The one hundred and fiftieth Anniversary of the return of the Union Armies to Fort Smith included a retreat action at Jenny Lind and Devil’s Backbone Ridge in South Sebastian County.
Near the present day community of Excelsior the Union’s 2nd Kansas Cavalry ran into an ambush set up by General W.L. Cabel in command of all Confederate troops in the Fort Smith District. The ambush consisted of the regiment commanded by Col. Morgan. His four companies were arranged in echelon ascending from the bottom of the ridge up the road on both the right and left sides on the road. Most of the troops being on the North side as more rocks were piled on that side because of the water course erosion control being on the uphill side of the road;
The 2nd Kansas Cavalry Company C came charging up the road and as it started uphill the ambush was sprung with the men on horseback at very close range. Capt Line an his corporal were two of the first casualties as they were unhorsed.
The company surgeon was soon attending to these men as the company fell back in good order about fifty yards from what is now Boone Road. There were about one thousand men in the 2nd Kansas Cavalry and they were backed up by the men of the 6th Missouri Cavalry and forty wagons with the 1st Arkansas Infantry.
Along with Colonel Morgan’s troops on the Confederate side were the 22nd Arkansas under Colonel Hill, and Colonel Woosley with two batteries of mountain howitzers.
This battle raged from noon until about 4 o’clock when the Union Artillery began to slow their rate of fire because they were beginning to run low on ammunition. As the fire began to slow some of Colonel Hill’s troops began to run headlong up the ridge stumbling through the rocks and over the hill into the stockade which held 80 men that were being imprisoned for desertion. The freed prisoner escaped into the forest south of Greenwood. This battle was considered a Union victory but it accomplished for General Cabel the delay of Union Troops overtaking his supply train from Fort Smith as they could not defend the city on an ox bow in the Arkansas river.
There will be a commemoration of this battle as well as the return of Union Troops to Fort Smith on September 7 at the Fort Smith National Historic Site along with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.