THE BATTLE OF POISON SPRING
By the fall of 1863, Federal arms had gained complete control of the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, severing the last effective connection link between the eastern and western portions of the Confederacy. It now became imperative for all Union Leaders to decide what military policy should be pursued in the Trans-Mississippi West. This problem was solved by Major-General Henry W. Halleck, General-in-Chief of the Federal armies, with the the decision to advance in a winter campaign to destroy the Confederate forces in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The movement, to be known as the Red River Expedition, would be a simultaneous advance from Louisiana and Arkansas with Shreveport as the common objective.
The Arkansas phase of the Red River campaign, under the direction of the Departmental commander, Frederick Steele, left the friendly confines of the Little Rock on March 23, 1864. The ponderous Union column moved slowly in a southwesterly direction, not covering the seventy miles to Arkadelphia until March 29. Here Steele expected to be reinforced by a Federal contingent from Fort Smith, 170 miles northwest of Arkadelphia, under the command of Brigadier-General John M. Thayer. Numerous difficulties beset Thayer's Frontier Division, disrupting the timetable; and the impatient Steele refused to linger in Arkadelphia beyond April 1.(1)
The Arkansas commander pushed boldly forward with his 9,000 troops, leaving the Fort Smith column to catch up at some point along the line of march. Thayer with 5,000 troops joined Steele nine days later near the Little Missouri River, after the latter had encountered stiff opposition from the Confederate cavalry commands of Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. Shelby.(2)