Changing the Subject
- We have been asked to change the subject. I suggested the Battle of Iuka with no takers . Now here is another battle that is deprived of having our three illustrious commanders present. Read and enjoyJEJThis from today's Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Interesting piece about a little-known campaign.In Civil War battle near Okolona, stirred-up honeybees won the day
OKOLONA — Civil War re-enactors would be hardpressed to replay one of the oddest skirmishes of the Civil War in Arkansas: A military engagement that pitted three combatants — Union troops, Confederate fighters and a swarm of angry honeybees.
The Battle of the Bees on April 3, 1864, is commemorated on a historical marker about a mile north of present-day Okolona in southwestern Clark County.
Mark Kalkbrenner of White Hall, a member of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Re-enactors who visited the remote site Monday, said if his group were to reprise this moment in history, “I really don’t know if I’d want to get the bees involved.”
The Battle of the Bees was one of the earliest confrontations of what the Confederate Army called the Camden Expedition and the Union Army knew as the Red River Campaign. (Southern forces often identified battles by nearby locations or landmarks while the North named them for bodies of water, Kalkbrenner said.)
“Near this site, on April 3, 1864, [Confederate] General Joseph Shelby caught up with General Samuel Rice’s Union troops,” reads the gold-and-black marker along Smyrna Road just south of Arkansas 26.
“They engaged in a skirmish in a pecan orchard during a severe thunderstorm. Along with the other damage due to hail and high winds, several beehives were overturned. The insects first attacked the Confederates, then turned their attention to the Union Army. Both armies left the battlefield to their stinging tormentors,” it concludes.
Bobby N. Downs of Arkadelphia, a board member of the Clark County Historical Association, erected the marker in 2001. Over the past five years, he has placed nine other Civil War markers along county roadways with the permission of property owners and a go-ahead from the state Highway and Transportation Department.
Pecan trees no longer occupy the rolling countryside along the old Military Road, which was built in the 1830s to supply Texans with food and munitions in their fight for independence from Mexico. Instead, blackberry brambles share the environs with muscadine-choked oaks and pines.
The Battle of the Bees had its roots in Arkansas joining the Confederacy in 1861. Within three years, Union forces controlled much of the northern half of the state, according to Trey Berry, a history professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
But, he observed, “To say anything in Arkansas was controlled is a stretch.”
Gen. Frederick Steele, who commanded Union troops at Little Rock, decided in spring 1864 that he “wanted to break the backs of the Confederates in south Arkansas,” Berry said. Steele embarked on his Red River Campaign, hoping to rendezvous with advancing Union troops from the south.
“Their plan was to meet somewhere and destroy the Confederate Army in Louisiana and Arkansas.”
Confederate forces, however, lay in wait along the route and selectively ambushed Steele’s troops as they marched south.
“Once he got to Clark County, he [Steele] faced even more difficult battles,” Berry said.
One took place on April 2, 1864, at Spoonville near the present-day town of Hollywood. The next day, Union and Confederate forces squared off about 10 miles south in the fateful pecan grove. Maybe the wind upset the beehives, Berry said, or possibly horses or wagons did the trick.
“One way or another, a series of beehives were overturned,” he said. “Both the Confederate and Union troops left the field and the bees won the day.”
Mark Stoll, apiary manager for the Arkansas Plant Board at Little Rock, said it would have made sense for the bees to turn their attention from the grayand-butternut uniforms of the Confederates to pursue the blueclad Union troops. The insects tend to attack darker-colored objects, he noted.
“Beekeepers, you’ll see them working in light-colored suits” so not to agitate their colonies, Stoll said. “You can move a dark Sharpie in front of them and they will attack.”
Ed Levi, a state apiary inspector, said bees have a military history, of sorts. Besieged combatants would drop hives onto their attackers from castle ramparts during the Middle Ages. In biblical times, honey mead was used to intoxicate soldiers, Levi said. But the random attack that determined the Battle of the Bees was news to Levi.
“This has to be a first,” he said. Looking back, Levi said, the outcome of the Civil War skirmish might seem laughable. But, he noted, it certainly would have been no joke for those routed from the battlefield, particularly those who could have suffered deadly allergic reactions from bee stings. No records exist to say how many skirmishers were stung, took ill or worse.
After their forced exit from the pecan grove, the two sides met again the next day, April 4, at Elkins’ Ferry on the Little Missouri River, before they waged a decisive battle April 9-12 at Prairie De Ann near presentday Prescott. There, the Union forces were turned away from their target: Old Washington, the Confederate capital of Arkansas and Missouri.
