January 10, 1863 (Saturday)
Union General Fitz Henry Warren was not an unknown figure in the Civil War, though history remembers him little. Before the war, he had served in the Zachary Taylor’s administration and became an ardent abolitionist. When war broke out, he was working as an editor at Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, where he authored at least one “On to Richmond!” article.
Though he had no military training, he left the paper to return to Iowa, his adopted home, to raise a cavalry regiment. And now, at the start of 1863, his star had risen to that of Brigadier-General, and he found himself in command of a large chunk of Missouri.
It was in this large chunk that roughly 2,400 Confederate troopers under General John Marmaduke were raiding. This action culminated in the Battle of Springfield on January 8th. The following day, when Warren heard about the battle, he dispatched 700 men from his base in Houston, Missouri, ninety miles east of Springfield, to bolster Federal numbers.
But the battle of Springfield had gone against the Confederates and, the next day, they swerved around the town, heading east towards Lebanon, while another column hit the town of Hartville, between Houston and Springfield.
What all this meant was that Warren’s dispatched 800 stood a good chance of running into Marmaduke’s Rebels, which were on this morning scattered in three nearby locales.
Under the command of Col. Samuel Merrill, the Federal reinforcements arrived in Hartville at 6am of this date. They learned that Confederate cavalry under Col. Joseph Porter, 900-strong, had left Hartville the night before, heading in the easterly direction of Marshfield. Merrill’s orders, however, were not to track down the Rebels, but to reinforce General Egbert Brown at Springfield, and so on they went seeing nothing of the enemy for the remainder of the day.
This was mostly because the three dispersed columns of Confederate Cavalry had gathered in Marshfield, burning the small Union fort there for good measure. Before joining Marmaduke, Col. Porter rode into Hazelwood and burned a blockhouse there as well. He had just missed Merrill’s Federal column making their way to Springfield.
That afternoon, Marmaduke’s entire command camped several miles outside of Marshfield, while their commander had made plans to hit Hartville and commandeer the town’s mill the following morning. The Rebels were up again and on the road by 11pm.
Late that night (around 2am), Col. Merrill was informed by scouts of a large body of Confederates moving on the Hartville Road towards Springfield.1
Arkansas Rebels Ordered to “Hold Out Till Help Arrived or Until All Dead”
Meanwhile, along the Arkansas River, Union General John McClernand and his self-styled Army of the Mississippi (really just two corps of Grant’s Army of the Tennessee – roughly 33,000 men), had landed the previous night near the Confederate-held Fort Hindman near Arkansas Post.
At dawn of this date, McClernand knew that he was facing comparatively few Confederate soldiers – roughly 5,000 inhabited the earthworks at the fort. He sent a brigade to block the road leading from Little Rock, just in case Theophilus Holmes, the Rebel commander in Arkansas, had the bright idea to send reinforcements.
After being alerted to the Yankees’ arrival, General Thomas Churchill, of Kirby Smith’s Kentucky Campaign, ordered two-thirds of his force out of the entrenchments and into exposed rifle pits to bravely face the invaders.
This was as gallant as you please, but accomplished nothing. Accompanying McClernand were three gunships under David Dixon Porter, which promptly opened fire upon the exposed troops. This cleared the lower entrenchments, and sent the Rebels scrambling back to the security of the fort.
Seizing the opportunity, McClernand’s men advanced to a piece of high ground north of the fort. From there, all they had to do was fire down into it. As night drew closer, McClernand positioned his troops for a final blow at dawn the next day.
Well after dark, General Churchill received a message from Holmes in Little Rock. He was ordered “to hold out till help arrived or until all dead.” It was a ridiculous notion, but Churchill took it to heart, sending along the order to his men.
And so, they would wait for first light.2