Wittsburg Fortification

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Listed in National Register of Historic Places on 12/31/02

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SUMMARY

The Wittsburg Fortification, built in July 1863 astride the Wittsburg to Batesville and Wittsburg to St. Francis, Mount Vernon and Madison roads, was erected by Brig. Gen. John Wynn Davidson�۪s Federals to protect his troops as they awaited supplies at Wittsburg during the Little Rock Campaign. It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with national significance by virtue of its status as the only known surviving earthwork erected by either Union or Confederate forces during the nationally significant Little Rock Campaign of 1863. It is being submitted under the multiple-property listing ���Historic and Archeological Resources Associated with the Little Rock Campaign of 1863.�۝ 

Davidson�۪s Drive to Wittsburg

The Union invasion of Arkansas began on July 19 when a reconnaissance force of fifty Missouri horsemen swam the St. Francis River at Chalk Bluff. The Yankee cavalrymen captured a pair of Rebels and occupied the high ground at Chalk Bluff as Col. Lewis Merrill�۪s First Brigade of Davidson�۪s First Cavalry Division laid a pontoon bridge for the remaining troopers to cross over. Merrill sent the First Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) to Gainesville further down Crowley�۪s Ridge on July 20, with plans to move the rest of his command in their support the next day. Col. S.G. Kitchen retreated before them, reporting that ���their entire force is estimated at 12,000, with some twenty pieces of artillery and 800 infantry.�۝

As the Yankee horsemen began descending Crowley�۪s Ridge, Theophilus Holmes turned command of the Confederate army in Arkansas over to Sterling Price on July 22.

The new commander of Confederate troops in Arkansas, fearing that the movements on Crowley�۪s Ridge presaged a move on Little Rock, immediately began shifting the limited forces he had at his disposal. Price ordered Brig. Gen. Daniel Frost to bring his artillery to Little Rock from Pine Bluff, Brig. Gen. James F. Fagan to move his infantry division from Searcy and Des Arc to Bayou Meto east of Little Rock, Marmaduke to set up base at Jacksonport and harass Davidson�۪s column, and Brig. Gen. L.M. Walker to set up a screen of cavalry scouts outside of Helena. Price also commenced construction of strong earthworks on the north side of the Arkansas River about two and a half miles east of Little Rock, but reported ���that while I should attempt to defend Little Rock, as the capital of the state and the key to the important valley of the Arkansas, I did not believe it would be possible for me to hold it with the forces then under my command.�۝

By late July, the Confederate horsemen in northeast Arkansas were certain that Davidson�۪s incursion was no mere feint. A paroled Rebel cavalryman of John Q. Burbridge�۪s command took advantage of his captive tour of Bloomfield, Missouri, and Chalk Bluff to count ���not less than 10,000 Federals this side of Saint Francis, and about 2,000 infantry . . . 250 wagons and eighteen large field pieces . . . [with] 8 horses, and not under 24-pounders.�۝ Davidson�۪s troops were in force at Gainesville by that time, leaving Burbridge ���satisfied that this is no raid of the enemy, but that it is their intention this time to march to Little Rock.�۝

By the evening of July 24, a Union regiment had driven as far down the Ridge as Jonesboro, and the Yankee horde was ���destroying all the corn and wheat, feeding it to their horses.�۝

Much of Davidson�۪s division was encamped at Wittsburg by July 29, and the Yankee commander ordered fortifications dug on the bluffs commanding the small river town to guard against Rebel incursions. The best description of these fortifications, which survive today, come from Robert T. McMahan of the 25th Ohio Artillery, who recorded in his diary on July 29: ���Commenced fortifying the brow of the hill look [ing] toward Jacksonport, details for labor are much from the cavalry. Are cutting down the timber on the side hill and constructing some kind of a stockade. Openings left for the guns [.] ditch on the outside.�۝ The next day, McMahan noted simply: ���Finished fortifying this evening.�۝

On July 30 the cavalrymen received supplies as a small steamer from Helena pulled in at Wittsburg. Davidson left Wittsburg on August 1 and his advance elements arrived at the L�۪Anguille River near present-day Marianna on August 3, though some elements did not reach that point until August 6. The Yankee cavalry commander then sent his supply wagons on into Helena in search of supplies while the rest of his division headed west for Clarendon and, ultimately, the state capital.

Wittsburg After the Little Rock Campaign

A skirmish involving the Third Iowa Cavalry took place on June 6, 1864, apparently the only time gunfire was heard at Wittsburg. Though mentioned in Dyer�۪sCompendium of the War of the Rebellion, there is no mention of this action in theOfficial Records and no indication that Davidson�۪s old redoubt played a role in the fighting.

Following the collapse of Confederate forces east of the Mississippi, Wittsburg would witness one of the final acts in Civil War Arkansas. On April 30, 1865, Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge sent Lt. Col. Charles W. Davis of the Fifty-first Illinois Infantry to Arkansas to seek the surrender of Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, commander of Confederate troops in the northeast portion of the state. Davis, arriving at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River, sent messages to Thompson requesting a meeting. The officers met on May 9 and Thompson requested 48 hours to confer with his officers. On May 11, the Confederate agreed to surrender all troops in the district, picking Wittsburg and Jacksonport as the sites where his 5,000 soldiers would gather to receive their paroles. ���These men will come in without a morsel to eat, and I would therefore recommend that 50,000 rations be sent to the points designated to feed them while being paroled and while they are returning to their homes.�۝

Davis returned to St. Louis on June 20, 1865, reporting that 193 officers and 1,964 enlisted men were paroled at Wittsburg and 443 officers and 4,854 enlisted men surrendered at Jacksonport. ���General Thompson had no transportation, except 300 or 400 dugout canoes, and no public animals or property of any other description, except $4,821 C.S. money,�۝ Davis reported. ���Most of the men that we paroled were without food, and I issued them about 28,000 rations. They seemed highly pleased at the surrender, and said that all they wanted now was to be allowed to live at home.�۝ The war in northeast Arkansas was over.

The Wittsburg Fortification, built by Union cavalry during the Little Rock Campaign, remains an intact and important relic of the Civil War in northeast Arkansas. It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with national significance by virtue of its status as the only known surviving earthwork erected by either Union or Confederate forces during the nationally significant Little Rock Campaign of 1863. It is being submitted under the multiple-property submission ���Historic and Archeological Resources Associated with the Little Rock Campaign of 1863.�۝

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christ, Mark K. ��ω��Here in the Wilds of Arkansas�۪: Interpreting the 1863 Little Rock Campaign�۝ MLS Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 2002.

Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, vol. 1 (Des Moines, IA: F.H. Dyer, 1908; reprint 1994 by Broadfoot Publishing Co.),

Hartness Richard L., Sr. Wittsburg, Arkansas: Crowley�۪s Ridge Steamboat Riverport 1848-1890 (Little Rock: Rose Publishing Co., 1979),

http://home.mpinet.net/sybert/cross downloaded August 15, 2002.

McMahan, Robert T. Diary, University of Missouri Western Historical Manuscript Collection ��� Columbia.

Skaggs, Henry Ellison, Diary, University of Missouri Western Historical Manuscript Collection ��� Rolla.

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 [CD-ROM] (Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1996)


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