The Red River Expedition was part of a larger effort to move simultaneously against confederate forces in all theaters of the Civil War. Its goals were to destroy the remaining confederate forces in South Arkansas and Northern Louisiana to reassert federal authority in Texas.
On March 23, 1864, the Arkansas phase of this campaign called the Camden Expedition began when General Steele and 8500 troops left the Little Rock Arsenal.
Strategy called for Steele to join another Federal army under Command of General Nathan Banks coming from New Orleans. When they met, they would then seize Confederate headquarters in Shreveport, Louisiana. Unfortunately for the Federal troops in Arkansas the route carried them through an area destitute with provisions. Steele hoped to occupy Camden, a port city on the Ouachita to re-supply.
Steele occupied Camden on April 15th. He was deep in enemy territory. Banks troops were defeated by Confederate General Kirby Smith and were headed towards Camden to stop Steele. Within two days of capturing Camden Steele was resigned to send out foraging parities for food.
Confederated began cutting of supplies to Camden on April 18th, when they overran 1200 troops and 200 hundred supply wagons at Poison Springs. One week later, Mark Mills’s engagement resulted in the capture of 2000 men. Steele decided to abandon Camden under the cover of darkness and retreated to Little Rock on April 26th.
On April 29th, Steele’s troops had reached the Saline River at Jenkins' Ferry and began constructing a pontoon bridge. The driving rainstorm created terribly muddy conditions.