Battle of Chalk Bluff Re-enactment Set

Thursday, April 11, 2013
Confederate troops prepare to skirmish as spectators look on, during an earlier re-enactment at Chalk Bluff

The 150th anniversary of the battle of Chalk Bluff will be marked with a re-enactment Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 3, 4 and 5. The event is sponsored by the Clay County Chalk Bluff Re-enactment Committee.

The battle of Chalk Bluff was fought May 1 and 2, 1863 as Confederate forces under Major General John Sappington Marmaduke withdrew from their second Missouri raid. The soldiers held off the Union pursuit and escaped back into Arkansas by way of a makeshift floating bridge across the St. Francis River.

The battle came as Marmaduke's men retreated from Cape Girardeau to the river, with Union soldiers in hot pursuit. According to the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture-- Colonel George W. Carter's Texas cavalry brigade and Shelby's Missouri cavalry brigade, along with Colonel John Burbridge's Missouri cavalry brigade, fought a series of final rearguard actions, beginning at Four Mile, located four miles up Crowley's Ridge northeast of Chalk Bluff, in order to allow the Confederates to escape across the river into Arkansas. A strong Confederate defensive position was established at Gravel Hill, a mile and a half below Four Mile, or two and a half miles above Chalk Bluff, and a late afternoon attack there on May 1 led by the Second Missouri State Militia was repulsed. That night, the Confederates quietly left their positions and withdrew across the St. Francis. In the dark of night, the infantry crossed the rude bridge in a procession regulated by the strictest officers standing with pistols in hand. Jeff Thompson made twenty crossings with his raft to get the dismounted Confederate artillery across, the wheels and cannon of each piece transported on one trip and the trail and axle on another. The horses were made to swim across. By sunup, Marmaduke's whole command was safely across, with the exception of a few skirmishers left to delay the Union advance, and the bridge was cut loose from the Missouri bank of the river. On the morning of May 2, the Union troops advanced to the St. Francis crossing to find that their prey had escaped. Two hundred picked riflemen stationed on the Arkansas shore, directed by Arthur St. Clair of Shelby's command, along with artillery, fired on the Union troops, and McNeil, the original object of the entire raid, was unhorsed. The action concluded as fierce artillery fire was directed across the river from Union guns with little effect.

As is often the case in the Civil War west of the Mississippi, exact casualty figures are not available for this particular battle. Marmaduke reported that his casualties for the entire raid--April 17--May 2, 1863--into Missouri were thirty killed, sixty wounded, and 120 missing. The official Union return of casualties showed twenty-three killed, forty-four wounded, and fifty-three captured or missing. The Skirmish at Chalk Bluff, in spite of Marmaduke's successful escape across the St. Francis River, marked the end of an ineffective attempt to disrupt Union dominance in southeastern Missouri. From these events, a careful observer should have learned that, however daring a cavalry raid might be, it was not going to affect the ultimate outcome of the war.

The Chalk Bluff re-enfacements began in 2003 and are now held every two years. In the past 10 years there have been eight events.

The schedule for this year's event begins with sign-in by re-enactors and living historians from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, May 3. The following morning, Saturday, May 4, the event will open to the public at 9 a.m. with a camp life demonstration. At 9:30 a.m. officer's call will be held. At 11 a.m. the first cannon demonstration will be staged. And, at noon Jeannine Thompson and Bobbie F. Barnett will co-host the annual ladies tea and demonstrations of the refugee camp.

At 2:30 p.m. the battle will be re-enacted, followed by the grand review parade of troops returning to camp. At 3:30 p.m. the ladies will again provide demonstrations of the refugee camp.

Sunday, May 5 at 10 a.m. the grounds will be opened to the public. That will be followed at 10:30 a.m. by officer's call, and at 11 a.m. there will be a church service on the grounds. At 1 p.m. a special memorial service is planned to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of General Stonewall Jackson. At 2 p.m. the battle re-enactment will be held, followed by the grand review parade of troops.

Throughout both days there will be other demonstrations of living history provided by the Ladies in Refuge.

All branches of the military and period impressions are welcome. Amenities include powder for artillery, cavalry and infantry; water, firewood and hay and a meal on Saturday evening for those contacting organizers at least four days in advance.

The event is hosted annually by Clay County with assistance by the Northeast Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trails Committee; SCV Shaver Camp #1655 of Jonesboro and the Gen. James F. Fagan Chapter #280, Military Order Stars and Bars, of Jonesboro.

Artillery is welcome, but must be set-up on site prior to 10 a.m. the day of the event. Those interested in bringing artillery are also required to contact organizers in advance. There is no registration fee for re-enactors or living historians, but walk-ons must be on site and registered at least two hours before any listed events.

Those wanting more information on artillery may contact Tom Bird at 501 388-3805 or by email at; for information on cavalry contact W. Danny Honnoll at 870 926-2985 or by email at And, those wanting information about infantry may contact Capt. Louis Riggs at 573 -717-0909 or by email at

A Boston butt sale to benefit the Chalk Bluff Civil War Battle re-enactment is currently underway. The cost is $25 each and the butts may be picked up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 20 at Gary Howell's Farm, at 107 County Road 345 west of Piggott. Proceeds will go to offset the expenses of the re-enactment set for May 3-5 at Chalk Bluff. To order call 598-2667, 598-7767, 598-3204 or 598-4460.

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