The Bayou Meto (Reed’s Bridge) Battlefield is on the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A with national significance by virtue of its status as the most intact of the three battlefields associated with the nationally significant Little Rock Campaign, and the battlefield that thus best represents that campaign. It is also noteworthy as the battle that blunted the Union drive to capture the Arkansas capital and for its role as a catalyst leading to a duel a week later between two Confederate generals. Despite modern intrusions immediately adjacent to Highway 161, the majority of the core area of the battlefield is in remarkably good condition, approximating its appearance on August 27, 1863. Of the two major defining features of the battlefield, Highway 161 follows the roadbed of the old Military Road that Union forces followed and Bayou Meto remains a “steep-banked, miry stream.”
Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861 and over the next year mustered thousands of soldiers into the Confederate ranks. Secession was favored by a majority of residents in Arkansas but there were also strong pockets of Union sympathizers in the state’s mountainous regions. Only small skirmishes took place in the state until early 1862. In March, Union forces under the command of Major General Samuel Curtis engaged the army of Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn at Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas. After two days of fighting, Van Dorn’s army was defeated and most of his army was then transferred east across the Mississippi River. After capturing Memphis in June, Union troops descended the Mississippi River and occupied Helena.
Over the next six months, control of Northwest Arkansas continued to be the main focus of Union and Confederate forces. In December, a Confederate army of 11,000 men under Major General Thomas Hindman attacked Union forces commanded by Brigadier Generals James Blunt and Francis Herron at Prairie Grove. Fighting all day on December 7th, Hindman was initially successful but strong Union counterattacks drove him from the field. In January of 1863, a strong Confederate position at Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River was forced to surrender to a much larger Union army.
Following the surrender of Arkansas Post, hostilities in the state were relatively quiet as Union forces in the west planned the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Vicksburg campaign in the summer of 1863 resulted in a siege of the surrounded Confederate army in the city in June. Seeking to help raise the siege, a Confederate army under Major Generals Sterling Price and Theophilus Holmes marched to attack Helena. Price and Holmes planned their assault to begin on the morning of July 4th. Strongly fortified, the Union troops at Helena repulsed the Confederate charges and inflicted over 1,700 casualties. The same day, the Confederate army of some 30,000 soldiers surrendered at Vicksburg. With the capture of this Confederate army, the Union high command then turned its attention to invading central Arkansas and capturing the capital of Little Rock.