The Battle of Massard Prairie
The Union line of battle was formed
here when C.S. troops attacked
from all sides.
Camp at Massard Prairie
Signs like this one point out key
points of the Civil War camp at
|Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
The park preserves a key portion of the site where
the Battle of Massard Prairie was fought in 1864.
"A right gallant little affair"
On July 27, 1864, Confederate forces
stormed down from the nearby mountains
and virtually annihilated a battalion of Union
cavalry on Massard Prairie, a vast grassland
on the outskirts of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The Battle of Massard Prairie was one of the
most complete Southern victories of the Civil
War in Arkansas. It also involved one of the
last great open field cavalry charges in
American history and resulted in one of the
few documented cases of Union soldiers
scalping Confederate dead after a battle.
While the city of Fort Smith has grown
dramatically over the years and residential,
commercial and industrial development
covers much of the battlefield, a key portion
has been preserved and can be seen at the
Massard Prairie Battlefield Park off Geren
In 1864, Massard Prairie extended for miles
in all directions and was used as an
important grazing range by Union troops and
local citizens. Forage was short in Fort Smith,
so Brigadier General John Thayer sent a
herd of horses out to graze on the prairie.
They were guarded by four companies from
the 6th Kansas Cavalry, a seasoned veteran
unit that had taken part in some of the largest
battles of the war in the West.
As Confederate troops swept north to the
Arkansas River during the weeks following
the Red River Campaign, they quickly
learned that these men were camped in an
exposed position in the "Picnic Grove" on
The grove was an area of trees clustered
around a small streak in the middle of the
prairie. Around 100 "Arkansas Feds," the
name given by Southern troops to Union
soldiers from Arkansas, were also camped
on the prairie just across the stream from the
Moving into the mountains just south of town
on the night of July 26, 1864, Brig. Gen. R.M.
Gano planned a dawn attack against the
Union encampment. Although the Federals
knew that Confederates were in the area,
they took few precautions and were taken
completely by surprise when Gano struck on
the morning of the 27th.
The Confederates swept down from the
hillside and stormed across the prairie at
dawn. A Union picket post was overwhelmed
and the Federal soldiers quickly formed a
line of battle through the center of their camp,
only to find themselves under attack from
three sides at once. Gano himself charged
against the Union right, while a mixed force
of Choctaws and Texans attacked the
Federal left. A third force moved through the
grove and struck the center.
The Union line quickly crumbled and the
battle turned into a running fight that crossed
roughly two miles of open prairie. A large part
of the Federal force was finally surrounded at
an old house and taken prisoner. Other
survivors scattered into the brush.
When it was over, the Confederates had
achieved total victory. They killed, wounded or
captured nearly two full companies of Union
soldiers, seized hundreds of weapons,
captured the herd of horses and helped
themselves to cornucopia of Union supplies.
The battle led to the Battle of Fort Smith a few
days later and helped clear the way for the
dramatically successful Cabin Creek
expedition a couple of weeks later. For the
Union troops holding Fort Smith, it was an
embarrassing defeat that took place literally
within earshot of the town.
Massard Prairie Battlefield Park is near the
intersection of Red Pine Drive and Morgan
Way in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Free to visit, the battlefield is open daily
during daylight hours.
The park features markers, a monument, a
memorial flag staff and a walking trail that
leads through the site of the camp of the 6th
Kansas Cavalry, where heavy fighting took
place during the battle.
To learn more about the Civil War in Fort
Smith, be sure to visit both the Fort Smith
National Historic Site and the Fort Smith
Museum of History.
Please click here to read a detailed account
of the Battle of Massard Prairie.
Monument at the Battlefield
This monument, placed by the UDC
can be seen at the entrance to the
Remnant of Original Prairie
Much of the original prairie has
been developed, but this small
segment still survives.
Scene of Heavy Fighting
The right flank of the Union line was
overwhelmed at this site on the
Massard Prairie Batteifeld.
|Copyright 2017 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: July 26, 2017
Some contents copyright 2013.
Civil War in Arkansas
BATTLE OF MASSARD PRAIRIE
Fort Smith, Arkansas