Arkansas Post – Part 9

The decision to surrender the fort was neither discussed amongst the Confederate command group nor universally accepted. At the left end of their line Deshler was appalled when Federal officers approached under a flag of truce to receive his surrender. As BG Steele discussed the matter with Deshler his troops moved out from cover and advanced on the Confederate position. Deshler demanded that Steele order his men to stop or he would have his troops fire on them. The parley remained at an impasse until Churchill was brought to the scene by Sherman. Given the order to surrender by Churchill, Deshler reluctantly ordered his troops to stack arms. The responsibility for the surrender became a point of contention between the Confederate officers. Deshler and Churchill thought the surrender began in Garland’s brigade. Churchill stated in his official report that Garland’s line, specifically the 24th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted), began the chain of events and he was placed in the “humiliating necessity” of giving up the rest of the command. Garland stated that he heard an order shouted out from the 24th’s position to “raise the white flag by order of General Churchill; the order up the line.” Garland asked for a court of inquiry to determine the truth because he felt his reputation as a soldier had been “seriously impeached.” The problem with his story is that the 24th was on the left of his brigade and Churchill was in the fort at his right. For any such order from Churchill to reach the 24th Texas it would have had to travel through his position. Whatever the truthful circumstances of the surrender it probably spared an unnecessary slaughter. The Federal troops paid a dear price but had gained position to overwhelm the vastly outnumbered defenders. The fort was reduced and the Federal troops departed by the 19th.

Unfortunately the captors and captives suffered severely in the post battle administration of the surrender. The prisoners were placed in the custody of the 34th Iowa and six companies of the Thirteenth Illinois. The first part of the journey was conducted aboard the steamers John J. Roe (Garland’s Brigade), Sam Gatey (Dunnington’s Arkansas troops), and Nebraska (Deshler’s Brigade). On board the boats the prisoners were issued the first meal most had eaten in three days. The trip up the Mississippi River was made in a blinding snow. On board the Gatey the troops, despite ample provisions, were “very anxious to get out of this filthy hulk.” At St. Louis the transfer was made to rail transportation. They were escorted to Camp Douglas, Camp Butler and Johnson’ s Island. The history of the 34th Iowa describes the trip;

“One hesitates to attempt a description of the suffering of this trip to Chicago which resulted from packing and jamming of about 5,500 men on three moderate sized boats. The cases of small pox were greatly multiplied in the regiment and before we reached St. Louis the disease broke out among the prisoners. We were two weeks going from Arkansas Post to St. Louis.

Col. Clark stated in one of his reports, what we all remember too vividly, that “the human suffering during this trip exceeded anything I have ever witnessed in the same length of time.” The state rooms were filled with sick. The floors of the cabin were covered with the sick of our own regiment, and also sick rebels, all lying closely together, some with fevers, some with pneumonia, some with measles, some with small pox, all with chronic diarrhea. There were not enough well men to properly guard the prisoners and care for the sick.”

“Each night the pails used for excretions were filled to overflowing and the overflow would run down the sides of the cabin. The poisonous stench arising from the cabin was terrible. It could have I been no worse in the black hole of Calcutta, or in the holds of slave-ships, which before our war, filled with human beings, made their long voyages with closed hatches.

At Memphis we put off a number of sick, at Cairo more, and at Arsenal Island just below St. Louis. a desolate looking place it was, 100 or more cases of small pox and varioloid; in Chicago hospitals we left 200 of ” our poor sick boys.”

After disposing of the prisoners in Chicago, the regiment returned to Benton barracks on the 5th day of February, 1863. The regiment was at this time totally broken down. Its dead had been planted along the islands of the Mississippi, and at every graveyard we touched in our route, its sick and dying had filled the hospitals at every place where hospital accommodations could be had.”

For the surviving prisoners captivity at Camp Douglas and Camp Butler proved as deadly as a continued battle for Arkansas Post might have been. At Camp Butler 306 Texas prisoners died of disease, at Camp Douglas 388 prisoners died of various causes. Despite these numbers the percentage of soldiers taking the oath of allegiance remained remarkably low. After a brutal winter, the survivors were exchanged in Virginia and served as an emergency defense force for Richmond during the Chancellorsville Campaign. They were later transferred back west were they were consolidated and took part in the Tennessee campaigns.

Arkansas Post (Campaign Series)


2 responses to “Arkansas Post – Part 9”

  1. Glen Zell Avatar
    Glen Zell

    Can you provide the source for the information that Deshler’s troops were placed aboard the Nebraska to be transported to St. Louis.

  2. Glen Zell Avatar
    Glen Zell

    Thank you for the information. I might add, the prisoners were first placed on Arsenal Island for a time until they were moved to rail on the Illinois side. I found this information in the The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
    Series I – Volume XXII – Part II – Corresspondence
    Pg. 68-69

    Major-General Samuel R. Curtis
    Department of The Missouri
    January 23, 1863

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