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Colonel Crawford marched away from Jenkins’ Ferry certain that the reprisals committed by the 2nd Kansas Colored had taught the Rebels to stop murdering black prisoners. He was wrong. The Federals left 150 soldiers too badly hurt to be moved at an overcrowded field hospital at Jenkins’ Ferry. Nine of them were enlisted men from the 2nd Kansas Colored. Just as the sun began to set, some Confederate cavalry rode up to the hospital and began robbing the Federal dead and wounded. Surgeon William L. Nicholson of the 29th Iowa had volunteered to remain with his stricken countrymen, and he later testified: “One [Rebel], dressed as an officer, drew his revolver and shot three wounded ‘niggers’ who lay in the yard.” Nicholson narrowly escaped taking a bullet himself when he loudly protested “this brutal violation of the hospital flag.” Two weeks later, the Confederates moved Nicholson and the six surviving 2nd Kansas men to a more permanent hospital at Princeton, Arkansas. The blacks were quartered in a small storehouse apart from the wounded white Federals. “They had not been long deposited,” Nicholson recalled, “when I heard shooting and some one remarked ‘The niggers are catching it.’” Glancing at the storeroom, the surgeon saw a Confederate soldier emerge with a smoking revolver in each hand. “I went over at once,” Nicholson wrote, “and found all the poor negroes shot through the head.”38

The heartless events that transpired at Poison Spring, Jenkins’ Ferry, and Princeton haunted the participants of the Camden Campaign in the months that followed. Both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arkansas had violated the bounds of civilized warfare, and a sensitive handful feared that the struggle would sink to even deeper levels of savagery. “It looks hard,” admitted Private Chambers, “but the rebs cannot blame the negroes when they are guilty of the same trick.” Two weeks after Steele returned to Little Rock, one of his officers, Lieutenant William Blain of the 40th Iowa Infantry, composed this chilling epitaph for the campaign: “It would not surprise me in the least if this war would ultimately be one of extermination. Its tendencies are in that direction now.”39 

Gregory J.W. Urwin is the author of numerous works on the Civil War, including Custer Victorious (1983), and on the Second World War. His book Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island received the General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. He is general editor of the University of Oklahoma Press Campaigns and Commanders series, and teaches at Temple University in Pennsylvania.


 1.  Gregory J. W. Urwin, “Notes on the First Confederate Volunteers from Ouachita County, Arkansas, 1861,” Military Collector & Historian 49 (Summer 1997): 83; J. A. Newman, The Autobiography of an Old Fashioned Boy (El Reno, Oklahoma: Privately printed, 1923), 23.

 2.  Wiley Britton to his wife, “The Camden Expedition,” June 1, 1864, p. 10, Wiley Britton Letters, J. N. Heiskel Historical Collection, H-4, 13, UALR Archives and Special Collections, UALR Library, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

3.  John W. Brown, “Diary,” April 15, 1864, Arkansas History Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas.

4.  Wiley Britton, The Union Indian Brigade in the Civil War (Kansas City, Missouri: 1922), p. 347; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Washington, D.C.: 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 34, pt. 1: p. 657 (Here-after cited as OR, with all references to ser. 1, vol. 34, pt. 1, unless otherwise noted).

5.  John M. Harrell, “Arkansas,” in Clement A. Evans, ed., Confederate Military History, vol. 10 (Seacaucus, New Jersey: 1975), p. 239; Virginia Mc’Collum Stinson, “Memories,” in Mrs. M. A. Elliott, comp., The Garden of Memory: Stories of the Civil War as Told by Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy (Camden, Arkansas: 1911), p. 31.

 6.  OR, 779-81; Roman J. Zorn, ed., “Campaigning in Southern Arkansas: A Memoir by C. T. Anderson,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 8 (Autumn 1949): pp. 241-42; James L. Skinner, III, ed., The Autobiography of Henry Merrell: Industrial Missionary to the South (Athens: 1991), p. 352; Harrell, “Arkansas,” 238-39; John N. Shepherd, “Autobiography,” Guthrie, Oklahoma, 1908, 42, Richard S. Warner Papers, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 7.  OR, 662, 679-80, 734; Brown, “Diary,” April 15, 1864; Mrs. A. J. Marshall, Autobiography (Pine Bluff, Arkansas: Privately printed, 1897), p. 101.

 8.  OR, 680.

 9.  Ibid., 743-44.

10.  OR, 743-44, 746, 748-50; Steele’s Kansas cavalrymen became notorious for their depredations. For more details on this topic, see Gregory J. W. Urwin, “‘We Cannot Treat Negroes . . . as Prisoners of War’: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in Civil War Arkansas,” Civil War History 42 (September 1996): pp. 199-200.

11.  OR, 848-49; Henry Cathey, ed., “Extracts from the Memoirs of William Franklin Avera,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 22 (Summer 1963): pp. 102-3; Stinson, “Memories,” 34; Allan C. Ashcraft, “Confederate Indian Troop Conditions in 1864,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 41 (Winter 1963-64): p. 445.

12.   OR, 791, 819, 826; Washington (Ark.) Telegraph, May 11, 1864.

13.   OR, 744, 751.

14.  Ibid., 744, 846.

15.  Ibid., 744, 750-52, 755.

16.  William F. Stafford, “Battery Journal,” April 18, 1864, M.D. Hutcheson Papers, Camden, Arkansas; Anonymous to “Dear Sally,” n.d., Spence Civil War Letters, photostat copies on loan to the Old State House Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas; OR, 752.

