Member of Crump's Cavalry
This Confederate soldier was
a member of Lt. Col. R.P.
Crump's 1st Texas Partisan
Rangers, the regiment
attacked at Dripping Springs.
The Battle of Dripping Springs - In Depth
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Dripping Springs, Arkansas
After the Battle of Prairie Grove, the Confederates under Major General Thomas C.
Hindman fell back across the Boston Mountains to Van Buren. The Federals,
under Brigadier Generals Blunt and Herron, remained at Prairie Grove and in
nearby encampments. Neither side knew what the other might do next.

For the Federals, the ferocity with which Hindman had advanced out of the
mountains and fought them was troubling. They were equally vexed by the
success with which he got his battered army off the field and back into the
mountains. When scouts brought in intelligence that the Confederates were being
reinforced and planning a second attack, Blunt and Herron listened carefully. They
had already considered following Hindman to his base at Van Buren, but the
weather in the weeks after the battle did not allow. On Christmas night, as the
weather improved, they agreed upon a plan that would lead them south to the
Arkansas River.

General Hindman, meanwhile, was in no way prepared for a renewal of the
fighting. Union intelligence to the contrary, his army was disintegrating rather than
growing:

After the battle of Prairie Grove, having returned south of the mountains, I found it
impossible to forage Marmaduke’s cavalry in Northwest Arkansas, and accordingly
ordered him to Lewisburg, 100 miles below Van Buren. My force being thus
reduced and continuing to diminish in strength daily by desertions and a frightful
increase of sickness, the latter caused by the unprecedented hardships to which
the men had been exposed, the former resulting principally, in my opinion, from
the non-payment of the troops and the consequent sufferings of their families, I
decided that it was advisable to keep my main body on the north side of the river,
and, therefore, crossed it to the south side, and went into camp in the vicinity of Fort
Smith.

Hindman’s decision to move his army across the Arkansas placed the natural
barrier of the river between his men and the Federals at Prairie Grove. It was wise
that he moved when he did.

Even with the Arkansas River as a natural moat, Hindman was aware of the
danger that Blunt and Herron posed to his army. To help provide advance warning
should they cross the mountains, he had placed the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers,
a cavalry unit, at Dripping Springs on the main road connecting Van Buren with the
mountains. The commander of the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel R.P. Crump, was
further ordered to place a picket guard at Oliver’s Store, closer to the mountains at
the confluence of Cove and Lee Creeks, and to station similar parties on any other
road by which the Union army might approach.

To further protect his supplies and wounded in Van Buren itself, Hindman placed
an infantry regiment and section of artillery in the town.

Blunt and Herron marched out from their camps at Prairie Grove, Rhea’s Mill and
Cane Hill on the morning of December 27, 1862. Herron moved his men down the
old Telegraph road, while Blunt swung across Reed’s mountain to Cove Creek,
which he followed through the mountains. Their total force numbered 8,000 men
and thirty pieces of artillery.

It had snowed the week before the march and there was still snow and ice in the
mountains when the Union soldiers broke camp. Most of the participants who left
eyewitness accounts remember the bitter cold of that first night on the march and
the ordeal of splashing back and forth across Cove Creek:

By ten o’clock we struck the head of Cove Creek. It winds through the mountains in
a southerly direction, and as it is fed by mountain streams, now regular torrents, it
of course increased in volume as we descended it…. We had crossed it when we
bivouacked at ten o’clock that night, according to my count, thirty-three times.

Things were no better for the men in Herron’s column. Instead of following the icy
creek, they were marching up and over the mountains:

We crossed the mountains in the night, and was more of a contract than I had yet
got. It required 12 horses to draw the artillery over, and sometimes 50 men on a
rope, in addition. The feat, however, was accomplished without losing anything.

Despite the ordeal, the Federals made it over the mountains and the two wings of
the army met at Oliver’s Store at 3 o’clock on the morning of December 28th. The
cavalry picket General Hindman had ordered posted there was nowhere to be
found. What the Federals did find, however, was information on the actual location
of Crump’s cavalrymen. Whether this intelligence came from a deserter, a civilian,
or their own scouts is unknown, but according to Herron, they learned specifics
about, “their camps, pickets &c.”

Taking advantage of this new information, the two Union generals pushed forward
in person with around 3,000 cavalrymen and four howitzers. The rest of the column
was ordered to follow as rapidly as possible:

The general and I pushed on, striking their first picket 3 miles from Oliver’s. After
firing upon us, they ran, we following them into the camp at Dripping Springs. Here
a regiment was formed in line, but our cavalry charged and drove them in great
disorder, capturing wagons, tents, and all their camp equipage complete.

As soon as he learned from his pickets that the enemy was approaching, Lt. Col.
Crump sent a rider to inform General Hindman. According to the general’s report
of the affair, this courier reached him at 10 a.m. This is a bit confusing since Blunt
says he attacked the Confederates at Dripping Springs at the same time, but
the two men could have been keeping different times on their watches. In those
days it was common for people to set and keep their watches on their “home”
time, regardless of where and how far they traveled. Consequently, many Civil War
reports give different times for the same events.

A member of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry left a somewhat more detailed account of
the Battle of Dripping Springs. Beginning with the spotting of the Confederate
pickets three miles below Oliver’s Store, he wrote:

Our movements gradually quickened, and shortly our cavalry was in full gallop,
which was kept up for five or six miles and until we camp in sight of the enemy’s
camp at Dripping Springs. In the meantime Gen. Blunt, who had kept up with us,
sent back an order for the artillery and infantry to move forward with a quick step.
The enemy, under command of Col. Crump, of a Texas cavalry regiment, were
encamped along the north side of a hill, and immediately north of their camp were
several fields with intermediate spaces covered with undergrowth of woods.

The account goes on to relate how the Union soldiers crossed through the fields,
throwing down the fences that blocked their way, and formed into a line of battle at
a trot. Once this maneuver was complete, they:

…Charged across the field in a full gallop, and when within fifty years of the
enemy's camp delivered a volley into the ranks of those who had formed in line
and thought of making a stand. The Second Kansas Cavalry took the left of our
line, and the Sixth Kansas cavalry and several companies of the Third Wisconsin
cavalry the right. After firing a few rounds from our carbines, Gen. Blunt ordered the
bugles to sound the charge, and with gleaming sabers we dashed forward like a
whirlwind, throwing up a perfect cloud of dust. The enemy did not wait to feel the
edges of our sabers, but fled in the direction of Van Buren, and in their flight left
their tents, amp, and supplies of every kind in our possession.

Despite the broken nature of the ground, the Federal cavalry maintained a
semblance of a line of battle as it moved forward and over a steep hill south of the
Confederate camp. Once they cleared the crest of the hill, they could see the dust
rising from the hooves of the Confederate horses and realized they were in full
retreat for Van Buren.

The battlefield at Dripping Springs is not preserved today, but much of the scene
can be viewed from public roads in the area.  
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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