The Expedition Begins
On the morning of January 5th three City Class gunboats, De Kalb, Louisville, and Cincinnati, led the convoy of transports and six lighter gunboats out from Milliken’s Bend into the Mississippi River. In an effort to conceal their final destination they by passed the mouth of the Arkansas River. The going was slow and the boats had to regularly put parties ashore to gather wood for the boilers. Early on January 9th the 83rd Ohio was told that they “must have twenty cords of wood on board before breakfast.” After the men had the wood aboard and their breakfast the convoy turned into “the crookedest stream in seven states” – the White River. Despite the Louisville grounding and having to be towed off a bar by nightfall the flotilla and 32,000 men passed through the cut-off and into the Arkansas River.
Confederate pickets on the river reported the passage of the Union convoy to Arkansas Post. BG Churchill knew that his fort would be the target and issued orders for the garrison to stand ready with three days rations and a full load of ammunition. Three companies of cavalry were sent to the river to follow the progress of the Federal armada. Piles connected by heavy chain were driven into the river bed to retard the movement of any boats past the fort. But the thing that Churchill needed most for a successful defense of the fort, more manpower, was not forthcoming. Potential reinforcements were marching in circles as Confederate commanders conducted a tug of war between committing the available forces to the defense of Vicksburg or the defense of Arkansas. Almost no help would get closer than 25 miles from the fort. Churchill was left with approximately 7000 troops to defend the fort.
Churchill’s plan was a series of phased withdrawals from the advanced works in an effort to gain time for help to reach him. The Confederate troops marched out of the fort and past the upper line of rifle pits about 1 ¼ miles from the fort. The lower line of works was located about 2 miles from the fort near Notrebe’s farm but these would not be reached. As they neared the lower works it was realized that the Federal troops were already landing in an area nearby. The first line of the planned defense was lost before it was ever occupied. The right flank of the second line of partially completed works rested on the river and extended inland to anchor the left on a pond. Churchill placed Deschler’s Brigade on the right and Dunnington’s 19th Arkansas on the left. Six guns of Hart’s Arkansas artillery went into battery along the river. Forward of the main line five companies from the 6th and 24th Texas acted as skirmishers. Overnight the defenders tried desperately to strengthen their line with improved works and by forming an abatis but the lack of axes and entrenching tools hampered their progress.
The transports carrying Sherman’s troops arrived at Notrebe’s farm late on the 9th but darkness prevented them from totally disembarking. While the enemy worked on their positions many of these Union forces got a last bit of rest aboard the boats. Approximately nine miles downstream Morgan’s men disembarked at Fletcher’s Landing. The narrow width of the peninsula formed by the severe bend in the river made it a short march to a position upstream of the fort. Colonel Daniel Lindsey’s brigade of infantry (7th Kentucky, 49th Indiana, and 114th Ohio), a company of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry, and a section of guns from the Chicago Mercantile Battery marched across the narrow strip of land and occupied a position at Smith’s Plantation. Once the guns were established in a position commanding the river the fort was effectively isolated from reinforcement from the river. The combatants were nearly in place.Arkansas Post (Campaign Series)