17.  OR, 745, 752.

18.  When Colonel Randolph Barnes Marcy, one of the regular army’s four inspector generals, inspected the 1st Kansas Colored on July 19, 1864, he found the regiment armed with “230 U.S. muskets calibre 69 and 126 Enfield rifled muskets calibre 58.” Either type could fire buck and ball cartridges. OR, 745, 752, 847; R. B. Marcy, “Report of Inspection of the Department of Arkansas Made in June and July 1864 by Colonel Randolph B. Marcy, Inspector General U.S. Army,” Record Group 94, Office of Inspector General Letters Received, 1863-1876, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

19.  OR, 745, 752.

20.  Ibid., 745.

21.  Britton, Union Indian Brigade, 367; OR, ser. 1, vol. 22, pt. 1, pp. 447-52; Dudley Taylor Cornish, “Kansas Negro Regiments in the Civil War,” Kansas Historical Quarterly 21 (May 1953), p. 425.

22.  OR, 791, 828, 843, 847.

23.  OR, 746, 753-54; Anonymous to “Dear Sally,” n.d.; Stafford, “Battery Journal,” April 18, 1864; Fort Smith New Era, May 7, 1864.

24.  OR, 746, 748, 749, 756, 757.

25.  Fort Smith New Era, May 7, 14, 21, 1864; Washington Telegraph, May 25, 1864.

26.  Britton, Union Indian Brigade, 372-73; Ralph R. Rea, Sterling Price: The Lee of the West (Little Rock: 1959), p. 106; Henry Merrell, “Receipts” Book (Diary), April 18, 1864, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas; George Carr to “Dear Father,” May 2, 1864, Eugene A. Carr Papers, Archives Branch, U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania; A. W. M. Petty, A History of the Third Missouri Cavalry: From Its Organization at Palmyra, Missouri, in 1861, up to November Sixth, 1864: With an Appendix and Recapitulation (Little Rock: 1865), p. 76 .

27.  Stafford, “Battery Journal,” April 18, 1864; Zorn, “Campaigning in Southern Arkansas,” pp. 242-43; Skinner, Autobiography of Henry Merrell, 367-68.

28.  Washington Telegraph, May 11, 1864.

29.  Urwin, “We Cannot Treat Negroes,” 202; Washington Telegraph, June 27, 1864, January 13, 1865; Arkansas Gazette, November 4, 1853, April 6, June 15, 1855; Helena Southern Shield, October 25, December 20, 1856; Skinner, Autobiography of Henry Merrell, 38-39.

30.  Arkansas Gazette, October 11, 1862; Little Rock True Democrat, April 22, 1863; Washington Telegraph, October 15, 1862, June 8, 1864; For a balanced account of the Fort Pillow Massacre, see Brian Steel Wills, A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest (New York: 1992), pp. 179-96.

31.  Washington Telegraph, May 25, 1864; Charles O. Musser to “Dear Father,” May 11, 1864, in Barry Popchock, ed., Soldier Boy: The Civil War Letters of Charles O. Musser, 29th Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa: 1995), p. 127.

32.  OR, 669-70; Edwin C. Bearss, Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry (Little Rock: 1990), pp. 102, 161; Samuel J. Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties, ( Chicago: 1911) p. 121-23.

33.  OR, 697-98, 781, 813; Little Rock Unconditional Union, May 13, 20, 1864; George Carr to “Dear Father,” May 2, 1864; Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties, 124-28; Lonnie J. White, ed., “A Bluecoat’s Account of the Camden Expedition,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 24 (Spring 1965): 87-88; William E. McLean, Forty-Third Regiment of Indiana Volunteers: An Historic Sketch of Its Career and Services (Terre Haute: 1903), p. 26; Samuel J. Crawford to Joseph T. Wilson, December 31, 1885, in Joseph T. Wilson, The Black Phalanx (Hartford, Connecticut: 1890), p. 242; Skinner, Autobiography of Henry Merrell, 368.

34.   Milton P. Chambers to “Dear Brother,” May 7, 1864, Milton P. Chambers Papers, Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville; OR, 781, 813; Little Rock Unconditional Union, May 20, 1864.

35.  Crawford, Kansas in the Sixties, 131-32; OR, 759; Samuel J. Crawford to James T. Wilson, December 31, 1885, in Wilson, Black Phalanx, 245; William L. Nicholson, “The Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry,” Annals of Iowa 11 (October 1914): p. 511.

36.  Mamie Yeary, comp., Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, 1861-1865 (Dallas, Texas: 1912), p. 437.

37.  James McCall Dawson to “Dear Father Sisters and Brothers,” May 5, 1864, in James Reed Eison, ed., “‘Stand We in Jeopardy Every Hour’: A Confederate Letter, 1864,” Pulaski County Historical Review 31 (Fall 1993): 52; Junius N. Bragg to Ann Josephine Goodard Bragg, May 5, 1864, in Mrs. T. J. Gaughan, ed., Letters of a Confederate Surgeon 1861-1865 (Camden, Arkansas: 1960), p. 230; Yeary, Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, 799; Edward W. Cade to “My dear Wife,” May 6, 1864, Edward W. and Allie Cade Correspondence, John Q. Anderson Collection, Texas State Archives, Austin, Texas.

38.  Nicholson, “Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry,” 509, 511-15, 519; Fort Smith New Era, June 16, August 6, 1864.

39.  Milton P. Chambers to “Dear Brother,” May 7, 1864; William Blain to “Dear Wife,” May 17, 1864, in Dolly Bottens, comp., Rouse Stevens Ancestary & Allied Families (Carthage, Missouri: Privately printed, 1970), p. 108B.



Surgeon William L. Nicholson.  Photograph by JoAnna McDonald, US Army Military History Institute

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