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Battle of Arkansas Post
January 9 - 11, 1863
An Account by Pvt. Frank Mason, Company A, 42nd Ohio Infantry
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a detailed account written by Pvt. Frank H. Mason, Company A, 42nd Ohio. It is an excerpt from his book A History of the Organization and Services of That Regiment In the War of the Rebellion, 1876.

It should be understood that battle accounts written by the participants, generally some years after the events, often contain information conflicting with other accounts and, in many cases, reflect a more positive view of the actions of the soldier or his unit than actual facts may prove. When studying battles it is important for the researcher to review as many different perspectives and accounts as possible which will help formulate a more accurate picture. Pvt. Mason's account is somewhat favorable to his regiment, the 42nd Ohio, but is generally accurate and provides another colorful description of the Battle of Arkansas Post.

Excerpt from A History of the Organization and Services of That Regiment In the War of the Rebellion, 1876 - F. H. Mason, late Private of Company A - Cobb, Andrews & Co., Publishers (excerpt begins at page 171)

The Fort was a heavy, bastioned earthwork, built upon the site of an old Government trading post, the mart for many years of traffic with the Indians. A group of old-fashioned brick buildings with an orchard and a cleared space of perhaps a hundred acres, constituted all that was left of Arkansas Post until the Confederates took possession of it early in 1862 and built Fort Hindman at the head of a long, ox-bow curve in the river. Thus situated, the Fort, which stood on a bluff bank thirty feet above the water, commanded the river both up and down to the extent of the range of its guns. From the rear of the Fort a long parapet, revetted with logs, extended back nearly or quite half a mile facing down the river. In front of this parapet, which was guarded by a deep outside ditch, the timber had been cut and arranged as chevaux de frise, so that the place, garrisoned by about five thousand Texas troops, was a formidable obstacle to the Federal possession of that country. As long as it remained in Confederate hands, there could be no safety for the communications of an army operating river-ward against Vicksburg, and Gen. McClernand, while waiting for the water to rise and the Winter to pass away, resolved to move his whole force against it.

The fleet steamed up, and on the 8th of January reached the mouth of White river, which flows into the Mississippi a few miles above the mouth of the Arkansas. Between the White and Arkansas rivers there is a bayou or cut-off, navigable at ordinary stages of water, and forming a perfect channel of communication. To deceive the enemy as to its destination, the transport flotilla, preceded by three ironclads, moved up the White River, took the cut-off across to the Arkansas (River) and appeared just below Fort Hindman on the 10th. The landing was difficult but the troops got promptly ashore on the East bank and moved up towards the Fort, Gen. Sherman's Corps in the advance.

About a mile below Fort Hindman was an exterior line of rifle pits strengthened by a levee running from the river to the swamp and enclosing a large village of log huts outside the Fort, in which the majority of the garrison apparently lived. At this point they made their first stand, and Gen .Sherman's Corps, coming up to this obstacle, moved by the flank to the right so as to reach round and enclose the entire position.

By the time that Morgan's Corps was ashore with its artillery and ready to support Sherman's advance, the short Winter day was spent. It was followed by a bright and beautiful night with a full moon, and the troops, though moving over strange ground, covered and obscured by dense woods and thickets, rapidly enveloped the Rebel lines. Finding themselves in danger of being surrounded, the Confederates, soon after dark, abandoned their outer line and fell back to a second village standing in a cleared space in rear of the Fort and shielded by dense thickets in front and toward the river. Word was sent to Gen. Sherman that the enemy had abandoned his front line, and that commander, who was leading Steele's Division by a long road round the swamp, had to counter-march, and did not get back into position in front of a new line until nearly morning.

Just before sunset the Rebels had opened fire from the Fort upon the transports in the river, and by way of keeping them busy and getting the range, the three iron-clads had steamed up and engaged the Fort in gallant style. (It was this fire from the gunboats in a position from which they could have raked the rear of the cross levee, that forced the enemy to abandon his front line early that night.) The Confederate gunners maintained their fire sharply with two eight-inch smooth bore guns and casemates on the river front, and from a nine-inch columbiad en barbette on the Southwest angle of the Fort. The casemates were mailed with railroad iron, closely matched and interlocked, which proved quite an effective armor, but one of the gunboats got an eight inch shell into a casemate through the embrasure, which destroyed half the detachment working the gun. The duel between the Fort and gunboats made quite a pretty spectacle, but comparatively small damage was done on either side.

