The Civil War – Battle of Cane Hill, AR

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

On November 28, 1862, in the far northwestern part of Arkansas, Union and Confederate forces engaged in battle at a place called Cane Hill, part of the Prairie Grove Campaign.

In early 1862, in the Pea Ridge Campaign, the Confederates left northwest Arkansas and Federal forces now occupied the area. The Rebels were now attempting to retake this part of Arkansas, and push the Yankees back to Missouri.

In early November, Confederate Commander General Thomas Hindman (Army of the Trans-Mississippi) had ordered General John S. Marmaduke into the farmland area around Cane Hill to forage for winter food supplies. After stocking up from gristmills and farms around Boonsboro and Newburg, Rebels returned to the Arkansas River Valley.

Meanwhile, Union forces under the command of General James Blunt had gotten wind of the Rebel presence in the vicinity, and on Thanksgiving Day, the 27th, sent 5,000 troops and thirty artillery pieces to engage the Confederate cavalry units. The following day they surprised Colonel Joe Shelby’s brigade, which fought a delaying action to protect the supply trains headed back to Fort Smith. Shelby’s outnumbered men fell back and set up a defensive position, which included a few artillery pieces, near Cane Hill cemetery.

After a day’s fighting over twelve miles of steep, rough woodlands, the Confederates (running low on ammunition) withdrew to the hills of the Boston mountains as darkness fell, fighting every step, with artillery and cavalry in the rear guard, who lingered behind the main force.

Eventually, the Federals fell back to Cane Hill. They were more than seventy miles from the closest Union position. With 7,000 men in total, there were few casualties on either side and the Confederates claimed a tactical victory at Cane Hill.

Back in Washington, D. C., President Lincoln delivered his State of Union address December 1. According to, “Lincoln used the address to present a moderate message concerning his policy towards slavery.

Just 10 weeks before, he had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slaves in territories still in rebellion as of January 1, 1863, would be free. The measure was not welcomed by everyone in the North—it met with considerable resistance from conservative Democrats who did not want to fight a war to free slaves… Lincoln used the State of the Union address to present a more moderate position on emancipation.

He mentioned gradual, compensated emancipation of slaves, which many moderates and conservatives desired, but he also asserted that the slaves liberated thus far by Union armies would remain forever free.

Lincoln’s closing paragraph was a statement on the trials of the time: ‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present…fellow citizens, we cannot escape history…The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union…In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth’…some of his [Lincoln’s] most memorable words…”