On the eve of the Civil War, the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad had completed a line between Hopefield across the Mississippi River from Memphis and Madison in eastern Arkansas. A second section between DeValls Bluff and the north side of the Arkansas River across from Little Rock was finished by January 1862. These were the only rail lines in Arkansas.
Confederate forces used the railroad to transport troops to fight east of the Mississippi until Memphis fell to Union forces in June 1862. The eastern section was little used after that.
Union troops under Gen. Frederick Steele occupied DeValls Bluff in August 1863 and utilized the western stretch of the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad after Steele's troops occupied Little Rock on September 10, 1863. The line was the frequent target of attack and sabotage by Confederate cavalrymen as it crossed the vast prairies east of the capital.
This railroad, from Devall's Bluff to Little Rock, is through a prairie country, it is built in almost a Straight line, with but a few bridges, and those over inconsiderable streams. It can be very easily kept in running order.
Amos F. Eno, Secretary pro tem of Arkansas,
and Adjutant-General January 13, 1863
The railroad from Devall's Bluff to Little Rock is in working order, and I am now sending
two engines around, to be used after taking Little Rock, and until the Arkansas rises that command can be supplied by White River and the railroad.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Hurlbut
September 9, 1863
The immediate and tangible fruits of my expedition are 577 prisoners, including 1 field officer and 11 line officers; over 200 Federals killed and wounded; ten miles of railroad track destroyed completely—the ties torn up and burned, the iron heated and bent, telegraph destroyed, bridges and trestle-works ruined; 3,000 bales of hay destroyed by fire; 20 hay machines chopped to pieces; 5 forts razed to the ground; 500 stand of small-arms distributed to my unarmed men; many fine horses captured; 12 barrels of salt brought off the field and given to a command suffering for it, besides supplying many needy soldiers with blankets, shoes, boots, hats, and clothing. All this was done within six miles of Devall's Bluff, and my detail was tearing up the track while the enemy's bullets, fired at the covering regiments, were throwing the splinters from the ties in their very faces.
Brig. Gen. Joseph O. Sibley
August 30, 1864
The Cylene was one of several locomotives used by the Union on the Memphis to Little Rock Railroad up to June 1865. The others were the Brinkley, St. Francis, Little Rock, General Steele, General Reynolds, Opelousas, Adams and General Carr. Courtesy Central Delta Depot Museum, Brinkley.
This map, created by Confederate engineering officers, shows the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad as it extends from DeValls Bluff to a point across the Arkansas River from Little Rock. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.