Marks' Mills

Summary

April 25, 1864. Brig. Gen. James Fagan attacked a Union column at Marks' Mills, inflicting 1,500 casualties - mostly as prisoners of war.

The Route

▷ We previously ended at Fort Southerland Park in Camden at US 79, which is our starting point.
▷ Bradley Ferry Rd at U.S. 79, Camden ARTake US 79 for 30.1 miles, traveling over the Ouachita River, through northeast Ouachita county and northern Calhoun County and southeastern Dallas County to Fordyce.
▷ US 79 at Arkansas 8/N Edgar Street, Fordyce ARTurn right onto Arkansas 8/North Edgar Street for 0.9 mile.
▷ N Edgar Street at W 4th Street, Fordyce ARTurn left (east) onto 4th Street/US 79B for 0.65 mile (there's a left curve).
▷ Arkansas 8 /W 4th Street at N Main Street, Fordyce ARIf you like, turn right (south) on North Main Street to visit points of interest in the 200 block of North Main Street. Restaurants, fast food, gas, shopping and some motel accommodations, if desired, are available along US 79, Arkansas 8 and in downtown Fordyce. Return to East 4th Street turning right (eastward).
▷ N Main Street at E 4th Street, Fordyce ARFollow Arkansas 8 (which includes 4th Street, U.S. 79B, and Morton Street) for 9.6 miles.
▷ Marks Mill Battleground State Park, Arkansas 8 at Arkansas 97 79, Cleveland County ARMarks' Mills Battleground State Park is at the junction of Arkansas 8 and Arkansas 97 in Cleveland County. Turn left (northward) onto Arkansas 97 for 0.9 mile.
▷ Arkansas 97 at Marks Cemetery Road, Cleveland County ARTurn right (eastward) onto Marks Cemetery Road. Continue on the Marks Cemetery Road 0.9 mile.
▷ Marks Cemetery Road at Old Camden Road, Cleveland County ARTurn right (southward) on the Old Camden Road, turn right (southward) and travel about 0.8 mile (the road makes a sharp left to the east around 1/2 mile).
▷ Marks Cemetery, Cleveland County ARAt the Marks Cemetery, return the 0.7 mile to the Marks Cemetery Road.
▷ Old Camden Road at Marks Cemetery Road, Cleveland County ARTurn right (eastward) for less than 500 feet.
▷ Marks Cemetery Road at McAllister Road, Cleveland County ARVeer left (northward) at the fork to stay on the Marks Cemetery Road for 2.4 miles (winding northeastward).
▷ Marks Cemetery Road at Arkansas 179, Cleveland County ARThis brings us to Hebron Methodist Church located on the east side of Arkansas 189.

▷ This brings us to the next point of interest, Mt. Elba.

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This brings us to the next point of interest, Mt. Elba.

Fordyce

Fordyce did not exist at the time of the Civil War. A railroad town on what came to be known as the Cotton Belt line, Fordyce was established in 1882 and incorporated on April 8, 1884. Named for Samuel W. Fordyce (1840-1919), a prominent businessman involved in building railroads, Fordyce became a center for the timber industry in the region, and it has been the county seat of Dallas County since 1908. The 1911 Dallas County Courthouse is located on the 300 block of North Oak between West Fourth and West Third Streets.

Road to Marks' Mills Marker

Road to Marks' Mills Marker

Gen. Frederick Steele's Union army set out from Little Rock on March 23, 1864, to join a second army in Louisiana and invade Texas. He made it as far as modern-day Prescott before turning toward Camden in hopes of finding supplies for his starving army. Steele lost a supply train at Poison Spring on April 18, but a wagon train from Pine Bluff arrived on April 20 with 10 days rations. He sent it back, along with 1,400 soldiers, to get more supplies. The column took roads near today's Fordyce on the way to Pine Bluff as Confederates approached.
Civil War markers in the small public park at 214 North Main St. give details on the Camden Expedition and the disastrous battle at nearby Marks' Mills. The Union wagon train attempting to return to Pine Bluff via Mt. Elba for supplies for General Steele in Camden passed near the site of present-day Fordyce before it was ambushed by Confederate General James Fagan and his troops at Marks' Mills in what is now Cleveland County.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Battle of Marks' Mills Marker

