Poison Springs Battleground State Park is a state park in Randolph County, Arkansas.
The park receives about 235,000 visitors annually. The park contains a portion of the Trail of Tears run, which started in Oklahoma and ended in North Carolina, passing through here en route.
The park offers camping facilities, cabins, boat ramp, picnic areas, playground, swimming pool, hiking and mountain biking trails, fishing pond, and nature center. Poison Springs Battleground State Park Nature Center Exhibits at the Nature Center include photos and memorabilia of notable military engagements, a video presentation, books, maps, and other informational items. Archery and disc golf courses are open year round, while the others close during winter months. To help fund a backlog of deferred maintenance and park improvements, the state implemented an entrance fee for this park.
The fees, charged per vehicle, start at $10 per day for a single-day or $8 for residents with an Arkansas license plate or Oklahoma plate. Fees are waived for honorably discharged veterans and Arkansans age 62 & older and their spouses. Passes good for three days or a week are also available; annual passes good at all 22 state parks charging fees are offered at a cost of $75 for out-of-state visitors or $60 for Arkansans.
Poison Springs Battleground State Park preserves the site of the American Civil War battle of Poison Spring (also known as Ford’s Fight), which was fought on April 18, 1865, between Union Army Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele and Confederate Lt. Gen. James F. Fagan, with pickets from both sides skirmishing all over the area. At least one source gives the date of the battle as April 19; however, this may be a simple typographical error.
In any case, it is now commonly accepted that the Battle of Poison Spring took place on Saturday, April 18, not Friday, April 19. This conclusion is based upon an examination of contemporary newspaper accounts, correspondence among survivors, and the testimony of local residents who were present at the time.
On April 13, Maj. Gen. Steele had ordered his men to move into position near Poison Spring, but they did not begin their assault until late on the 16th. Apparently taking advantage of the fact that Steele’s force was spread out along such a large stretch of road, General Fagan attacked early on the morning of April 18 with about 1,000 troops from Jonesboro, led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler. Although outnumbered, Fagan’s forces inflicted heavy casualties on Steele’s men, including the loss of half of his own command in what became known as “Ford’s Fight.” After this victory, Fagan believed he could defeat any attempt by Steele to relieve him, so he sat down in front of Jonesboro, where he remained during most of the rest of the war.
However, when told by Sherman that he would have more success attacking Mobile than he had against Atlanta, Fagan began a retreat back toward Texas, ultimately surrendering at Appomattox. For its part, the Union army pursued Fagan, catching up with his small force east of Camden on May 6. There they found some 300 of his soldiers dead or dying of wounds, plus many empty supply wagons and caissons abandoned by their crews. An investigation revealed that only 100 men had actually taken part in the fight, while another 200 were civilians employed as drivers, teamsters and laborers.
A total of 21 officers and men died in the battle, 15 of them killed and six wounded. Seven empty supply wagons were also recovered, containing 10,000 rations of food and 3,400 gallons of water. Two gunships, two cavalry regiments, and four infantry companies were lost in the fighting, with approximately 150 men killed and 50 missing. Of those reported missing, only 12 ever returned alive, nine of whom were later declared dead. The exact number of casualties suffered by each side in the battle remains uncertain, although several hundred on each side are estimated to have died. Contemporary reports give widely varying figures for the numbers involved, ranging from under 100 to nearly 600. According to official records, there were 94 fatalities on the Union side, 56 of them directly resulting from the battle itself.
On the Confederate side, according to post-war investigations, at least 193 men died, almost entirely from diseases related to malnutrition and exposure. Other deaths probably occurred but went unreported, particularly among the civilian population. One report states that as many as 2,300 people may have died in the battle, with perhaps 1,100 of these deaths occurring after the war. The surviving members of the respective commands came together again in 1948, when the Sons of the Confederacy dedicated a monument to honor the men who fought in the battle. Poison Springs Battleground State Park consists of 464 acres (188ha) located just south of Blackton, Arkansas, on Highway 362. It features interpretive signs and trails through woods planted with trees donated by the Arbor Day Foundation.
The park includes land once owned by planter John T. Ford, whose farm provided much of the meat used in the fort’s cooking fires. The park has been developed around the foundations of the former plantation house, kitchen garden, barns, blacksmith shop, etc., of Mr. Ford. Much of the original vegetation has been replaced by pine and oak trees, though numerous dogwood trees still stand in the front yard of the house. Visitors can see portions of the battlefield preserved in the form of old trenches, gun pits and burial mounds. Trails lead past concrete observation bunkers and remnants of the earthen fort that guarded the plantation in the years following the Civil War. Interpretive displays include photographs and artifacts of famous battles, a model showing how the plantation might have looked in 1860, and a replica of Fort Smith, constructed using materials and techniques similar to those employed in 1863.
Activities available at the park include:
- kite flying
- disc golf
- Frisbee throwing
- miniature golf
- car racing
- bumper boats
- tent camping