Union Forces Commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis
Killed & Wounded
Confederate Forces Commanded by Brig. Gen. John S. Roane and
Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman
Killed & Wounded
Conclusion: Union Victory
The Battle of Whitney's Lane was a small, but psychologically important, land battle of the fought in north-central Arkansas.
In early 1862, Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis had successfully invaded northwest Arkansas and defeated Confederate forces at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Soon afterwards, most Confederate forces in Arkansas were withdrawn across the Mississippi River, leaving the state almost defenseless. Curtis intended to press his invasion with the hope of reaching the capital city of Little Rock and knocking the state out of the war.
The Confederate outlook in the spring of 1862 was grim. Most of its forces had been withdrawn and no commander with field experience was in charge. Brig. Gen. John S. Roane was put in charge of Arkansas forces and Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman was placed in overall command of the Trans-Mississippi Department. On his arrival Hindman found that he had no troops and only fifteen pounds of gunpowder with which to defend the state.
Curtis began his movement from northwest Arkansas in early April. He moved his 17,000-man army back into Missouri to take advantage of better transportation routes and headed east. He established his base of supply at Rolla. Curtis reached West Plains on April 29 and turned southwards into Arkansas. In addition to his large force, he was assigned an additional 5,000 men under Brig. Gen. Frederick Steele.
During the first part of May, Curtis and Steele encountered many logistical difficulties. Poor weather, difficult terrain, and lack of consistent resupply slowed their progress. But by May 9, Curtis's large, but ill-supplied, force had emerged from the Ozark foothills onto flat ground at Searcy. It was poised to strike deep into central Arkansas and seize Little Rock itself as soon as supplies were gathered. While encamped at Searcy, Curtis and overall commander Gen. Henry W. Halleck began to correspond about the upcoming Federal administration of Little Rock.
Hindman and Roane set to work immediately in cobbling together a defense to meet the approaching Union Army. Hindman stopped elements of the 12th Texas Cavalry that were bound for the eastern theaters and ordered troops who had made it as far as Memphis, Tennessee to turn around. Little success was made at recruiting local volunteers.
On May 10 , Hindman sent out Texas cavalry as scouts to determine the Union position. The scouts encountered numerous refugees fleeing the Union Army. The refugees reported that the Union forces numbered about 30,000 men. Hindman had approximately 1,200 Texas cavalry with which to confront them. He ordered cotton stores near Searcy destroyed, and Governor Henry Massey Rector prepared government offices for evacuation. Meanwhile, small advance parties from the Union army clashed with the Texas scouts between Searcy and Little Rock, and several Union troops were killed or captured.
By May 19, several companies of the Texan cavalry had reached Searcy Landing and awaited an opportunity to take on the Confederates.
Curtis continued to be concerned with logistical problems as his supply line was unable to provide the necessities for his army. He ordered Col. Peter J. Osterhaus to send out a foraging party to nearby farms; this party consisted of seven companies of mixed infantry and cavalry from the 17th Missouri Infantry and the 4th Missouri Cavalry. These companies crossed the Little Red River and proceeded to 2 farms along Whitney's Lane.
Acouting parties reported the movement of these seven companies to Col. Emory Rogers, commander of approximately 150 Texas cavalry and local volunteers. 300 additional Confederate troops were on the way, but Rogers determined to attack the Union party even though he was outnumbered. He divided his forces into 2 groups of Texans and one of Arkansans and ordered a mounted charge down the lane.
The initial charge overran Company H of the 17th Missouri, which dissolved under fire and retreated toward Company F, which was attempting to set up a defensive position in a woodline. The combined force fought bravely for a couple of minutes as more and more Confederates came up to press them. The untrained and undisciplined Texans and local volunteers attacked furiously, and in some cases ignored Union soldiers' attempts to surrender. Within a short time, Company F had dissolved as well.
Meanwhile, Company G and some Union cavalry moved forward and traded volleys with the Confederate horsemen. Maj. Eugene Kielmansegge of the 4th Missouri Cavalry ordered the rest of the available Union troopers to charge the Confederates. Company C of the 4th Missouri Cavalry plowed into the attackers and succeeded in driving them back into the woods between the foraging detail and the rest of the federal army. Other Union cavalry continued to arrive at the position. Kielmansegge, having concentrated his forces, set up a defensive position and continued to trade fire with the Confederates as they prepared for another attack.
Meanwhile, other companies of the 17th Missouri had heard firing from the base camp across the Little Red River and marched out to relieve the foraging party. Confederate Maj. Rogers ordered his men to retreat to the southwest and most did, though the Arkansans and some Texans remained on the field and attacked the relief column before withdrawing. The 300 expected Confederate reinforcements arrived on the field just after the retreat had been sounded and joined in the retreat.
The battle at Whitney's Lane had only lasted one hour.
The battle was little more than a skirmish, but the psychological and strategic effects of the conflict were far more than what was reflected by the number of casualties. For both Confederate soldiers and civilians in Arkansas the battle provided a huge psychological lift at a critical time. Arkansas newspapers trumpeted the battle and praised its participants. These articles lifted the despair that had gripped the state and provided the Confederates with a new sense of optimism and hope.
Even though their losses were small compared to the size of their force the results of the battle proved disheartening for the Union. Union troops were still suffering from lack of supplies and some soldiers reported losing confidence in the abilities of their officers. Within a few days the Confederate cavalry were harassing the Union supply line from the rear making their logistics problems even worse. In combination with this, Hindman launched a clever disinformation campaign aimed at convincing the leaders of the Union forces that new units were pouring into Little Rock from Texas.
The actions of the 12th Texas Cavalry and a handful of local volunteers at Whitney's Lane had played a large part in forestalling what would have almost certainly been a successful attack on Little Rock, and kept Arkansas in the war for more than a year longer.