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Civil War Round Table of Arkansas

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Little Rock Campaign Tour

A driving tour of sites along the route the Union Army took to capture the capitol of Arkansas.


INTRODUCTION

U.S. Arsenal lithograph courtesy of Richard DeSpain
U.S. Arsenal lithograph courtesy of Richard DeSpain

The Civil War has been characterized as the defining event of America's history. The mutual resolve of each side in the conflict, forged into unity in the crucible of war from 1861 to 1865, was borne witness by Winston Churchill. He recollected on America's entry into World War II, when fascism was everywhere on the march: "Silly people, and there were many, might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united.... They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch...I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful."

On July 4, 1863 Vicksburg--the Gibraltar of the Confederacy--fell. With the Mississippi River again, in Lincoln's words, running "unvexed to the sea," Union Major General Frederick Steele proceeded from Vicksburg to Helena in August to lead an invasion of 12,000 troops west into Arkansas. Awakening to the distant rumble of Union artillery on September 10, 1863, citizens of Little Rock found themselves in the vortex of the conflict.

Approaches of Little Rock Arkansas

There are interpretive panels and one stone marker requiring eight stop in the Little Rock Campaign Tour: STOP 1--Brownsville Cemetery on Highway 31 north of Lonoke. STOP 2--Reed’s Bridge over Bayou Meto on Highway 161 in Jacksonville. STOP 3--Ashley’s Mills at intersection of Walkers Corner Road and Alexander Road in Scott. STOP 4--River Crossing off Highway 165 near Baucum Corner. STOP 5--Bayou Fourche in Pratt Remmel Park off I 440. STOP 6--Battle of Little Rock stone monument at 6214 Fourche Dam Pike Road. STOP 7--Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock.  STOP 8 --Duel panel and marker in North Little Rock.

Interpretive panels are located at all Stops except Stop 6, the site of the stone monument. All Stops are marked with a brown and white road sign stating "Civil War Marker." Driving instructions are in bold face type.


The Little Rock Campaign Tour

A driving tour of sites along the route Union Army took in the capture of the capitol of Arkansas
A driving tour of sites along the route Union Army took in the capture of the capitol of Arkansas

The starting point of the tour is the Arsenal in MacArthur Park, 503 East 9th Street between McMath and Commerce Streets in downtown Little Rock. To reach MacArthur Park from Interstate 30 take the 9th Street Exit (Exit 140A) and go west one block.

TO STOP 1: Leaving the arsenal, turn right on 9th Street and proceed 1/4 mile crossing over Interstate 30. Turn left on I-30 East, stay in right-hand lane and proceed 2.20 miles to Interstate 40 (Exit 143B) and turn right toward Memphis. Follow I-40 East 20.9 miles and take Exit 175 (Lonoke-Arkansas Highway 31). Turn left on Highway 31 and proceed 1.20 miles and turn right into Brownsville Cemetery for STOP NO. 1.

During August Confederate cavalry had repeatedly engaged advance cavalry of Steele's army under Brig. Gen. John W. Davidson East of Little Rock, considerably delaying Union progress. In one six day period Davidson only advanced eighteen miles in face of the stubborn Rebel defenders. On August 25, 1863 on the prairie East of Brownsville Marmaduke' s outnumbered Confederate troopers battled Davidson's cavalry. Confederate forces fell back through Brownsville, then having a population of 2,500, to a position west of the town late in the day. About 0.3 miles north of Stop No. 1 on Highway 31 on the right (across the highway from the Brownsville Assembly of God Church) is a marker indicating the 1863 site of the Prairie County Courthouse. The old military road between Little Rock and Memphis passed through Brownsville at this point, running southeast to Two-Prairie Bayou and west to Reed's Bridge, site of the next major action and the next stop on the Tour. Little evidence remains today of this road.

TO STOP 2: Leaving Stop No. 1, continue north on Highway 31 for 3.20 miles to the intersection of Arkansas Highway 236 and turn left. Proceed West on Highway 236 for 6 miles to the intersection of Arkansas Highway 89 and turn left. Proceed south on Highway 89 for 2.20 miles to the intersection of Arkansas Highway 294 in the town of Furlow and turn right. Proceed west on Highway 294 for 8.10 miles to the intersection of Arkansas Highway 161 and turn left. Proceed south on Highway 161 for 0.70 miles across bridge to STOP NO. 2 and turn into the first drive to reach the interpretive panel .

