Ashley's and Jones' Station Battlefield

 City: Carlisle, County: Lonoke
 Location: Beginning near Bayou Two Prairie west of Carlisle and running 10.8 miles along U.S. 70 to Hazen

August 24, 1864 battle site that signaled the end of J.O. Shelby's summer operations in northeast Arkansas and harbingered the beginning of Sterling Price's invasion of Missouri.
Listed in Arkansas Register of Historic Places on 4/1/09

SUMMARY

The Ashley’s and Jones’ Stations Battlefield, located north of Highway 70 on the Grand Prairie between modern-day Carlisle and Hazen, was the scene of an August 24, 1864, battle that signaled the end of J.O. Shelby’s summer operations in northeast Arkansas and harbingered the beginning of Sterling Price’s invasion of Missouri. The site is being nominated to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with statewide significance by virtue of its status as one of the final actions of any consequence fought in Arkansas during the Civil War. The site is not eligible for the National Register because the growth of the city of Carlisle and nearly 150 years of agricultural use have changed the landscape, though it does still retain the low, flat terrain that was there in 1864.

ELABORATION

Brig. Gen. Joseph Orville Shelby had been a thorn in the side of Union forces in northeastern Arkansas throughout the summer of 1864. He and his Missouri brigade had moved into the region shortly after Federal Gen. Frederick Steele’s failed Camden Expedition with orders to tame lawless deserters and bushwhackers and to hinder Union operations, particularly along the vital Memphis to Little Rock Railroad and on the White River. Shelby’s constant raiding and such spectacular stunts as capturing and destroying the U.S. gunboat Queen City had Union forces on the defensive by August.[i]

DeVall’s Bluff was a major cavalry depot and supplying the posts substantial herd of horses and mules with fodder was an important and dangerous job. The Federal hay stations west of the Bluff made tempting targets for Southern horsemen both regular and irregular, and the pressure on them was strong throughout the summer. Some 200 Rebel horsemen hit the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) at Hay Station No. 3 on July 30, losing one killed but seizing 18 civilian hay cutters and 18 to 20 horses. Third Michigan Cavalry troopers guarding a herd near the remount camp were attacked by guerrillas on August 5, and 13 men of the Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry on hay-cutting duty were captured on August 12, though they were quickly freed by a party of the Eleventh Missouri. The task of securing fodder on the prairie west of DeVall’s Bluff was hot, dangerous and nerve-wracking for the Yankee soldiers and civilian employees who ventured from the Bluff. As late August approached, the five stations scattered along a line between eight and twelve miles west of the Bluff were guarded by the veteran Fifty-Fourth Illinois and detachments of the First Nebraska Cavalry.[ii]

On August 20, Shelby, believing that Maj. Gen. Sterling Price was heading north to cross the Arkansas River and initiate his invasion of Missouri, set out with between 2,000 and 2,500 men from his camps around Searcy to hit the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad. His command consisted of under-strength brigades led by Col. David Shanks, Col. Sidney D. Jackman and Col. Thomas McCray, in addition to Capt. Richard Collins’ Second Missouri Field Artillery Battery. Heading south, he detached a force under Col. Archibald Dobbin at Austin to guard the single bridge across Big Cypress Creek, which was roaring above its banks. Then, on the morning of August 24, he approached the extensive hay-cutting operation between Jones Station and Ashley Station. Dressed in captured Federal uniforms, “slowly in column of fours the old division and McCray’s brigade marched leisurely along, with Collins’ battery half way [down] the line; then the two ammunition wagons; then a small guard, maybe three squadrons, behind the wagons; and, altogether, the whole thing looked exactly like a Federal expedition returning carelessly from a four days’ scout.”The unsuspecting Federals and the civilian contractors cutting the hay were caught by surprise, scattered across the prairie in small groups. Sending Col. DeWitt C. Hunter’s Cavalry Regiment east to guard against reinforcements from DeVall’s Bluff, Shelby swept into the attack.[iii]

