In the spring of 1864, three Civil War battles took place in south central Arkansas that were part of the Union Army's Red River Campaign. The three state historic parks commemorating these battles--Poison Springs Battleground State Park, Marks' Mills Battleground State Park, and Jenkins Ferry Battleground State Park--and the 1836 Courthouse at Historic Washington State Park, which served as Arkansas's Confederate capitol--comprise the Red River Campaign National Historic Landmark.
In 1834, John H. Marks established a saw and flour mill in what is now Cleveland County in south Arkansas. The homesite, located east of Cemetery Park on the Old Camden-Pine Bluff Road, was where the Battle of Marks’ Mills took place on April 25, 1864. The skirmish was the second portion of the Red River Campaign, the purpose of which was to take Texas away from the Confederate troops.
On April 20, 1864, a 150-wagon supply train from Pine Bluff reached the Union soldiers. Upon learning that Confederate forces, now joined by General Edmund Kirby Smith's army from Louisiana, had crossed the Ouachita River downstream (to the south), Steele felt it safe to send the train, plus 60 additional wagons, in a northward direction back to Pine Bluff for more supplies. This time, though, he sent an escort force of more than 1,200 men, including 240 cavalry and six artillery pieces.
As the Union wagon train slowly made its way to Pine Bluff through virtually impassible mud on April 25, General Smith assembled an attack force of several thousand men, who intercepted the train at Marks' Mills. The overwhelmed Northerners were once again surrounded on all sides, but managed to fight back for several hours. This time, there was no escape. Nearly all Union survivors were captured.
After this devastating blow, General Steele abandoned all intentions of marching to Shreveport on his way to capture Texas, and began to plan his retreat from Camden back to Little Rock. The only escape route he knew was Military Road that ran north through Princeton and Jenkins Ferry, the final section of the Red River Campaign.
For more information about Arkansas State Parks historic, heritage and cultural parks, go to: http://www.historystateparks.com/
Marks' Mills Battleground State Park features interpretive exhibits and picnic sites. The historic site is southeast of Fordyce at the junction of Ark. 97 and Ark. 8.