Recollection of Joseph Blessington, Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, April 30, 1864

    Source citation
    Joseph Palmer Blessington, The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division (New York: Lange, Little & Co., 1875), 249-253.
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division (1875), by Joseph Palmer Blessington
    Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division (1875).

    About the hour of 12 o'clock, M., on the 30th of April, the rattling of musketry gave us to understand that at last we had overtaken the enemy rather unexpectedly. They were in the act of crossing the Saline River, at a point known as Jenkins's Ferry, distant from the town of Camden about 55 miles. As soon as the Federal General Steele discovered that an engagement was inevitable, he recrossed such of his troops as had already crossed, and formed his line of battle in the form of a crescent around his pontoon bridge. His position was a strong one, and further strengthened by such logs as they could conveniently get at. The location was in a thickly-timbered bottom, and the ground was covered with water, from ankle to knee deep, precluding the possibility of using artillery.

    On arriving within about two miles of Jenkins's Ferry, Walker's Division filed off to the right, taking a road that apparently had not been used for years. At this place we beheld our favorite leader, General Walker, mounted on his iron-gray war-horse, awaiting to address a few remarks of encouragement to each regiment as they passed him by. His presence alone on this occasion was enough to inspire his troops with the highest patriotism and love for their old chieftain ; cheer after cheer was freely given him, as they passed by him. They had implicit confidence in his judgment, and that he would not tolerate any useless sacrifice of life in the forthcoming battle. The greatest vivacity and enthusiasm prevailed throughout the whole division. Already a rattling fire of musketry was heard in our front, plainly indicating that General Price's command was in action. At first a few scattering shots were heard; quickly, volleys of platoons succeeded, and soon the fire extended and increased, until the rolling reports of long lines of musketry could be distinctly recognized. General Kirby Smith notified General Walker that the Arkansas and Missouri troops were at it, hot and heavy, and to press on the Texans, to support them. The Texans moved forward with alacrity, rushing headlong into action. The 3d Brigade of the Division, commanded by General Scurry, dashed up gallantly on the right, using their muskets quite soldierly, and, in the language of General Walker, sustained the fight, without assistance, against 7,000 of the enemy, for forty minutes.

    The 2d Brigade, commanded by General Waul, went into action on their arrival, like old veterans.

    The 1st Brigade, commanded by General Randall, was ably led by that distinguished officer into action. He seemed ubiquitous as he screamed his orders here and there, always urging his men on the foe. An incessant roar of musketry prevailed for about six hours. During this time the tide of battle ebbed and flowed now advancing, then receding ; but at no time did the ground fought over vary more than two hundred and fifty yards. Owing to the dense fog and the dense clouds of smoke which hung in the thick woods, many times, opposing lines could only be discovered by the flash of their muskets. The firing on both sides grew more terrific every moment ; even the elements were terribly convulsed.

    They seemed to groan with the heavy burden of storms which had been gathered from the hemispheres, to pour upon theheads of God's erring children the vial of wrath, as an admonition to both armies to stay their bloody hands. But we continued fighting, irrespective of the storm. In the midst of the battle, our gallant general (General Walker) could be seen galloping along the lines, cheering his men forward. He was accompanied by his chief of staff, Major McClay.

    General Kirby Smith likewise was indefatigable, riding from line to line, cheering on the men. Seeing some of the Arkansas troops falling back, he rallied them by dismounting from his horse, and, taking a gun from one of the soldiers, he took his place in the ranks as a private. The troops, seeing him thus exposing his life, rallied to his support, and kept in line until the close of the battle. To see the commanding general of the Trans-Mississippi Department, wielding the destinies of a great fight, with its cares and responsibilities upon his shoulders, performing the duty of a private soldier, in the thickest of the conflict, is a picture worthy of the pencil of an artist.

    About 4 o'clock P.M. the enemy endeavored to turn our right flank, by extending their lines, which they were able to do by reason of their great numbers. This was unfortunate for us, as it required a corresponding extension of our lines, to prevent their extreme left from outflanking us a movement, on our part, which weakened the force of resistance along our whole line of battle, which finally extended over a space of three miles. It also rendered it the more difficult to reinforce the left of our army, as the further the enemy extended his left, the greater the distance our forces had to travel over the impenetrable swamp, covered with briers, brambles, and water ; and all without the least knowledge of our locality, which proved insurmountable barriers to our success. There was no time to be lost to counteract the enemy's movement. The enemy made every possible effort to turn our flank, for one long weary hour, during which time the tide of battle ebbed and flowed along the entire line with alternate fortunes. The enemy's column continued to stretch away to the left, like a huge anaconda, seeking to envelop us within its mighty folds, and crush us to death; and at one time it really looked as if they would succeed.

    The moment General Walker discovered the enemy's order of battle, he dispatched orders to General Kirby Smith for reinforcements, to turn the enemy's flank. In the mean time, General Walker was on the alert in watching the enemy's programme. Notwithstanding all of his generals had been wounded, he was still confident that the battle would end in our favor. He advanced his division in an oblique direction, continuing to keep up a heavy firing on the enemy, expecting every moment reinforcements; but, alas ! the reinforcements came too late. Had General Walker received reinforcements when he asked for them, he would have destroyed the enemy, and perhaps have captured their entire army. Attacked in front, on the flank, and in the rear, they could not possibly have escaped; and if they did escape, it would be with the loss of thousands of prisoners, and all his artillery and wagons, while the field would have been strewed with his dead.

    A few minutes before the battle was over, Parsons's Division of Missourians, reached our right. They dashed on the enemy's flanks with loud shouts, and in the most gallant style. Meanwhile, General Price rallied the left for the final struggle. General Kirby Smith kept the center well up, while Walker's Division dashed into the fight with a shout that seemed to shake the very earth. The result of this maneuver drove the enemy back; they commenced to retreat, first in good order, and finally in much confusion. The Federal troops fought well, and were handled in a masterly manner, until they were about to be flanked.

    Before crossing the river, the enemy destroyed everything in the shape of transportation. They threw their artillery and wagons into the Saline River, and left their dead and wounded on the field. Having crossed the river, they destroyed their pontoon bridge, rendering further pursuit on our part impossible. Our troops having exhausted almost the last cartridge, they were unable to reap much advantage, except the glory of the battle-field…..

    General Steele's loss was very severe. But a few months previous, he marched proudly from Little Bock towards Shreveport, with 20,000 men, 1,000 wagons, and 30 pieces of artillery. He returned, having lost 800 wagons, 16 pieces of artillery, and 12,000 men, demoralized and burdened with his sick.

    Our loss was very severe. We numbered amongst our dead some of the most gallant men of the division. Generals Scurry and Randall died a few days after the battle.

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