Arkansas was a Confederate state during the Civil War, though it had initially voted to remain in the Union. Following the capture of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for troops from every Union state to put down the rebellion. However, Arkansas and several other states seceded. Though most Arkansans initially supported the decision to secede, a significant minority opposed the move from the beginning. Arkansas played a significant role in controlling the Mississippi River during the war.
Arkansas raised 48 infantry regiments, 20 artillery batteries, and over 20 cavalry regiments for the Confederacy, primarily serving in the Western Theater. Major-General Patrick Cleburne was the state’s most notable military leader. The state also supplied four infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments, and one artillery battery of white troops for the Union and six infantry regiments and one artillery battery of “U.S. Colored Troops.”
Numerous skirmishes and several significant battles were fought in Arkansas, including the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern in March 1862, a decisive one for the Trans-Mississippi Theater, which ensured Union control of northern Arkansas. The state capitol at Little Rock was captured in 1863. By the end of the war, programs such as the draft, high taxes, and martial law had led to a decline in enthusiasm for the Confederate cause.
The Civil War was one of the greatest disasters in Arkansas history. More than 10,000 Arkansans — black and white, Union and Confederate — lost their lives. Thousands of others were wounded. The devastation was widespread, and property losses ran into the millions of dollars. The war left a legacy of bitterness that the passage of many years would not erase.
After Reconstruction, Arkansas was officially readmitted to the Union in 1868.
Arkansas Post – January 09-11, 1863
Bayou Fourche – September 10, 1863
Cane Hill – November 28, 1862
Chalk Bluff – May 1, 1863
Devil’s Backbone – September 1, 1863
Elkin’s Ferry – April 3, 1864
Helena – July 4, 1863
Hill’s Plantation – July 27, 1862
Honey Springs – July 17, 1863
Jenkin’s Ferry – April 30, 1864
Marks’ Mills – April 25, 1864
Old River Lake – June 5-6, 1864
Pea Ridge – March 6-8, 1862
Pine Bluff – October 10, 1863
Poison Spring – April 18, 1864
Prairie D’Ane – April 10-11, 1864
Prairie Grove – December 7, 1862
Saint Charles – June 17, 1862
Battles by Date:
Pea Ridge – March 6-8, 1862 – As part of the Pea Ridge Campaign, on the night of March 6, 1862, Major General Earl Van Dorn set out to outflank the Union position near Pea Ridge, dividing his army into two columns. Learning of Van Dorn’s approach, the Federals marched north to meet his advance on March 7. This movement-compounded by the killing of two generals, Brigadier General Ben McCulloch and Brigadier General James McQueen McIntosh, and the capture of their ranking colonel halted the Rebel attack. Van Dorn led a second column to meet the Federals in the Elkhorn Tavern and Tanyard area. By nightfall, the Confederates controlled Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road. The next day, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, having regrouped and consolidated his army, counterattacked near the tavern and slowly forced the Rebels back by successfully employing his artillery. Running short of ammunition, Van Dorn abandoned the battlefield. The Union controlled Missouri for the next two years. The Union victory resulted in 1,384 Union casualties and 2,000 Confederates.
Saint Charles – June 17, 1862 – As part of the Operations on White River, the USS Mound City, St. Louis, Lexington, Conestoga, and transports proceeded up White River on the morning of June 17. They were headed to Saint Charles, attempting to resupply Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s army near Jacksonport. A few miles below Saint Charles, the 46th Indiana Infantry under the command of Colonel Graham N. Fitch disembarked, formed a skirmish line, and proceeded upriver towards the Rebel batteries on Saint Charles bluffs, under the command of Captain Joseph Fry. At the same time, the Union gunboats went upriver to engage the Rebel batteries; Mound City was hit, and her steam drum exploded, scalding most of the crew to death. More than 125 sailors from the Mound City were killed, but the other ship was towed to safety. Colonel Fitch halted the gunboat activities to prevent further loss and then undertook an attack on the Confederate batteries with his infantry. He turned the Rebel flank which ended the firing from the batteries and left Saint Charles open to Federal occupation. The Union Victory resulted in 177 Union casualties and 26 Confederates.