Gen. Sherman before daylight had his column well extended round to the right, giving room for Gen. Morgan to put one division into line. The remainder of Morgan's Corps, including DeCourcy's Brigade with the Forty-Second, bivouacked in some large cornfields near the landing, known as Lambdin's farm. The night was sharp and frosty, but rails were abundant, and as McClernand had no special object in concealing his numbers or position, fires were allowed and the bivouac was made comfortable. The troops up at the front could hear formidable preparations going on within the enemy's lines. Wagons and artillery were moving, and the whole garrison was at work tearing down houses, building rifle trenches, extending the outer parapet and making ready for the morrow.

From some pickets captured soon after landing in the afternoon, it had been learned that two boat loads of reinforcements were expected from Duvall's Bluff and Little Rock, further up the river. A trap as set for them. Two sections of Foster's Battery with two ten-pounders from the Mercantile Battery of Chicago, were sent on board the steamer "Des Arc," to drop five miles down the river, land on the West bank and cross the neck of land to Smith's plantation, on the river above the Fort. This was accomplished, and before morning the six guns were grinning over the levee near the plantation house, a mile and a half above the Fort, and ready to sink whatever transports might endeavor to pass.

With this disposition, Fort Hindman, before any real attack upon it had commenced, was almost entirely surrounded. But one avenue of retreat remained open to the garrison, a road leading up the North side of the river through a dense cottonwood forest, and the chances were that Sherman would reach round and occupy that as soon as daylight enabled him to see his way.

Upon this situation the morning sun of Sunday, January 11th, rose cloudless and beautiful. It was such a day as in the latitude of Ohio comes sometimes to break the gloom of November. The Confederate reveille was blown, clear and shrill, at dawn. The Federal bugles took up the strain, and the eventful day was opened with as tuneful a morning call as ever woke an army to battle. The Rebels were up promptly and at their posts as soon as the growing light made their position visible. Evidently they had not slept much. The long line of out-works running back from the Fort had been strengthened and extended nearly to the dense swamp about a mile back from the river. An Amazing amount of fresh dirt had been thrown up, and from behind the new parapet the guns of two field batteries peeped out.

Through about the center of the isthmus of solid ground between the swamp and river, upon which Fort Hindman and the new earthworks were built, ran a road. Sherman's Corps was ordered to take the right of this, Morgan's Corps the left. The plan was that Admiral Porter with the gunboats should assail the Fort from the river, while the troops should drive the enemy into their fortifications, work up to within easy distance and capture the works by assault.

DeCourcy's Brigade was astir early in its camp at the landing below. It had lost more than a third of its numbers at Chickasaw Bayou and Gen. Morgan preferred to hold it in reserve that day unless its services were actually needed. Leaving DeCourcy, therefore, posted so as to watch the road by which Steele's Division had counter-marched, and to guard the fleet from attack, Gen. Morgan, with the remainder of his Corps, pushed up to the front.

He had with him A. J. Smith's Division of two Brigades, commanded respectively by Gen. A. J. Smith and Col. L. A. Sheldon of the Forty-Second Ohio, and Lightburne's Brigade of Osterhaus' Division, the other Brigade of Osterhaus' (DeCourcy's) being left, as already explained, to watch the White river road and guard the boats. Smith's Division was put in on Morgan's right, joining the left of Sherman's Corps, and to the left of Smith, Lindsay, whose line reached to the bank of the river. McClernand felt sure of his game now and did not force the fighting. He could afford to take the Fort scientifically, and spare as far as possible the lives of his men. They might have charged across the open ground, clambered over the obstructions and through the ditch and captured the works in thirty minutes, or even less, but it would have been at a great sacrifice of life. It was preferable to disable the casemate guns, dismount the lighter ones and give the garrison a good morning's work before making the assault.

Accordingly, all being ready, at 11 o'clock the gunboats advanced in splendid style and engaged the Fort at short range. They fired rapidly and with such effect that the railroad iron was peeled from the casemates, and before noon the nine-inch barbette gun was struck in the muzzle, split and broken away nearly back to the trunnions. Two twenty-pounder Parrots from Foster's Battery were run up behind a large sycamore log on the river bank, three hundred yards form the Fort, and from that advantageous position sent shell after shell into the embrasures of the casemates. These two guns, which were fired with the deliberate accuracy of a sharp-shooter's target rifle, also dismounted and capsized a twelve-pounder iron gun that during the morning had been worked industriously from the Northeastern bastion of the Fort. The other batteries of Morgan and Sherman engaged the field guns behind the parapet and after a sharp duel, in which the Rebel guns used a great quantity of shrapnel and canister, pretty effectually silenced them. An hour of sharp fighting drove the enemy entirely within the works. The assailants had also got so near that no further advance could be made without undertaking a direct assault.