Steele proceeded to Camden but then headed back north to Little Rock, abandoning his southern campaign for the duration of the war, Berry said.
Kalkbrenner, who volunteered to come to Okolona clad as Confederate cavalryman, said his group of Civil War enthusiasts have gathered to reenact a skirmish every weekend this year. Guy Taylor, also of White Hall, went to the site of the marker dressed as a Union infantryman.
All that was missing were the bees.Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/RUSSELL POWELL Bobby N. Downs of Arkadelphia holds U.S. and Confederate flags at a historical marker commemorating the Civil War’s Battle of the Bees.
- Iuka is a small battle demonstrating the difficulties of command and
control in the days of written orders and mounted couriers. It is
also a good example of small actions in support of a major operation
elsewhere (note the chain in paragraph 2)...
Here's the NPS description:
Maj. Gen. Sterling Price's Army of the West main column marched into
Iuka, Mississippi, on September 14.
Price's superior, Gen. Braxton Bragg, the commander of the
Confederate Army of the Mississippi, who was leading an offensive
deep into Kentucky, ordered him to prevent Maj. Gen. William S.
Rosecrans's Army of the Mississippi troops from moving into Middle
Tennessee and reinforcing Brig. Gen. James Negley's division of Maj.
Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, which was garrisoning
Price had about 14,000 men, and he was informed that, if necessary,
he could request assistance from Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, commanding
the District of the Mississippi, headquartered at Holly Springs. Maj.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, feared
that Price intended to go north to join Bragg against Buell. Grant
devised a plan for his left wing commander, Maj. Gen. E.O.C. Ord, and
his men to advance on Iuka from the west; Rosecrans's forces were to
march from the southwest, arrive at Iuka on the 18th, and make a
coordinated attack the next day.
Ord arrived on time and skirmishing ensued between his reconnaissance
patrol and Confederate pickets, about six miles from Iuka, before
nightfall. Rosecrans informed Grant that he would not arrive at Iuka
on the 18th but would begin his march at 4:30 am, the next morning.
On the 19th, Ord sent Price a message demanding that he surrender,
but Price refused.
At the same time, Price received dispatches from Van Dorn suggesting
that their two armies rendezvous, as soon as possible, at Rienzi for
attacks on the Federal forces in the area. Price informed Van Dorn
that the military situation had changed so he could not evacuate Iuka
immediately. He did, however, issue orders for his men to prepare for
a march the next day, to rendezvous with Van Dorn.
Rosecrans's army marched early on the 19th, but, instead of using two
roads as directed, it followed the Jacinto (Bay Springs) Road. After
considering the amount of time that Rosecrans required to reach Iuka,
Grant determined that he probably would not arrive on the 19th, so he
ordered Ord to await the sound of fighting between Rosecrans and
Price before engaging the Confederates.
As Rosecrans advanced, his men fought actions with Confederate troops
at points along the way. About 4:00 pm, just after ascending a hill,
the Union column halted because the Confederates were well-placed
below in a ravine, filled with timber and underbrush.
The Confederates launched attacks up the hill, capturing a six-gun
Ohio battery, while the Federals counterattacked from the ridge.
Fighting, which Price later stated he had "never seen surpassed,"
continued until after dark; the Union troops camped for the night
behind the ridge.
Price had redeployed troops from Ord's front to fight against
Rosecrans's people. Ord did nothing, later proclaiming that he never
heard any fighting and, therefore, never engaged the enemy; Grant
also remarked that he had heard no sounds of battle.
Following the fighting on the 19th, Price determined to reengage the
enemy the next day, but his subordinates convinced him, instead, to
march to join Van Dorn, as earlier planned. At the same time,
Rosecrans redeployed his men for fighting the next day.
Price's army evacuated via the uncovered Fulton Road, protected its
rear with a heavy rearguard and hooked up with Van Dorn five days
later at Ripley.
Although Rosecrans was supposed to traverse Fulton Road and cover it,
he stated that he had not guarded the road because he feared dividing
his force; Grant later approved this decision. Rosecrans's army
occupied Iuka and then mounted a pursuit; the Confederate rearguard
and overgrown terrain prevented the Union pursuit from accomplishing
The Federals should have destroyed or captured Price's army, but
instead the Rebels joined Van Dorn and assaulted Corinth in October.