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At 11:00 p.m., Marmaduke began writing a dispatch intended for Major General Sterling Price, a fellow Missourian who headed the Confederate District of Arkansas. Marmaduke proposed to set out the next day with Cabell, Crawford, and Greene to block the Camden-Washington Road near Poison Spring. He asked that any additional troops Price could scrape together join him there by 8:00 a.m.

Price liked Marmaduke’s show of initiative, and he just happened to have another cavalry force bivouacked at Woodlawn. Brigadier General Samuel B. Maxey’s 1,335-man division had recently transferred from Indian Territory. Maxey’s toughest brigade consisted of six hundred and twenty-five Texans under Colonel Charles DeMorse. DeMorse also enjoyed the services of Captain W. Butler Krumbhaar’s Texas Battery, with its thirty artillerists and four guns. By far the most exotic component in the division was Colonel Tandy Walker’s 2nd Indian Brigade, two Choctaw regiments totaling six hundred and eighty men. With their war paint, ragged clothing, and hats sporting peacock feathers and other plumage, the Choctaws looked fierce, but their military effectiveness was questionable. Many of Walker’s troops were white men who had joined Indian regiments because discipline in such outfits tended to be lax.11

On the morning of April 18, Price directed Maxey to take his division at once to Lee’s plantation near Poison Spring and join forces with Marmaduke. With DeMorse’s Texans in the lead, Max-ey moved out at 7:00 a.m. Price also sent his personal escort, the three hundred troopers of Major Robert C. Wood’s 14th Missouri Battalion, to assist Marmaduke.

The eager Marmaduke was in the saddle that morning well before Maxey or Wood. He had his Missourians and Cabell’s Arkansans in motion by sunrise, and he reached the Poison Spring area first. Probing west along the Camden-Washington Road, he encountered the Union advance at 10:00 a.m. As the general’s escort drove the Federals from a hill on the south side of the road, Marmaduke had Cabell dismount most of his men and bring them up to join Hughey’s Arkansas Battery in holding the high ground. The Arkansans formed astride the road, with Crawford’s brigade to the right, Cabell’s brigade to the left, and skirmishers out in front. Cabell placed a mounted battalion on each flank of this line. Marmaduke bolstered the Arkansans’ position by unlimbering Harris’ Missouri Battery to Crawford’s right, but he kept Greene back for the time being as a mounted reserve. A little later, he positioned the 14th Missouri Battalion to Crawford’s right. As an added precaution, Cabell sent the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry clattering two miles to the rear in case any Federals in Camden tried to come to Williams’ assistance.12

The head of Maxey’s division reached the scene just as the Arkansans finished deploying. Aware that Maxey was his senior in rank, Marmaduke reported to him for orders. To his credit, Maxey declined, saying that the Missourian had set the trap and should direct the fight.

A grateful Marmaduke sketched a simple battle plan. He suggested that Maxey’s men dismount and attack the Federals from the south. Once Maxey was warmly engaged and the enemy’s attention turned in his direction, Hughey and Harris would open fire with their eight guns and the two Arkansas brigades would sweep in the from the east. Greene’s brigade would stand by and support either Maxey or Cabell as circumstances dictated.

When Marmaduke revealed his presence at Poison Spring, Colonel Williams responded by rushing the original Union escort to the front of the forage train. He arrayed these troops in a battle line facing east-Haines’ two James rifles on the road, five companies of the 1st Kansas Colored on either side of the artillery, and cavalry on the flanks. Captain Duncan had his contingent adopt a similar formation behind the train. Hoping to bait the Rebels into showing their full power, Williams ordered Haines to throw a few shells in Marmaduke’s direction, but this challenge elicited only scattered small arms fire from Cabell’s skirmishers.13

Soon, however, Williams and his officers became aware of more Confederates approaching from the south. Maxey’s division was advancing toward the Federal right flank with DeMorse’s Texans on the right and Walker’s Choctaws on the left. Timber, underbrush, and ravines obscured Maxey’s numbers, but these same features impeded his progress. “I found great difficulty in preserving alignment and connection,” complained Colonel DeMorse. Krumbhaar’s Texas Battery, which brought along no axes, had to call for help in getting its guns through a patch of saplings.14

The discovery of this new threat necessitated a hasty redeployment of Union forces. Williams began by sending about one hundred troopers from the 2nd and 6th Kansas Cavalry to test Maxey’s strength. As the cavalry rode off, Major Richard G. Ward, the 1st Kansas Colored’s acting commander, arranged his regiment in an L-shaped line. He left Companies C, I, D, and F and one James rifle facing east, positioned Companies A, B, E, and H south of the Camden-Washington Road to counter Maxey, and placed


Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke. William A. Turner collection



Brigadier General William L. Cabell. William A. Turner collection





Steele's Expedition
March 23rd to May 3rd, 1864
Map Graphics © DLF Group 2000
David Fuller

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