The Arkansas Post Story
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Chapter 18:

Civil War came abruptly with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. In Arkansas, state troops seized Fort Smith and the federal arsenal at Little Rock, thus securing the state for the Confederacy. In May, 1861, Arkansas formally joined the Confederate States of America.

In early July, 1862, Federal troops advanced by way of Bartlesville and occupied Helena in eastern Arkansas. Northern gunboats patrolled the Mississippi south of Memphis, and menaced the eastern border of the state. On June 17, Union forces attacked and captured a Confederate battery at St. Charles on the White River. [1] Major General Theophilus H. Holmes, then commander of the trans-Mississippi West, feared additional incursions up Arkansas' rivers, perhaps to the capital at Little Rock. To guard against such an invasion Holmes placed Colonel John W. Dunnington of the Confederate States Navy in charge of river defense. Dunnington conceived a plan to construct defensive earthworks at strategic points along the interior rivers. He planned one earthwork Arkansas Post.

Dunnington, himself, was charged with the task of building a fort on the Arkansas River. He selected Arkansas Post for the same reasons as had French and Spanish engineers before him. The site was on a prominent bank on the north side of the river commanding a view of its course for a full mile in either direction. Since Arkansas Post was located above the cut-off where the White River joined the Arkansas, Federal gunboats could not advance to Little Rock unchallenged. To assist in the construction of the fort, Dunnington was given the aid of two engineers: Captains Robert H. Fitzhugh and A.M. Williams. Clarkson's company of sappers and miners and gangs of impressed slaves provided the labor. Before the end of the year, a fort once again protected the Arkansas.

"Post of Arkansas," as the Confederates called their fort, formed a hollow square, 190 feet to a side with a bastion at each corner. A ditch, 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep surrounded it. On the interior slope of the parapet, a firing step was constructed for use by the infantry. Casemates, solidly built of oak timbers reinforced with railroad iron, were situated in the two bastions fronting the river. Four 10-pounder Parrott rifles, four 6-pounder smoothbores, and three 9-inch columbiads comprised the armaments of the fort. To further add to the Confederate's defensive capabilities, a line of piles was driven along the south side of the Arkansas River, directing all traffic within close range of the big guns. As a safeguard against a land attack, three lines of rifle-pits were excavated.

Figure 33. Post of Arkansas. Plan of the Confederate earthwork at Arkansas Post.

On December 10, 1862, Confederate Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill was placed in command of Arkansas Post. He had approximately five-thousand soldiers at his disposal. Colonel Dunnington, with 35 crewmen from the Confederate ram Ponchartrain, commanded the artillery of the fort. Colonel Charles L. Dawson's 19th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel William A. Crawford's Arkansas Infantry Battalion manned the earthworks. For defense against a land assault, Colonel Robert R. Garland and a brigade composed of the 6th Texas Infantry, the 24th and 25th Texas (dismounted) Cavalry Regiments, Denson's Company of Louisiana Cavalry, and Hart's Arkansas Battery were bivouacked nearby. Sometime later, the 10th Texas Infantry and the 15th, 17th, and 18th Texas (dismounted) Cavalry Regiments commanded by Colonel James Deshler augmented the garrison.

While guarding the river approach to Little Rock, the enterprising Churchill raided Federal river traffic from his Arkansas stronghold. Confederate detachments lurked at the mouth of the White and Arkansas rivers, striking Federal supply boats as they passed between Memphis, Helena, and Milliken's Bend, General William T. Sherman's base of operations to support his late December attack on Vicksburg. The steamer Blue Wing, laden with ordnance stores bound for Milliken's Bend, was attacked. Unprotected, the vulnerable vessel surrendered. Confederate soldiers escorted their prize upriver to Arkansas Post where Blue Wing's ordnance became a welcome addition to Churchill's depleted magazines. [2]

Thomas J. Churchill
Figure 34. Confederate Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill commander of Post of Arkansas. The Arkansas History Commission.

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006