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Confederates attack Union troops at Jenkins’ Ferry

At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry in Arkansas, Union troops under General Frederick Steele fight off a Confederate army under General Edmund Kirby Smith as the Yankees retreat towards Little Rock, Arkansas.

Jenkins’ Ferry came at the end of a major Union offensive in Arkansas. While a Federal force under General Nathaniel Banks moved up the Red River in Louisiana towards Shreveport, Steele led his troops from Little Rock into southwestern Arkansas. The combined effort promised to secure northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas for the Union before the armies moved west to invade Texas. In April, however, the plans ran afoul when Banks was defeated at Mansfield, Louisiana, and Steele found himself dangerously low on supplies.

Steele occupied Camden, Arkansas, on April 15. Over the next ten days, Steele lost more than 400 supply wagons and 2,500 troops at the Battles of Poison Spring and Marks’ Mills. Now, Steele was surrounded by hostile armies and running low on food. He headed back to Little Rock with Smith in hot pursuit. A heavy rain began to fall, lasting for nearly a day and bringing Steele’s retreat to a grinding halt. At Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30, Smith attacked Steele as the Yankees were trying to cross the flooded Saline River. General Samuel Rice directed the Union defense, and his men held off a series of Rebel attacks before Rice was mortally wounded. Fighting in knee-deep water, the Confederates could not penetrate the Union lines. Steele was able to remove his force across the Saline River. He destroyed the pontoon bridge and left Smith on the other side of the river before escaping to Little Rock.

The Union suffered 700 men killed, wounded, and missing out of 4,000, while the Confederates lost about 1,000 out of 8,000. Some of the Rebel dead included wounded troops who were killed by members of the 2nd Kansas Colored regiment, exacting a measure of revenge for dozens of comrades from the 1st Kansas Colored murdered on the battlefield at Poison Spring. When it was over, Smith and the Confederates controlled the field but they had failed to destroy Steele’s army.

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