Saturday, March 14, 2009
The Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas
On December 28, 1862, thousands of Union troops stormed out of the icy Boston Mountains to attack the important river port of Van Buren, Arkansas.
The Battle of Van Buren was one of the more unusual of the Civil War. After an initial encounter at Dripping Springs north of town, the battling forces arrived in Van Buren so quickly that there was no time to warn the people of the community. As a result, citizens were going about their daily business along the main street when battling cavalry suddenly came charging down the avenue in their midst. Union soldiers later described seeing the astonished faces of civilians as they rode past at full speed.
Outnumbered Confederate troops boarded steamboats and a ferry on the Van Buren riverfront in an effort to escape across to the Fort Smith side of the Arkansas River. Despite cannon fire from the Union forces, the ferry made it across with most of the men. Two other steamboats, however, were forced to surrender.
For the rest of the day, the fighting raged between two armies separated by the wide Arkansas River. The Confederates planted a battery on the south bank of the river and began shelling the Union troops in Van Buren, inflicting both military and civilian casualties. Federal gunners replied with rifled cannon planted on a rise in the city's Fairview Cemetery. It was later estimated that as many as 100 shells crashed into the buildings and streets of Van Buren as civilians ran for cover.
The site of the battle is now (as it was then) a part of downtown Van Buren, a picturesque city overlooking the Arkansas River. To learn more, please visit our new pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1.