On the 23rd of December, I gave orders for the removal of the sick and such public stores as would not be necessary to the troops that were to remain, and that all wagon trains and boats on the way up with supplies should be stopped about Clarksville. Fagan's division was ordered to march on the 26th and Frost's division on the 28th.
In the interval between the issuance and execution of these orders, desertions from the Texas infantry, under General Roane, increased to such an extent that I deemed it best to break up that brigade and distribute the regiments among the Missouri and Arkansas troops, and substituted Shaver's Arkansas brigade to be left for defending the Indian country.
On December 28, at 10 a. m., Lieutenant-Colonel Crump reported to me by courier that the enemy was advancing on the Cove Creek road in heavy force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery. A few minutes afterward, Brigadier General Cooper, who was at Scullyville, in the Choctaw Nation, 15 miles from Fort Smith, reported to me by courier that a Federal cavalry force of three or four regiments, with artillery, under Colonel Phillips, had crossed to the south side of the river, at Fort Gibson, on the preceding day. Immediately after, I received information by telegraph from a detachment of cavalry posted at Borland's, 35 miles below Van Buren, on the north side of the river, covering the roads from Fayetteville to Ozark and Clarksville, that a regiment of Federal cavalry was within 20 miles of that position, moving south.
Fagan's division was on the march, 25 miles below; Frost's was 10 miles below; Shaver's brigade, less than 1,000 strong, with one battery, was 2 miles below, in camp.
General Cooper was ordered to retire southward upon his depots of supplies, the nearest of which was Johnson's Station, on the Canadian, about 90 miles from Fort Smith. Shaver's brigade was put under arms, and moved forward to the river opposite Van Buren. Frost was ordered back to Shaver's position, detaching enough artillery and infantry to hold the crossing at Strain's, 6 miles below Van Buren; and orders were given to remove by boat and wagon, as rapidly as possible, the public property at Van Buren and Fort Smith. At the same time I telegraphed General Marmaduke, at Lewisburg, to move northward and strike the enemy in flank or rear.
At 11.05 o'clock, being one hour and five minutes after the first notice of the enemy's advance, the Federal cavalry and light artillery were in Van Buren. As they approached the landing, West's battery, of Shaver's brigade, drove them back, killing and wounding several. Skirmishing continued there till nearly sunset, when the Federal infantry appeared, and two batteries of heavy rifled pieces opened from the commanding heights in and above the town. Meanwhile a cavalry force pursued and captured Colonel Crump's train and part of a train laden with supplies for my wounded at Cane Hill, and also captured three steamboats, the Notre, which had grounded on a bar 1 mile below Van Buren, and the Key West and Rose Douglass, which had been ordered down, but had stopped for some cause unknown on the south side of the river, opposite Strain's Landing. This was before there was time for Frost's detachment to reach that point. The steamers Eva and Arkansas, being still above Van Buren, were burned by my orders, after transferring to wagons all their freight for which I had transportation.
About dark, artillery firing commenced at Strain's Landing, between Frost's detachment, posted there, and a Federal force on the opposite side, having field pieces of large caliber. It continued during two hours, when the enemy retired. I had now removed all the public stores for