Saturday, April 18, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas

Today is the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas.

Fought on April 18, 1864, this Civil War battle was a bloody Union defeat fought near Camden in southern Arkansas during the Red River Campaign. The battle developed when Confederate troops under General John S. Marmaduke cut off a Union raiding force sent out from Camden under Colonel James Williams to collect supplies.

The Union raiding force was making its way back to Camden with 200 wagons loaded down with confiscated corn and other stolen supplies and valuables when the fighting started. Williams' command, consisting of around 1,160 men and 4 pieces of artillery, began to encounter Confederate scouts. He sent men forward to drive them away, but as the column continued to move forward, the number of Confederates grew and the fighting intensified. Halting the long line of wagons in the road near a trickling water source called Poison Spring, Williams moved his men into a line of battle to protect the badly needed supplies.

He did not know it at the time, but he was severely outgunned. Marmaduke commanded a force of 3,600 men and 12 cannon. The Confederates opened with a massive artillery barrage and then attacked the Federals on their right flank while a second charge went forward directly against their center. One charge was repulsed, but so many Union soldiers fell that Williams knew he could not hold back the second attack, which was quickly developing.

The Federals tried to withdraw from the field, but the retreat turned into a rout. By the time the smoke had cleared, the Confederates had captured 170 wagons (30 were burned), 1,200 mules and all four Union cannon. Confederate losses were reported at 13 killed, 81 wounded and 1 missing, but the Union troops suffered a staggering 204 killed or missing and 97 wounded. A Union African American regiment, the 1st Kansas Colored, lost 117 killed and 65 wounded.

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