Rising from the Boston Mountains, the White River meanders 720 miles to its junction with the Arkansas River in the southeastern part of the state. The fast-moving water kept the White River from suffering the build-up of silt that made such rivers as the Arkansas difficult to traverse for much of the year. The White River could accommodate deeper-draft vessels than most other rivers in the state.
With its tall bluffs towering over the White River, DeValls Bluff was easily defendable and became the most important port on the river during the Civil War. Union gunboats could easily travel to the town, providing security for the steamboats carrying supplies that would then be transferred for railroad transport to Little Rock.
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The steamboat Des Arc was moored at DeValls Bluff when cotton in her hold caught fire on March 22, 1864. The U.S.S. Signal towed her across the river to protect other vessels docked nearby and, when the flames grew out of control, sank her with cannon fire. The Des Arc was later raised and continued serving as a White River packet until 1871. Courtesy, Arkansas History Commission.
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The U.S.S. Signal, U.S.S. Romeo, U.S.S. Fawn and U.S.S. Marmora were some
of the Union gunboats that plied the waters of the White River, seeking Confederate targets and protecting cargo and troop transports. Signal, courtesy Arkansas History Commission.
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Steamboats carried cargo to DeValls Bluff, where it was shifted to the railroad. Here, the Pocahontas, Ella and Emma No. 2 are decked at DeValls Bluff. Courtesy, Arkansas History Commission.