Battle of Marks' Mills Marker

(Continued from other side) Confederate Gen. James Fagan set an ambush east of here at Marks' Mills with 4,000 cavalrymen in two divisions. On April 25, 1864, they attacked the Union column from two sides, and a desperate five-hour battle ended with the Union losing some 1,500 men killed, wounded and captured, along with hundreds of wagons. Fagan suffered only 293 casualties in what may have been the greatest Confederate triumph west of the Mississippi. The disaster led Steele to abandon Camden and retreat to Little Rock. He lost 2,750 men in the Camden Expedition.
Marker in Fordyce for the Battle of Marks' Mills. The Dallas County Museum is across the street and in the background.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Other Places in Fordyce

Civil War markers in the small public park at 214 North Main St. give details on the Camden Expedition and the disastrous battle at nearby Marks' Mills. The Union wagon train attempting to return to Pine Bluff via Mt. Elba for supplies for General Steele in Camden passed near the site of present-day Fordyce before it was ambushed by Confederate General James Fagan and his troops at Marks' Mills in what is now Cleveland County. The Dallas County Museum is located at 221 North Main and has a great variety of exhibits. It is open Tues.-Fri. from 10 to 4 and Sat. from 10 to 12. The Dallas County Sports Museum/Bill Mays Annex is at 200 North Main and is open upon request. It features teams and sports figures from the region. Most notable is Paul "Bear" Bryant (1913-1983) who learned to play football at Fordyce High School and went on to become the iconic coach of the University of Alabama football team.

Marks' Mills Battleground State Park

Marks' Mills Battleground State Park

Marks' Mills Battleground State Park is an unmanned state park commemorating the disastrous attack on a Union supply train by Confederate forces on April 25, 1864, as the supply train was attempting to return from Camden to Pine Bluff via Mt. Elba on the Saline River. The park is maintained by Moro Bay State Park located about forty miles to the south. Moro Bay is a fully staffed state park with a store, campground, cabins and facilities for fishing and boating.

The Union Wagon Train Leaves Camden

The Union Wagon Train Leaves Camden

The park has signage giving details on the battle, the forces involved and the purpose of the Red River Campaign and the Camden Expedition. This battle would be the second disaster of the Camden Expedition and would emphasize General's Steele's major problem: getting adequate food supplies for his soldiers and forage for the thousands of horses and mules that transported the men, supplies and gear necessary for his army.
In March of 1864, the Union Army began the Red River Campaign, a plan to subdue Arkansas and Louisiana and capture Texas cotton for the northern mills. By mid-April, the Arkansas arm of the campaign was stalled in Camden. A Union foraging party and wagon train had been captured at Poison Spring, and feeding the large Union Army had become a serious problem. On April 20, 1864, a supply train brought 10-days' half-rations to Major General Frederick Steele's Union army. On the 23rd, under heavy guard, the train began its ill-fated return to Pine Bluff.

The wagon train, commanded by Lt. Colonel Francis M. Drake, included 211 government wagons and was guarded by 3 regiments of infantry, 240 cavalry, and 4 pieces of artillery, in all some 1,600 men, not including 520 men of the 1st Iowa Veteran Volunteer Cavalry who were following the train home on furlough. Joining the train for protection were 50 to 75 private vehicles, cotton speculators, unionist refugees, sutlers, camp followers, and about 300 refugee slaves.

On April 24, upon learning this large Union supply train had left Camden, Confederate Brigadier Generals James F. Fagan and Joseph O. Shelby selected four brigades of cavalry and began a hurried march toward the junction of Camden, Mount Elba and Pine Bluff roads to intercept this prize.

