Arkansas Red River Campaign Scenic Highway and Scenic Byway Steering Committee

The Camden Expedition of the Arkansas Red River Campaign featured the major military activities of 1864 in Arkansas. Many battlefields, fortifications and buildings survive today to tell that story.

Explore The Scenic Highway Map & Turn-By-Turn Driving Directions

Committee Mission


The Arkansas Red River Campaign Scenic Highway and Scenic Byway Steering Committee was formed of representatives from ten Arkansas counties to establish a Scenic Highway and a Scenic Byway to bring travelers to points of interest along the route of the Camden Expedition. The committee has mapped out a route on modern, paved roads to follow this Civil War spring offensive in Arkansas.

At the committee's request, the Arkansas Legislature enacted Act 292 of 2019 to establish the "Camden Expedition Scenic Highway". On September 15, 2021, the Arkansas Department of Transportation designated the route as a Scenic Byway.

This project introduces the public to these important sites in our state and nation’s history and will seek to preserve them and to encourage heritage tourism.

Background


By 1864, the Union Army had already taken control of Little Rock, and the Confederate State Capitol had moved to Washington, Arkansas. The Arkansas Red River Campaign began in March 1864 and concluded in May 1864.

The Union Army's plan was to defeat the remaining Confederate troops in Arkansas and Louisiana and the headquarters in Shreveport. Then, the Red River could be secured and Texas could be invaded. About 20,000 Department of the Gulf troops based in New Orleans were to advance to Shreveport. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was in command.

Union troops totaling about 13,000 from Little Rock and Fort Smith were deployed. About 8,500 were from the Little Rock Arsenal under the command of Major General Frederick Steele. Another 4,500 troops from the Frontier Division based in Fort Smith were under the command of Brig. Gen. John M. Thayer, and were to meet Steele's forces in Arkadelphia.

Confederate Trans-Mississippi forces troops were under the command of Major General Edmund Kirby Smith.

The Camden Expedition


The Arkansas leg of the "Red River Campaign" became known as the "Camden Expedition", because Union troops abandoned their plan to get to the Red River and retreated to Camden. It was a major disaster for the Union army.

Here is a timeline of the major events of the Arkansas leg of the Red River Campaign, or Camden Expedition.

March 23, 1864. Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele left Little Rock at the head of 8,500 Union Troops to link with a larger Union Force at Shreveport, Louisiana, with plans to invade cotton-rich eastern Texas. Around 4,500 men of Brig. Gen. John M. Thayer’s Frontier Division left Ft. Smith to join Steele’s forces in Arkadelphia by April 1.

March 24-April 1. Steele’s column marched through Benton, and then crossed the Ouachita River at Rockport before entering Arkadelphia. The troops waited there until April 1, but, when Thayer failed to arrive, Steele continued forward.

April 2. Confederate cavalrymen under Brig. Gen J. O. Shelby attacked Steele’s supply wagons near Terre Noire Creek. They were repulsed.

April 3. Shelby again attacks Steele’s column at Okolona, but after a brisk engagement during a driving thunderstorm, the Union forces turn the Confederates back again.

Steele’s advance troops cross the Little Missouri River at Elkins’ Ferry.

April 4. Maj. Gen. John Sappington Marmaduke attacked the Union forces at Elkins’ Ferry but failed to drive them back across the Little Missouri; he then fell back to Prairie D’Ane.

April 5-9. Steele’s army rested on the high ground above the Little Missouri to await the arrival of Thayer’s Frontier Division. Together they marched forward to Prairie D’Ane.

April 10-12. The Union and Confederate armies skirmished at Prairie D’Ane before Maj. Gen. Sterling Price surmised that Steele’s goal was to capture the Confederate state capital at Washington; he abandoned his fortifications and fell back toward Washington. Steele learned that the Union army in Louisiana had been defeated and was retreating. With his own men almost out of food, he abandoned the drive south and turned toward Camden in the hope of finding supplies.

April 13. Confederate cavalry under Brig. Gen. Thomas Dockery attacked Steele’s rear guard at Moscow as Steele moved toward Camden.

April 15. Steele’s army occupied Camden and began sending out troops to seek supplies in the surrounding area.

April 18. Marmaduke attacked and destroyed Union supply wagons at Poison Spring as they were returning to Camden. Troops of the First Kansas Colored Infantry suffered disproportionately high casualties as many were killed after the fighting ended.

April 25. Brig. Gen. James Fagan attacked a Union column at Marks’ Mills and inflicted 1,500 casualties, mostly as prisoners of war.

April 26-29. Deciding to retreat to Little Rock while he still had an army to save, Steele abandoned Camden. The Confederate cavalry pursued Steele and caught up with him at the Saline River bottoms.

April 30. General Steele used his pontoon bridge to get his army across the Saline River while his rear guard battled for five hours to hold off the Confederate Army.

May 1-3. The Union army slogged through the muddy Saline bottoms toward Benton and finally arrived in Little Rock on May 3.

Union Casualties were estimated at around 2,750, while Confederate losses were estimated at 2,300. Federal troops pursued no further large-scale offensive operations in Arkansas for the remainder of the war.



More Information

You can read more about the Camden Expedition at The Encyclopedia of Arkansas.