Fitzhugh's Woods Battlefield

Fitzhugh's Woods Battlefield
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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April 1, 1864 Site of April 1, 1864, action between Union troops under Col. C.C. Andrews and Brig. Gen. Dandridge McRae's Confederate cavalry

Listed in Arkansas Register of Historic Places on 12/03/03


The Fitzhugh’s Woods Battlefield is the site of an April 1, 1864, action in whichU.S. troops under Col. Christopher Columbus Andrews battled Confederate cavalrymen under Brig. Gen. Dandridge McRae. The battle site is eligible for the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance.


On September 10, 1863, Union forces under Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele captured Little Rock, sending its Confederate defenders streaming toward southwest Arkansas. The loss of Little Rock was a morale disaster for the Confederates, particularly the troops from Arkansas. “It produced intense indignation, resulting in great demoralization, and the men in great numbers abandoned their colors and returned home,” Brig. Gen. Dandridge McRae wrote years later. “Three of my regiments had been recruited in north Arkansas, and from above cause, my loss was great, much greater than it would have been had a battle been fought.”[i]

A Unionist government was established in the capital in early 1864 and Federal troops maintained a tenuous hold on the Arkansas RiverValley. In March 1864, Steele led a Federal army south to link up with a Federal army in Louisiana with the goal of capturing cotton-rich east Texas and reestablishing a measure of Union control in theLoneStarState.

McRae, following the retreat from Little Rock, was given “command of that portion of the state lying between White and Mississippi rivers.” Aided by 46 commissioned officers who were left without commands by the flood of Confederate desertions, McRae had gone to northeast Arkansas to “collect and return to their commands all absentees found in that section.” As Steele’s army headed into Southwest Arkansas, Col. Christopher Columbus Andrews of the Third Minnesota Infantry led an expedition up the White River in search of McRae and to keep him from mounting attacks against Union positions. Andrews, whom Steele had appointed as garrison commander of Little Rock when the Third marched into the capital on September 11, 1863, thought that his men “would enjoy an expedition into the country” after half a year of garrison duty.[ii]

Andrews took 186 men of Companies B, C, E, G, H and I of the Third Minnesota, commanded by Maj. Everett W. Foster, and headed to DeValls Bluff by train on March 30, 1864, arriving there at 4:30 a.m. Andrews placed his men, along with a detachment of 45 troopers of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry under Capt. L. J. Matthews, aboard the steamer Dove and headed up the White River.[iii] Awaiting the small Union expeditionary force would be McRae’s grab-bag command, which included about 400 Missourians under Col. Thomas R. Freeman, Captain George W. Rutherford’s 60 Arkansas troopers, and small companies of 30 men under Capt. Sam McGuffin, 20 under Captain Reynolds, 35 under Captain John Bland and 50 men under Captain Tracy – a combined force of some 545 Rebels.[iv]

Andrews arrived at Gregory’s Landing on the White River at dusk and promptly sent patrols out toward StraightLake, four miles out from the landing, where one of McRae’s camps was thought to be located. Using a guide who had been picked up during the Dove’s journey up the White, the Union troops proceeded through the dark, stormy night toward the Cache Bayou. Some of the Eighth Missouri troopers surrounded a farmhouse across the bayou, but on learning that the Confederate camp had been abandoned that morning the entire party returned to the Dove.[v]

The Yankee troops were up early the next morning and arrived at Augusta, “a small but pleasantly situated village,” at 5 a.m., quickly surrounding the town and seizing local citizens and slaves to question them about McRae’s location. Andrews learned that the main Rebel camp was supposed to be at Antony’s, located seven miles up theJacksonport Road. Leaving a small guard aboard the Dove, Andrews hurried his little command of 160 Minnesotans and the cavalrymen of the Eighth Missouri toward Jacksonport.[vi]

