General Stephen Burbridge’s Report On His Brigade’s Action at the Battle of Arkansas Post
In January 1863, Major General John A. McClernand led a combined army-navy expedition up the Arkansas River to the Confederate garrison at Arkansas Post, or Fort Hindman. This fort, located 25 miles upriver from where it emptied into the Mississippi River, protected the capitol of Little Rock about 120 miles up the Arkansas from attack by gunboats. It also served as a base of operations for Confederate raids on Union shipping on the Mississippi. Major General Ulysses S. Grant had wanted McClernand to attack Vicksburg, Mississippi, but McClernand decided to attack Arkansas Post instead with his 13th Corps and Major General William T. Sherman’s 15th Corps, about 33,000 men. The naval part of the operation was under the command of Admiral David Porter and included nine gunboats and several transport vessels.
Fort Hindman was garrisoned by about 5000 Confederates, mostly Arkansans and dismounted Texas Cavalry under the command of Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill. The Union attack began on January 10th with a destructive naval bombardment. This was followed the next day with an infantry assault. Thought vastly outnumbered, Churchill’s command put up stiff resistance to the Union assault and inflicted over 1000 total casualties, including 134 killed, before surrendering the fort on the afternoon of the 11th.
About a third of the Union casualties were suffered by the 1st Brigade of the 13th Corps’ 1st Division. This brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Stephen Burbridge, consisted of the 16th, 60th, and 67th Indiana, 83rd and 96th Ohio, and 23rd Wisconsin infantry regiments. Burbridge himself planted the first U.S. flag in the fort. Here is General Burbridges’ official report on his brigade’s action in the capturing of Arkansas Post.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE,
FIRST DIVISION, THIRTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
ARMY OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Post Arkansas, Ark., January 14, 1863.
I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the engagement of the 10th and 11th instant, which resulted in the capture of Fort Post Arkansas, together with the whole contending force:
In compliance with orders to that effect my whole command, including the Seventeenth Ohio Battery, disembarked January 10 about 12 m. We moved up the road, having received orders to follow Major-General Sherman’s corps. Their finding the route impracticable returned, and we were ordered to follow the road leading up the river bank, which we did until we reached the first line of outer works of the enemy, which by that time had been evacuated; thence we bore to the right through the swamps till within about half a mile of the fort.
About sunset I was ordered to throw my brigade into line of battle. I then found that owing to a misapprehension of orders only one regiment (Sixtieth Indiana Volunteers, commanded by Col. R. Owen) had followed. I immediately sent back orders for the rest of the brigade to move up, and becoming impatient rode back myself and brought them up at doublequick. I ordered the Sixtieth and Sixteenth Indiana to the right and front with the Twenty-third Wisconsin, Col. J. J. Guppey, in their rear as a reserve, with orders to the former two regiments to skirmish well to their front, I ordered the Sixty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Emerson, and Ninety-sixth Ohio, Colonel Vance, on the left, and the Eighty-third Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel Baldwin, in their rear, with the same instructions as those given to the right of the brigade.
The command bivouacked in line almost in direct range of the guns of the fort firing on the gunboats, their shells frequently bursting in our lines and doing some execution. During the night the Sixtieth Indiana captured one company (60 men) of the enemy and sent it to the rear.
At daylight on the 11th instant I moved my command to the right directly in front of’ the fort and in rear of an open field, across which I was ordered to make the assault at the proper time. I formed my command in two lines, with the Sixtieth Indiana, Colonel Owen, on the right; the Sixteenth Indiana, Lieutenant-Colonel Orr, center, and the Eighty-third Ohio, Lieutenant Colonel Baldwin, on the left, with instructions to feel well their way to the edge of the open field referred to (across which to the fort was about 400 yards), which they did in gallant style. I placed three pieces of Captain Blount’s (Seventeenth Ohio) battery on my left, having some earthworks thrown up there for its protection, and ordered the Ninety-sixth Ohio to support it.
About 12 m. at a preconcerted signal the gunboats and the batteries along the line opened and kept up a simultaneous and incessant fire, which drew upon us the enemy’s fire. It having been agreed that the signal for the assault should be musketry and cheering from Major-General Sherman’s corps, on our right, I awaited it. The numerical strength of my brigade was 2,400 men.
About 1 p.m. Colonel Parsons, aide to General McClernand, came with the information that the enemy were moving, in column closed in mass, up the river, and it was the impression that they were retreating, and that I should be ready for storming the works. Hearing the cheering and musketry on my right I ordered my front line to advance, which was done under a most murderous fire of musketry, shell, round shot, and grape and canister. Observing that my line was somewhat wavering under such a destructive fire, especially my right and left–the right having received an exceedingly heavy fire from one of our own regiments on my right–I marched up my other three regiments to their relief. The three front regiments refused to be relieved, and supported by the three relieving regiments the whole went forward with great resolution and most unflinchingly, driving the enemy from the houses in front of their works and maintaining that position themselves.
