Saturday, May 3, 2014

April 30, 1864

April 30, 1864

---Battle of Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas:  Gen. Steele, trying to cross the Saline River in his retreat back to Little Rock, decides to turn and inflict some damage on the pursuing Rebels led by Gen. Sterling Price of Missouri, since not all of Steele’s men are able to cross the river on their pontoon bridge by the time morning arrives.  (Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, the Department commander, is close behind, with reinforcements for Price.)  Steele sets up his defensive line only 400 yards wide, with earthworks and protected flanks, with the Saline River at his back---forcing the Southerners to attack over open ground, much of it muddy or even swampy.  In direct command is Brig. Gen. Samuel Rice with 4,000 Northern infantrymen and artillery.  Price sends troops forward, and incurs severe casualties, since the attacks are not coordinated.  Battle smoke hangs heavy in the humid air, obscuring visibility, and depriving Price of getting any good scouting reports.  Churchill is given conflicting orders, and sends a regiment forward as skirmishers, and then orders Gen. Tappan (the brigade commander) to go in with the rest of the brigade---but Tappan soon discovers that the Federals facing him are much greater a force, and he calls for reinforcements.  Churchill sends in Hawthorn’s brigade on Tappan’s flank, but Hawthorn gets roughly handled, too.  Gen. Price sends in Gen. Mosby Parsons’ division to reinforce Churchill, but still were unable to make headway.  At one point, the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry and the 29th Iowa make a counterattack and capture 3 Rebel cannon and somehow being them back through the mire.  When Kirby Smith arrives in the afternoon, he has with him a division of Texas infantry under Gen. John Walker, and sends them in---but only one brigade at a time, and they take heavy losses, also.  All three brigade commanders under Walker are wounded---Gen. Scurry and Col. Randal are mortally wounded.  Waul’s brigade is sent in, but several key officers are killed, leaving confusion in Waul’s command, and no advance.  As the Rebels withdraw, soldiers of the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry shoot as many Rebel wounded on the field as possible, in retaliation for massacres of black wounded and prisoners at Poison Springs and Mark’s Mill.  Soon after 3:00 PM, Steele sees his chance and pulls out of his lines, crossed his pontoon bridge (and then burns it), and continues northward, unmolested, to Little Rock.  However, the Federals lose many vehicles in the mud of the river bottoms.  The Rebels are slow to pursue.  And James Fagan’s 3,000 troopers do not arrive until evening, and too late to take part in the battle.  Losses are high on both sides, although this is clearly a victory for the Federals, even if marginal.   Union Victory.

Losses:  U.S., @700 C.S., @1,000

Jenkins Ferry battlefield today, flooded as it often is

---On this date, in a bid to allow the U.S. Navy gunboats at Alexandria to float over the falls, volunteer engineers under Lt. Col. James Bailey, a former engineer, begin constructing a coffer dam to raise the water level.


---John Beauchamp Jones, of the Confederate War Department, writes in his journal about preparations on both sides of the front lines, and the sense of expectation for the new campaigning season:

APRIL 30TH.—Federal papers now admit that Gen. Banks has been disastrously beaten in Louisiana. They also admit their calamity at Plymouth, N. C. Thus in Louisiana, Florida, West Tennessee, and North Carolina the enemy have sustained severe defeats: their losses amounting to some 20,000 men, 100 guns, half a dozen war steamers, etc. etc.

               Gen. Burnside has left Annapolis and gone to Grant—whatever the plan was originally; and the work of concentration goes on for a decisive clash of arms in Virginia.

            And troops are coming hither from all quarters, like streamlets flowing into the ocean. Our men are confident, and eager for the fray.

         The railroad companies say they can transport 10,000 bushels corn, daily, into Virginia. That will subsist 200,000 men and 25,000 horses. And in June the Piedmont connection will be completed.

            The great battle may not occur for weeks yet. It will probably end the war.


---President Abraham Lincoln, on this date, pens a letter to General Grant which has since become famous in its clear reflection of Lincoln’s relationship with this general, and the President’s trust in him:



 Not expecting to see you before the spring campaign opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it.

 The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men in great number shall be avoided, I know that these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there be anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.

 And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you.

 Yours very truly,


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