Elkin's Ferry

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Elkin's Ferry

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In the spring of 1864, more than 40,000 Union soldiers began converging on Shreveport, Louisiana, the target of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign. A portion of those forces were under the command of Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele. Steele’s operation would become known as the Camden Expedition, and would support Banks by advancing on Shreveport from the North. In March, Steele set out from Little Rock, Arkansas, and reached the Little Missouri River on April 3rd. Steele chose to cross at Elkin's Ferry. Here, Steele met his first Confederate opposition. Col. William McLean was sent across with two regiments and a section of artillery to establish a bridgehead and reconnoiter enemy positions. McLean’s total force numbered about 2,000 men. After clashing with Confederate skirmishers, McLean ordered Lieut. Col. Francis M. Drake to position six companies of infantry and a section of artillery astride the road leading from Elkin's Ferry. His caution was prudent, for on the morning of April 4th, Confederate Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke arrived with two brigades of cavalry and some artillery to attack the Union forces. For two hours, Drake’s 300 men held out against 1,200 enemy troopers, but eventually the Union left gave way, leaving the artillery exposed. The Federal guns were saved when some of McLean’s reserves came up and repelled several enemy charges. Eventually, 2,000 Union reinforcements arrived on the scene. Realizing the odds were against him, Marmaduke retired from the field, leaving Steele’s force free to complete the crossing of the Little Missouri River.

Battle Facts

Result

Union Victory
COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
5,200

Union

4,000

Confederate

1,200
Total Estimated Casualties
92

Union

38

Confederate

54