CHAPTER 5. THE WHITE FLAG WAS NEVER DISPLAYED.
French explorers established in 1686 the first white settlement in Arkansas, located where the Battle of Arkansas Post was destined to be fought 177 years later. This settlement, a few miles above where the Arkansas River joins the Mississippi, became known as Arkansas Post, or simply, The Post. It became a trading center fur trappers, explorers, and early settlers entered the wilderness. Due to location, it became an important military point during the Civil War, where Union excursions could be launched into the State, Ft. Hindman was built to defend against such campaigns. Complete with large, stationary guns, which could bring effective fire into the river below. Control of river traffic was essential since the rivers were the highways for deploying troops and supplies. Such operations were impractical overland, due to the absence of adequate roads and bridges. Further up the Mississippi River, the town of Helena, which controlled access to the St. Francis River and the area of the White River, was already under Union control.
Dawson's 19th Ark. Inf. arrived at Ft. Hindman about Sept. 28, to guard Ft. Hindman. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Churchill arrived Dec. 10, to take command of the 5,000 troops there. It is believed there were at least 910 men in the regiment when it arrived at Arkansas Post, but we again enter this with caution because the records of the regiment are so incomplete. Late in December, a Federal steamboat, the Blue Wing, was captured with its load of military supplies by the Arkansas troops in the area of Arkansas Post. These supplies turned out to be a large amount of ammunition that was compatible to Confederate needs. Unfortunately this action served to draw attention of Union commanders to this troublesome little fort. Churchill had been given orders by Gen. Theophilus Hunter Holmes to defend the fort "to the last man".
About January 1, 1863, Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand started moving his command of 33,000 Union Troops down the Mississippi River toward Mississippi in some 70 to 80 large transports, supported by 3 Ironclads and several other gunboats. Turning aside from his destination, he decided to first attack and destroy the defenses at Arkansas Post on the way. On January 4, McClernand gave orders to attack, breaking his army into two groups. George W. Morgan's Corps was to take position across the river from the fort, while Sherman was to unload about 3 miles downstream and launch his attack on the fort. Lt. Col. Augusta S. Hutchinson, in the absence of Col. Dawson, was in command of the 19th Ark., which was initially attached to Col. John W. Dunnington's 2nd Brigade, but was later sent to support Brig. Gen. James Deshler.
Informed of this large enemy force in the area, Churchill sent out 3 companies of cavalry to serve as pickets to observe troop movements of the enemy. He sent orders to Col. E. E. Portlock, commanding his 24th Arkansas Inf. Regt. and other troops at nearby St. Francis, to come with all speed to his relief. One company of
cavalry was sent ahead, arriving Jan. 10, while Portlock led 190 men on a hard march to arrive the following day. Troops at the fort assembled January 9 to the long drum roll beat and marched down to the rifle pits located about 2 miles down river. Sleeping on their arms that night, they were ready to resist any further encroachment on Arkansas soil. The next day, about 7 o'clock, Union cannon fire from artillery units and the gunboats, starting the battle, which continued until about 10 that night. Confederates artillery at the fort answered the barrage, but in time most of it was silenced by the superior firepower of the Union guns. G. W. Duncan and J. C. Hardcastle from the 19th had been assigned to a crew on one of the big guns at the fort.
About 4 P. M. the regiment was ordered back to the fort, which was soon surrounded. That night, the winter quarters of the 19th were torn down to clear the fields of fire, with the logs being used to strengthen the breastworks. The next day, January 11, the attack was launched under heavy cannon fire about 10 o'clock, followed by the rattle of small arms at 11. By 4 P. M., the firing ceased and the surrender was made, the Union forces successfully captured 4,791 confederate troops in the action, with another 140 killed or wounded. Union losses were reported at 1061 in killed, wounded and missing. We appeal to a report filed by Churchill on May 6, 1863 at Richmond, Va., after he was exchanged and released from captivity for his account of the activity.
General: On the morning of the 9th of January, I was informed by my
pickets stationed at the mouth of the cut-off that the enemy, with his gunboats, followed by his fleet of seventy or eighty transports, was passing into the Arkansas River. It now became evident that their object was to attack the Arkansas Post. I immediately made every arrangement to meet him, and ordered out the whole force under my command numbering about 3,000 effective men, to take positions in some lower trenches about 1 1/4 miles below the fort. The Second Brigade, under Col. Deshler, and the third, under Col.
Dunnington, occupied the works, while the First Brigade, under Col.
