Civil War in
Red River Campaign
This muddled and distracting campaign was devised in early 1864 as a Union attempt to capture Shreveport, La., headquarters for the Confederates in the trans-Mississippi. In doing so, Federal forces would open the door to Texas and, along the way, confiscate tons of cotton desperately needed by Northern mills.
To accomplish all this, two Union columns were to converge on Shreveport. One, under Gen. Frederick Steele, was to move southwest from Little Rock. The other, under Gen. Nathaniel Banks, was to march with strong gunboat support up the Red River from the Baton Rouge area.
Virtually no Union military commander in the field favored the idea. The plan drew troops from Gen. William T. Sherman, who then was making plans to march on Atlanta. Gen. U.S. Grant thought Banks’s troops could be used better in a campaign against Mobile, Ala. But the politicians, including Lincoln, favored the idea and the Union columns moved forward toward Shreveport in mid-March 1864.
Neither column made it. Banks stumbled northwest through the Louisiana bogs, while the gunboats fought the fickle Red River. A strong group of Confederates under Gen. Richard Taylor finally confronted and defeated Banks near Mansfield, April 7-9. The Confederates then pursued Banks back down the Red River. The flotilla of Union gunboats was nearly lost in the retreat.
Meanwhile Steele’s column, bedeviled by Confederates raiding his supply lines, got as far as Camden, Ark. Unable to move farther without supplies, he returned to Little Rock.
The whole affair was a dismal Union failure.
Three Red River Campaign battlefields — Poison Spring, Marks’ Mills and Jenkins’ Ferry — are commemorated by Arkansas state parks. The visitor center at White Oak Lake State Park is a good place to get oriented.
White Oak Lake State Park
563 Highway 387, Bluff City AR 71722
Full-service state park is near the site of Union camps prior to the nearby Battle of Poison Spring. Good place to get oriented. The visitor center here (open daily 8 am-5 pm) offers displays relating to the battle and the Red River campaign.
Poison Spring State Park
Arkansas 76, Camden AR 71701
Outdoor interpretive exhibits highlight this April 18, 1864 site of a successful Confederate attack on a Union wagon train attempting to re-supply Union troops in Camden. Federal losses were high with members of the First Kansas Colored Regiment disproportionate casualties. Park open daylight hours.
Marks’ Mills Battlefield State Park
Arkansas 8, Fordyce AR 71742
(junction of Ark 97 and Ark 8 southeast of Fordyce)
Another successful Confederate attack on another Union wagon train seeking to supply Union troops in Camden proved to be the last straw for Federal commander Frederick Steele. Nearly out of supplies, he decided to abandon his campaign and return to Little Rock.
Jenkins’ Ferry State Park
Arkansas 46, Sheridan AR 72150
(13 miles south of Sheridan on Ark 46)
Interpretive markers here describe the battle of Jenkins Ferry fought April 30, 1864 as Union Gen. Frederick Steele frantically tried to escape from Camden to Little Rock. Steele managed to fight off the Confederate attack and successfully cross the flooding Saline River on a pontoon bridge. The park incorporates the historic river crossing location not the actual battlefield.
Camden Visitors Center and Museum
314 Adams St SW, Camden AR 71701
Offers general visitor information as well as Civil War displays.
Fort Southerland (Fort Diamond) Park
Bradley Ferry Road, Camden AR 71701 (two blocks west of US 79)
The Confederates built this and a series of other forts to protect Camden. Later it was improved by Union forces while they occupied the city in April 1864. The well-preserved fort with interpreted trail is open daylight hours.
McCollum-Chidester House Museum
926 W Washington St, Camden AR 71701
Built in 1847, this house served as headquarters for Union Gen. Frederick Steele during the first part of his occupation of Camden in April 1864. The family buried their valuables under a tree outside the home. Steele was forced to leave when the Confederate began shelling the house.
Call for hours and fees.
Website links for Arkansas places: Arkansas Links