne deployed the 35th Arkansas on the right and the 34th Arkansas on the left with the 29th Arkansas as a reserve. Hawthorne conferred with Tappan and found out there were two Confederate regiments pinned down in the swale in Cooper’s Field. Hawthorne decided to attack across Cooper’s Field, but just like the two previous Confederate assaults had played out, the soldiers had to seek protection in the swale midway of the field.
When Hawthorne’s men reached the swale, Col. Hardy recalled his men from the swale. They were out of ammunition.
About this time, Confederate Colonel Shaver’s men were falling back on the right side of the Confederate line. Confederate forces under Lt. Colonel H. G. P. Williams had crossed Cox’s Creek to the west and was attacking the two companies of the 27th Iowa and the few soldiers of the 2nd Brigade detachment under Captain Darnall. The lines traded volleys, with the Confederates getting the upper hand.
General Salomon, Union Infantry 3rd Division Commander of the VII Corps, had already instructed Colonel Engelmann, commander of his 3rd Brigade to bring his 43rd Illinois and 40th Iowa to the front. Salomon, learning of the problems across Cox’s Creek, sent the 43rd Illinois under Colonel Dengler to assist the Union detachments in that vicinity. Colonel Engelmann also sent two companies over Cox’s Creek to add to the Union blocking force. The reinforced Yanks gradually pushed the Rebs back and secured the west side of the creek.
Before the rest of Engelmann’s Brigade arrived at the Union battle line. The 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry of Thayer’s Frontier Division reached the front and was commanded to relieve the 29th Iowa and 9th Wisconsin north of Cooper’s Field, so the two regiments could draw ammunition. There was a lull in the fighting, and the two regiments were able to resupply from the Union ordinance wagons in Kelly’s Field, the northern most field closest to Jenkin’s Ferry.
So ended Phase I of the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry.
The Union line facing south was as follows:
- On the west side of Cox’s Creek — the 43rd Illinois, companies of the 40th Iowa and the detachment of the 2nd Brigade.
- On the east side of Cox’s Creek — the 2nd Kansas, 50th Indiana, 33rd Iowa and 12th Kansas. Behind the 2nd Kansas was the 29th Iowa and 9th Wisconsin. The 1st Arkansas US and 27th Wisconsin were in support of General Rice’s Left.
The Confederates had committed their forces piecemeal and hadn’t been able to pierce Union General Rice’s battle line.
Confederate General Parsons’ Missourians arrived on the scene about 9:00am, and after a brief rest, was ordered forward. They began their advance at about 10:00am. General Price, the commander of Parson’s and Churchill’s divisions, ordered Parsons to take a position to the right of Churchill’s division. Churchill had already committed his reserve brigade under Colonel Lucien Gause to help bolster the Confederate Left along the southern edge of Cooper’s Field.
Parson’s met Churchill on the advance and learned Churchill’s line was in dire need of reinforcements. Parsons amended his order and sent one of his brigades under Clark to report to Churchill. Parsons would attack the Union left flank with Burns’ Brigade. It was about 10:30am.
Burns put his brigade into battle line. They advanced and encountered Colonel Shaver’s brigade retiring. Shaver’s men marched to the ridgeline to the south to resupply their ammunition. Burns continued the attack and ran into the Union battle line. Burns pushed the 33rd Iowa and 12th Kansas back.
In the meantime, Parsons’ other brigade under General Clark reported to Churchill and was ordered to attack across Cooper’s Field on the left along with Gause’s Brigade of Churchill’s Division on the right. Gause’s Brigade would be to the left of Burns’ Brigade. The purpose of the overall attack was to relieve Hawthorne’s men and the other Confederate troops in the swale midway of Cooper’s Field; break the Union Right and Center; and flank the Union Left.
Clark’s Brigade ran into the same buzz-saw as each previous Confederate advance had met when it crossed Cooper’s field. However, this time the Union response had a twist. The Union force west of Cox’s Creek had pushed back the Confederates and were in position to pour a galling fire into the left flank of Clark’s Confederates, as well as musketry from the breastworks at the northern edge of the field. Clark’s men were stopped and laid down to return fire. Unfortunately, there were no reserves to help them.
Confederate General Price sent 4 cannon battery under Captain Lesueur forward to support the advance. The guns were unlimbered in Cooper’s field just to the right of the main road and fired into the Yanks across Cox’s Creek. However, the two 12-pound cannons sank up to their axles in no time. The artillerists were primarily forced to use the 6 pounders.