Hill’s Plantation – July 27-1862 – Also called the Battle of Cotton Plant, the battle was fought as part of the Operations Near Cacke River. Union Major. General Samuel R. Curtis moved to Helena, Arkansas, in search of supplies to replace those that had been promised but never delivered by the Navy. The Confederates under MajorGeneral Thomas C. Hindman attempted to prevent this change of supply base by continually skirmishing with the Union troops. The Confederates made a stand at the Cache River on July 7. As Union Colonel, C.L. Harris moved forward with elements of the 11th Wisconsin, 33rd Illinois, and the 1st Indiana Cavalry, moved forward, he blundered into an ambuscade. The fighting became more general, and the Confederates, with a frontal attack, forced the Union to retreat about a quarter of a mile. The following Confederate attack, however, was stopped. The Federals pursued the retreating Confederates with reinforcements and turned the retreat into a rout as the day progressed. Curtis was able to change his supply base, but Hindman, despite suffering defeat at Hill’s Plantation, remained between Curtis and Little Rock, his objective. The Union victory resulted in 63 Union casualties and 245 Confederate.
Cane Hill – November 28, 1862 – As part of the Prairie Grove Campaign, Major General Thomas C. Hindman detached Brigadier General John Marmaduke’s cavalry from Van Buren, Arkansas, north to occupy the Cane Hill area in late November 1862. Hearing of this movement, Brigadier General James Blunt advanced to meet Marmaduke’s command and destroy it. The Union vanguard encountered Colonel Joe Shelby’s brigade, which fought a delaying action to protect their supply trains. Shelby gradually gave ground until establishing a strong defensive perimeter on Cove Creek, where he repulsed a determined attack. The Federals withdrew to Cane Hill while the Confederates returned to Van Buren. Although fighting well, Marmaduke’s withdrawal was a setback for Hindman’s plans for recapturing northwest Arkansas. Victory at Prairie Grove a few weeks later solidified Union control of the region. The Confederate victory resulted in 40 Union casualties and 45 Confederates.
Prairie Grove – December 7, 1862 – As part of the Prairie Grove Campaign, Major General Thomas C. Hindman sought to destroy Brigadier General Francis Herron’s and Brigadier General James Blunt’s divisions before joining forces. Hindman placed his large force between the two Union divisions, turning on Herron first and routing his cavalry. As Hindman pursued the cavalry, he met Herron’s infantry which pushed him back. The Rebels then established their battle line on a wooded high ridge northeast of Prairie Grove Church. Herron brought his artillery across the Illinois River and initiated an artillery duel. The Union troops assaulted twice and were repulsed. The Confederates counterattacked, halted by Union canister, and moved forward again. When it looked as if the Rebel attack would roll up Herron’s troops, Blunt’s men assailed the Confederate left flank. As night came, neither side had won, but Hindman retreated to Van Buren. Hindman’s retreat established Federal control of northwest Arkansas. The Union victory resulted in 1,251 Union casualties and 1,317 Confederates.
Arkansas Post – January 09-11, 1863 – This battle was fought as part of the Operations Against Vicksburg on January 9, 1863. From Fort Hindman, at Arkansas Post, Confederates had been disrupting Union shipping on the Mississippi River. Major General John McClernand, therefore, undertook a combined force movement on Arkansas Post to capture it. Union boats began landing troops near Arkansas Post on the evening of January 9, 1863. The troops started up river towards Fort Hindman. Major General William T. Sherman’s corps overran Rebel trenches, and the enemy retreated to the protection of the fort and adjacent rifle pits. Rear Admiral David Porter, on the 10th, moved his fleet towards Fort Hindman and bombarded it, withdrawing at dusk. Union artillery fired on the fort from artillery positions across the river on the 11th, and the infantry moved into position for an attack. Union ironclads commenced shelling the fort, and Porter’s fleet passed it to cut off any retreat. As a result of this envelopment and the attack by McClernand’s troops, the Confederate command surrendered in the afternoon. Although Union losses were high and the victory did not contribute to the capture of Vicksburg, it did eliminate one more impediment to Union shipping on the Mississippi. The Union victory resulted in 1,047 Union casualties and about 5,500, almost all by surrender.
