TODAY, January 8, 1961, President Eisenhower will officially open the Civil War Centennial, marking 100 years since on January 9, 1861, cadets on Morris Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, scored a direct cannon hit on the battleship, Star of the West, loaded with reinforcements for the United States garrison of Ft. Sumter, thereby touching off the four-year Civil War.
In Grant County, residents will recount phases of the four-year struggle as they affect not only this country, but others in Southern Arkansas. This will not be hard to do you have to travel only a short distance from Sheridan to find still visible evidence of the war fought a century ago. This includes the site of the battle of Jenkins Ferry, an old two-story building built in the 1840's, and used as headquarters for Confederate soldiers passing through, and stories of the war, both legendary and factual.
Miss Alma Rogers of Sheridan, county historian, and retired abstract and records expert, probably has the most authentic record of the Battle of Jenkins Ferry and the entire Red River Expedition, ever written. In the faded manuscript, her father, the late R. M. Rogers, recounts from his own experiences and observations the campain which ended with the Battle of Jenkins Ferry. He fought with the Confederates throughout the campaign, and lost an arm in the fighting at Jenkins Ferry.
THE HOUSE, known as the Rhodes place, was begun in 1847. It is a two-story building, and although in need of repairs and restoration, it is in good condition as far as materials go. The timber used was all hand-cut, and the cypress shingles have never decayed. The owner, Cramer Rhodes, a grandson of the builder, would like to restore the house to its original state, but ill health and needed funds have prevented him from doing so. He lives in another house close by, but relatives still occupy the old house, now 113 years old.
The only visible remainder of the Jenkins Ferry battle today are a large monument standing just off the highway, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, an occasional minie ball picked up at the site, and Saline River which is said to hold two cannons left by the retreating Union Army which crossed the River and headed for Little Rock after the battle fought April 30, 1864. But there are bitter reminders in its history.
R. M. Rogers, author of the "Red River Expedition", was only 16 years old when the Civil War began. One by one his five brothers were killed in the fighting. When the last, James Rogers, was killed, young Rogers persuaded his general to let him take his place. He fought with the 26th Arkansas Regiment, Company B, until he lost his arm at Jenkins Ferry.
Rogers began his account of the Red River Campaign with plans of both Confederate and Union armies which took part. General Banks, he wrote, was to ascend the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Red River, then up that River to a planned point where he was to join General Steele's men who were moving south from Little Rock. The Northern armies were then to invade Texas.
THE CONFEDERATES, led by Gen. Kirby Smith, leading general of the Trans-Mississippi Department, in order to repel the invasion, were ordered to join Gen. Richard Taylor's troops and hold the Northern armies in check until Arkansas and Missouri men could reinforce them.
For a time it looked as if General Taylor's men would be unable to hold out while waiting for assistance, Rogers wrote. General Banks' army kept advancing, Taylor's men falling back. The Confederates lost two skirmishes. Then the tide began to change. The Confederate soldiers won an encounter at Mansfield, La., and still another at Pleasant Hill. They were then ordered back into Arkansas and near Camden they met General Steele's troops moving south.
At Camden a skirmish ensued, and Steele's men turned north again. The Confederates engaged them at Mark's Mill near Camden, winning that skirmish, and another at Poison Springs. By that time General Steele's men had been ordered back to Little Rock. The pursuit continued, and on Saturday morning, April 30, the Confederate soldiers reached an area near what was later to become Jenkins Ferry. They found Steele's army waiting.
It was here in the muddy Saline River bottom that the Battle of Jenkins Ferry was fought. It has been described as one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the Civil War. For six hours weary men on both sides fought in mud and water "shoe-mouth" deep and when it was finally over, more than a thousand men, both Confederates and Union soldiers, were killed or wounded, Rogers wrote in his history.
HE DESCRIBED the plan of the Confederates for the battle, and how the outcome affected both armies. Confederate troops under General Fagan were to attach in front, while the rest of the men were to strike from the rear. The Union army had taken a position just north of a field along Cox's Creek, behind logs and timber in such a manner that Confederate solders could not reach them without exposure to crossfire. Men on both sides fell rapidly.
The fighting grew more intense, with scores falling by this time. Troops were taken, given up, and retaken. Near noon it became evident that General Steele would cross the river, and move toward Little Rock. Wagons trains were cut down, cannons spiked and thrown into Saline River, and much ammunition lost, or disposed of. The Union army crossed the river, but without pontoons the Confederates could not pursue. The battle had ended.
And for R. M. Rogers, the war was over. He had lost an arm, and with other solders who had been wooded, he lay on the battleground three days before being carried to a field station in Tulip. His arm, almost completely severed, was amputated at the site of battle, and several more days lapsed before a change of clothes was available at the Tulip hospital.
Bearing out Rogers' account of the Federal troops discarding their war materials at Jenkins Ferry, Grant County residents for years found weapons which had been used by the Northern soldiers. And only two years ago, two Sheridan men, Chester Meek and W. H. Lindsey, took a metal detector to Jenkins Ferry and located and unearthed 1,500 pounds of grapeshot balls, other small ammunitions, and a large quantity of decaying cloth. They believe they have located one of the cannons, but the depth of the water in Sline River at the spot has made recovery attempts impossible.
MANY PEOPLE in the county believe the Federal army buried gold along with the ammunition. For years people have tried to locate it. Robert Rhodes, (no kin of Cramer Rhodes), of Leola who lives just two miles from the battle site found a gold dollar in the area several years ago. It bears a date of 1843. He dug to a great depth in the vicinity, but never found other gold pieces. He has muskets, parts of guns, and some Civil War ammunition which his father picked up many years ago.
Here is where the battle ground and the Rhodes place have "ties". Cramer Rhodes says that he remembers hearing his grandfather say that a young Union soldier came to his home soon after the war, and inquired about reaching the battle ground. He also talked about the area, and if high water would keep him from reaching it. Rhodes thought the man recovered the gold, because he never came back as he had promised to do.
The "Graybacks" did come to the Rhodes place, however, after the war was over, and a group one night took the old man out behind the house and hanged him to a large tree because he couldn't produce gold they thought he had. After they left, slaves cut the man down, but he was never well again.
There are reminders of the Civil War at the Rhodes place today. There is a saddlebag which was left there during the war. A young man who brought the mail through the area once a month reached the Rhodes place just in time to join the Confederate army. He just took off his mail bag, and went on. There are other interesting pieces of furniture, hand carved, and relics of a century ago.
Every state across the South will revive memories of the Civil War during the Centennial. Many of them still carry the scars of battle. And, as in Grant County, facts, stories, and legends. But the Centennial will serve a great purpose that of reminding us of the strength and security which comes with the uniting and building of a great nation such as all sections of our country enjoy. If it took a four-year war to achieve all that we have today, then it must have been worth the price!
Watch for more about the Civil War, Jenkins Ferry and Whitten Mill from The Sheridan Headlight dated July 13, 1972.
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