Tate's Bluff Fortification

Restricted - Ouachita
Location Restricted
Listed in National Register of Historic Places on 12/31/02

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The Tate�۪s Bluff Fort is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance for its association with Confederate efforts to fortify and protect Camden and under Criterion C as the best example of an earthen fortification in its area of Ouachita County.


The Tate�۪s Bluff community was established by Capt. Richard (Dick) Tate, who following service at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 traveled by boat up the rivers of the Louisiana Purchase to the point where the Ouachita and Little Missouri rivers ran together. He returned to his home in Tennessee and persuaded 89 people to immigrate to Arkansas with him and settle in the area, including his brothers, Anderson and George, and two nephews, John Henderson Tate and William Harper Tate. John Henderson Tate and his wife Ann Bryan Tate built a home at Tate�۪s Bluff in 1829 that is believed to be the first permanent structure erected in Ouachita County. (Though removed from its original site and in a deteriorated condition, the Tate House is extant.)

After Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele�۪s Union army captured and occupied Little Rock on September 10, 1863, Confederate forces congregated in the southwestern part of the state. Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith ordered Arkansas District commander Theophilus Holmes to gather his men at Camden on the Ouachita River, about 16 miles as the crow flies from Tate�۪s Bluff. As it became apparent that Steele would not pursue the beaten Rebels, preferring instead to consolidate control of the Arkansas River, Smith ordered Holmes to fortify the town to block any Federal movement toward Shreveport, Louisiana.

Brig. Gen. Alexander T. Hawthorn was ordered to construct fortifications, and he soon set Rebel soldiers and the few available local slaves to clearing fields of fire and digging rifle pits and gun emplacements at several strategic locations around the town, erecting a series of strong points between January and March 1864. (The two surviving fortifications, Fort Southerland and Fort Lookout, were listed on the National Register and designated National Historic Landmarks on April 19, 1994.)

It is possible that the defense- conscious Confederate command also had the square earthen fort at Tate�۪s Bluff built at this time, commanding the strategic confluence of the Little Missouri and Ouachita rovers some 23 land miles northwest of Camden. As early as November 10, 1863, Maj. L.A. McLean had ordered cavalry pickets to remain at Tate�۪s Bluff and ���keep these headquarters posted as to any information from the front of a reliable character.�۝

Steele set forth from Little Rock on March 23, 1864, with a Union army intending to link up with Yankee troops under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks for a drive up the Little Red River to occupy cotton-rich areas of Texas. Realizing that the Federal troops were heading his way, Brig. Gen. John Sappington Marmaduke, commanding the Confederate cavalry division, ordered Brig. Gen. William L. Cabell to move his brigade from a position 17 miles west of Washington, Arkansas, to the Ouachita River. Cabell reported on March 24 that ���I will reach the position assigned to me as soon as I can possibly do so. I suppose that this is intended for Tate�۪s Bluff, to which place I will go.�۝ Cabell ultimately would stop 15 miles southwest of Tate�۪s Bluff in an area that was not so bereft of forage.

Marmaduke himself marched to Tate�۪s Bluff on March 28, bringing Colton Greene�۪s Missouri cavalry brigade, some Arkansas infantrymen and a section of artillery with him from Camden. After determining that Steele�۪s army was heading west toward the Confederate capital at Washington instead of directly toward Camden, Marmaduke ordered Greene�۪s troops to cross the Little Missouri on March 30 and join the rest of the cavalry division in attempting to strike at the Union rear. Marmaduke also met with his other brigade commander, Brig. Gen. J.O. Shelby, at Tate�۪s Bluff on March 30. Ultimately, the Rebel cavalry imposed itself between Steele and Washington at Prairie D�۪Ane near present-day Prescott and the Yankee army stopped its southwestward drive, moving instead to occupy Camden. After losing forage trains and troops in fighting at Poison Spring and Marks�۪ Mills, the Federal commander abandoned Camden and, after a desperate battle at the crossing of the rain-swollen Saline River at Jenkins�۪ Ferry on April 30, returned with his surviving soldiers to Little Rock.

The final mention of Tate�۪s Bluff in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies is in a December 27, 1864, letter from Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder, who was then commanding the District of Arkansas, which revealed that the region was still scarce of provender. Writing to Trans-Mississippi Department Chief of Staff W. R. Boggs, Magruder begged that corn be transported from Louisiana and collected in depots in south Arkansas. ���The [Ouachita] river is now up, and I must place corn at Tate�۪s Bluff, Camden, and Pigeon Hill, or we cannot operate at all on that line next spring, and the enemy can take possession without a struggle,�۝ Magruder wrote. There is no evidence that his request was ever granted, and food shortages remained a major problem in southwest Arkansas for the remainder of the war. Indeed, in May 1865 hungry civilian women raided commissary stores in Lewisville as Confederate guards stood by and watched them loot supply warehouses.

While it never saw combat and served mainly as a picket post, marshalling center and, possibly, supply depot, the Tate�۪s Bluff Fort played its role in Confederate strategy in southwest Arkansas as Rebel commanders sought to fortify and protect Camden. By virtue of its status as part of that fortification effort, the Tate�۪s Bluff Fort is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance. As the only known Civil War earthwork in its area of Ouachita County and a good example of a square earthen ���fort,�۝ it also is eligible under Criterion C with local significance.


Information with Tate Cabin Arkansas Architectural Resources Form OU0095, AHPP Survey Files.

Moneyhon, Carl. ���1865: A State of Perfect Anarchy�۝ in Mark K. Christ, ed., Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994).

Scholtz, J.A. Tates Bluff Fort Arkansas Archeological Survey Site Survey Form 3OU38.

Shea, William. ���The Camden Fortifications,�۝ Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLI, No. 4, Winter, 1982, p. 319-26.

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, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901. In The Civil War CD-ROM. Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1996.

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