May was a pivotal month in Arkansas. Rebels gained a momentum as Federals fell back from Arkansas Valley and Red River due to defeats and the Federals fell back into southern Missouri due to forage problems in northern Arkansas. The Buffalo River region continued to experience Federal and Rebel presence and movements.
May began with Rebels reported in the Huntsville area. But on May 3 Rebels attacked and destroyed a Federal forage train on Richland Creek. Forage in north central Arkansas was an increasing problem since Federals arrived in January, but was worse in southern Missouri. General Sanborn noted that he had half his stock in Arkansas grazing and received his forage from Rolla, but also noted that the grass in southern Missouri was growing and provided some feed for horses.
The search for forage more than anything dictated the direction and objectives of Federal scouts. Richland Valley, noted for its agricultural bounty, once again lured Federals into an attack by opportune rebels. Following this attack, Federal troops began pulling back into the border region of Missouri.
The Official Records report that after crossing the Buffalo, the advanced guard, escort, and train-rearguard were separated when Jackman attacked down from Point Peter Mountain. The location of the advance guard, giving accounts from oral histories and James Johnston, seem to have been where the Point Peter-Snowball Road joins with the Richland Valley Road near Hall school and the cemetery. This point is about ¾ mile from the Campbell-Wasson ford where oral history claims that the Federal wagon train was burned. The Maddox account claims that the Federals moved up the valley from the main body about ¾ of a mile when they saw the Rebels coming down the mountain. If the advance guard was about ¾ mile ahead of the train on the other (east or south) side of Wasson Ford, then where was the escort? They may have been on the same side of Richland Creek as the advance guard, but a little north of Hall School, thus separated by the creek from the train and separated by distance from the advance guard and by the quickly advancing Jackman. The escort came under attack as well, but upon finding the advance guard wiped out, they escaped, leaving the wagon trains behind. The Maddox account claims that the Confederates, after destroying the train, went into camp at the mouth of Dry Branch, one mile up the Richland Valley. The junction of the Richland Valley and Snowball roads was about one mile from Dry Branch camp.
Jackman claimed to have spotted the Federal wagons from two and a half miles away from the top of Point Peter. Jackman either spotted the trains while he was rounding the old Point Peter Road near the mouth of Richland and the train was nearing Christy Ford, or Jackman was in Point Peter (the Snowball Road) watching the wagons crossing the Buffalo. The second choice is unlikely since he had to travel at least 12 miles to get to this point, while the Federals crossed the Buffalo in the morning of the same day.
What is significant is that Col. Phelps’ follow up attack on the 5th ended when he could not pursue the enemy due to the bad conditions of his horses. This was no doubt true, given other correspondence between Phelps and Col. Sanborn. In addition, Phelps marched all night (May 4) to attack Jackman on the morning of May 5.
General Sanborn pondered what to do with the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry. He suggested either moving the troops south of the Boston Mountains and reassigning them to the Department of Arkansas or keeping them north in Missouri. But, he mentioned that without this force he could not operate in northern Arkansas. Sanborn opted to pull his troops back to Cassville, Mo., Berryville, Ark., and Forsyth, Mo., where apparently, forage along the White River had improved with spring growth. Major Murphy at Yellville was ordered back to Cassville while Col. Phelps was advised to fall back on Berryville and Forsyth.
A point of importance in late April and throughout May concerned the advance of Rebels back into Arkansas with the retreat of Federals following the Red River defeat and near escape. On May 12, Governor Murphy of Arkansas wrote President Lincoln that with the retreat and defeat of Banks and Steele, Little Rock was threatened. Unless help came, “all will be lost.”
Indeed, Federals were retreating. The Batesville garrison was to evacuate to Jacksonport. The Federal commander cited forage reasons for the move, claiming that all north central Arkansas was exhausted of forage and no enemy could subsist there. Yet, General Sanborn notified Col. Phelps that some good grazing could be found on Huzzah and Sugar Loaf Prairies in Arkansas. Huzzah Prairie is just southeast of Harrison and Sugar Loaf is northeast of Harrison and northwest of Yellville. This is contradictory in that the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry had been stationed near there for four months and was compelled to move back north due to lack of forage. However, since the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry’s departure, green grass had apparently sprung up enough to provide some kind of sustenance. Sanborn cautioned Phelps to take his time in falling back to his new posts. He was to bring everything with him, driving out any abandoned stock ahead of him.
Sanborn cautioned Phelps to keep a strong lookout for Rebel groups coming north, since General Price followed up General Steele’s retreat to Little Rock. Rebel cavalry was likely to work its way north. Although Sanborn comments that no Rebel force could subsist in northern Arkansas, he ordered Phelps to put out scouts well to the south. Thus, the Buffalo River region likely remained under Federal eyes even though the high-tide of Federal presence was subsiding.
