Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Arts in History



Committee Chair

William Piston


In the spring of 1864, Major General Frederick Steele led his men out of Little Rock on orders to cooperate with Major General Nathaniel Banks's campaign up the Red River. The two forces never met as planned. Steele eventually captured Camden, Arkansas, but was obliged to retreat in the face of a determined Confederate force approaching him. The Camden Expedition, as this became known, has typically been cast as an expedition that failed due to a severe shortage of available food along the line of march. Upon closer investigation, however, particularly in the records of common soldiers, a different explanation emerges. For most of the campaign, forage was easily obtained, and no unusual lack of food for the men appeared until the very end of the campaign, during the last days of the retreat back to Little Rock. Instead, the causes of the expedition's failure must be assigned to Steele himself. Beset with political problems within the army and Arkansas politics, he was reluctant to leave Little Rock. He failed to plan adequately for the campaign's logistical needs, particularly for a potential permanent occupation of Camden. Finally, his policies towards Arkansas civilians combined with a very conservative attitude towards logistics to make Steele unwilling to exploit fully the resources he had available. This thesis discuesses Steele's decisions on the Camden Expedition and places them in the context of his civilian policy, difficulties within the army, and his experience the year before on the campaign to capture Little Rock.


Civil War, Arkansas, Frederick Steele, Camden Exposition, Little Rock Campaign

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© Alfred Hoyt Wallace

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