Having progressed faster than the supply train on the muddy roads and having avoided detection by Union forces, Fagan and his officers planned an ambush at the site of Marks' Mills and the Marks Plantation. At 9:30 AM on April 25th, the horses and driver of the lead Union wagon were shot to block the road for the wagon train. Arkansas troops under the command of Brig. General William L. Cabell and Brig. General Thomas P. Dockery attacked the train and its forces from the south and were later joined by Missouri troops under Brig. General Joseph O. Shelby from the north. Shelby's forces had swung out east of Marks' Mills and crossed the Mt. Elba Road to drive back any Union forces approaching from the Mt. Elba Crossing. Shelby left a unit to watch the pontoon bridge at Mt. Elba and hold back any possible Union forces from the Pine Bluff garrison under the command of Col. Powell Clayton. Shelby then turned west to encounter Union wagons and stragglers attempting to flee to Mt. Elba before he attacked the Union forces scattered out along the Camden to Mt. Elba road from the north. The Union forces were surprised, outnumbered and overwhelmed in the chaos of the five-hour battle.
The First Iowa Cavalry, which was going home on furlough and had sold their horses to the Union Army, had not left Camden until the morning of April 24th. After hearing artillery fire about noon on the 25th, they rushed forward to find and assist the supply train ahead of them. At the bridge over Moro Creek west of Marks' Mills, the Union troops began to meet the civilians and stragglers from the supply train fleeing the fight. The First Iowa commander Lt. Col. Joseph Caldwell sent a messenger on a fast horse to General Steele in Camden with news of the ambush of the wagon train and the attack on his men. The severe wounding of the Confederate commander Col. DeWitt Hunter who was leading the attack on the Iowa troops and the fear of a larger force coming out of Camden discouraged the Confederates from pursuing a more aggressive strategy. The Iowans were able to make an organized retreat toward Camden. Steele sent Col. Daniel Anderson and the Third Cavalry Brigade to their aid. Anderson and his force reached them early on the morning of the 26th, and they were back in Camden later that day.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Witnesses to War

Witnesses to War

The actual site of the Battle of Marks' Mills is about a half mile from the state park in a wooded area that includes the Marks Plantation and the Marks Cemetery. John Harvie Marks (1803-1870) had come to Arkansas Territory about 1834 from Montgomery County, Alabama. From 1837 to 1860, Marks had patented 9,672.8 acres in what had become or would become Calhoun, Bradley and Cleveland Counties. Over 7,100 acres were in what would ultimately be Cleveland County. He also established a cotton gin, flour and grist mill, sawmill, brick kiln and blacksmith shop to meet the needs of his plantation. The 1860 slave census also indicates that he owned 58 slaves to aid his family with the necessary labor on his large property.

In addition to the signage, the state park also offers picnic facilities for visitors. At least one private monument in the park was erected by family members to honor an ancestor who was believed to have participated in the fighting.
So many horses and soldiers were killed that Salty Branch ran red with blood.

In 1864, Camden was a large town on the Ouachita River, as was Pine Bluff on the Arkansas River. Moro Bay, to the south, was the largest cotton shipping point below Camden on the Ouachita River. The country between these river towns was rugged and far less populated. Often the closest neighbor was miles away and the closest place to buy goods or see a doctor was half a day's ride or more by horse.

The Marks family lived in this remote area at the junction of the Moro Bay and the Camden and Pine Bluff roads. John H. Marks had arrived in the 1830s and saw that the area could be more prosperous. He soon had large landholdings, many slaves, a cotton gin, flour and grist mills, sawmill, a brick kiln, and a blacksmith shop.

John H. and Mary Barnett Marks' daughter, Martha, was home when the battle began. She later wrote:
I saw them shoot down the driver of the first wagon in front of our house. Our home was a temporary hospital and I can see now the wounded and the dying lying on our porches and in the house.

Anita Knowles' Grandfather took part in the battle and was ordered to shoot the lead horses of the first wagon. In 1937, she wrote an essay printed in the Cleveland County Herald describing the battle, and said:
So many horses and soldiers were killed that Salty Branch ran red with blood.

