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Accordion War
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I Walk Toward the Sound of My Days: Poems of John Allen Adams
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From Chapter 4 - Of Time and The Ouachita

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. 
~ Thoreau ~

On a summer day just a stone’s throw up-stream from the Caddo Street bridge a fat brown moccasin slides silently from a low hanging willow branch into the current and sinuously swims downstream angling toward shore until it hits a patch of slack water where it parts floating willow cotton sending it tumbling and spreading like smoke before it disappears into the shadow of a grassy overhang. Three turtles sunning nearby in single file on a bone-white fallen cottonwood take no notice of the snake.  On a leafless twig at the tip of the tree now only two feet above the water a dragonfly with multiple river images in his compound eyes is poised on point while a squadron of his brothers fly above him, alternately darting from side to side then holding still in air while below them a bluegill with orange belly and blue-tipped “ears” hovers above a platter-sized patch of bright burnished stones on the river bottom diligently guarding the eggs resting there.

Several hundred yards further up stream high atop De Soto Bluff, oak, sweet gum and hickory stand on tiptoe where the river has eaten away at the cliff and exposed their roots to the air and hardened them into elaborate bracings and cage-like scaffolds as they struggle to hold their purchase in the red dirt and so keep from plummeting to the river and joining the trees fallen from earlier seasons. Below them up and down the
water's edge other trees stand like soldiers marching into battle, the front rank already lying strewn along the bank, casualties of earlier spring torrents, many in the following tier wounded and headed for the ground in a slow fall while the upright ranks behind stoically wait their turn to contend with the implacable Ouachita.

And so the river runs today as it has for centuries, for millennia, since long before red men or white men followed its course seeking game and fertile spots of ground to plant their seed.


In the years following John Allen’s arrival in Arkadelphia, the Ouachita River, only three blocks from his house, would prove a magnetic attraction for the adventurous boy.  He would often be drawn down the hill on Clinton Street to the river to investigate its mysteries.  True, it was not the Father of Waters, the mile-wide Mississippi of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but it was a beautiful and ample river whose clear water and shaded paths offered plenty of adventures for John Allen and the local boys of his generation. Standing in privet and poke weed in the shade of beech, cottonwoods and willows, he could look across the water to the thick greenery on the far bank, the current in constant motion beneath his gaze, and ponder the marvels of his world.  Living now at the home place he found the nearby river to be an intimate new friend.  John Allen would spend many days of his youth swimming and fishing in its waters, exploring its banks, and observing the timeless yet ever-changing life of the Ouachita.


*    *    *    *

Louis, John Allen’s grandfather, would have been six years old when the Union soldiers rode onto their place.  We can only imagine the fear and fascination he must have felt when he saw the Yankee soldiers riding their lathered horses into their farmyard looking for whatever they could find to sustain them while around the boy the long train of troops, cavalry, cannon and caissons passed through on their way to Little Rock.  Certainly Elizabeth, Laura and the girls would have been angry and frightened while the slaves would have been filled with mixed emotions.  Many blacks had been following Steele and his Union forces, seeing in them the possibility of deliverance, the hope for a Jubilee.  But so far as we know the Horton slaves held fast, awaiting the final resolution of the conflict which would determine their fate.  

Elizabeth, however, for the rest of her life would harbor bitterness toward the “Damned Yankee” soldiers who used the drawers of her fine dresser to feed their horses.  Bessie, listening to stories at Elizabeth Scott Horton’s knee, absorbed Confederate attitudes from her grandmother that she would carry the rest of her life.

Horton was most likely among the Confederates who pursued Steele and his miles-long convoy of troops through the Ouachita bottom lands and on towards Little Rock.  After the Union forces passed by the Horton plantation and the town of Sparkman, a brief, intense firefight erupted near Princeton on the 29th of April, close enough to Fairview so the sounds of battle might have been heard there.  The fighting broke off but at about 8 a.m. the following morning the pursuers caught up with the rear of the procession once again when it reached the Saline River at a place called Jenkins’ Ferry.  

Steele had ordered a pontoon bridge put in place there and his forces were hurriedly crossing the river when the Rebels arrived and a fierce battle erupted in the middle of a violent rain storm. The down-hill funnel-like shape of the road prevented the Confederates from bringing all their forces to bear in the battle while the Union forces, slipping and mired in mud, fought furiously to repel the attackers.  In the rage of battle at Jenkins’ Ferry, soldiers from the Second Kansas Colored Regiment overran a Rebel battery and slew them all, bashing heads and slitting throats of the wounded as payback for the treatment their brothers in the First Kansas Colored received at Poison Spring.  

Once all the Federal troops were across the river the pontoon bridge was removed and the tired, hungry, muddy and bedraggled forces of General Fredrick Steele continued wearily on to Little Rock reaching the city on May 3, 1864.  So ended the Camden Expedition which, according to Thomas DeBlack, was, “. . . the greatest Federal military disaster of the Civil War in Arkansas.  Union forces suffered over twenty-five hundred casualties, lost hundreds of wagons, thousands of livestock, and gained not one inch of ground“ (117).

Even though the Confederacy was now being vanquished everywhere east of the Mississippi, Arkansas, which had not played a part in the great battles of the war, did have the satisfaction of delivering three humiliating defeats to the Union forces in the final year of the struggle at Poison Spring, Marks’ Mills, and in chasing the retreating Federals across the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry.


*    *    *    *

Louis was seven now, a handsome child but willful and sometimes difficult.  The womenfolk said he was spoiled during the war because he was the only white male on the place.  With all her troubles and responsibilities Elizabeth had not been able to give him the kind of firm guidance a young boy needs.  Although she had graced the child with the revered name of her fabled uncle there seemed little likelihood that Louis Scott would ever distinguish the family as the famous general had.  Priscilla, on the other hand, was the one who, with her intelligence, talents and dedication, seemed certain to bring distinction to the family.  

We can never see William Saunders Horton clearly; we can only make out his form dimly through memories of his grandchildren and the veil of years.  But one thing I believe can safely be said—like his great-grandson, John Allen, he had a great capacity for love.  Evidence for this is found in the adoration of Bessie and Gertrude for their grandfather many years after his death, and in his great tolerance and support for his wayward son, Louis, and in his willingness to expend his wealth in defending his son, Paul Edward, in his murder trial.  His success as a father and Elizabeth’s as a mother is evidenced by the accomplishments of their children.  Horton, like many Southerners of his age, was caught up in the evil of slavery, an institution, as William Faulkner makes clear, that cursed both the white and black races.  Yet it is reported that at the conclusion of the Civil War, all his previous slaves chose to stay with him and work the land as sharecroppers. 
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