JENKINS FERRY STATE PARK
In the spring of 1864, three Civil War battles took place in south central Arkansas that were part of the Union Army's "Red River Campaign." Arkansas's three state historic parks that commemorate these battles--Poison Spring, Marks' Mills and Jenkins' Ferry--are part of the Red River Campaign National Historic Landmark.
Here at Jenkins' Ferry on April 29 and 30, Union troops fought off an attack by the Confederates and using an inflatable pontoon bridge crossed the flooded Saline River and retreated to Little Rock.
The land where this Civil War battle took place was settled by Thomas Jenkins, who started the ferry in 1815. It was run by his sons, William and John DeKalb, until the Civil War circa 1861.
On April 26, 1864, the day after the battle at Marks' Mills and under the cover of darkness, General Frederick Steele, his men, and what equipment they had left, crossed the Ouachita River at Camden on a pontoon bridge. Steele had gone to great lengths to convince Confederate scouts his troops spent the night inside the safety of the town. It was mid-morning before the Rebels realize they had been tricked.
The Confederates' only hope of catching the fast-fleeing Federal troops was at the rain-swollen Saline River at Jenkins' Ferry, some 50 miles north. A torrential rain pounded Steele's troops on April 29. As wagons, horses and mules bogged down in the quagmire, Steele and his men reluctantly made camp at Jenkins' Ferry. Steele spent the night plotting ways to hold off advancing enemy troops while crossing the river at the same time. The first Rebels arriving at Jenkins' Ferry on April 30 found themselves facing the full force of Steele's army. Steele's men were backed up to the Saline River, but entrenched and protected from flanked attacks by an overflowing creek and a flooded swamp.
The Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, the third leg of the Red River Campaign, began after the first light of the foggy day. Despite their disadvantaged position, the Confederates launched one unorganized attack after another. Rebel commanders knew that letting up the pressure would allow Steele's army to cross the Saline and escape.
By the end of the bloody day, the South had lost nearly 1,000 soldiers and the North nearly 700. But Steele's army managed to cross the river and continue retreating to Little Rock.