To distract Confederate forces away from General Nathaniel Banks's Red River cam paign in Louisiana, Major General Frederick Steele led 8,500 men south from Little Rock on March 23. Forces led by General Sterling Price, who commanded the Confederate District of Arkansas, unsuccessfully opposed his crossing of the Little Missouri River at Elkins' Ferry on April 3. Casualties were insignificant. Reinforced by 5,000 men from Fort Smith under Brigadier General John Milton Thayer, Steele next outmaneuvered Price and occupied Camden on April 15.
As there were no railroads linking his base at Little Rock with the rugged region through which he traveled, Steele had to sustain his force by long wagon trains and by foraging - both vulnerable to enemy attack. On April 18, just west of Camden at Poison Spring, Confederates encountered a foraging party of over 1,000 Federals, many of whom were African Americans -former slaves enlisted in the Federal army. The Federals were decisively defeated, sustaining 300 casualties. Due to intense racial animosity, the Confederates killed a large number of African American soldiers as they attempted to surrender. A similar incident occurred on April 25, near Mark's Mills, when Confederates captured a Federal supply train returning from Camden to Pine Bluff. Over 1,000 Federals were taken prisoner. But, as at Poison Spring, many of the African American soldiers were simply massacred.
Learning that Banks's expedition had failed, Steele withdrew from Camden on April 27, to return to Little Rock. On April 30, at Jenkin's Ferry on the Saline River, his rearguard of 4,000 men repelled a determined attack by 8,000 Confederates. These men, led by Trans-Mississippi Department commander General Edmund Kirby Smith, sustained over 1,000 casualties, while Steele's losses were considerably fewer. Steele reached Little Rock on May, ending the campaign.
Although intended as a diversion only, Steele's campaign was perceived as a major defeat: in part because he lost over 600 wagons in various Confederate attacks on his supply line; partly because his total casualties - nearly 2,500 - were twice that of the Confederates. In reality, logistical difficulties were the principal reason the Federals failed to gain complete control over southern Arkansas.
By April 30, both Price's and Steele's men were exhausted - the former as a result of their forced march, the latter from hauling their wagon train through rivei's of mud. By 7.30 a.m. Marmaduke's troopers were skirmishing with Federal infantry two miles in front of Jenkin's Ferrry. Price committed his forces as rapidly as possible but the Federals were ensconced behind log breastworks and thick fog and mud hampered the assault. The Federals withdrew across the river once the wagon train had passed over. Confederate casualties 1,000, Union 700.
anticipated and suffered 300 casualties as-a-reiulT^but they succeeded in capturing a total of1,300 Federals and 300 wagons.
I determined to charge them first, last, and all the time."
Brig. Gen. James Fagan, Confederate cavalry commander at Mark's Mills.
April 9, 1864
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