- 27 Nov 2020 15:49
November 28, Friday
After the repulse on October 4th of the Confederates that had occupied Newtonia, Missouri, General Schofield, sick and thinking the season too far advanced for further campaigning, returned to St. Louis, leaving General Blunt in command of what was now designated the Army of the Frontier. Meanwhile, the Confederate hold on Vicksburg, Mississippi, is being threatened by General Grant, and Brigadier General Holmes received orders to send 10,000 men across the Mississippi to reinforce that strategically critical city. He directed General Hindman to bring his army east. But Hindman won permission to eliminate the Federal threat to the Arkansas River valley first.
Hoping to whip Blunt before that Kansan can unite the Army of the Frontier’s 1st Division with Brigadier General Herron and the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, Hindman sent two brigades of horsemen—about 2,500 troopers—under Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke to Cane Hill, a long, low ridge north of the Boston Mountains, near Blunt’s position in northwest Arkansas. The tall, aristocratic Marmaduke, son and nephew of two Missouri governors, was educated at Yale, Harvard, and West Point. His mission is to draw Blunt away from Herron so that Hindman can defeat the two Federal forces in detail.
Blunt learns of Marmaduke’s arrival at Cane Hill and moves aggressively to the attack. Stung by Federal artillery fire, the outnumbered Confederates retreat to the foot of the Boston Mountains. Bold charges by Kansas infantry and dismounted cavalry and a Cherokee home guard regiment force Marmaduke to retreat again to a gorge along a road leading to Van Buren. As night comes on, Marmaduke makes a final stand. Three companies of Kansas cavalry charge wildly into the defile to try to seize the Confederates’ artillery. Ambushed by a rearguard made up of Colonel Shelby’s Missourians, the Kansans are hurled back, fighting their way clear with sabers and pistols. A flag of truce sent by Marmaduke to recover his dead and wounded ends the fight, and during the night the Confederates withdraw to Dripping Springs, eight miles north of Van Buren. Only a clever covering tactic by Shelby saves Marmaduke’s force from destruction. During the withdrawal, Shelby divides his companies, stationing them about 250 yards apart along the line of retreat. After each company fires, it mounts and gallops to the rear of the others, then dismounts and takes a new position, forcing the Federals to fight through a gauntlet of fire. It is dangerous work, and Shelby himself has four horses shot out from under him. His outfit will soon become known as Shelby’s Iron Brigade for its vigor and spirit.
There are skirmishes for two days at Holly Springs, Mississippi, where the Federals are beginning a build-up of supplies for their advance on Vicksburg. There is also a skirmish in Mississippi at the junction of the Coldwater and Tallahatchie; skirmishes on the Carthage Road, near Hartsville and Rome, Tennessee; near Hartwood Church, Virginia; and a three-day Federal reconnaissance from Chantilly, Virginia, to Berryville.
In Virginia, General Burnside travels to Washington to speak with President Lincoln and General in Chief Halleck. Oddly, no records are kept of the details of either conference. But Burnside has at last formulated a new plan of attack, and presumably takes the opportunity to clear it with his superiors. He then calls a council of his grand division commanders and announces that instead of crossing at Fredericksburg, he will make his move downstream at Skinker’s Neck, which his engineers have recommended as a crossing site. Sumner, ever the faithful subordinate, says he will do what he can, and Franklin expresses his readiness. But the obstreperous Hooker flatly opposes the idea, protesting that to attempt to cross a river in the face of the Confederates is preposterous. Burnside brushes aside Hooker’s objections.
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