In late August 1863, Union Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt’s Army of the Frontier crossed the Arkansas River to drive Confederate forces from the river valley and secure the northern Indian Territory for the Union. Blunt occupied Fort Smith, Ark., without incident on September 1, dispatching Union Col. William F. Cloud with around 700 cavalrymen and an artillery battery in pursuit of Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. William Cabell.

The Confederates dug in on a ridge known as Devil’s Backbone southeast of Fort Smith, determined to buy time for their supply train to make it to safety. The battle began well for the Confederates; concealed cavalry opened fire on the advancing Federals, stopping their charge up Devil’s Backbone. Cloud quickly opened fire with his artillery, dismounted his cavalrymen and began moving forward. Cabell managed to hold the summit of the ridge with a handful of men and artillery battery as he and Cloud exchanged fire for several hours. Convinced that his wagon train was safe, Cabell then fell back toward Waldron. Cloud held the field, and the Federals had control of Fort Smith.

The 10 acres purchased by CWPT is a central portion of the battlefield and contains a portion of what was once the Confederate line holding the ridge. Confederate deserters were also held on the site; however, in the confusion of the battle they managed to escape and defected to the Union army. The tract is the first portion of the Devil’s Backbone battlefield preserved by Civil War Preservation Trust.

Reprinted courtesy of Hallowed Ground, the newsletter of the Civil War Preservation Trust.