In mid-May, Federal commanders noted that the northern two tiers of counties in Arkansas were rapidly depopulated and becoming “wilderness,” while refugees flocked north to inhabit southern Missouri counties. More than 3500 refugees from Marion and Searcy counties in Arkansas were reported crossing the White river at Forsyth in three or four days.
Confederates began besieging Union posts at Little Rock and Alexandria, Louisiana, but were limited by the lack of sufficient ammunition and forage. However, Rebel forces moved across the Arkansas River into the Boston Mountains with orders to fill up their ranks by calling in absentees, conscripting, and arresting deserters for mandatory service. General Price was to prepare for an invasion into Missouri, reinforced by Rebel troops in the Red River theater. Everyone between 16 and 50 years of age was forced into service. Unorganized guerilla bands were to be broken up and forced to consolidate. Union commanders expected the Rebels to move north as Col. Phelps captured Rebel orders and papers in his counterattack in Richland Valley on May 5.
Sanborn informed Col. Harrison in Fayetteville that at that moment (May 17) no large force of Rebels occupied north Arkansas. Sanborn suggested organizing home guards while time permitted. All the country “north of the Buffalo Fork is desolated.” Harrison informed Sanborn of an increase of Rebel guerillas east and south of Fayetteville. Lt. Col Cameron led a detachment to Richland Valley on May 17th.
The camp of Lt. Col. Cameron on the night of May 17 was at Woolum, on the north side of the Buffalo River opposite Richland Creek. The locations of R.W. Robertson’s and Mrs. Hendrix houses are uncertain, but likely south of the cemetery. The trail followed by Cameron across the mountains and north of Point Peter to Calf Creek is likely the old Richland-Snowball road. The location of Widow Turney’s is near Snowball (Turney’s Mill). The route taken from Widow Turney’s to the Buffalo River is uncertain. Two routes are likely: 1) follow down the Calf Creek road to near the Buffalo River, or 2) angle to the northwest in order to check up on Captain Love’s farm before proceeding down the north side of the Buffalo River. The exact route along the “north side of the Buffalo” is uncertain, as is the route taken to Yellville across the Tomahawk Barrens, the location of which is unknown.
Cameron’s trip through Richland Valley, reportedly gained information that Col. Jackman was at the head of Richland Valley organizing and combining forces. This information likely came from loyal Union citizens who lived in the valley, or by jayhawking men anxious to have Union forces strike a blow at Rebel guerillas in their region of upper Richland. Cameron also learned that Rebels under Col. Freeman were gathering on the White River near Batesville.
He harassed a few bushwackers while moving from Richland down the Buffalo River, then to Tomahawk Barrens and to Yellville. From Yellville he proceeded to Talbot’s Ferry and crossed the White River on his way back to Camp Cameron, somewhere along the Missouri-Arkansas border. He reported the presence of Jackman and others on the Richland headwaters in the Boston Mountains with several hundred men of different bands. He also noted Freeman moving up the White River near Batesville.
On May 24th, Sanborn reported a Rebel force below Buffalo City on the White River. Thus, the Buffalo River region continued to harbor rebel bands and Union patrols. Lt. Col. Cameron probably did not encounter this group of Rebels forming in the hills.
On May 26th, Major Melton claimed that Shelby with 2,000 men was on the Osage Branch of King’s River with artillery, and he was recruiting. Melton felt insecure at Berryville and had little reliable transportation. Sanborn doubted the number of Rebels but suggested that if Melton had to retreat, he should take all he could and burn the rest. Sanborn continued to claim no large Rebel force north of the Buffalo, while Rebel troops were forming between the Buffalo and the Arkansas in addition to 250 Rebels quietly moving in to Missouri per week. Rebel commanders were ordered to gather and form troops at all costs, and shoot those who fail to comply; desertions were to be tolerated no longer.
General Sanborn ordered the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry to send out woman spies and scouts to ascertain the enemy’s whereabouts and information. On May 29, General Sanborn found out that Shelby was not on the Osage with 2,000 men as reported, nor was he north of the Boston Mountains. This suggests that either the Rebel commanders were not in the area recruiting yet, or, they were quiet about it. Sanborn also reported that Rebels (Jackman) were attempting and succeeding in getting groups north in small bodies which confirms that the Rebels were quietly moving north in hopes of assembly in Missouri through northeast and north-central Arkansas, towards Rolla. Thus, the month ended with Federal watching but not stopping small bands of Rebels moving into Missouri.
In the end of May, Confederate leaders were to assemble their commands near Powhatan. Again, orders were given to conscript all able bodied men. Major Pickler, Captains Rusk, Robinson, Roberts, and Johnson were to go and recruit in northwest Arkansas forcing all Rebel bands not attached to join Major Pickler. The area south of the White River and north of the Boston Mountains became a no-man’s-land, depopulated, mostly destitute of forage. Yet, Union scouts continued to probe the Buffalo Valley looking for signs of Rebel movement north.