Hood County Texas Genealogical Society
by L. J. Caraway, Granbury Texas
S.S. Cox, of New York, said of the battle of Arkansas Post in his history of the War between the States: “The capture of the Arkansas Post was made on January 11, 1863. The place is situated a few miles up the Arkansas River from its mouth, and was defended by a large Confederate force. The movement was planned by Gen. Sherman and Commodore Porter before Gen. McClernard took command of the army. To these officers belongs the honor of its execution. The loss of the Unionists was six hundred in killed and wounded. The Confederates lost only sixty-five in killed and eighty-three wounded; but their whole force of seven thousand men and officers was surrendered, with eight thousand stands of arms, twenty cannon, and a large amount of stores.”
Thus we have it from the Union side of the battle. I will give the facts as I gathered them from observation and most reliable sources.
The Confederate army, consisting of Carter’s Brigade and other regiments, were put in charge of this post in the fall of 1862, and remained there drilling, eating poor pumpkins, mean sorghum, and coarse corn bread very well contented, as the winter was unusually mild until just before the battle and our surrender. The army had gone into comfortable winter quarters. Our cabins were of logs and covered with split boards, and we felt quite secure from all danger, as there was no enemy nearer than Vicksburg. We could hear of the war, but had not experienced a taste of its realities.
On the night of January 9, 1863, our boys retired after having amused themselves at checkers, chess, and cards, which games were quite the rule to pass the time from home. Alas! Our slumbers were abruptly ended. The stillness and quietude of the night was broken by the alarming announcement that the “Yankees are coming up the Arkansas River with a large fleet of gunboats and transports.” We sprang out of our bunks, leaving our warm beds and campy equipage. All we could hear was the command, “Fall in,” “Attention, men!” “Forward, march!” and off we went. We dropped down the Arkansas River some two miles and soon learned the real condition, which justified much haste. We approached near the Federal army on boats and land and formed a line of battle ready to receive a charge. Col. F.C. Wicks, at the head of the 24th Texas, gave the command: “Cap your guns; shoot low; shoot at their knees.” At that moment, the Federals opened fire on us by shelling the woods. They continued shelling while landing troops. It was discovered by our cavalry that they had men enough to completely surround us. We fell back to our fort, and went to work in earnest erecting temporary breastworks from the fort north, knowing that we would soon have some hard fighting to do; and if men ever did work faithfully, it was our little army on the night of the 10th of January, 1863.
That night the gunboats moved up close to our fort, and put in the time till about nine o’clock shelling us; but they did not get our range, as most of the bombs passed in our rear and exploded in the heavy timber to our left. After they had amused themselves sufficiently, they ceased firing for the night, to our great satisfaction. We lay on our arms in the line of battle until morning, and it is needless to say that we did not sleep very soundly and we ate no breakfast.
On January 11 it was easy to divine what to expect. We had our ditches dug, breastworks up, and behind them our seven thousand as courageous and determined soldiers, Texans and Arkansans, as could be found in the Confederate service. We were now ready for the attack, guns in hand, big cannons pointing down the river. While all was calms Gen. Churchill on his charger rode up our line in full Confederate uniform and said: “Boys, we will hold the fort or all will be shot down in these ditches.”
Gen. McClernard, the Union commander, put his army in motion by moving up his gunboats and putting them in position. He planted their batteries in front of ours, formed a blue line in front of ours, then opened fire on us simultaneously with all their instruments of destruction, and such a noise I never heard. The infantry made a desperate charge on level ground with no shelter. When at the proper distance from our line, we turned loose a deadly volley, thinning their ranks. They fell back, re-formed, and charged again and again, with the same result. Our side stood firm and unwavering, causing much disaster to each charge. The gunboats opened fire on us with solid shot and shell, and blew up our magazine, captured our fort with all our siege pieces, including our “Big Susan,” that they drove a solid cannon ball into and burst. They turned some of our guns on us, sweeping our line of battle its entire length. They disabled all the cannon of our battery and killed all our artillery horses, as their cannon were directed by a man with much skill.
They massed all the men they could against our left, and were pressing it hard when Gen. Churchill ordered every alternate company from the right to the left to support the left wing, as it had almost given way; but when our boys doubled up, the carnage was awful in front of our line. The earth was literally blue from one end of their line to the other. Things were growing hotter and hotter, and it was plain to see that the Confederates could not endure the great odds they had to fight much longer. The Union side then formed for the next charge, four deep, and to the great relief of our army the white flag was hoisted without orders from one end of our line to the other. It has always seemed providential to surrender jut at that time, as the next charge would have annihilated us. Thus ended one of the worst battles of the war.
As soon as we surrendered Gen. McClernard, of Illinois, who commanded the Union army, rode up in front of our company in our line near enough for us to get a good look at him. He seemed very kind and was dignified, making quite a military appearance. He looked up and down our line, and asked our captain: “Is this all the men you have?” When told it was, the General said: “You have killed as many of our men as we have captured of yours.” The next man that arrested my attention was a Federal major. His uniform was covered with blood. He rode right up to our line, dismounted, crossed our breastworks, and with a smile on his face said: “Give me your hands, boys; you are good soldiers. You shot two horses under me and killed my comrades all around me.” We saluted him so cordially that it seemed like an old-fashioned camp meeting. He was an ideal soldier.
The blue line now moved up on us and never broke ranks. The men were in a good humor, and divided crackers with us. We were ordered to take up our guns and march down the line to the old fort. In passing our dead and wounded some of the mangled begged for water; but we could do nothing for them, as we had changed conditions. I suppose they were cared for by the Union soldiers or a detail of our own men. We camped that night on the bank of the river near the fort. A terrible snowstorm added to our disasters and it turned intensely cold. We were thinly clad, having left our clothing in camp, expecting to go back where we left it.
On the morning of January 12 we boarded three transports: the Sam Gaty, John J. Roe, and the Nebraska. Then there was another boat for the sick and wounded. We were sent down the Arkansas River to its mouth, thence up the Mississippi River to Memphis, on to St. Louis, and then twenty-two miles farther to old Alton, Ill. We were nineteen days and nights on the boats. Here we took the cars for Camp Butler, Springfield, Ill. Some of our army were taken to the barracks in Camp Douglas, Chicago, and part to Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio. We were very well fed and kindly treated by the regular soldiers who had the honor of capturing as at the Post. Our trouble was with the camp guards in charge of the prisoners, who were cruel. They shot into our barracks occasionally. The change of climate was about the worst thing for us–from mild to frigid. When we got off the cars, after eleven hours without a spark of fire, we were all nearly dead. Some of our boys were chilled to death. I was almost out of the scrape. I went to the guard line and sold a forty-dollar watch for ten dollars to a small soldier. I notice the sergeant of the guard, and said to him: “Can you tell me where I can get something that will stimulate me?” Said he: “Come and go with me.” He took me to the sutler’s store, where there was a good fire. He ordered a stimulant for me by which I was thoroughly thawed out and it seemed to do him good to save my life. He saw me get the ten dollars for my watch, but would not let me pay for the “thawer,” but paid it himself. We soon parted. I looked for my generous-hearted soldier friend, but could never identify him any more. After lingering in prison for a few months, we were taken to City Point, Va., where we were exchanged.
~ Web Page by Virginia Hale ~