November 25, 1862 (Tuesday)
The first time Union General James Blunt learned that Rebels under John Marmaduke were at Cane Hill, Arkansas, he took a defensive position. The second time, however, he wanted to act. Blunt’s force, consisting mostly Kansas cavalry and infantry, 5,000-strong, was encamped west of Bentonville.
Marmaduke’s 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen were on a foraging mission fifty miles north of their base at Fort Smith, along the Arkansas River. He believed that Blunt’s force was not only alone, but was in no shape to give battle. Fortified with these delusions, Marmaduke wrote to his superior, General Thomas Hindman, suggesting that he bring his force to Cane Hill.
“General,” said Marmaduke, “I feel assured that you can bag this party in a short quick fight. Blunt and no one else dreams of such a move. I will surprise friend and foe, hence the better chance for secrecy and success.” Hindman would consider the idea, but was hesitant to act upon it until Marmaduke could provide more information.
General Blunt was also in need of more information, so in the morning of this date, he sent a detachment of Federal cavalry to see just what Marmaduke was about. They rode towards Cane Hill, but ran into a Rebel scouting party. The Federals attacked and scattered the Confederates, but not before hearing that there were upwards of 8,000 Rebels nearby.
This was several times their actual number, but it didn’t seem to phase Blunt. What really threw him was while his cavalry was sparring with their Confederate counterparts, he heard from spies that General Hindman would soon be joining Marmaduke. When that happened, there would be more Rebels than he could cope with. He knew that if the Rebels moved to Cane Hill, they could brush him aside and again enter Missouri. Blunt was not about to let that happen.
Fully believing that his band of 5,000 was about to attack 8,000 Confederates, he readied his men for a quick march and a quick strike. Though he knew that he had to act fast, he decided to wait for a two-mile long wagon train full of supplies to arrive before making his move.
He expected it to roll into camp on the 26th. That next morning, after his troops had cooked rations and collected their ammunition, he would march south to attack the unassuming John Marmaduke, hoping to beat Hindman to Cane Hill.
Blunt had very little to worry about, however. The 8,000 Rebels he suspected to be at Cane Hill were actually only 2,000 in number, and Hindman was not yet ready to support Marmaduke.
((Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 21, Part 1, p37-38, 791-793; Fields of Blood by William L. Shea.))