Appanoose County’s Darkest Day had been April 25, 1864, when 166 Appanoose County men had been killed, wounded or captured at the disastrous Battle of Marks’ Mills, Ark. The captured men had then been marched to Camp Ford Confederate Prison Camp in Tyler, Texas. The defeat of Lt. Col. Francis Drake’s command had a terribly adverse impact upon Major Gen. Frederick Steele’s large Union army, still stationed deep in hostile Confederate territory at Camden, Ark.
Coupled with the disastrous defeat at Poison Spring, the loss at Marks’ Mills prevented Steele from obtaining the supplies of food and forage for his army. The Union army’s Red River and Camden Campaigns had been a total failure. Already on reduced rations, Steele’s position had become untenable. There were strong reports that Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate infantry was marching northward from Louisiana to join Gen. Sterling Price’s infantry. Learning of Drake’s defeat and the loss of his wagon train, Gen. Steele’s Union army then silently slipped across the Ouachita River by way of a pontoon bridge on the night of April 26 and morning of April 27, abandoning Camden and beginning a desperate race back to Little Rock with Confederate cavalry nipping at his heels the entire way.
On April 28, Gen. Sterling Price’s army was struggling through the rain to get across the Ouachita River. Steele’s army had taken their pontoon bridges with them. Gen. James Fagan, victor at Marks’ Mills, failed to destroy the Union supply depot at Pine Bluff because he was unable to get across the rain-flooded Saline River.
Gen. Steele’s army slowed down as they reached the flooded Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry on the afternoon of April 29. They had to stop to construct their pontoon bridge to get across the river. The rain continued in torrents, and the approaches were mired in mud. The cavalry managed to get across first. The Union rear guard knew they were being followed by Gen. Kirby Smith’s Confederate army. The used the opportunity to dig in and build some defensive breastworks.