Captain Lesueur observed Clark’s infantry was starting to give way and pulled all but one of the 12 pounders out; retreated; and passed Lt. John Lockhart moving forward with 2 cannons of Ruffner’s battery. This unit had just reached Cooper’s field, when out of the gloom came the 29th Iowa and 2nd Kansas Colored.
What had happened was Clark’s Confederate Brigade had pulled back into the woods at the south end of Cooper’s Field. Captain Lesueur had peppered the Yanks at the northern end of Cooper’s field and then retired his battery’s three moveable guns. These two Union regiments, 29th Iowa and 2nd Kansas, had been given the okay to charge the battery. They captured the one cannon left behind by Captain Lesueur and the 2 cannons of Lt. Lockhart. After capturing the guns the Yanks returned to their breastworks at the north side of Cooper’s Field with their prizes.
Meanwhile on the Confederate Right, Gause and Burns continued to advance. Union Colonel Garrett’s battalion of the 40th Iowa was called forward as well as the 27th Wisconsin to help stymie the Confederate advance. The Yanks counterattacked and the Confederates had to give up all the ground they had taken. Confederate General Price rode up to the front, and after conferring with General Parsons, ordered Burns’ Brigade to pull back to Jile’s Field, the southernmost field and farthest from Jenkin’s Ferry.
Once Confederate Colonel Gause was informed of the retreat by Burns, he pulled his forces back also. This ended the 2nd Phase of the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry.
General John G. Walker’s Division began to arrive at the ridgeline overlooking Saline Bottoms at about 10:30am. Overall Confederate Commander Kirby Smith met with General Walker and issued orders for General Waul’s Brigade to support General Price’s Line, while General Scurry and Colonel Randal would take a little known road to the east of the main road and attack the Union Left. Also, efforts were made to redeploy Churchill’s and Parson’s divisions to support Walker’s attack.
General Waul began his attack across Cooper’s Field, and again it was halted. The Texans had to take refuge in the swale midway of the field. On the right side of the Confederate line, the Texans attacked. Both Colonel Randal and General Scurry were mortally wounded within a matter of minutes. The loss of the commanders took the fight out of the units. The Union line held against the attack utilizing its reserves to support any contingence. General Rice was painfully wounded in the ankle and turned his command over to Colonel Charles Salomon of the 9th Wisconsin.
The Confederates held a line from the south end of Cooper’s Field east in an irregular line into the woods. The Confederates were played out. For all practical purposes this was the end of Phase III and the end of the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry.
It was about 12:30am. General Salomon wanted to pull back his forces to consolidate his lines and was getting ready to send an aide to General Steele to request this movement of troops. There was no need. General Steele rode up and relayed news that all the wagons had crossed the pontoon bridge, except for two cannon. General Salomon could pull his men back.
Salomon, leaving a strong rear guard, began pulling his men across the pontoon bridge at Jenkin’s Ferry. The 2nd Kansas was not to be denied their captured Confederate cannons and used ropes to get them across the bridge. By 2:00pm all the Union forces were across the bridge and behind imposing breastworks on the other side of the Saline River. General Steele ordered the pontoon bridge destroyed and the 34 pontoon wagons burned.
The Confederates made a halfhearted move to the Saline River, but after viewing the Union breastworks on the other side of the river and having no way to cross the river, went back to their camps near the ridgeline overlooking the Saline Bottoms.
The ordeal wasn’t over for the Union army. The mud and water was worse on the north side of the Saline River. Water and mud were waist deep in places. Wagons mired in mud were burned. Animals too broken down to work were turned loose. Finally, the column reached the ridgeline north of the bottoms where they camped. Rain was still falling. Food was meager. The Union army still had to march to Little Rock.
During the battle, the Confederates had about 6000 soldiers in the field and suffered about 800 to 1000 casualties. The Federals had about 4000 soldiers in the field and suffered about 700 casualties.
The Confederates missed a chance to bag the Union army. Fagan’s Cavalry Division could have been a blocking force, which would have allowed the Confederate Infantry to catch up with the Yanks before they got to Jenkin’s Ferry. Also, the Confederate piecemeal deployment of troops at Jenkin’s Ferry allowed the Union Forces to provide enough counterforce to meet each Confederate challenge.
As a footnote, General Fagan’s Cavalry Division arrived after the battle ended. He had camped on the Arkadelphia Road 34 miles from Jenkin’s Ferry the night of April 29th. At midnight, he had received a dispatch informing him of the Union army’s whereabouts. He was surprised to learn the Union Army had progressed so far north from Camden, AR. As soon as it was light on April 30th his division rode to the battle site, but arrived too late.