Marks Mills' Battleground State Park was established by the State Legislature to commemorate the Battle of Marks' Mills. The battle took place about half a mile from here near the Marks family homesite and Salty Branch Creek. To see the Marks family homesite, cemetery, and more, travel about one mile north on Highway 97, turn right on Marks Cemetery Road. Travel on Marks Cemetery Road for another mile and turn right again.

Photo by Peggy Lloyd

The Battle at Marks' Mill

The Battle at Marks' Mill

Early on the morning of April 25, the Confederates blocked the Pine Bluff Road near the Marks family home and mills. The first Union wagon trained arrived around 9:30 a.,. The Confederates shot the horses and driver of the lead Union wagon and launched the attack. The battle lasted five hours.

The main Southern unit dismounted and charged the wagon train. They were followed by mounted Missourians charging from the north, then mounted Arkansans attacking from the south. The fate of the Federal force was sealed.

The Confederates first subdued the two lead Union regiments, then the rear guard. The 1st Iowa Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, marching a few miles behind the Union column, formed a line of battle several miles to the west behind Moro Creek, beat off several rebel attacks, and conducted an orderly fighting withdrawal back to Camden.

About 1,600 Union troops were engaged in battle against 2,500 Confederates. Union losses could not have been less than 1,300, the majority being captured. Of the 300 unarmed refugee slaves, over 100 were killed by Confederate soldiers. Confederate losses were fewer than 500. The victors found themselves with the entire train, some1,500 horses and mules, private vehicles, ambulances, four guns, and valuable official reports concerning Steele's army.

The Union loss here at Marks' Mills, the previous defeat at Poison Springs, and news that Major General Banks had been defeated in Louisiana prompted General Steele to quickly return to Little Rock. In hasty retreat from Camden through heavy rains, Steele led his Union army into the raging floodwaters of the Saline River and the teeth [of] the Confederate Army in the final battle of the Red River Campaign: Jenkins' Ferry.

Marks Homesite

Marks Homesite

Numerous markers, some home-made, and relics of previous farming activities appear along the road to the Marks Cemetery. A large home-made sign denotes the Marks homesite with this message:
April 25, 1864. "The Battle of Marks' Mill was fought one mile from our house. I saw them shoot down the driver of the first wagon in front of our house. Our home was a temporary hospital, and I can see now, the wounded and the dying lying on our porches and in the house.
General Sherman was right about war. It is hell."
Martha H. Marks
(Hudson)
Daughter of John H. and Mary Barnett Marks

Martha Marks was 23 years old on the morning of April 25, 1864. That battle left her with a memory she would never forget. She married James Madison Hudson on December 10, 1865, had a family and spent most of her life in Jefferson County and Pine Bluff. She died in 1921 and is buried in Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff. The memory of that bloody battle touched her and other members of the Marks Family. They have maintained the site as a private park for generations and continue to do so today.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Battle of Marks' Mills Marker

Battle of Marks' Mills Marker

A little farther down the road and near the entrance to the Marks Cemetery stands a Civil War Sesquicentennial marker installed in 2014. Under the title "Battle of Marks' Mills", it repeats the major points of this event:
On April 23, 1864, a Union force with 240 wagons left Camden to get supplies from Pine Bluff for Gen. Frederick Steele's army. Gen. James Fagan's Confederate cavalrymen ambushed them at Marks' Mills on April 25. The first shots of the battle were fired near here. After 5 hours of heavy combat, the Union troops surrendered with some 1,500 casualties, mostly prisoners. Fagan lost only 293 men in his one-sided victory. The disastrous defeat at Marks' Mills, following an earlier loss at Poison Spring led Steele to abandon Camden and retreat to Little Rock.
About 2,500 Confederate troops had overwhelmed about 1,600 Union troops including some cavalry sent by Col. Powell Clayton to contact the wagon train. The First Iowa Cavalry who were marching well behind the wagon train were not included and managed to get back to Camden with small losses. The Confederate forces had to collect the dead and wounded, take charge of some three hundred wagons with livestock taken from the Union forces and noncombatants following the train and guard the many prisoners. Reportedly, some 100 refugee slaves and possibly some of the Unionists who were fleeing Camden were killed. The Seventh Arkansas started moving the military prisoners of war to a prison camp at Tyler, Texas, on the night of the 25th. The captured wagons followed to move to safety on the other side of the Ouachita River. Fagan and his remaining troops spent the night at Marks' Mills before moving north along the west bank of the Saline River to intercept other Union forces believed to be on the move.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Marks Family Experience Marker

