As mentioned in previous articles, the 36th Iowa Infantry troops were seasoned veterans. After training at Camp Lincoln, Keokuk, they had traveled by two steamers down the Mississippi for additional training at Benton Barracks in St. Louis. The previous year they had participated in the ill-fated Yazoo Pass expedition down the Mississippi River to Moon Lake, Yazoo Pass and Coldwater River in an ill- failed attempt to find an alternate passage way around Vicksburg, Miss. They had returned to Helena, Ark., which was an important staging area on the Mississippi. At Helena they had been attacked on July 4, 1863 by Confederate Cavalry troops under Gen. John S. Marmaduke. The Confederates had attempted to divert troops away from the siege of Vicksburg, but their attack had been thwarted by the 36th and 33rd Iowa Infantries, who had spent the previous night felling trees across all the roads leading to Helena.
The 36th Iowa Infantry Regiment men had joined Major Gen. Frederick Steele’s march on Little Rock, Ark. the previous September. Steele’s 7,000 infantry troops had been joined by 6,000 cavalry of Gen. Davidson. They had remained encamped throughout the winter of 1863-64 in the Little Rock area, with occasional forays into the surrounding countryside. With the approach of spring, Gen. Steele’s army had made plans to advance deep into southwest Arkansas. A convergent attack was planned. Gen. Steele’s army was to advance overland and join Gen. Nathaniel Banks at Shreveport, La. Gen. Banks commanded a 10,000 man detachment of Gen. Sherman’s army and had been ordered to head up the Red River to Shreveport.
On March 23, 1864, 150 years ago this month, the 36th Iowa Infantry Regiment with Major Gen. Steel’s formidable army, advanced from Little Rock and headed southwest toward Shreveport. Steele took 6,800 troops, leaving the rest of his army to defend Little Rock. He was to be joined at Arkadelphia by 3,600 cavalry troops of Gen. Thayer coming from Ft. Smith, Ark. But things didn’t always go according to plan in the Civil War. He was soon to be faced by former Missouri Gov. Major Gen. Sterling Price, who commanded a formidable force of Confederate cavalry troops composed of rebels from Missouri and Arkansas. The outcome would prove to be disastrous for the 36th infantry and the Appanoose County men, and in what would soon prove to be Appanoose County’s Darkest Day.
To be continued…….