January 6, 1863 (Tuesday)
The Confederate situation in Arkansas, following the Prairie Grove Campaign, was not so bright and cheery. Before the end of December, Union forces under James Blunt followed the Rebel Army of the Trans-Mississippi to their home in Van Buren, along the Arkansas River. There, they prepared to attack them, but were a day late – General Thomas Hindman, informed that they were coming, packed up most his rag-tag army, and shipped them down river to Lewisburg and Little Rock, Arkansas.
To be sure, there was quite an artillery duel from opposite sides of the river. It was a brutal, messy affair. Many of the shells fell short, killing and wounding several civilians.
On January 1st, General John Schofield, who had been absent through much of the Prairie Grove Campaign, again took command of the Union Army of the Frontier. He decided not to hold the town of Van Buren, and backed slowly northward to Missouri.
To push the drama farther, the Van Buren Raid was actually undertaken against Schofield’s orders. Blunt, caring little for Schofield, received the command to withdraw from the Prairie Grove area. Instead, he raided south. When Schofield reached Van Buren, he placed Blunt under arrest. At a later trial, Blunt would be acquitted and promoted to Major-General, much to Schofield’s bitter dismay.
Anyway, while Schofield was backing, General Hindmand, secure in Little Rock, decided that it was now time again for a cavalry raid into Missouri. In reality, there was nothing more he could do. His Army had been depleted to around 6,000 men. He had no knowledge that the Yankees had withdrawn from Van Buren, and wanted to play upon their lines of communication and supply.
For this honor, he selected John Marmaduke, who had fought well enough at Prairie Grove. This was not a simple rush of horses, but a two-pronged attack. Marmaduke’s 1,600 men were to ride north from Lewisburg, near Little Rock, while another column, this of 800 men, under Col. Joseph Porter, rode northwest from Pocahontas, Arkansas. The objective was the Union camps, supply depots and instillations in Hartville, Missouri. They left camp on December 31.
While the destination had been selected, the routes and pretty much everything else, including rations and supplies, weren’t so well thought out.
Col. Joseph Shelby, commanding one of Marmaduke’s two brigades (and really, the other was merely a regiment), had a gift with the pen. He left us this missive on the first days of the raid:
On the last day of December, 1862, when the old year was dying in the lap of the new, and January had sent its moaning winds to wail the requiem of the past [...]
The day was auspicious; a bright red sun had tempered the keen air to pleasantness, and cheered the mounted soldiers with the hopes of a gay and gallant trip. The first two days’ march was long and comfortable; the third the rain commenced, cold and chilling, and continued without intermission for three days, the grand old mountains standing bare against the dull and somber sky, their heads heavy with the storms of centuries. The men suffered much, but, keeping the bright goal of Missouri constantly in sight, spurred on and on quite merrily.
On the 2nd of January, with Marmaduke’s two brigades taking different routes, Shelby’s men stumbled upon a band of Unionist Jayhawkers who fired upon them. According to Shelby, his men killed twenty, wounded about twenty more and captured twenty-seven. Only one of his own men was wounded in the fray as they chased down the Unionists, running for their lives.
Thankfully for Marmaduke, he could gather himself at Yellville, just below the Missouri border. He directed his two brigades northward, but didn’t seem to have any clear idea just what to do.
“The 4th, 5th, and 6th were spent in long and cold forced marches,” wrote Col. Shelby. By the morning of this date (the 6th), Marmaduke’s two brigades were near Fort Lawrence and Ozark, Missouri – both held by Union troops. Incidentally, the other column of cavalry under Col. Porter, was probably northeast of Fort Lawrence, en route to Hartville.
That night, Marmaduke changed his plans. Hartville was no longer the objective. He had learned that Springfield, Missouri was rich with Union storehouses. It was, apparently, lightly garrisoned. If taken by surprise, thought Marmaduke, it would be a hell of a haul.
Immediately, he sent for his brigade and regimental commanders. He told them of his new plan and what they should hit along the way: “Shelby to move forward in the direction of Springfield, through Ozark, a fortified town, garrisoned by 400 militia; [Col. Emmett] MacDonald by way of Fort Lawrence to Springfield.”
He also sent a messenger to Col. Porter, en route to Hartville, that Hartville was no longer important. Porter wouldn’t receive the message for three days.
As it stood, Shelby’s brigade moved upon Ozark, while the other (really a regiment), under Emmett MacDonald, rode to within a few miles of Fort Lawrence, a “Wild West” looking fort if ever there was one.
MacDonald’s march through the night of the 6th “was attended with much suffering from cold. The men were, however, buoyed up and kept in excellent spirits in expectation of a fight on the coming morning.”
By the morning of the 7th, both Shelby and MacDonald were ready to pounce.
((Sources: Borderland Rebellion by Elmo Ingenthron (who had a few days wrong); Fields of Blood by William Shea (for the post-Prairie Grove bits); Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 1, p194-206 (for everything else – there’s just not a whole lot written about this).))