Enjoy your Ozarks' History.
Looking back at the Civil War, we can see how the wheels of circumstances can come together in the most disappointing ways. These places of confrontation can sometimes be overlooked, and those at a disadvantage are many times the victims. As the Confederate men from the Arkansas 27th were making their transit to Yellville, the Union expedition into Northern Arkansas was in full array.
In the Union Official Reports, Maj. John C. Wilber, of the 14th Missouri Cavalry, left his post the 12th of October, 1862, at 6 p.m. for an expedition into Marion County, Arkansas. The headquarters in Ozark, Christian County, Missouri, supplied a detachment of 125 men of the 2nd Battalion, from the 14th, and 100 men of the Missouri Enrolled Militia, stationed at Fort Lawrence. The latter were local men from Ozark & Douglas Counties in Missouri. Orders were given to advance by rapid marches and proceeded to the White River, opposite Yellville.
Maj. Wilber’s intention was to “surprise the force at that place [Yellville], and by a vigorous onset, get possession of the town, burn the supplies collected there for the army of McBride, secure all the property possible for the use of our army, and then fall back to Ozark by forced marches.”
Upon crossing the state-line in Taney County Missouri, it was found again impossible to ford the White River near Dubuque, Arkansas, due to recent rains. Adjustments were made to continue east and then south, through Ozark County, cross the state-line, and approach Yellville by going on the Military Road and cross the White River by ferry.
As the Union troops rode their horses into Arkansas, notice was given to Secesh (Secessionist/Rebels) swarming the woods. These Secesh scouts were posted on all the bluffs & hills. Maj. Wilber commented, “These scouts were watching our movements, arid couriers flying in every direction, giving intelligence of our approach and collecting forces. They had been warned of our advance several times before, and were rapidly collecting to oppose our little band.” Nevertheless, advancement was made over the next three days.
On the night of the 15th, camp was made on George Pierson’s farm, at Pierson’s Ford on the north side of the White River above the mouth of Jimmie’s Creek; today, this area is called Oakland, Arkansas. From this location, the ford seemed to be impassable, yet the Pace Ferry was only one mile away. This camp was also within close strike of Talbot’s Ferry, the range being within about 10 miles. Interestingly enough, this location was also nearby the residence of a free black man, Willoughby Hall, who would give assistance to the Union in the near future. Namely, he will serve as a guide and give intelligence to Capt. Milton Burch of the 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry within the next two months. It is probably this act that would prove treacherous, and would culminate in the loss of Willoughby Hall’s life.
|John Estes was a member of the 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry from March 7, 1862, to Feb. 4, 1863. |
He was part of the expedition meant to capture Yellville.
Image Courtesy Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Maj. Wilber posted pickets on every conceivable path to his small camp, and sent out large numbers of patrols on the Salt Road southward to not only guard their endeavors but also gather intelligence. Soldiers blanketed the area including the range of three large hills, known today as the Three Brothers. Information started trickling in. Some of the women in the area were interviewed, and some would say they were interrogated. These ladies knew their husbands and sons in the Arkansas 27th had left Pocahontas and were in transit to Yellville. Though the timing might have been sketchy, the locals lead Maj. Wilber to believe a surprise attack was imminent and would be volleyed from Yellville that night.
After a Confederate soldier was caught, Wilber decided not to take any chances with failure of his mission. He hastily ordered a detachment of 50 men to ride through the night and secure the Talbot’s Ferry, in order to oppose anyone trying to transverse the White River at that location. If anyone got in their way, they were to be arrested under the providences of martial law.
On the next morning, the 16th, Maj. Wilber broke camp and moved his remaining force of cavalry to the prairie of Talbot’s Barrens, and they descended on the small village of Mountain Home. This was a strategic location to await news from the spies who were sent to gather intelligence on Col. Shaler’s Confederate Infantry heading west. While at Mountain Home, news was received that Col. Shaler was heading to Yellville by forced marches and was one day’s march away. The Union scouts gave the Confederate logistics as a total of 2,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and four pieces of artillery.
On learning this information, Maj. Wilber determined it would be foolish to cross the White River and have the unfortunate circumstance of being stranded from his headquarters. The swollen river was too dangerous to ford without the ferry. He also believed “an overwhelming force was moving rapidly up to cut any retreat.”
In hindsight, the truth was skewed and greatly exaggerated. The main body of the 27th was bivouacked near Melbourne, Arkansas. On the next day, the 17th, they would make it to Piney Bayou, near present day Boswell in Izard County, Arkansas.
In the next few hours, dire decisions would be made that would alter the lives of many homesick men.