Finding there was an open space on my right, between my troops and those of General Sherman, I had it occupied by the Twenty-third Wisconsin, which most nobly held its position. On my left I extended the length of my line by throwing into that position the Sixty-seventh Indiana, under Colonel Emerson, who was wounded while gallantly leading and urging on his men.
The colonel (Lucas) of the Sixteenth Indiana being on the steamer J. C. Snow, too sick to go out, his regiment was commanded by Lieut. Col. John M. Orr, who was severely wounded in the head by a piece of shell while gallantly leading on his men, when they were within 30 yards of the outer works. After Lieutenant-Colonel Orr was wounded Colonel Lucas came out, and was in command of the regiment when the fort surrendered. Major Redfield deserves great credit for his skill and bravery displayed during the whole time, and particularly while in command a short time before Colonel Lucas arrived. Lieutenant Colonel Templeton, Sixtieth Indiana, was also wounded while in the heroic discharge of his duty.
Finding we were pressed hard on our right, I sent to Colonel Landram, commanding Second Brigade, First Division, asking for re-enforcements, his brigade being held in reserve. He promptly sent me the Nineteenth Kentucky and Ninety-seventh Illinois, commanded respectively by Lieut. Col. John Cowan and Col. F. S. Rutherford. I ordered the Nineteenth Kentucky to relieve the Twenty-third Wisconsin, which they did with the coolness and courage of veteran troops, almost silencing the fire of the enemy in the rifle-pits in their front. It is due to Colonel Cowan to say he handled his regiment in a manner which enlisted the heartiest praise from General Smith, Colonel Landram, and myself, all of whom witnessed the conduct of the regiment, as commanded by Colonel Cowan. The Ninety-seventh Illinois was held in reserve for awhile, but afterward fought most gallantly in front, though somewhat under protection of a clump of woods which lay close to the right of the fort.
My whole command was under heavy fire for three and a half hours, and the greater part had to make the assault through an open, marshy field, where the enemy had a full and fair range with grape-shot and musketry. I cannot say too much in praise of the officers and men under my command; they all did all I could ask of them, and stormed one of the strongest of the enemy’s works like veteran regiments.
It is proper to say that but one of my regiments had ever been under fire. Colonel Landram was frequently with me during the day, and we often consulted together. In my opinion he managed his brigade with great skill, judgment, and bravery, being everywhere his presence was needed, rendering me great assistance by his counsel and promptitude in re-enforcing me at a critical time. Capt. A. N. Keigwin, acting assistant adjutant-general ; Lieut. T. J. Elliott, aide.de-camp, and Lieut. M. T. Kirk, Sixth Missouri Cavalry; also Lieut. M. Whilldin, my ordnance officer, and Major Livingston, volunteer aide-de-camp, and now chief of police, Army of the Mississippi, rendered me great service, delivering orders to my regiments when shells, grape, and musket balls rained like hail in a storm. Capt. A. A. Blount, Seventeenth Ohio Battery, rendered great service, annoying the enemy and frequently diverting his fire from our advancing columns.
Before the surrender one of Captain Blount’s pieces was ordered to the front and did great execution, General Smith frequently sighting the gun himself. The Sixteenth Indiana was the first regiment in the fort, followed by the Eighty-third Ohio, who were the first to place their regimental colors on the enemy’s works. The balance of my command were soon within the works.
As I approached the entrance of the fort the guard presented bayonets and stated that they had not surrendered. I told him that they had fought gallantly, but were whipped, and I demanded a surrender. They dropped their arms and bid me enter, which I did, and hoisted the first national flag. The general commanding (Churchill) surrendered the fort to me in person. It is but justice to say that Major Montgomery, Sixth Missouri Cavalry, was next after me in the fort, followed by Colonel Lucas, Sixteenth Indiana; Capt. A. N. Keigwin and Lieut. Thomas J. Elliott, both of my staff.
The list of killed and wounded of my command, which I herewith submit, shows that each of my regiments was in the hottest part of the fight and did its duty nobly. I may here mention that my escort (part of the Tenth Kentucky Cavalry) behaved well, and were never found wanting in the hour of need. I can say no more. It is sufficient that it was a hard-fought battle and a complete success. All I have to regret is the loss of the brave dead and wounded who fell gallantly fighting for our glorious old Union.
I remain, with great respect, your obedient servant,
S. G. BURBRIDGE,
Lieut. J. HOUGH,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume XVII, Part 1.
General Grant believed the Arkansas Post expedition was an unnecessary use of military resources at a time when he was focused on capturing Vicksburg. Nonetheless, the operation resulted in the capture of approximately 4700 Confederate soldiers and eliminated the strongest defensive point on the Arkansas River. Attacks on Union shipping on the Mississippi from the Arkansas were reduced.
General Burbridge had previously fought at Shiloh and would be in the field throughout the rest of the Vicksburg Campaign. A native Kentuckian, Burbridge was given command of the District of Kentucky in 1864. He was more successful commanding troops in the field than he was as an administrator; his heavy handed, draconian rule made him a hated figure by the population of his home state. Burbridge was relieved of his command in January 1865.
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
The Vicksburg Campaign Volume I by Edwin C. Bearss