Garland, was held in reserve. Three companies of Cavalry, under
commands of Captains Denson, Nutt and Richardson, were sent in
advance to watch the movements of the enemy. During the night, the
enemy affected a landing about 2 miles below, on the north side of the river.
The following day, about 9 o'clock, the gunboats commenced moving up the river and opened fire on our positions. ...The enemy advanced
cautiously, as they approached our lines, were most signally repulsed. They made no further attempt that evening to charge our works, and I employed the balance of the time till next morning in strengthening my position, and completing my entrenchments. ...Our loss was slight, that of the enemy was much heavier. ...Next morning I made every disposition of my force to meet the enemy in the desperate conflict which was soon to follow. Colonel Deshler with his brigade, with the regiment of Colonel Dawson attached, commanded
by Lt. Col. Hutchinson, occupied the extreme left; Col. Garland with his brigade, with his right resting on the fort; while Col. Dunnington commanded the river defenses. ..on the right they were repulsed twice in attempting to storm our works, on the left were driven back with great slaughter in no less than eight different charges. ...the fire raged furiously along the entire line, ...Just at this moment, to my great surprise, several white flags were displayed..., ..and before they could be suppressed, the enemy took advantage of them, crowding upon my lines;... I was forced to the humiliating necessity of surrendering the balance of the command. My great hope was to keep them in check until night, and then, if reinforcements did not reach me, cut my way out. ...My thanks are due to Colonels Anderson and Gillespie for their prompt measures taken to prevent the raising of the white flag in their regiments. In the Second Brigade, commanded by the gallant Deshler, it was never displayed.
I had ordered Colonel E. E. Portlock, commanding at St. Charles, to hasten to my relief with what troops he could spare. Captain Alfred Johnson reached the post on Saturday night and took part in the action on the 11th. Colonel Portlock at the head of 190 men of his regiment, made the unprecedented march of 40 miles in twenty-four hours, and succeeded in entering our lines amidst a heavy fire from the enemy on his flanks. He was just on the eve of bringing his men into action when the surrender took place. ...my loss will not exceed 60 killed and 75 or 80 wounded. ...T. J. Churchill, Brig. Gen., Comdg. Lower Arkansas and White Rivers."
After white flags appeared and were confirmed, signalling the surrender of the fort, one of the Union Generals, William T. Sherman rode in to locate Gen. Churchill. Sherman appears again in the history of the 19th Ark. later. In response to Churchill's denial of having surrendering, Sherman informed him that irregardless, he was in his power now, so Churchill capitulated. As they were talking, according to Sherman, the following occurred:
A report came in that Gen. Deshler, who commanded a brigade of Rebel Forces, had refused to surrender, because he had received no orders from Churchill to that effect and the fighting was therefore likely to resume at once. Accordingly, Sherman and Churchill personally hurried to the scene ... to where Deshler and his men were still holding out. Sherman rode straight up to Deshler and asked him what he meant by his conduct, telling him that he ought to know better. Deshler replied curtly, that he had not been ordered by his superior officer to surrender, therefore Churchill told him he was in Sherman's power and might as well give in. This ended the episode. Deshler told his men to stack arms and the capture of Arkansas Post was complete.
The prisoners were loaded onto riverboats, one being the Sam Gaty, which was loaded by 7 P. M. on January 12, and steamed down the river about one mile the next day. The Gaty lay at this location
all that day, waiting for other boats to arrive so they could travel in the protection of a convoy. Departing about 2 p. m. on the 14th for Memphis, Tenn., they reaching the mouth of the river, and remained all night. River travel can be precarious at best, and was dangerous after nightfall. The pilot needed vision to avoid sand bars or tree trunks floating down the river. Jan. 15th, was cold and snowing as they started up the River, arriving at Memphis at sunset the next day. Five men escaped at Memphis, James T. Anderson (I), John H. Bell (I), Sgt. Castle (H), Cum Polk (B) and John A. Turner (I). Procuring a skiff, they crossed the river, making their way to Little Rock overland, and on to their homes. The local citizens at Memphis were kind when they arrived, but 2 days later. the boats loaded with prisoners left at 8 A. M., bound for St. Louis, Mo.
One of the side paddle wheels broke on one of the boats and this disabled boat was tied to another, and the journey resumed. It was January and chunks of ice could be seen floating downstream, the weather was very cold, and many of the men became sick. Passing Columbus, they landed at Cairo, Ill., located at the mouth of the Ohio River, about 4 p. m. on Jan 21. Leaving about 6 the next morning, a cold and rainy day, they run past Cape Girardo, until one boat ran aground on the 23rd. The men had to be taken ashore in order to lighten the boat and get it back afloat. Reembarking once more, they dropped back down the river and landed at an island near St. Louis on the following day, where they remained until the 27th.
