Confederates Attack Union Troops At Jenkins’ Ferry – 12/30/1864

US History |


Overall, people who study history can either focus on one event that changed the course of a war or study as a whole each battle and how it contributed to the final conclusion of the war. One of the many battles during the Civil War happened at a place known as Jenkins’ Ferry. Looking in Arkansas where the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry occurred on December 30th, 1864, General Fredrick Steele commands his Union soldiers to fight off a Confederate army led by General Edmund Kirby Smith where the Yankees must retreat in the direction of Little Rock, Arkansas.

The Jenkins’ Ferry battle occurred at the conclusion of an important Union offensive within Arkansas. Steele commanded his soldiers from Little Rock to head to southwestern Arkansas while General Nathaniel Banks led a Federal force to move up the Red River located in Louisiana towards Shreveport. This combination of an effort seemed to be enough to secure southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana for the Union before the armies would attempt to head west to take control of Texas. However, the plans proved ineffective as Steele discovered he was seriously low on supplies in April while in the same month, Banks suffered a defeat in Mansfield, Louisiana.

On April 15th, Steele was able to occupy Camden, Arkansas; unfortunately, Steele lost over 2,500 of his troops and more than 400 wagons containing supplies at the Battles of Poison Spring and Marks’ Mills throughout the next ten days. Steele was now low on food and surrounded by dangerous armies. Smith was pursuing Steele aggressively as he led his troops back to Little Rock. Steele’s retreat was brought to a complete standstill due to a heavy rain that fell and continued for almost a day. Smith launched an attack on Steele on April 30 at Jenkins’ Ferry while the Yankees were attempting to cross the Saline River that was flooded.

The Union defense was led by General Samuel Rice and his men were successful in deflecting a number of attacks by the Rebels before Rice became mortally wounded. The Confederates could not break through the Union lines while attacking in knee-deep water. Finally, Steele was successful in being able to bring his troops across the Saline River and was able to leave Smith on the other side of the river; he was able to destroy the pontoon bridge before retreating to Little Rock.

The resulting conflict left the Union suffering the loss of 700 men who were missing, killed or wounded out of 4,000 while the Confederates out of 8,000 had lost 1,000. Part of the dead Rebels included wounded soldiers who were murdered by members belonging to the 2nd, Kansas Colored regiment; this was a measure of exacting vengeance for dozens of comrades belonging to the 1st Kansas Colored that were murdered at Poison Spring on the battlefield. Looking back at how the battle concluded, Smith and the Confederates secured the field but they were unsuccessful in destroying Steele’s army.

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