As historian Scott Porter has observed, “Made of logs, dirt and hay, the hay stations offered good protection against small bands of raiding guerrilla but not major assaults by conventional forces with artillery.” Approaching the first fort at Ashley’s Station, manned by two companies of the Fifty-fourth Illinois and troopers of the First Nebraska Cavalry, Shelby demanded its surrender and was told “if you want this fort, come and take it.” The Twelfth Missouri Cavalry (C.S.) formed into columns of twos and charged. The Missourians galloped to within 30 paces of the fort, dismounted, and charged on foot. It was not long before “high over the white bursts of the powder-cloud that drifted and floated away before the battle breeze a white flag waved out as a token of surrender.” Confederate cavalryman George Campbell, among those charging, noted “on my right hand was a young soldier named Bledsoe, pistol in hand, aiming to shoot a Federal soldier. I knocked the pistol up, pushed up, pushed him down the bank and stopped him. The young Federal stood trembling like a leaf, the tears rolling down his cheek.” Gobbling 150 prisoners, 200 small arms and assorted supplies, the Rebels fired the hay-bale fort and headed west toward the next fort. This, too, fell swiftly, adding 100 more soldiers to the Rebels’ tally, then the third was captured along with 50 more Yankees. Fugitives from the first three forts and the parties from the prairie streamed toward Fort No. 4 as Col. G.M. Mitchell of the Fifty-fourth sent a desperate message to DeVall’s Bluff: “I am surrounded by a large number of cavalry from the north of the railroad. Ashley’s Station surrendered, and hay burned. I have concentrated six companies at this station and will fight to the last; send help if possible.” The grim Yankees loaded their weapons and awaited the next Rebel onslaught. It was not long in coming, as three Rebel regiments charged the fort, which had been under fire from Collins’ battery. Edwards described the action: “The Illinoisans stood to their guns manfully, and many of the old brigade fell dead or hard hit as they went up to the grapple, but the survivors, leaping the ditch, poured a deadly fusillade into the crowded works. Three times a white flag went up for quarter, and three times some bold, proud hand snatched it down to renew the fight.”Looking toward DeVall’s Bluff, the Illinois infantrymen saw a relief column of Federal cavalrymen approaching. The men of the Fifty-fourth made a desperate rush from Fort No. 4, and “sharp and brief was the chase. When within 500 yards of their friends the Federals were over-taken, surrounded, ridden over and Colonel Mitchell and 450 of his officers and men surrendered unconditionally.”[iv]

George Campbell of the 8th Missouri Cavalry (C.S.) was among the horsemen who pursued the fleeing Yankees:

"We leaned forward in our saddles, and with cheers and yells on our lips, made the dash and caught up with them as they were crossing the railroad. [I] was riding a mule, and when we came to the track the mule refused to cross it. I thrust my spurs so deep into his side he jumped clean over the track, and ran away with me right into the Federals. They opened up to let me pass through. I could not account for my escape without it was their admiration for the bravery of that mule, to whom I give all credit as I was doing my best to hold him."[v]

As the Missourians overwhelmed the defenders of Fort No. 4, “the rebels immediately robbed us of everything of value,” one Nebraskan noted, “money, watches, knives, combs, hats, and in many instances coats, jackets, blouses, boots, and shoes.”[vi]

Brig. Gen. Christopher Columbus Andrews had received his first message of the disaster at Ashley’s Station at 12:30 p.m. from a soldier of the First Nebraska and immediately sent Col. W.F. Geiger west with 900 troopers of the Eighth and Eleventh Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) and the Ninth Iowa Cavalry. (Andrews also sent out a locomotive with four flatcars carrying the Twelfth Michigan Infantry, but the foot soldiers returned after seeing the smoke from the burning hay stations.) Geiger approached the columns of smoke from the burning forts and hay-baling machines and deployed the Eighth Missouri even as the sound of cannon fire ceased from around the beleaguered Federal works and the hapless members of the Fifty-fourth Illinois and First Nebraska were hurried north toward the timberline. Seeing Rebel cavalrymen formed in line of battle north of the railroad, the Yankee colonel ordered the Eleventh Missouri to cut across the tracks and threaten the Confederates’ left flank, the Eighth moving against their front and the Ninth Iowa hanging back in reserve. Rebel muskets and Yankee carbines cracked across the prairie, the combatants attempting to turn each others’ lefts even as the Confederates slowly fell back across the flat, featureless landscape, where Sydney Jackman noted “there was not a twig, much less a tree, between them and us.” A veteran captain of the Eighth Missouri wrote home about the experience of fighting on the Arkansas prairie: “I have been in some seven or eight battles and skirmishes, but this is the first one I eversaw. It was out on the open prairie, where every motion of the enemy could be seen, and there we stood for one long hour, firing away at each other, and neither party willing to quit first.” As night approached, Geiger broke off the engagement, having lost 9 killed, 43 wounded and 1 missing.[vii]

In Little Rock, Brig. Gen. Eugene A. Carr immediately began sending troops east to the aid of DeVall’s Bluff. Seven hundred infantry under Col. Adolph Engelmann headed for Brownsville on the 24th with promises for an equal number of the Ninth Kansas Cavalry to arrive the next morning, along with 300-400 men of the Tenth Illinois and Third Michigan Cavalry to protect the railroad. Some 800 troopers under Lt. Col. C.S. Clark of the Ninth Kansas followed Shelby as far as Big Cypress Creek on August 26. There they clashed with the Confederate rearguard under Col. B.F. Gordon, who withstood three charges by the Federals before retiring. Brig. Gen. J.R. West left DeVall’s Bluff on Aug. 27 with 600 men who joined with Clark’s cavalrymen to make yet another ineffectual pursuit of Shelby’s men, who “returned to White River without further molestation.”[viii]

Shelby’s action at Ashley’s Station would be the final major act of what had been a busy and rewarding summer for Confederate Arkansas and a costly and humiliating one for Frederick Steele’s Northerners. Shelby reported:

"The immediate and tangible fruits of my expedition are 577 prisoners, including 1 field officer and 11 line officers; over 200 Federals killed and wounded; ten miles of railroad track destroyed completely – the ties torn up and burned, the iron heated and bent, telegraph destroyed, bridges and trestle-works ruined; 3,000 bales of hay destroyed by fire; 20 hay machines chopped to pieces; 5 forts razed to the ground; 500 stand of small arms distributed to my unarmed men; many fine horses captured; 12 barrels of salt brought off the field and given to a command suffering for it, besides supplying many needy soldiers with blankets, shoes, boots, hats, and clothing. All this was done within six miles of Devall’s Bluff, and my detail was tearing up the track while the enemy’s bullets, fired at the covering regiments, were throwing the splinters from the ties into their very faces."

Shelby lost a total of 173 men, killed and wounded, in the expedition against the hay cutting operations along the Little Rock and Memphis Railroad. [ix]

While the fighting on the prairie had little if any impact on the outcome of the Civil War, it was one of the more noteworthy actions of the summer of 1864 and helped to clear the way for Sterling Price to get his Confederate army across the Arkansas River and begin his ultimately disastrous invasion of Missouri. As such, it is deserving of recognition in the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.



[i] For a full account of Shelby’s operations during the period, see “The Queen Citywas a Helpless Wreck’: J.O. Shelby’s Summer of ‘64” in Mark K. Christ, ed., “The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled: Civil War Arkansas, 1863-1864 (Little Rock: Old State House Museum, 2007).

[ii] The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 128 books and index (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901) Series I, 41, pt. 1: 1, 183, 213, 236, in The Civil War CD-ROM (Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1996), (hereafter referred to as OR; all references are to Series I)..

[iii] OR, 41: pt. 1, 650, 286-8, John N. Edwards, Shelby and his Men: or, the War in the West (Cincinnati: Miami, 1867. Facsimile reprint, Waverly, MO: General Joseph Shelby Memorial Fund, 1993), 351-2. There were five Union hay stations between Brownsville and DeVall’s Bluff. Ashley’s Station was eight miles east of Brownsville (north of modern-day Lonoke), most likely adjacent to Bayou Two Prairie just west of modern-day Carlisle; four were east of the station. Based on the reports of Shelby and Geiger, it appears that Shelby probably began his assault at the western-most forts and headed east, which would make Jones’ Station the hay station nearest DeVall’s Bluff. OR, 34: pt. 4, 163; 41: pt. 1, 281; Scott A. Porter, “Thunder Across the Arkansas Prairie: Shelby’s Opening Salvo in the 1864 Invasion of Missouri,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Spring 2007), 47-49.

[iv] Porter, “Thunder Across the Arkansas Prairie,” 49; OR, 41: pt. 1, 283,287; Edwards, Shelby and his Men, 352; Hays Family Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. George A. Campbell to "the first Lady of our Regiment,” Sept. 12, 1864.

[v] Hays Family Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. George A. Campbell to "the first Lady of our Regiment,” September 12, 1864.

[vi] James E. Potter, “The First Nebraska’s Orphan Detachment and the Skirmish at Grand Prairie, 1864,” Nebraska History, vol. 81, No. 1, 2000, p. 37-38.

[vii] OR, 41: pt. 1, 284-5; Richard L. Norton, comp. and ed., Behind Enemy Lines: The Memoirs and Writings of Brigadier General Sydney Drake Jackman (Springfield, Mo.: Oak Hills Publishing Co., 1997), 183). Leo E. Huff, ed. The Civil War Letters of Albert DeMuth and Roster Eight Missouri Volunteer Cavalry (Springfield, MO: Independent Printing Co., 1997), 70.

[viii] OR, 41: pt. 2, 836; pt. 1, 288, 296-297.

[ix] OR, 41: pt. 1, p. 288.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christ, Mark K., ed., The Earth Reeled and Trees Trembled: Civil War Arkansas, 1863-1864.

Edwards, John N. Shelby and his Men: or, the War in the West (Cincinnati: Miami, 1867. Facsimile reprint, Waverly, MO: General Joseph Shelby Memorial Fund, 1993).

Hays Family Papers, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

Huff, Leo E. ed. The Civil War Letters of Albert DeMuth and Roster Eight Missouri Volunteer Cavalry (Springfield, MO: Independent Printing Co., 1997).

Norton, Richard L. comp. and ed., Behind Enemy Lines: The Memoirs and Writings of Brigadier General Sydney Drake Jackman (Springfield, Mo.: Oak Hills Publishing Co., 1997).

Porter, Scott A. “Thunder Across the Arkansas Prairie: Shelby’s Opening Salvo in the 1864 Invasion of Missouri,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1, 2007.

Potter, James E. “The First Nebraska’s Orphan Detachment and the Skirmish at Grand Prairie, 1864,” Nebraska History, vol. 81, No. 1, 2000.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. in 128 books and index (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901) in The Civil War CD-ROM (Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 199


Go Back