Highway 294 is the route of the Little Rock to Memphis military road and is the actual route Davidson followed after the action at Brownsville. Confederate opposition along the road slowed Davidson, who sought a crossing over Bayou Meto. Approximately 6.40 miles on Highway 294 to the left is a ridge on which Confederates set up eight cannon in a crescent array in the early defense of Reed's Bridge on August 27. Approximately 7.80 miles on Highway 294 is an iron marker on the right noting history of the Little Rock to Memphis Road. (e. g., a wagon trip in 1863 between the two towns required twenty days.) Fire from the Confederate guns could not stop the superior Union force. But Davidson was hindered long enough for most of the Confederates under Marmaduke to fall back across Bayou Meto over Reed's Bridge, which was then put to the torch. The original bridge was just to the left (looking north from the marker) of the present bridge. Davidson probed on either side of the Bridge for most of the 27th but was unable to negotiate the stream against rebel defenders on the opposite bank. Of that day's end, 1,300 rebels having held the Bayou Meto line against 6,000 federals, Confederate Lt. Col. Frank Gordon said, "The sun went down smoke-begrimed, red-faced and furious." Failing to cross Bayou Meto, Davidson withdrew back along the military road toward Brownsville. The main body of the Union Army reached Brownsville on September 2, and Steele used the town for some days as a base for probing invasion routes to Little Rock. Steele was told of Shallow Ford, a little used crossing point on the Bayou Meto, south of Reed's Bridge. The Ford had been guarded by Confederates under Col. Robert Newton, who skirmished with Union troops before withdrawing from the Ford to Ashley's Mills.

TO STOP 3: Leaving Stop No. 2 proceed north on Highway 161 for 0.70 miles to intersection of Highway 294 and turn right to return to Furlow, which is the route of Davidson’s withdrawal.

Option: To reach STOP NO. 3 without retracing route of federal withdrawal, proceed south from Reed’s Bridge on Highway 161 for 0.60 miles and turn left on Valentine Road. Stay on paved road for 7.0 miles (crossing I-40 at 5.0 miles) to intersection of Arkansas Highway 391 and turn left. Proceed on Highway 391 for 0.20 miles to intersection of U.S. Highway 70 and turn left. Proceed East on Highway 70 for 2.20 miles to the intersection of Walker’s Corner Road and turn right. Follow Walker’s Corner Road for 4.90 miles to the intersection of Alexander Road and turn right, cross culvert and turn right to STOP NO. 3.

In Furlow turn right on Arkansas Highway 15 and proceed along Steele’s route to Ashley’s Mills for 5.5 miles crossing Interstate 30 to the intersection of U.S. Highway 70.

At Shallow Ford (also called Shoal Ford) the Federal cavalry gained the west side of Bayou Meto on the morning of September 6, then pushed southwest toward Bearskin Lake and Ashley's Mills and the waiting Confederates. The road to Shallow Ford no longer exists. The main body of of the Union Army and its supply wagons crossed Bayou Meto on Eagles Bridge, downstream from the Ford. At about the same time Union forces were crossing Bayou Meto on September 6, Confederate Brig. Gens. Marmaduke and Walker engaged in a duel.

A dispute had brewed for sometime between the generals concerning Walker’s tactics in supporting Marmaduke’s defense of Little Rock. Walker issued a duel challenge and was mortally wounded by Marmaduke at about the same time Union forces crossed Bayou Meto early on the morning of September 6. Maj. Gen. Price unsuccessfully attempted to halt the duel and placed Marmaduke and others involved under arrest, rescinding the order in the face of the Union advance. The duel occurred near the Arkansas River in the vicinity of the intersection of U.S. Highways 70 and 165 in eastern North Little Rock, now marked by Stop No. 8.

Option: The route of the federal forces covers approximately 5 miles of gravel road. To avoid the gravel road, turn right on Highway 70 and proceed west for 5.0 miles and turn left on Walker’s Corner Road. Follow Walker’s Corner Road for 4.9 miles to the intersection of Alexander Road and turn right, cross culvert and turn right to STOP NO. 3.

