The Little Rock Campaign of 1863
In July of 1863, the Union Army under General Ulysses S. Grant captured the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. With the surrender of Vicksburg, Union forces were then poised to invade the interior of Arkansas and capture its capital city, Little Rock. By the end of the month, Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele had arrived at Helena to take command of all Federal forces in Arkansas. Steele and his officers then planned a campaign to move into the interior of the state and strike at Little Rock. In Little Rock, responsibility for the defense of the city had passed to Maj. Gen. Sterling Price. Price commanded a small army of eight thousand men present for duty. Price pronounced his troops to be "in excellent condition, full of enthusiasm and eager to meet the enemy," but he confessed in a letter to Lt. General Kirby Smith that he "did not believe it would be possible for us to hold it [Little Rock] with the forces then under my command."
Despite his misgivings, Price set about devising a plan for the capital's defense. He ordered the cavalry of Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke and Brig. Gen. Lucius M. Walker to observe and harass enemy movements and began the construction of a defensive position composed of rifle pits and redoubts on the north side of the Arkansas River about two-and-a-half miles downstream from the city. This position faced eastward and was bounded by a cypress swamp on the left and the river on the right. Price believed that his only chance of successfully defending Little Rock lay in the possibility that the Union commander would launch a straight frontal assault against this fortified position.
On August 10th and 11th, Major General Steele sent six thousand infantry, backed by sixteen pieces of artillery, west from Helena toward Clarendon on the White River. There he would rendezvous with a like number of cavalry moving south from Missouri under Brig. Gen. John Davidson. Davidson reached Clarendon on August 8th. On August 23rd, Price ordered Marmaduke to join forces with Walker at Brownsville along the major overland approach to Little Rock. Since Walker was the senior officer, he was Marmaduke's superior, however, the two officers had been feuding since an earlier engagement at Helena.
At sunrise on August 25th, advance elements of Davidson's cavalry collided with Marmaduke's thirteen hundred horsemen near Brownsville. Outnumbered four to one in men and eight to one in artillery, Marmaduke could not hope to defeat the Federals, but the Missourian gave ground grudgingly before retiring from the field. He formed a new battle line six miles west of the town, and there he temporarily halted the Union advance. On August 26th, Price ordered Walker and Marmaduke to withdraw to Bayou Meto, a sluggish stream running east of the capital, and to "hold it as long as possible." Their combined forces took up positions at Reed's Bridge on Bayou Meto, approximately twelve miles northeast of Little Rock (near present-day Jacksonville).