This installment of Pocahontas and the Civil War tells the story of Union Captain W. T. Leeper and his command, who were sent south to patrol the areas around Pocahontas, Smithville*, and Powhatan, searching out the large bands of irregulars (troops under the command of neither government), also known as raiders, marauders, bushwhackers, or jayhawkers, who held sway in Randolph County and northeast Arkansas during much of the war. These bands of up to 350 men are said to have hidden out in the canebrakes along the rivers, coming out to murder, rape, and rob the populace, making life even more miserable for the civilians enduring the war on the homefront.
*Long-time Pocahontas residents may recall that what’s now called South Marr Street in Pocahontas used to be called Smithville Street, because that was the route people here used to take to get to the town of Smithville, which was the principal town to our southwest in Civil War times.
It’s interesting to read in the report that the Rebel soldiers they captured were treated with respect, but the marauders they captured were not treated so well. It’s also interesting to notice that every time Leeper encounters particularly notorious jayhawkers or guerrillas, it’s when he’s around Pocahontas!
Captain Leeper lived in Wayne County, Missouri, which is the burial place of the seven Confederate soldiers killed in what we call “The St. Charles Massacre”. There’s some interesting reading about Captain Leeper here.
PATTERSON, MO., October 12, 1863.
[Patterson, Missouri, was an outpost near Fort Davidson and the town of Pilot Knob, which was a major headquarters for union forces west of the Mississippi River during much of the Civil War. It’s 140 miles due north of Pocahontas.]
Captain, Commanding Expedition.
COLONEL: In obedience to your orders, I left Pilot Knob September 28, 1863, with Companies D, M, and L, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, numbering 150 men, with instructions to go to Pocahontas, Ark., or any other point in that vicinity that seemed to demand attention. We reached Doniphan on the 30th ultimo. Company L having been sent by another road (somewhat to the right), killed 2 men en route. Also, on the 1st of October, Captain [R.] McElroy, with 30 men, was ordered forward, via “Buck Scull,” where he found 6 men, who ran, and were fired upon by the party. Four of the men were killed and another wounded. Captain [W. T.] Hunter, with a detachment, went via Current River, where he captured 2 soldiers and some Government property.
Click the thumbnail map to see an enlarged map of the approximate route of Leeper’s extended foray into Arkansas.
The several detachments arrived at Pocahontas on the 2nd of October, and remained until October 6th (a squad captured 2 notorious jayhawkers in the mean time), when we moved to Smithville, Ark., and on October 7th opposite to Powhatan, on the east side of Black River. On the next day we followed Black River until opposite to Pocahontas, where we captured and killed one Francis Taylor a guerrilla and thief of the worst sort. We then crossed Black River, above the mouth of Current River, and followed up between the two streams until, on the morning of October 10th, we discovered indications of a rebel force, which we encountered at about 9 a. m.
[Crossing Black River above the mouth of the Current would send them marching though the area we call “Cherokee Bay” and past what’s now Biggers and Reyno. They continued following the eastern bank of the Current River all the way to Doniphan and on to their destination in Patterson, Missouri.]
They were about 100 strong, remaining in ambush, so that our first indication of their presence was a volley forward to receive the enemy, and, after waiting some time to ascertain his intentions, followed him into the swamp and brush, but were unsuccessful in finding any of them. We had 1 soldier wounded; also a citizen who was with us. Dr. Pollok, surgeon Third Colorado Infantry (medical officer of the expedition), is missing; also a sergeant, [J.] Gillespie, of Company L, but I think both were captured and not killed. At the time of the attack we killed 2 men.
We proceeded to Doniphan; thence to Patterson, Mo. (an outpost), where we arrived on October 12th. Our captures consisted of 15 prisoners (Confederate soldiers and guerrillas) 36, guns in fair condition, about 100 other guns nearly worthless, and 20 horses and mules. On the west side of Black River the inhabitants were friendly; but upon the east side they are decidedly hostile. All civil men were treated with consideration and respect; the guerrillas fared but middling. I learned beyond a doubt that that portion of Arkansas on the north side of Arkansas River is formed into a sub-district for the purpose of carrying on a border warfare, which will be of a guerrilla character.
I must speak in highest praise of both officers and men under my command, who have behaved nobly, and did their duty well. We did not lack for subsistence or forage.
I have the honor to be, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. T. LEEPER,
Captain, Commanding Expedition.