Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Redoubt "Fort Lincoln," at Remount Camp and Cavalry Depot on De Vall's Bluff, Arkansas (1864-1865).

Fort Lincoln (aka De Valls Bluff Fortifications) was an earthen fortification constructed in 1864 as part of the extensive network of earthworks (redoubts[1]) that the Union forces built to protect the sprawling Federal base at De Vall's Bluff (or Du Val's) during the Civil War (1861-1865).
An example of a Civil War earthworks redoubt fort like Fort Lincoln was. Notice the abatis in front of the fortification. Abatis is an obstacle formed from tree branches laid in a row, with the sharpened ends directed outwards, towards the enemy. Its purpose is to slow down the attackers and break their formation.
Confederate forces had used De Vall's Bluff at various points early in the war because of its status as the eastern terminus of the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad, which ran from the White River to the north side of the Arkansas River opposite Little Rock (Pulaski County). The site had few improvements, though, and what buildings were there were destroyed by Union raiders in January 1863.

Major General Frederick Steele established a base at De Vall's Bluff in August 1863 during his advance on Little Rock, recognizing the value of the railroad as a means of supplying the capital. Steamboats brought supplies up the swift-flowing White River to the river port. Steele wrote that, with gunboats securing the riverside of the base, “an entrenchment can be thrown up in rear that will make the place tolerably secure against any force that will be likely to annoy us while we are pushing the enemy to the front.” Steele ordered rolling stock for the railroad to be delivered from Memphis, Tennessee and continued his move toward Little Rock, which Confederate forces abandoned on September 10, 1863.

A major supply station was soon established at De Vall's Bluff, and the railroad became the focus of attacks by Confederate troops and irregulars. The Federals tried to protect the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad with cavalry patrols, but De Vall's Bluff itself would not receive substantial fortifications until after Confederate general Joseph O. Shelby’s troops destroyed Union hay-gathering operations on August 24, 1864, action at Ashley’s Station. In this confrontation, five prairie fortifications were destroyed, the majority of the Fifty-fourth Illinois Infantry Regiment was captured, and miles of railroad track were destroyed just west of the base.

Captain Junius B. Wheeler, Steele’s chief engineer, drew up plans for a fairly elaborate system of earthworks anchored by three (A, B, and C on the map below) redoubts commanding a bend in the White River, at which the main Union riverport was located. Wheeler recommended a garrison of 1,000 infantrymen, twelve cannons, and 500-cavalry to protect the base. Wheeler wrote that “De Vall’s Bluff is badly located for defense in many respects. I have laid out, and there are now in process of construction, three inclosed redoubts, requiring for a firm defense the numbers before given.”
A Civil War Redoubt, 1864.
On October 4, 1864, Brigadier General Christopher C. Andrews reported that he “had 100 men at work on the earthworks, which are progressing as fast as my means allow.” A month later, he reported in a letter to President Abraham Lincoln that 500 troops were laboring on the forts, “all of which I hope to have finished in a few days. One of my regiments is the Fifty-seventh U.S. Infantry (colored), and it is at work on the last and heaviest earth-work. I told them the other day I thought if they made a good fort of it, we should call it Fort Lincoln, which greatly pleased the men and made them shovel faster.” Bad weather complicated the construction, leading Andrews to report on November 27 that “it looks very bad to see heavy works laid out and left unfinished.”
The Illinois 76th Infantry, Company H, at Du Val's Bluff, Arkansas, December 1864. Captain Jacob Ruger on horse Left to right, Sgt. Albert Chipman, Private John Wesley McKee, Private William Henry Griffin, Unidentified, Sergeant Edwin H Judd. The photograph was sent to me by Kathleen Bard Richmond whose great-great-grandfather is John Wesley McKee.
No other reports on the fortifications at De Vall's Bluff are known, and the base did not suffer a concentrated attack by Confederate forces before the war ended in 1865. Of the three redoubts planned, only one survives in the twenty-first century: the southernmost fort labeled "Fort A" on Wheeler’s map still stands on private property. This earthwork IS the one that Brigadier General Christopher C. Andrews optimistically christened Fort Lincoln.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort with a palisade. Most redoubts were constructed as earthworks, although some were made of stones, bricks, and wood. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a hastily constructed temporary fortification. The word means "a place of retreat." The concept of redoubts has existed since medieval times. A redoubt differs from a redan in that the redan is open in the rear, whereas the redoubt was considered a fully enclosed fortification.

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