Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Battle of Jenkin's Ferry

Frederick Steele
The Red River Campaign in western Louisiana was turning into a disaster for the Union at the end of April, 1864. Frederick Steele's movement south was stopped at Camden, Arkansas. There he was running low on supplies, hemmed in by Confederate forces, and two large foraging expeditions had been badly defeated at Poison Spring and Mark's Mill. Therefore he ordered his army to fall back on the morning of April 27. The Confederate army under Sterling Price and Kirby Smith started after him and rain began to fall, making the campaigning hard for both sides. The southern cavalry under Fagan, who had defeated the Federals at Mark's Mill, were unable to destroy the Federal supply depots, cut off the Union retreat, or even join Smith in time to take part in the battle that was fought.

Jenkin's Ferry Battlefield. Source
As Price's men continued their pursuit on the morning of April 30th, they encountered the Federals behind hastily constructed earthworks near Jenkins' Ferry. Steele had picked a position to stand a fight to try to halt Price's pursuit. The place was well chosen, as the front was only 400 yards wide and the flanks were guarded by natural obstacles that limited Confederate movements. As infantry arrived on the field, Sterling Price sent them forward to attack the Federal position. Although it did not take them long to engage the Federals, the attacks were too uncoordinated to make any progress. The field was soon covered in smoke, and the Confederate attacks had to be made over open ground, covered in mud and water.

Kirby Smith
After these fruitless assaults, Kirby Smith arrived with a complete division from Texas, but he sent them in piecemeal, a brigade at a time. The southerners took heavy casualties, but were unable to break the Federal line. Finally by 3 pm the Union forces fell back, bringing with them all the cannon and wagons they could drag out of the mud. Although Steele had by no means crushed the Confederate forces, he was successful in slowing the pursuit and giving his men time to escape. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. The Confederates reported 443 casualties, but this did not include any from the Texas division. The Federals reported loosing 521 men, but this number also is likely incomplete.

Although the Confederates were not able to destroy either Steele's or Bank's army in the Red River Campaign, it was still an impressive success. Both expeditions were defeated, and at the end of the campaign the Confederates detached 20,000 to send to Johnston's army in Georgia, and prevent 10,000 Federals from joining Sherman on that front.  

Battlefield Monument. Source.


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