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Devil's Backbone

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Confident that they had cleared Confederates from the Indian Territory of modern-day Oklahoma, Federal commander Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt turned his attention to the Rebel presence around nearby Fort Smith, Arkansas. Capturing the fort without incident the morning of September 1st, 1863, shortly after the Confederates evacuated it, Blunt ordered a pursuit of the fleeing Rebels. Col. William Cloud organized a 1,500-man column of two cavalry regiments and an artillery battery and headed south. Fifteen miles south of the fort, the Rebels, commanded by Brig. Gen. William Cabell, turned on Cloud and ambushed him at the base of Devil’s Backbone, an imposing east-west ridge just south of Greenwood. Cloud ordered his cavalry to dismount and placed his artillery in the road. Cabell's men, many of whom were deserters and conscripts, did not fight well and gave way when first attacked. The action degraded into a small-arms and artillery skirmish on the slopes of the ridge for three hours, neither side sought to launch a major attack. Regrouping, the Union cavalrymen finally advanced again, with the help of the artillery, and forced the Confederates to retire. Both sides claimed victory, but Cloud's men held the pass at the end of the fighting. Fort Smith remained a Union outpost on the Arkansas River for the remainder of the war.

Battle Facts

Result

Union Victory
COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
2,750

Union

1,500

Confederate

1,250
Total Estimated Casualties
81

Union

16

Confederate

65