By this time the gunboats had come up directly under the Fort; so near in fact that they actually passed by and opened a reverse fire upon it. But their part was mainly done. The casemates and water front of the Fort were silenced.

Gen. Sherman had extended his attack so far round to the right that his line was weakened on the left, and he called upon Morgan for reinforcements. Morgan sent him the three reserve regiments of Smith's Division and immediately dispatched a courier to bring up DeCourcy. This gallant Brigade was found ready, and, on receiving the summons, hurried forward at a pace which soon brought it to the front. It was put in between Lindsay's Brigade and Smith's Division, and formed for the assault in column of regiments, the Forty-Second Ohio in front.

While this was taking place a fierce artillery fire opened from the point of land across the river. At first it was thought to be a hostile reinforcement from Little Rock, and Lindsay's guns were trained upon it, but just as they were about to fire it was discovered that the guns beyond the river were firing into the Fort and along its West front, enfilading the rear of the Rebel outworks with terrible effect. It was Foster, who had been sent up above the night before to intercept any transports that might come with reinforcements from up the river, and who, after watching the battle for some hours, could not keep silent, but had come down on his own responsibility to take a hand in the finish. His fire reached the vitals of the Confederate position, set fire to buildings hitherto sheltered by the Fort, swept the plain in its rear and hastened the surrender.

DeCourcy's assaulting column moved rapidly forward through the brush and across the open space in front of the works. The fire that met this advance was vigorous, but the enemy was excited and aimed wildly. They saw the storming column coming and knew that further resistance was useless. Suddenly a white flag was run up at the Northeastern angle of the Fort. The firing suddenly ceased and DeCourcy's men began to cheer. Then the white flag was pulled down and a thin, scattering volley sputtered along the Rebel line. The flag had been unauthorized, and the fight was not yet officially over. Then the whole Federal line, including Foster's guns on the other side, poured in a final broadside, the finishing blow of that day's work. Instantly the signals of surrender appeared all along the enemy's line. White handkerchiefs, tufts of cotton and gray hats were held up on ramrods and bayonets from behind their parapet. The command cease firing, was given, and in a moment all was hushed excepting a few irregular shots far round to the right. The Rebels stood up behind their works and the victorious army gave three such cheers as are heard but once in a life time. The Forty-Second, already within a few feet of the ditch, swarmed over the parapet and assisted in gathering up the prisoners. Five thousand men, with all that was left of the Fort and its guns, were unconditionally surrendered after a gallant resistance against overwhelming numbers. A horse battery with every animal dead in the traces, lay just to the right of where the Forty-Second crossed the parapet. A large number of Rebel dead had been thrown into a deep gorge, washed out by the rains in rear of the Fort. Others had been burned up in some barns which had been fired by Foster's shells. On the whole, the scenes within the works were far worse than on the outside.

The post had been commanded by a Gen. Churchill, and the two infantry brigades were led by a Col. Garland and Gen. Deshler, the latter a West Point officer. The prisoners stacked their arms and were marched down to the river bank. Their losses, notwithstanding the protection afforded by their works, had been severe, and the wounded and dead lay thick behind the parapet, inside the Fort, and in the large buildings at the rear, which had been used as hospitals. By an unfortunate chance these buildings stood in the direct range of the gunboat shells which overshot the Fort; they had been riddled and many of the wounded unintentionally killed.

Soon after dusk, when every thing had become quiet, two Confederate regiments form Pine Bluff came marching in and found themselves prisoners of war. They piled their guns and were marched to the river bank, venting their feelings, meanwhile, in the hard and picturesque swearing for which Texan civilization is distinguished.

Next morning the prisoners were put on board transports and sent to St. Louis. A heavy detail was set to work leveling the Fort and parapet, the casemates and magazines were burned and blown up, and the whole work completely destroyed.

That night there came on a terrible snow storm, and on the morning of the 13th, the battlefield was buried under more than a foot of snow. The troops re-embarked, and through the snow storm dropped down the river and rendezvoused at Napoleon.

McClernand's loss had been about a thousand men killed and wounded, about equally divided between Sherman's and Morgan's Corps. Gen. Grant did not at first approve the turning aside of the whole army from its attack on Vicksburg to capture a post on the Arkansas river, but the promptness and completeness of the conquest fully justified the movement, as Gen. Grant readily admitted. The army came down the Arkansas in splendid spirits and with the demoralization induced by Chickasaw Bluffs thoroughly cured. Gen. Grant arrived at the rendezvous on the 18th of January, took command of the army and ordered the fleet down the river to Young's Pint on the Louisiana side, opposite the mouth of the Yazoo river, where all arrived on the 21st.

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