Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cox: "The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas"

[The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas by Dale Cox (Yuchi Heritage Publication, 2008). Softcover, photos, 8 maps, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 93/116 ISBN: 978-0-6152-1590-7 $19.95 ]

With his new book The Battle of Massard Prairie, Dale Cox, author of two fine Florida military studies (Marianna and Natural Bridge), informs the inquisitive reader of yet another little known Civil War battle. Located a short distance south of Ft. Smith, the Battle of Massard Prairie was fought on July 27, 1864 between an ad hoc brigade of white and Indian Confederate units and a smaller Union command comprised of four companies of the 6th Kansas Cavalry along with several companies of Arkansas unionists. The result of the brief battle was a complete Confederate victory. On July 31, the Confederates again advanced on Fort Smith, this time from four different directions, compelling the Union defenders to abandon their outposts [Cox labels this attack the Battle of Fort Smith]. Beyond harassing local unionist families and capturing a large cache of supplies, the two attacks served to fix U.S. forces inside the Ft. Smith fortifications, a situation that greatly facilitated the subsequent Confederate victory at Second Cabin Creek*. Estimates of the value of supplies lost by the large Union wagon train at Cabin Creek were upwards of $2 million [a figure of no small exaggeration, in my opinion].

According to Cox's introduction, few primary accounts beyond official reports exist that describe the fighting around Fort Smith. A quick glance through the bibliography confirms the paucity of materials. With this and the author's frank warning in mind, the book is properly viewed as a general overview of events rather than an exhaustive treatment. As such, it is a compelling summary of late war operations in a neglected corner of the Trans-Mississippi theater. Cox supports his account with eight maps. The tactical scale battlefield drawings are fine for the most part, depicting the location of the union camps and the position of each company during the various stages of the fight. However, readers unfamiliar with the area might have benefited from a more detailed operational-scale map of the region around Ft. Smith.

Bracketing the battle history, perspective on the role of Fort Smith in the pre- and post- war periods is also provided, along with information about the current state of battlefield preservation in the face of rapid urban expansion [I didn't realize that Fort Smith was the second largest city in the state]. Supplementary materials include transcriptions of newspaper articles describing the Massard Prairie battle, and a casualty list appendix.

I applaud Dale Cox's diligent efforts toward shining light on obscure Civil War battles, places, and events. Enthusiasts of the Civil War in Arkansas and the Indian Territory will want a copy of The Battle of Massard Prairie, and those readers and book collectors with a special interest in the war's out of the way corners will be similarly rewarded.

Note: Proceeds from this book will support the project to establish a driving tour of the Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas.

* - Steven L. Warren's Brilliant Victory: The Second Civil War Battle of Cabin Creek, Indian Territory, September 19, 1864 is a serviceable account; however, considering what you get for the money, it's difficult to justify the expense. For the budget minded, there is a nice little Cabin Creek article and battle map included in a Journal of the Indian Wars issue [1:3 The Indian Wars' Civil War].


  1. Andrew,

    Thank you very much for the kind words.

    Dale Cox

  2. I've been anxiously waiting to see this review - just purchased the book and look forward to reading it.


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