Marks Family Experience Marker

The other side of the marker is entitled "Marks Family Experience" and gives more details on the battle and its aftermath:
Young Eleanor and Martha Marks witnessed the opening of the battle of Marks' Mills from their front porch and saw several men killed on the road and in their yard. Four Confederates were buried in their garden and dozens of Union dead were buried in their orchard. The Marks Family home served as a hospital in the combat's aftermath. Mollie Marks, their cousin, helped three wounded Union soldiers from the battlefield to the hospital and helped nurse them back to health, actions that led to her nomination to be local postmaster many years later.
Eleanor Marks, born on November 22, 1854, was the daughter of John H. Marks and his second wife Nancy Clark Marks. She was nine years old at the time of the battle. She married Wm. H. Barnett in 1873 and had several children. She and her husband spent most of their lives in Cleveland County. He died in 1899, but she lived until 1940. Both Eleanor and her husband are buried in the Marks Cemetery. Martha Marks, who was discussed earlier, was an older half-sister to Eleanor. Their cousin Mollie Marks was Mary Ann Elizabeth Marks, the daughter of John H. and Matilda Marks. Born in 1848, she was almost sixteen when she walked out onto that battlefield and was appalled at what she saw. Her relatives were in the Confederate Army and had participated in the fight, but she quickly rescued three Union soldiers and did everything she could to help them. Forty years later two of the men would ask President Theodore Roosevelt to select her for the job of postmistress in Fordyce, Arkansas, with a handsome salary of $1500 per year. They emphasized that she had helped them immensely and was now a poor widow. She had indeed helped them, and certainly her family's assets had declined in the years after the Civil War. But she was not a widow. She had married William Tennell Pickett in 1869 and had eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood, and her husband was still alive. The story of the two former Union soldiers trying to aid the woman who had once helped them appeared in the Sunday Magazine section of the St. Louis Post Dispatch on January 3, 1904. It may have caused a stir among those who read it, but apparently Mrs. Pickett never got her post office job. By 1910 the Picketts and some of their grown children had followed the timber industry into northern Louisiana in Bienville Parish and were living and working in a logging camp. By 1920, the parents and their grown children were living on a farm in Franklin Parish, Louisiana, in the northeastern part of the state. William T. Pickett died on June 23, 1925. Molly Marks Pickett died on Feb. 15, 1928. Both are buried in unmarked graves in a cemetery at a Baptist Church in Crowville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Marks Cemetery

Marks Cemetery

The gravely wounded Union troops remained at the Marks home and were paroled and returned to the Union Army at Pine Bluff under a truce. They included Lt. Col. Francis Drake, commander of the wagon train. Doctors believed at first that he would not survive his injury, but he did. He was a brigadier general in the Union Army by the end of the Civil War. The Union troops buried at the Marks site were later exhumed and returned to their homes in the northern states. The pavilion beside the Marks Cemetery continues to be the site of annual reunions of the Marks family and their descendants. John H. Marks, the original settler who came to Arkansas from Alabama in the 1830s, died in 1870. He and members of his family are buried in the cemetery.
Photo by Peggy Lloyd

Up Next

This brings us to the next point of interest, Mt. Elba.

More Information

Here is a web page with more information:
Encyclopedia of Arkansas