Cross Highway 70 and proceed south on Highway 15 for a distance of 2.90 miles to Bevis Corner and turn right on Bearskin Lake Road, a gravel road. This road is the original route taken by Steele and Davidson, virtually unopposed to Ashley’s Mills, Stop 3. Proceed west on Bearskin Lake Road through the Dortch Plantation holdings for 2.60 miles to the turn of the century Marlsgate Plantation house on the left, facing Bearskin Lake. Federal forces rested at this site before advancing on the Arkansas River September 7. Continue on Bearskin Lake Road for 2.30 miles to the intersection of Walker’s Corner Road and turn left. Proceed 0.80 miles to the intersection of Alexander Road and turn right, cross culvert and turn right to STOP NO. 3.

Approximately a quarter-mile north of Stop No. 3 is the Ashley's Mills site where encamped Confederate cavalry under Col. Robert C. Newton were attacked on the morning of September 7 by Steele's advance cavalry. Newton's command was driven back toward the river, and fighting was continuous between the opposing forces on September 8 and 9. Opposite Ashley’s Mills on Walker’s Corner Road is the Chester Ashley house.

TO STOP 4: Leaving Stop No. 3 continue west on Alexander Road for 0.30 miles to the intersection of U.S. Highway 165 and turn right. Proceed on Highway 165 for 1.50 miles and look for the Willow Beach Park sign and turn left on Colonel Maynard Road. Proceed 0.10 mile and turn right at the first intersection which is Willow Beach Road and immediately turn left for STOP NO. 4.

Although today a lake, in 1863 this was the main channel of the Arkansas River. Confederate forces fell back across the Arkansas River, and on September 9 the Union forces reached the river. Steele decided on a strategy to put part of his force under command of Davidson across the river at Terry's Ferry immediately south (left) of Stop No. 4, while Steele proceeded north of the river with the main body to attack the entrenched Confederate defenders. During the night of September 9 Davidson threw a pontoon bridge across the River at Terry's Ferry. Meanwhile Ritter's brigade of Davidson's Division made a demonstration at Bucks' Ford about four miles south of this site, faking a crossing of the Arkansas River to divert Confederate attention from Terry's Ferry. To cover Davidson's crossing, cannon were emplaced north of the river to command all points on the opposite shore from which Confederates might assail the bridgehead. On morning of September 10 a regiment of infantry crossed first, followed by Davidson's cavalry. The infantry then returned to the north bank of the River. The purpose in the infantry crossing was twofold; (1) to protect the cavalry's crossing, and (2) to cause the Confederate commander, Maj. Gen Sterling Price, to think the main body of Steele's army was crossing the River to attack from the south and East. Fearing he would be outflanked and cut off from any retreat, when Price learned of the crossing he ordered a general withdrawal of his men from the fortifications north of the river, which extended from Big Rock, along present day Park Hill, to the current intersection of Highways 70 and 131.

TO STOP 5: Leaving Stop No. 4 return to U.S. Highway 165 and turn left. Proceed on Highway 165 for 3.20 miles to the intersection of Interstate 440. Pass under I-440 and turn left on the I-440 West entrance ramp (toward Little Rock). Proceed on I-440 across the Arkansas River to the Lindsey Road Exit (Exit number 4) and turn right on Lindsey Road and immediately turn right into Pratt Remmel Park. Proceed 0.40 mile into the park where the interpretive panel is located next to the pavilion for STOP NO. 5.

From 11 AM to 5 PM September 10 Confederate forces evacuated the city on the Benton Road to Arkadelphia. On the evening of the 10th the city was surrendered, and Union forces under Davidson entered Little Rock along what is now Ninth St. The actual route of Davidson’s advance is now largely obscured by the Little Rock National Airport.

TO STOP 6: Leaving Stop No. 5 turn right onto Lindsey Road. Proceed North .20 mile on Lindsey Road to the intersection with East Roosevelt where you should turn right and bear to the right on East Roosevelt Road. Proceed on East Roosevelt Road 0.80 mile to the intersection with 6214 Fourche Dam Pike Road where a stone monument is located to the left of the bridge over Fourche Creek at Stop 6. (Note there is not an interpretive panel at this location).