After traveling barely one-and-one-half miles out of Augusta, the Federal column ran into a Southern patrol. The Missouri horsemen “pursued and charged them 2 miles, and captured 2 prisoners” before waiting for the arrival of the Minnesota infantrymen. As Foster’s infantrymen linked up with the cavalry contingent, about 150 troopers under Rutherford attacked. Foster took three companies of the Third Minnesota and drove the Southern horsemen through the woods and across a large cypress swamp.[vii]

Andrews set flankers out from the main column and sent patrols ahead as his troops continued up the Jacksonport Road. About six miles from Augusta, the Yankees encountered McRae himself, watering his horse in a stream near the Antony farm. “Just ahead in the woods I saw soldiers moving about, which I supposed wereRutherford’s, as many of my people wore Federal overcoats,” McRae remembered later. “A lieutenant of cavalry who had served in the cavalry since 1861 said, ‘General, they are Federals.’ I said that was impossible, since Rutherford was ahead of us and would notify me. … About that time they fired on us. ... There was no retreat for us except back through the long lane, enclosed on each side with a high rail fence.” On learning at Antony’s that they had just fired on McRae, Andrews “immediately ordered the cavalry detachment to pursue at the utmost speed, which was done.” The Rebel general fled toward McCoy’s east of the Jacksonport Road, escaping his pursuers.[viii]

The Federal contingent continued past Fitzhugh’s on the Jacksonport Road, locating another hastily abandoned Confederate camp. In addition, “We found and appropriated, as far as we needed, a wagon-load of hams.” After marching 12 miles from Augusta, Andrews decided to abandon his pursuit of McRae’s scattered troops and return to Augusta. As they passed the road to McCoy’s, a group of Rebels appeared in the road; Andrews, fearing an ambush, declined to pursue them.[ix]

The Union soldiers paused at Fitzhugh’s plantation for lunch, supping, perhaps on some of the previously appropriated hams. As the footsore Minnesotans relaxed, “we discovered a large force of mounted men charging down upon us on our right and rear,” Foster reported. The Northerners quickly formed into line of battle, and Andrews sent two companies forward to engage their attackers, the Missourihorsemen of Freeman’s command joined by Bland’s company. “They charged down through the open fields with loud yells,” Foster wrote, and “I let them approach within 150 yards, then sent a volley of minie-balls into them, which caused them to cease their yelling and break to the rear for the woods with headlong speed.”[x]

Andrews was hurrying his men down the Jacksonport Road toward Augusta when “accompanied by a real rebel yell, a fierce charge was made upon our rear.” The attack came south of Fitzhugh’s place at a wooded area called Fitzhugh’s Woods, located about 500 yards north of a cypress brake. The Jacksonport Road was bordered there on the east by a cultivated field marked by “a thin body of dead timber,” on the west with a growth of heavy timber “with more or less dead logs lying about, but not much underbrush.”[xi]

As the Rebels hit the Federal rear guard, other Confederate troops appeared in front and to the left of the Yankee soldiers. “It was now apparent to all that we were largely outnumbered,” Andrew wrote later. “We were six miles from our transport and the situation looked desperate.” The Union colonel immediately sent skirmishers from the Third Minnesota to shelter among the timber and felled trees, holding a company in reserve as the Missouri cavalrymen dismounted and formed up on the Federal left. The combatants then commenced a heavy fire, “the men on both sides uttering defiant shouts,” at a distance of about 200 yards as “above the clamor we could hear the loud exhortations of their chiefs urging on the men to charge,” Andrews wrote. “We were aware that we were fighting experienced and daring men, Rutherford’s men especially being well known as cool fighters and good marksmen. They fought dismounted.” [xii]

