Fort Smith, Arkansas
The cannon of Fort Smith
were used when Confederate
snipers attacked the post in
The Civil War at Fort Smith, Arkansas - Fort Smith in the Civil War - Fort Smith in the Civil War
Fort Smith, Arkansas
The post on the western border of Arkansas was an
important Civil War objective.
Disputed Bastion on the Frontier
Following its seizure by forces of the State of
Arkansas in April of 1861, Fort Smith became
an important post for the Confederate army.

Along with the arsenal in Little Rock, Fort
Smith was one of only two significant U.S.
military installations in Arkansas and as
such played a vital role in Confederate plans
to defend the state. The facilities of the fort
provided housing for troops and mountain
barriers to the north would help stall Union
attempts to retake the post for two years.

Troops from the fort took part in the Battle of
Wilson's Creek in 1861 as well as the
disastrous Confederate defeat at the
Battle of
Pea Ridge in 1862. Following the latter battle,
General Earl Van Dorn led his Southern army
out of Arkansas and the handful of troops left
at Fort Smith provided virtually the only
defense for the entire western half of the

General Thomas Hindman was assigned to
built a new army for what soon became the
Trans-Mississippi Department and Fort
Smith became the centerpiece of his efforts.
Massive camps grew in the surrounding
prairies and the storehouses of the fort
provided uniforms, arms and provisions to
Hindman's army. Sadly, such supplies were
often depleted and many men suffered and
died from hunger, cold and disease.

Hindman's army returned to Fort Smith after
a tactical stalemate at the
Battle of Prairie
Grove and soon evacuated the area and
marched to Little Rock.

A smaller Confederate force held the fort until
August of 1863, when it was abandoned
without the firing of a shot as a large Union
command approached from the west. The
retreating Confederates ambushed part of
the Federal army at the
Battle of Devil's
Backbone while the main body moved to
occupy the now evacuated fort.

Federal troops held the fort for the rest of the
war, but were often harassed by Confederate
forces that hovered in the area. On July 27,
1864, a Southern raid on an outlying camp
resulted in the
Battle of Massard Prairie, a
major success for the Confederates.

Just a few days later the Southern troops
returned and launched an
attack on Fort
Smith to provide cover for pro-Confederate
families in the vicinity that wished to leave.
The fort itself came under fire during this
Battle of Fort Smith when snipers opened
from across the Poteau River. The field guns
of the fort made a noisy reply, but few
casualties resulted on either side.
These and similar raids deprived the Union
troops at Fort Smith of forage for their horses,
preventing them from effectively scouting in
the region. As a result, the Confederates
were able to slip across the Arkansas just to
the west on an expedition that ended at the
Battle of Cabin Creek. The Southern victory
resulted in what is thought to have been the
largest seizure of supplies during the Civil

By the spring of 1865, the Civil War in the
area around Fort Smith had became a bitter
guerrilla conflict that would actually continue
for years to come as outlaw bands roamed
the mountains of both Arkansas and the
Indian Nations of what is now Oklahoma,
preying on innocents and battling against the
law. It would take a "hanging judge" and a
brave force of deputy marshals to finally bring
this phase of history to an end.

The visitor center at Fort Smith National
Historic Site provides displays and other
information on the Civil War in the area. Also
of interest nearby are the Massard Prairie
and Devil's Backbone battlefields.
Battle of Devil's Backbone
Fort Smith fell to Union troops
while fighting was still taking
place at the nearby Battle of
Devil's Backbone.
Battle of Massard Prairie
Confederate troops surprised
the Federals holding Fort
Smith at the Battle of Massard
Prairie in 1864.
Important Supply Depot
Fort Smith was used by both
Union and Confederate
troops as an important base
of supplies during the Civil
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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