CAMDEN By BRADLY GILL
Carl Drexler of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey can often be found on the field of battle - though he’s over a hundred years too late to see any action.
Drexler spoke the Camden Lions Club at Catherine’s Bistro about his work in conflict archaeology, specifically as it ties to skirmishes during the Civil War in the Natural State.
The first site Drexler spoke of was Elkin’s Ferry, located in Nevada County. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas states,
“The Engagement at Elkin’s Ferry was an April 3–4, 1864, battle in which Confederate troops attacked a Union column deep in southwestern Arkansas. The battle began what became known as the Camden Expedition.”
Drexler and a team of archaeologist surveyed a 400-acre parcel of land purchased by the Nevada County Depot and Museum. The area is believed to be the site of the Elkin’s Ferry conflict.
He said that process was made more difficult by the Little Missouri River depositing soil along the riverbank over a long period of time.
Drexler said the metal detectors used to survey the area can only go to a depth of about a foot, but that’s not to say the team didn’t find some interesting artifacts. Union and Confederate armies traded artillery fire, and Drexler’s group was lucky enough to find fragments of artillery rounds along with bullets and other battlefield debris.
A bayonet was also found, which Drexler said was probably quite disconcerting to the solider who lost it, not because of any combat benefits, but because they were often used as tent poles.
After the skirmish at Elkin’s Ferry, the war moved near to what would become Prescott. So when that land was purchased, Drexler’s team once again set up a site and found artifacts.
Battlefields.org gives this account of the battle:
“On April 9, 1864, Steele’s main force received reinforcements and moved toward Washington along a military road. In their path lay Prairie D’Ane, a relatively flat and open plain of nearly 30 square miles. The Federals found their adversaries digging in along their direct path to Washington. On April 11th, Steele arrayed his army for battle. His initial battle-line supposedly stretched for two full miles. The next day, the Federal attack was launched. Many of the Confederates had already started for Washington, and the Federals engaged the rear guard of the Confederate army.”
Drexler said the earliest battle map was published in 1960 and was somewhat inaccurate with the location of troops and the fact that it listed Prescott as an established town.
After finding another collection of mortar that established the position of a Union artillery battalion, Drexler said the location of other troops was easier to figure out because battle reports detail their relative position to other troops.
Drexler announced that an excavation of Poison Springs was planned. He added that all three sites are important to historical tourism.
And in March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill sponsored by District 5 Rep. David Fielding establishing the “Camden Expedition Scenic Highway.”
A message on Hutchinson’s Facebook page stated in part:
“I signed HB1414 which designates certain routes in Arkansas as the ‘Camden Expedition Scenic Highway.’ This is a great bill that promotes Civil War tourism in our state and preserves our Civil War historic sites. Thank you to Representative Fielding for a great bill that will promote history and tourism.”