Chalk Bluff – May 1, 1863 – As part of Marmaduke’s Second Expedition Into Missouri, Union Brigadier General William Vandever pursued Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke to Chalk Bluff, where the Confederates hoped to cross the St. Francis River. To ford the river, Marmaduke established a rearguard that received heavy punishment on May 1-2. Although most of Marmaduke’s raiders crossed the St. Francis River, they suffered heavy casualties and ended the expedition. The inconclusive battle resulted in 120 Union casualties and 210 Confederates.
Helena – July 4, 1863 – As part of Grant’s Operations Against Vicksburg, Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes’s troops attacked Helena to relieve pressure on Vicksburg, Mississippi. Although the Rebels had more troops and initially captured some of the fortifications, the Union forces repelled them. Thus, Helena continued as an essential Union enclave in the Trans-Mississippi theater and served as a base for the expedition that captured Little Rock, Arkansas. The Union victory resulted in 239 Union casualties and 1,614 Confederates.
Honey Springs – July 17, 1863 – Union and Confederate troops had frequently skirmished in the vicinity of Honey Springs Depot. As part of the Operations to Control Indian Territory, Union commander Major General James G. Blunt correctly surmised that Confederate forces, mostly Native American troops under Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper, were about to concentrate and would then attack his force at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. He decided to defeat the Confederates at Honey Springs Depot before they were joined by Brigadier General William Cabell’s brigade, advancing from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Blunt began crossing the swollen Arkansas River on July 15, 1863. By midnight on July 16-17, he had a force of 3,000 men, composed of whites, Native Americans, and African Americans, marching toward Honey Springs. Blunt skirmished with Rebel troops early on the morning of the 17th, and by midafternoon, full-scale fighting ensued. The Confederates had wet powder, causing misfires, and the problem intensified when the rain began. After repulsing one attack, Cooper pulled his forces back to obtain new ammunition. In the meantime, Cooper began to experience command problems, and he learned that Blunt was about to turn his left flank. The Confederate retreat began, and although Cooper fought a rearguard action, many of those troops counterattacked, failed, and fled. Any possibility of the Confederates taking Fort Gibson was gone. Union forces controlled Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River following this battle. The Union victory resulted in 79 Union casualties and 637 Confederates.
Devil’s Backbone – September 1, 1863 – As part of the Operations to Control Indian Territory, Union Major General James G. Blunt ordered Colonel William Cloud to continue in pursuit of the Confederate forces that had withdrawn from Fort Smith and were chased to Old Jenny Lind. The Rebels turned on Cloud and skirmished with him at the base of Devil’s Backbone. Cabell’s forces ambushed approaching Union troops and momentarily halted their advance. Regrouping, the Union forces, with the help of artillery, advanced again and forced the Confederates to retire in disorder to Waldron. The Union victory resulted in 16 Union casualties and 47 Confederates.
Bayou Fourche – September 10, 1863 – As part of the Union Advance on Little Rock on September 10, 1863, Major General Fred Steele, Army of Arkansas commander, sent Brigadier General John W. Davidson’s cavalry division across the Arkansas River to move on Little Rock, while he took other troops to attack Confederates entrenched on the north side. In his thrust toward Little Rock, Davidson ran into Confederate troops at Bayou Fourche. Aided by Union artillery fire from the north side of the river, Davidson forced them out of their position and sent them fleeing back to Little Rock, which fell to Union troops that evening. Bayou Fourche sealed Little Rock’s fate. The fall of Little Rock further helped to contain the Confederate Trans-Mississippi theater, isolating it from the rest of the South. The Union victory resulted in 72 Union casualties. The number of Confederate casualties is unknown.
Pine Bluff – October 25, 1863 – As part of the Union Advance on Little Rock, Colonel Powell Clayton sent a cavalry company toward Princeton at 8:00 a.m. on October 25, 1863. Clayton’s troops ran into Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s men advancing. After some fire, the Rebels came forward demanding surrender under a flag of truce. Lieutenant M.F. Clark answered that there would be no surrender. Clayton slowly retreated into Pine Bluff. In the meantime, about 300 African-American soldiers rolled cotton bales out of the warehouses for barricades to protect the court square. After failing to take the square by force, the Rebels attempted to burn out the Union forces but to no avail. The Confederate forces retired, leaving Pine Bluff to the Federals. The Union victory resulted in 56 Union casualties and 40 Confederates.
