Union Raid On Saltpeter Works At Bat Cave
Expedition from Huntsville to Buffalo River, Arkansas, January 9-12, 1863 (Vol XXII:213-214 Official Record)
HEADQUARTERS FIRST REGIMENT IOWA CAVALRY
CAMP AT CARROLLTON, ARK. JAN 13, 1863
GENERAL: I have the honor to report that, in compliance with instructions received from you, I left camp at Huntsville, Ark., on the morning of the 9th instant, at 8 o’clock, with a detachment of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry, numbering 300 officers and men, and proceeded toward Kingston, Ark., where I arrived at 2 p.m. of said day, when I received important information of the movements of the enemy, which I immediately conveyed to you by dispatch.
The guides who accompanied me not being acquainted with the region of country beyond Kingston, where your instructions required that I should go, I procured new guides at the above-named place, and proceeded on the road 4 miles beyond Kingston. It being 4 p.m., and learning that the road before me was a winding one, through wild mountains, utterly devoid of habitations, I bivouacked for the night, and threw out on all the roads in the vicinity strong guards.
Early in the evening the picket guard on the eastern road captured 3 men and 14 head of nurses and mules, owned by an individual called Parson Rodgers, who confessed to me that he was engaged in buying horses and mules and selling them to the army of the so-called Confederate States, this being the third lot he had purchased.
During the night Capt. J.D. Jenks and Corporal Ramsey, of Company D, First Iowa Cavalry, having in charge 3 prisoners, captured while on picket, and being on their way to camp with them, were halted on the road by some unknown person or persons, who demanded that they surrender, which was promptly refused; whereupon the party was fired upon, without injury, however, to any one, and the fire instantly returned by Captain Jenks, killing 1 man, whose name was ascertained to be Allen Basham. Captain Jenks and Corporal Ramsey succeeded in reaching camp safely with 2 of the 3 prisoners, 1 of the prisoners escaping during the encounter.
At 4 o’clock on the following morning I had the column in motion, and by daylight reached the saltpeter works on Buffalo River, 14 miles from Kingston, where I completely surprised the small force there employed, and captured 17 out of 20; the lieutenant in charge and 2 men being engaged at work in the timber a short distance from the buildings, succeeded in making good their escape.
The buildings, fourteen in number, very extensive, entirely new and of good workmanship, together with two steam-engines, three boilers, seven large iron kettles, weighing, according to the bill for the same, found on the premises, 800 pounds each, besides half a tone of saltpeter, a large fire-proof iron safe (Hall’s patent) three Concord wagons, two carts, and all the appurtenances of a first-class establishment of this character, were completely destroyed by fire and otherwise.
After remaining at this place about six hours, I moved my command to a point 4 miles below, on Buffalo River, and sent a detachment of 100 men, under the command of Captains (Alexander G.) McQueen and (David C.) Dinsmore, of the First Iowa Cavalry, to destroy and establishment of a similar character. The working party, having a lookout posted on an elevated point on the mountains, escaped, but the detachment took possession of the works, which consisted of several frame buildings, entirely new, with four large iron kettles, in full operation, all of which were destroyed.
In the mean time I capture, in the valley and mountains skirting the Buffalo River, some 20 prisoners, all notorious outlaws, and a like number of horses.
Having been entirely successful in accomplishing all that was assigned to me, without casualty to any of my command, I started on my return, and recrossed the mountains in the night time, arriving in camp, at Carrollton, Ark., on the evening of January 12, delivering my prisoners, to the number of 39, and 39 horses and mules, to Lieutenant-Colonel (Elias B.) Baldwin, of the Eights Missouri Cavalry, provost-marshal of the Third Division, Army of the Frontier.
Very respectfully yours, your obedient servant,
Joseph W. CALDWELL, Major First Iowa Cavalry
Brig. Gen. F. J. Herron, Commanding Third Division, Army of the Frontier.
The commander of the raiding party reported that the works had been built by the Confederate Government at a cost of $30,000. The raiders destroyed 5 buildings, 1 engine, 26 large kettles, 6 tanks, blacksmith’s and carpenters’ shops and tools; $6,000 worth of saltpeter, packed. The cave, said to be roomy enough to work 100 men, evidently lay near the White River some miles downstream from the “Little North Fork,” which the men forded in returning to Missouri.