February 27, 1863 (Friday)
The Confederate military command in Arkansas by the end of February was vastly different from how it was following the battle of Prairie Grove, in early December. Then, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi was commanded by General Thomas Hindman under the Departmental control of Theophilus Holmes in Little Rock.
The loss and subsequent retreat set the people of Arkansas firmly against General Hindman. Unionists and deserters from Hindman’s command, who set about the cold countryside on impromptu raids and general luting and pillaging, did nothing to quell this anger.
Confederate General William Steele, who had served in the New Mexico Campaign, was sent by Richmond to oversee the Indian Territory. Based out of Arkansas, he witnessed first hand what happened when Hindman retreated. In a letter to the commander of Fort Smith, the Confederate base along the Arkansas River, Steele detailed the deprivations enacted by these lawless bands before turning to the issue of slavery.
“Be specially careful in permitting no persons with negroes or otherwise to pass your lines,” warned Steele. “Many negroes have, no doubt, been stolen, and it will doubtless be attempted to send them to Texas under false pretenses.” In this case, he was certain that the emancipated slaves were being rushed to Federal-held portions of Texas by “Martin D. Hart, a renegade Texan, and who now claims to be acting under a commission as captain in the First Regiment Texas (Federal) Volunteers.”
Aside from the insertion of General Steele, other changes were afoot. As previously discussed, Confederate General Kirby Smith, renowned for his operations in Kentucky, was placed in command of the huge Trans-Mississippi Department. Though he would not arrive until the middle of March, changes were already underway.
The hated and abhorred General Thomas Hindman volunteered to be transfered to Vicksburg, where it appears that he simply languished, doing very little until the city fell in July. His troops, mostly scattered and retaining little desire to fight, were given to General William Cabell, and ordered by Steele into Indian Territory – they would obey, but not till warmer weather.
With Hindman out and Kirby Smith taking over the Department, that left only one roll for Theophilus Holmes. He was to reassemble and command the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Once that was accomplished, it would consist of 25,000 troops in four main divisions. Of the four, only one division commander was carried over from Hindman’s command. This was the cavalry division under John Marmaduke who had raided north into Missouri.
Otherwise, the army was completely reorganized and looked nothing like it had even a month prior. The biggest change was the addition of General Sterling Price, whose career thus far in the War had taken him all over the West.
Before the War even started, Price raised Secessionist troops in Missouri, joined with the Confederates at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. After the Rebels were driven from Missouri, Price commanded troops in northern Mississippi. Under Earl Van Dorn, they were beaten at the Battle of Corinth and retreated into central Mississippi. Following a fairly big organizational cleansing, Van Dorn was demoted and Price took a leave of absence and headed to Richmond to mull things over with President Jefferson Davis.
When Price arrived in Richmond, he found hardly a friend to call his own. He had many grievances with the command structure in the West, but rather than attempting to work them out, Davis insinuated that Price might not be a loyal son of the South.
Price wanted to return to Missouri with his Division to reclaim his home state for the Confederacy. Everybody, it seems, wanted to be rid of Price, sending him to Missouri (or really, into Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department) would please the lot of them.
The Missouri Division, which Price had commanded since the start of the War, however, could not be spared from the defense of Mississippi. For a time, a show of exchange between General John Pemberton’s Mississippi Department (from which Price was leaving) and Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department (to which Price was going) was made. Price was to bring along his Missouri Division and Smith was to give up a like amount of troops in exchange.
Price, of course, agreed to this. Pemberton and Smith, however, were not ordered to do it. In fact, Richmond told Pemberton that it was ultimately up to him. If the loss of the Missouri Division weakened the defenses of Vicksburg, the deal was off.
Since Pemberton was unlikely to release the troops, Price wasn’t thrilled about the arrangement. But there wasn’t any other choice. He had to retain faith that somehow his Missouri Division would be sent after him to the Trans-Mississippi. Meanwhile, General Price arrived back in Vicksburg, and waited to be transfered.
And on this date, it happened. He was to be transfered to the Trans-Mississippi Department, and as soon as his Division could be replaced by those from Smiths’ command, they would be transfered. Neither Pemberton nor Smith even bothered to try to work out an exchange of troops.
The following day, Price bade his old troops a solemn good-bye. He promised that soon they would follow him and together they would reclaim the sacred soil of Missouri for the Confederacy.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, Part 2, p775, 810; Kirby Smith’s Confederacy by Robert L. Kerby; General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West by Albert Castel. [↩]