Fort Smith, Arkansas
The Battle of Devil's Backbone
gave control of Fort Smith to the
Union for the rest of the war.
Devil's Backbone Monument
A monument to the battle
stands on U.S. Highway 71
south of Greenwood, Arkansas. - Battle of Devil's Backbone, Arkansas - Battle of Devil's Backbone, Arkansas
The Battle of Devil's Backbone - Greenwood, Arkansas
The Battle of Devil's Backbone
The stone breastworks piled by Confederate troops
during the Battle of Devil's backbone still exist.
Mountain Fight for Fort Smith
On September 1, 1863, Confederate and
Union forces waged the final battle for control
of the strategic city of Fort Smith, Arkansas
along the slope of a long rocky ridge known
as the Devil's Backbone.

A part of the Ouachita Mountains, the Devil's
Backbone is a long mountain ridge that runs
east to west from near the modern city of
Greenwood, Arkansas, across the border
into eastern Oklahoma. An impressive
natural barrier, it was an important factor in
Confederate operations in the region from

The Battle of Devil's Backbone developed on
August 31, 1863, when the Union Army of the
Frontier, commanded by Gen. J.G. Blunt,
advanced from the west against Fort Smith
and the Confederate forces of Gen. W.L.

Cabell formed his severely outnumbered
men in a line along the Poteau River in
today's LeFlore County, Oklahoma, but knew
he could not hope to hold back Blunt's much
stronger army on the open ground.

During the night, he withdrew from his lines,
sending his wagon trains back across the
Devil's Backbone to Waldron, Arkansas. The
Southern troops evacuated Fort Smith and
took up a new position on the slopes of the
Backbone at the point it was crossed by the
Fort Smith to Waldron Road. Their plan was
to ambush the Federals as they came in
pursuit of them.

The Battle of Devil's Backbone developed the
next morning when, as expected, a large part
of the Union army pursued the Confederates
and rode headlong into the Union trap.

Confederate troops opened fire from hidden
positions at the base of the ridge and rolled
back the head of the Union column, sparking
a battle that raged for hours along the slopes
of the Backbone. The Federals brought up
artillery and the two sides blasted away at
each other, expending a significant amount
of ammunition but doing little injury.

The battle ended when a lull settled over the
mountain as the Federals ran short of
ammunition. At this point, Cabell's troops
unexpectedly broke and ran.
The stunned Confederate general had no
choice but to abandon the fight and battlefield
to the equally surprised Union troops. The
Battle of Devil's Backbone was over and
Cabell's hope of defeating the Federals on
the mountain and recapturing Fort Smith
ended with a whimper.

The battle took place on what is now private
property near Greenwood, Arkansas. A
monument can be seen on U.S. 71 where
the highway crosses Devil's Backbone and
the Civil War Preservation Trust recently
acquired a portion of the battlefield, assuring
that at least part of the site will be preserved
for future generations.
Road over the Mountain
The trace of the old Fort Smith
to Waldron Road is a focal
point of the battlefield.
The Devil's Backbone
The long east-west ridge
stretches across the horizon
south of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
It was a major natural barrier
at the time of the Civil War.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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