From Little Rock to Camden

On March 23, 1864, Federal Major General Frederick Steele, who had captured Little Rock the previous September, left Arkansas' capital with an army of 13,000 men, 9,00 horses and mules, 800 wagons, and thirty pieces of artillery. He was under orders to join forces with Major General Nathaniel Banks, who was leading an amphibious army up the Red River from New Orleans.

Steele was frequently harassed by Confederates, meeting heavy resistence at the crossing of the Little Missouri River and at Prairie D'Ane, near Prescott. Because resistence was intensifying, Steele abandoned plans to go directly to Shreveport. He turned east and reached Camden, Arkansas, April 15.

Critical Shortage of Food and Forage

More than three weeks of marching and fighting depleted Steele's supplies. His troops had been on half rations for more than two weeks and unauthorized foraging was widespread. The capture of a boatload of corn on the Ouachita River below Camden provided some relief, but on April 17, Steele sent out a massive foraging party - 198 wagons, guarded by 875 infantrymen under the command of Colonel James M. Williams. They were to collect all the corn and foodstuffs in the area west of Camden.

Forage Party Camps at White Oak Creek

Federal foragers ranged north and south of the Upper Washington Road, taking clothing, jewelry, silverware, pots, pans and household items, as well as food and forage. So thorough were the Yankee foragers that their 198 wagons were filled to overflowing.

As word spread of the heartless foraging raid, cries for revenge swept Confederate camps throughout southwest Arkansas. On the night of April 17, Confederate scouts found the wagon train encamped on White Oak Creek, 16 miles west of Camden.

Reinforcements Sent for the Forage Party...

Federal couriers informed General Steele of the train's location, and he immediately dispatched reinforcements. These troops, commanded by Captain William M. Duncan, raised the wagon train's escort to 2,500 infantry (including the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Regiment), 90 cavalrymen and a four gun battery of artillery.

Confederate Plans

Early reports of the Federal forage party indicated 20 wagons escorted by 200 cavalry were dispatched on the 17th. Based on this information, the 3rd Missouri Cavalry was sent to attack the rear of the Federal column. A later report identified 200 wagons, a regiment of Cavalry, two black infantry regiments and three pieces of artillery. The Cavalry was quickly recalled. General Marmaduke wrote General Price recommending a strong concentration of troops to cut the Federals off from Camden.

At sunrise on the 18th, Marmaduke marched his men to the Upper Washington Road. While placing them across the road at Poison Spring, the reinforcements sent by Price arrived: Maxey's division, then Wood's 14th Missouri Battalion.

Marmaduke's plan called for Maxey's Division to attack the Federal right.... The balance of the Confederates would block the road to Camden....

(Source: Arkansas State Park Signage, Panels 1 & 2, at Poison Spring Battlefield.)
revised: November 20, 2003
created: November 16, 2003
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