The interpretive panel at Stop 5 describes the action that occurred on September 10 where you are standing. After Davidson's cavalry crossed the river on September 10 under cover of murderous fire from Union artillery, rebel resistance was offered only by Col. A. S. Dobbin's division until Marmaduke assumed command at Bayou Fourche, only four miles from Little Rock. There the opposing forces dueled with artillery and small arms fire. The Confederate right flank with two artillery pieces was here at noon on September 10 to halt the Union advance from the river crossing at Stop 4. The bridge is located near the original bridge site during the battle. Most of the heaviest fighting occurred northwest of the monument after the Union forces outflanked the Confederates around Fourche Creek, which was very low and dry in many stretches. The progress of the Union force south of the River was protected by Union guns on the north shore firing enfilade into Confederate positions. Outnumbered, the Confederates fought a delaying action to gain time for Price's withdrawal.

TO STOP 7: Leaving Stop No. 6 return to Lindsey Road via East Roosevelt Road bearing to the left until you reach Lindsey Road. Then turn left on Lindsey Road and proceed to I 440 and turn right onto the entrance ramp to I 440 west toward Little Rock. Proceed west on I-440 for 2.80 miles to Interstate 30 and downtown Little Rock (Exit 138A) and turn right. Proceed on I-30 for a distance of 2.20 miles to Exit 141A (Arkansas Highway 10 and Cantrell Road) and turn right. Stay in left lane on exit ramp and follow Highway 10 signs. Proceed through second traffic light and turn right into River Front Park as Highway 10 veers to the left. Turn right on the circular drive and stop at the History Pavilion for STOP NO. 7.

The first of two interpretive panels is located in the History Pavilion near the sidewalk to the little rock. To reach the second panel 200 yards west, proceed down the steps at the Pavilion, turn left and follow the sidewalk which runs along the river bank. Signs in the Park will direct you to each panel. This is where the main body of Steele's army entered Little Rock on September 11 with the 3rd Minnesota Regiment in the vanguard, crossing the river on a pontoon bridge at the approximate location of the present day Main Street Bridge.

TO STOP 8: Leaving Stop N. 7, turn right from the front gate of Riverfront Park onto LaHarpe Blvd., proceeding .40 mile and taking first right onto Broadway Bridge, crossing the Arkansas River, turning right onto East Broadway, proceeding 3.70 miles to the intersection of East Broadway (also State Highway 70) and State Highway 165, then turning right, proceeding approximately .20 miles to Stop No. 8 on the right, next to the railroad crossing, consisting of an interpretive panel , where you can park to read the panel.  There is also a bronze plaque, ground mounted on a pole about 25 feet on the other side of the tracks to the north commemorating the duel.  The panel and plaque mark the vicinity of the Walker - Marmaduke Duel fought on September 6, 1963 described in this brochure in the discussion of Stop No. 3.

The last fighting of the campaign occurred just past the Stagecoach, or Ten Mile, House on present day Arkansas Highway 5-Stagecoach Road when elements of the Union Army pursuing the retreating Confederates engaged the rear guard. A monument near the highway marks the location of this action. To reach the monument, take Exit 1 off I-430 (Arkansas Highway 5-Stagecoach Road Exit), turn East, and the stone monument is .030 mile East of the overpass. A brown and white sign marks the site.

 

This guide was prepared by members of the Central Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail Assoc., Inc. a non-profit corporation composed of volunteers with special thanks to Maj. Calvin Collier, Charles B. Trussell for lay out design, Jan Sarna, and many others. Funding provided with assistance from American Battlefield Protection Program, National Park Service, Department of the Interior and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, an Agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and private donations.

For further reading on the campaign, see War of Rebellion Official Records, Series I, Vol. XXII, pp. 468-544 (U. S. Govt. Printing Office 1888); Thomas A. DeBlack, Rugged and Sublime, pp. 89-96 (Univ. Of Ark. Press, 1994); Leo E. Huff, "The Union Expedition Against Little Rock, August--September, 1863," Ark. Hist. Quarterly 22 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 223-237