Sunday, November 18, 2007

Forgotten Battles of the Civil War: The Battle of Arkansas Post, Jan. 9-11 1863

In 1682, Henri de Tonti established a small trading post in the Quapaw village of Osotuoy. He called his establishment “Postede Arkansea” and it would become the first semi-permanent French settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley. The area, later renamed Arkansas Post became a thriving port bustling with activity. In 1819 it became the capital of the Arkansas Territory.

After the Civil War broke out in 1861 the Confederate troops under General Thomas J. Churchill completed an earthen fortification known as Fort Hindman. This region was important to the rebels for several distinct reasons. First, the area dominated the Arkansas River and protected the capital of Little Rock from attack. Secondly, from Fort Hindman, at Arkansas Post, Confederates could disrupt Union shipping on the Mississippi River.

By the middle of 1862, Union forces commanded most of the Mississippi River. However, the Confederate strong holds on Vicksburg and Fort Hindman still held. Maj. Gen. John McClernand undertook a combined force movement on Arkansas Post to capture it. During the evening of January 9, 1863 Federal forces landed near Arkansas Post and began moving towards Fort Hindman. McClernand commanded a 32,000 man force known as the Army of the Mississippi. Union troops quickly overran the Rebel trenches and the men in butternut fled to the protection of the fort.

Rear Adm. David Porter moved his fleet to support McClernands men by bombarding Fort Hindman. The Confederates put up a good fight but were overwhelmed from the Union ironclads shelling the forts weak defenses. Some of Porter’s fleet sailed past the fort and cut off any retreat as General William T. Sherman’s ground troops attacked the fort head on. This combined effort sealed the fate of the forts defenders and the Confederates were forced to surrender on January 11, 1863.

The Union causalities (1,047 total) were very high but the overall results of the Battle of Arkansas Post were immediate. The success of Northern troops on January 9-11 eliminated one more impediment to Union shipping on the Mississippi and it gave them control of the Arkansas River. McClernand wanted to push up river and take Little Rock but General Ulysses S. Grant overruled him and the victors were ordered to join the Union advance on Vicksburg, Mississippi. For the Confederacy it was one of many Confederate setbacks in 1863 that would eventually lead to its downfall. Moreover, the South lost another 5,500 men killed; wounded or captured which was a sign of things to come in July at Vicksburg.

This battle is part of my Forgotten Battles of the Civil War series. Too often as history and Civil War buffs we forget about some of the small battles that had big consequences. This series is dedicated to those battles and shedding some light on incidents that had enormous results. I hope that you are enjoying these contests and if there is anything that I can do to improve them then please email me or leave a comment.

Want to visit Arkansas Post? More information can be found at the following websites & publications:

Bearss, Edwin C. “The Battle of the Post of Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 18 (Autumn 1959): 237–279.
Kiper, Richard L. “John Alexander McClernard and the Arkansas Post Campaign.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 56 (Spring 1997): 56–79.
Surovic, Arthur F. “Union Assault on Arkansas Post.” Military History 12 (March 1996): 34–40.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1, Vol. 17. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1890–1901, pp. 698–796.

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