Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Battle of Jenkin's Ferry

This past Saturday I was driving back through Arkansas with my family. We stumbled upon Jenkin's Ferry State Park, not far south of Little Rock. To call it a state park is generous at best. It is more like a boat ramp, pavilion and a couple of historical markers. Anyway, I stopped to read the markers.

While names like Gettysburg, Shiloh and Chickamauga come to mind when one thinks of the American Civil War, numerous smaller engagements took place. One of the more desperate battles for the Union occurred at Jenkin's Ferry on April 30, 1864.

The conditions on the day (only one day after the anniversary - May 1) of my visit were very similar to the actual battle. It had rained all night and the river was swollen. Union Major General Frederick Steele was leading his forces in a retreat back to little Rock late in the disastrous Camden expedition. Steele had already lost many men and abandoned much of his baggage as it was near impossible to move wagons through the muddy river bottom. 

Steele reached the battle site on the evening of the 29th. The Jenkins family  had run a ferry service at the easily forded part of the river for many years. Too swollen to ford, a pontoon bridge was erected and men and equipment moved across all during the night. The 40th Iowa Infantry and 43rd Illinois Infantry served as pickets to keep the Confederates at bay.

At daybreak on the 30th, over 2 miles of baggage train and artillery still had yet to cross the river. The battle raged back and forth with each side seeming to hold the upper hand. Eventually Steele was able to get most of his forces across the river and back safely to Little Rock. The Confederates lost about 1000 men, the Union 700.


  1. This battle is mentioned at the beginning of the new 2012 Lincoln movie (no, not the vampire one!) by members of the 2nd Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. A charge by the 2nd during the battle captured three Confederate artillery pieces. What I don't understand is how they could possibly have met Lincoln. It doesn't appear that they ever left the Western Theater and were disbanded on December 13, 1864, just before the movie begins. Artistic license? Anyone else have some insight?

  2. I would love to visit this place because my gr8 gr8 gr8 grandfather fought the rear gaurd action here. He was in the 27th Wisconsin regiment.