Battle of Bayou Forche or Little Rock, 10 September 1863

The only significant fighting during the Union campaign that captured Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1863. The fall of Vicksburg (4 July) freed up troops from U.S. Grant's army for other duties. One detachment, under Major-General Frederick Steele, was sent to Helena, Arkansas, with orders to advance on Little Rock. Steele had commanded the First Division in Sherman's corps at Vicksburg. When Steele combined with other forces in the area, he had around 12,000 men, of whom just over 10,000 were 'ready for duty' at the start of September.

Opposing him were 8,000 men 'of all arms' under Major-General Stirling Price, temporarily in command in the absence of Lieutenant-General Theophilius H. Holmes. As Confederate reports of numbers include all men present, not just the fighting men, Price's effective force was probably somewhat lower than this.

Steele's progress towards Little Rock was untroubled. He left Helena on 5 August. On 18 August he left Devall's Bluff on the White River for the march to Little Rock. By 10 September he was only eight miles from Little Rock, advancing along the north bank of the Arkansas River.

Price deployed his men to oppose the main Federal advance. He placed 6,500 men in a fortified line north of the river, and sent 1,250 to the south bank, in an attempt to prevent Steele outflanking him. This attempt failed. Steele’s cavalry, under Brigadier-General John W. Davidson, crossed the river five miles to the east of the Bayou Fourche.

The Confederate forces on the south bank conducted a fighting retreat back to the Bayou. There a full battle developed. The outnumbered Confederates managed to hold the line for a short period, but were eventually forced back by weight of numbers.

With his flank turned, Price had no choice but to abandon his trenches north of the Arkansas River, and retreat south. Steele occupied Little Rock on the evening of 10 September. Two cavalry brigades pursued the forces from Bayou Fourche for a day, but Price's main force was able to retreat to Arkadelphia, where General Holmes resumed command. From there, the Confederate army retreated to Camden, in the south of the state, where they remained undisturbed over the winter of 1863-4.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 January 2007), Battle of Bayou Forche or Little Rock, 10 September 1863 ,

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