After about an hour of fighting, the Confederate troops began to creep around theUnion right in an attempt to cut the Yankees off from the bayou crossing, leading Andrews to draw his troops off to a position around a cluster of log buildings and fences. The Rebels advanced into Fitzhugh’s Woods during the Federal retrograde movement “and rose up and came on with the utmost shouting and clamor.” The Yankees, growing short of ammunition, continued a steady fire. Despite the exhortations of their officers, the Confederate forces did not seriously challenge this new position, losing several officers who “vainly endeavored to stimulate their men to a desperate attack.” Lt. W.W. Garner of the Fifth Arkansas Cavalry was among those wounded, being shot through both legs, though he walked from the field. He wrote to his wife that “Colonel Freeman had two horses killed under him and the third one wounded and he was wounded in the leg but it was only a flesh wound. We lost several officers.”[xiii]

McRae’s men, too, were low on ammunition. “I directed Rutherford to take such part of my force as were armed with pistols, mount his men, and charge the Federals, who were then retreating, but they manifested such sturdiness, and delivered such a heavy fire that he was unable to accomplish anything, being entirely out of ammunition,” the Confederate commander remembered later.[xiv]

Andrews sent a line of sharpshooters to the Union rear after two and one-half hours of fighting to protect their line of retreat, then pulled his men back toward Augusta, moving the Missouri cavalrymen back first, followed by the Minnesota infantry. “Although the ford of the bayou is about 125 yards wide, and extremely difficult to cross in the vicinity of an enemy, we made the passage without interference or obstacle, which is further evidence that he had been thoroughly whipped.” McRae acknowledged that “I was unable to do more than to slowly follow until the force returned to Augusta, embarked aboard their steamers, and left. What I was anxious to do was to reach Augusta and their boats before the Federals and thus cut them off; but there was not a round of ammunition to the men left.”[xv]

The Yankees fell back to Augusta, “our colors flying, and the men singing ‘Down with the traitor.’” Re-embarking on the Dove, the tired Federals headed back toward DeValls Bluff. Andrews reported his casualties as seven killed, sixteen wounded and four wounded and missing from the Third Minnesota, one killed and one missing from the Eighth Missouri. Later reports put the Confederate losses at twenty to twenty-five killed and mortally wounded, sixty to seventy-five wounded, and about twenty horses killed. In addition to the wounds suffered by Lieutenant Garner and Colonel Freeman, at least four other officers were killed. Several of the Confederate dead were buried in the RoddyCemetery just south of the battlefield, and at least three were buried in theAugustaCemetery (NR 06/06/03).[xvi]

While it did little to affect the outcome of the war, the action at Fitzhugh’s Woods did serve to, at least temporarily, disrupt McRae’s efforts to recruit soldiers to the Confederate cause or bring deserters back into the service. It also was the largest military engagement to take place in WoodruffCounty during the Civil War. For these reasons, the Fitzhugh’s Woods battlefield is deserving of recognition on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places under Criterion A with local significance.


Andrews, C.C. “The Third Minnesota in the Battle of Fitzhugh’s Woods” in Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle, Sixth Series, Papers read before the Minnesota Commandery of the Loyal Legion of the United States, January 1903-1908 (Minneapolis: Aug. Davis, 1909; reprint Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1992)

Britton, Nancy, ed. “George W. Rutherford’s Company, Co. C, 1st Arkansas Cavalry”The Independence County Chronicle, Vol. 25, Nos. 3-4, April-July 1984,

McRae, Dandridge. “Confederate Report of Battle of Fitzhugh Woods,” Rivers and Roads and Points in Between, vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 1981

Moose, Mary Hope, Papers, Special Collections Division, University of ArkansasLibraries, Fayetteville.

Simon, Donald J. “The Third Minnesota Regiment in Arkansas, 1863-1865,” MinnesotaHistory, Vol. 40, No. 6, Summer 1967

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 vols. In 128 books and index (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890-1901) Ser. I, 24, pt. 1: p. 863, in The Civil War CD-ROM [CD-ROM] (Carmel, IN: Guild Press of Indiana, 1996)

Watson, Lady Elizabeth. Fight and Survive! A History of JacksonCounty, Arkansas, in the Civil War (Newport, AR: Craig Printing Co., 1974; revised 1996)