Great sheets of ice could be seen flowing downstream and the weather continued very cold. Separation of the officers was completed here, and were sent to Columbus, Ohio for incarceration. Boats carrying the enlisted men left about 3 p. m. on the 27th, arriving at Alton, Ill. about 3 o'clock on the following morning. By 7 a. m. they departing for Chicago on railroad cars. Passing through Springfield they ran all night, arriving at Chicago early the next morning. About 4 P. M., they were taken to Camp Douglas, arriving after sundown, and were housed in some unheated barracks for two days. With the bitterly cold weather, these men from the south were miserable, unaccustomed to such exposure. Many men had no blankets and 12 froze to death in one night. On January 31, they were moved into somewhat better housing, where they continued for the remainder of their confinement. Somewhat adequate rations were provided, but the weather continued cold with a lot of snow.
Camp Douglas was situated in a swampy, poorly drained tract of land near Chicago, reported to have once belonged to Stephen A. Douglas. Sanitary conditions were deplorable, and overcrowding in the poorly constructed housing, made it a hotbed for disease. During February, 1863, some 387 of the 3,884 men held in confinement died of disease, representing a 10% loss in one month. Losses in January, March and April was not far behind, with 169 men from the 19th reported to have died while at Camp Douglas during those months. Additionally, 15 died at St. Louis and 2 at Camp Chase as well. During three month imprisonment period, total known deaths in the 19th Ark. was 189 men,
nearly 30%, or one in every three, of the number captured at Arkansas Post. Others were to die later in prison or soon after being exchanged from illnesses contacted in prison.
Nearly 5,000 men under Churchill's command were captured at Arkansas Post. The records confirm 668 from the 19th Arkansas captured. H. F. Appleton and James Goins, both from Co. G, had been killed, no doubt there were others. 41 wounded can be confirmed, who were transported to St. Louis, Missouri, where they were hospitalized near the Gratiot Street Prison. It appears there were 31 others left sick at St. Louis, in addition to the wounded. Some 34 officers were sent to Camp Chase, Ohio for incarceration and the remaining 554 enlisted men were imprisoned at Camp Douglas, Illinois. Five men escaped at Memphis, as we noticed earlier, one man, B. C. Haller (B), appeared to have escaped prior to arriving in St. Louis and two appeared to have escaped Camp Douglas at a later date, W. A. Carson (I) and W. G. Scoggin (I). By companies, those captured were as follows: A 58, B 73, C 58, D 45, E 61, F 81, G 56, H 98, I 62, K 44, Staff 5, with the remaining 27 being from unknown companies.
The disposition of the 668 captured, as gleaned from the records, was as follows: 25 men signed an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and were released from confinement; 10 were retained in prison and not exchanged until the war was about over; 189 died while in prison; 366 are confirmed as having been exchanged; 8 were believed to have escaped. This gives a total of 597 accounted for, leaving some 71 men with question as to what happened to them. Likely some of them died also and some were exchanged, leaving no further record. Most, if not all those who died were buried in the "Confederate Mound" in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago, Ill. 3 unknown Confederate Soldiers from the 19th died long after the exchange and were buried, one on July 3, one on July 30, and one from Co. F on August 14, 1863. These 3 were probably from the 71 men who were unaccounted for above. The causes of death were listed as Smallpox, Typhoid, Pneumonia, Congestive Failure, Meningitis, Diarrhea, and such.
Men captured at Arkansas Post, whose records end at that time were:
Aldrich, J. (?) Evans, Thomas N. (?) Mare, E. D. (H)
Aldrich, Peter (?) Hardcastle, J. C. (?) McKeon, T. M. (G)
Ballard, W. J. (?) Haynes, William (F) McLaughlin, G. W. (A)
Barns, Thomas (B) Higginbottom, D. A. (C McWell, James (H)
Boles, P. L. (H) Hill, T. J. (H) Miel, E. W. (C)
Brown, G. B. (D) Hythen, J. (H) Morgan, John L. (F)
Brumley, Joshua (D) Hythen, W. H. (H) Riser, W. A. (A)
Camcari, W. B. (A) Kizziar, William A. (A Tollett, James (G)
Crocks, R. W. (B) Loinel, B. F. (E) Weeks, William (A)
Dixson, J. M. (QM Sgt) Louvell, A. R. (A) Wilson, Matthew (?)
Duncan, G. W. (?) Magette, W. (E) Woodrough, N. M. (K)
Mcgee, William (G) Wyatt, W. D. (E).