DeValls Bluff, in Prairie Country Arkansas, is set along the White River and what is now Highway 70. The city is located within the Grand Prairie section of the county and is a subdivision of the Mississippi embayment and is currently identified for its duck hunting and rice cultivation. Settled by and named for Jacob DeVall and his son, Chappel, who had a mercantile operation that included a warehouse along the White River in 1849, the town was of strategic interest during the Civil War. Prairie County and the town of DeValls Bluff have always been of importance for the transporting of goods and materials and people throughout the state of Arkansas and beyond. The White River, in particular, was important during a time when water transportation was the primary method of getting goods from one place to the next.
At the start of the Civil War they had only their home, a
store, warehouse and a boat landing.
DeValls Bluff and the White River port along with the Memphis and Little
Rock Railroad were sought by both Union and Confederate armies as control of
these points of interest would offer the ability for the replenishment of
supplies and troops and could block or limit the enemy’s ability to restock and
resupply those things. When the water was low on the Arkansas River boats,
often times, couldn’t land in the capital City. However, they could travel up
the White River to Devalls Bluff and then men and goods could be transported by
train to Little Rock. In 1863 the town was taken by Union soldiers and became
an important Union depot. It was heavily fortified, guarded and was the home of
many soldiers both African American and white, and also refugees.
There are a few skirmishes to note in regard to DeValls
Bluff. Despite the amazing strategic
advantage it held there was little interference by the Confederate army. Union troops managed the 50 mile section of
the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad and had several run-ins with the
Confederates who tried to disrupt the route.
In July of 1863, a train was derailed by an exploded mine that had been
planted by the Rebel; the explosion killed the crew. Another train was shot at, killing two
soldiers and on a couple other occasions in the same month, small sections of
the track were taken out.
May 1864 saw continued efforts to disrupt Union activity in
DeValls Bluff. Three Union men and many
horses and mules were captured by Confederate forces. The Rebels also made efforts to thwart Union
boats on the White River. In June they
were successful at sinking one called Queen
City. Carrying on in the summer of
1864, Union authorities hired out civilian hay cutters to work in the Grand
Prairie located west of the White River, which was the major stronghold of the
Union. Confederate General Joseph Shelby
set out with about 2,500 men to attack the railroad from Memphis to Little Rock
thinking he’d team up with General Price who was forming a raid into
Missouri. His men swiftly attacked the
five forts that housed Federal troops who were guarding the hay cutters and
were able to capture three of the five forts before Colonel Mitchell gathered
his companies and sent word of the attack and request reinforcements. As reinforcements
arrived, the Confederates pulled back and returned to their camps.
After the war ended, the Freedmen’s Bureau had an office in
DeValls Bluff. The bureau aided newly freed African-Americans in the area. This bureau was established by congress to
help over four million African Americans in the south and aided them in
transitioning from slaves to free men. The bureau also helped destitute white
citizens with basic needs such as food and medical supplies. For the former slaves, the bureau helped
negotiate wage contracts between the planters and freedmen. These contracts
ranged from $5 to $60 per month or sharecropping which had planters give
freedmen anywhere from one-eighth to three-fourths of the harvested crop. They also supervised working conditions to
ensure all men and women were treated fairly.