For many reasons, the battle of Fort Hindman, or Arkansas Post, holds my interest. Granted, the fight was a “push over” more often remembered for the bashing of egos on the Federal side than for what happened on the field. To understand this battlefield, and begin to imagine how it looked, one must take a step back and see what brought military forces to such a remote area. For starters, consider one of the justifications made by Major General John McClernand for this campaign:
The reduction of [Arkansas Post] will free the navigation of the Mississippi River in the vicinity of the mouths of the White and Arkansas Rivers from the molestation inflicted by hostile parties sent from the Post.
Yes, in my opinion the only justification given that stands up on its own. The rationale is easy to illustrate, given a map of the area from 1863.
On the right is the Mississippi River. Off the map to the south are Federal staging areas, including Milliken’s Bend some 128 miles river miles downstream. The proximity of the White and Arkansas River, between Montgomery Point and Napoleon, offered backwaters and byways that Confederates could hide within waiting to prey upon Federal shipping. A cutoff just west of Montgomery Point, allowed boats to shift between the tributaries without entering the “big muddy.”
Indeed, at the first of the year Confederates captured the steamer Blue Wing, with barges in tow, near Napoleon. Among the cargo was a shipment of Parrott shells for General Sherman. And the Rebels could put those to good use.
To the west, and left, of the cropped map, along the Arkansas River is Arkansas Post. At a sharp bend of the river, the post stood on some of the first high ground upstream from the mouth of the river. Thankfully, the Federals made detailed maps of the area after the battle.
The bend is significant, not just in terms of topography, but historically. It’s one of those places that seems to “collect” history as if rain in a bucket. When Hernando DeSoto passed through in 1542 there were Indian villages nearby. From the 1680 onward, the French established outposts in the area and even fought a battle here with the Chickasaw in 1749. On April 17, 1783, the westernmost battle of the Revolutionary War occurred at Arkansas Post. With the Louisiana Purchase, the post became one of the first American garrisons in the territory.
After Arkansas secession, the post was the site of more military activity. By January 1863, however, it was the site of Fort Hindman which blocked any Federal advance up the Arkansas River towards Little Rock.
When McClernand’s short lived incarnation of the Army of the Mississippi arrived downstream on this day (January 9) in 1863, along with Rear-Admiral David D. Porter’s gunboats, the fort included a pair of 8-inch shell guns and a 9-inch gun, along with several field pieces. The riverboat view of the fort was depicted in the Coastal Survey map of the site drawn after the battle. Note how tall the bluffs were at that time. The “hills” in the background are trees growing in the uncleared land beyond the fort.
Now you’ll note I have not offered any site pictures of Fort Hindman and vicinity. Today, it is no more.
Here’s my take on the location of the fort and relative wartime features. I think the fort and other Confederate defenses (red lines) are close to accurate, but the downstream (right side of map) course of the river is a little more guesswork:
And a view of Fort Hindman from the last time I visited (I think it was April 1993).
Not much to see after the river has changed courses a few times. Here’s another view, offered by Dale Cox for the Civil War Album, from March 2008:
Maybe a place to go fishing, but not exactly a spot for battlefield stomping.
Over the next few days I’ll post more on the battle of Fort Hindman, or Arkansas Post.