Elkin’s Ferry – April 3, 1864 – As part of the Camden Expedition, Union forces sought a ford to cross the Little Missouri River because other roads were impassible. They reached Elkin’s Ferry before the Confederates. As they crossed, the Confederates attempted to stop them but to no avail. The Union victory resulted in 38 Union casualties and 54 Confederates.
Prairie D’Ane – April 10-13, 1864 – As part of the Camden Expedition, Major General Fred Steele’s Union forces, combined with Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s division, marched south from the Cornelius Farm. They soon encountered a Confederate line of battle at Prairie D’Ane and attacked, driving it back about a mile before being checked. Skirmishing continued throughout the afternoon of April 11, forcing Steele to divert the line of march forces away from Shreveport toward Camden. Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates returned to Prairie D’Ane on April 13, falling upon Steele’s rearguard under Thayer. After a four-hour battle, Price disengaged, and Steele’s column continued to Camden, occupying the city. The number of casualties in the Union victory is unknown.
Poison Spring – April 18, 1864 – As part of the Camden Expedition, dwindling supplies at Camden forced Major General Fred Steele to send out a foraging party to gather corn that the Confederates had stored about 20 miles up the Prairie D’Ane-Camden Road on White Oak Creek. The party loaded the corn into wagons, and on April 18, Colonel James M. Williams started his return to Camden. Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s and Brigadier General Samuel B. Maxey’s Confederate forces arrived at Lee Plantation, about 15 miles from Camden, where they engaged Williams. The Rebels eventually attacked Williams in the front and rear, forcing him to retreat north into a marsh where his men regrouped and fell back to Camden. The Union lost 198 wagons and all the corn. The Confederate victory resulted in 301 Union casualties and 114 Confederates.
Marks’ Mills – April 25, 1864 – As part of the Camden Expedition, a Union force escorted 240 wagons from Camden to Pine Bluff to pick up supplies and transport them back to Major General Fred Steele’s army. At first, the Union escort rebuffed Rebel attempts to halt them. Then the Confederates moved in on the Union rear and front, causing a rout. The Rebels captured most of the men and all of the supply wagons. Thus, Steele gave up all thoughts of uniting with Major General Nathaniel Banks on the Red River and realized that he had to save his army. The Confederate victory resulted in 1,500 Union casualties and 293 Confederates.
Jenkin’s Ferry – April 30, 1864 – As part of the Camden Expedition, Major General Fred Steele’s forces retreated from Camden after being mauled at Marks’ Mills and Poison Spring. On the afternoon of April 29, the Union forces reached Jenkins’ Ferry and began crossing the Saline River, which was swollen by heavy rain. Rebel forces arrived on the 30th and attacked repeatedly. The Federals repulsed the attacks and finally crossed with all their men and supply wagons, many of which they were compelled to abandon in the swamp north of Saline. The Confederates bungled an excellent chance to destroy Steele’s army, which after crossing the river, regrouped at Little Rock. The Union victory resulted in 700 Union casualties and 1,000 Confederates.
Old River Lake – June 5-6, 1864 – Also called the Battle of Ditch Bayou, Furlough, and Fish Bayou, this was a minor skirmish that occurred from June 5 to June 6, 1864, in Chicot County, Arkansas. In early June, Brigadier General Joseph Mower received orders from Major General Andrew J. Smith to show, through a forceful demonstration, the Federals’ intentions toward Lake Village. The fight occurred when Union Army troops marched through Confederate-held lands. Though the Confederates had no real hope of defeating the Federal forces, they succeeded in delaying the Federal forces’ advance into the South. Though it was basically a stalemate, the U.S. troops still achieved their objective. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 180 Union and 100 Confederate.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2022.
Civil War Timeline & Leading Events
Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War
Encyclopedia of Arkansas
National Park Service Battle Descriptions
National Park Service Civil War