Allen Rufus (A. R.) Witt (1830–1903)

Allen Rufus (A. R.) Witt was a politician and Confederate colonel who served in infantry and irregular cavalry regiments during the Civil War.

A. R. Witt was born on August 17, 1830, in Hamilton County, Tennessee, the oldest of four children. The family moved to Alabama in 1836 and then moved to Van Buren County, Arkansas, six years later, settling on the Little Red River. Witt went to Arkansas College in Fayetteville (Washington County) and lived in Fayetteville until 1857, when he was elected state land commissioner and moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County).

In 1859, Witt drove a herd of cattle to California and remained there for two years. Returning to Little Rock as the Civil War was approaching, he enlisted as a private in the Pulaski Light Artillery in the Arkansas State Troops, serving from April to September 1861. Witt then raised Company A of the Tenth Arkansas Infantry Regiment (CS) from men from Van Buren County and Conway County; he was elected captain of that unit on July 27, 1861.

Witt was wounded in the April 6–7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, returning to Arkansas to recuperate. After the Tenth’s colonel, Thomas Merrick, resigned in May after facing charges regarding the regiment’s disreputable reputation, Witt was elected colonel on May 8, 1862. He was captured near Port Hudson, Louisiana, on May 23, 1863, but as he and ninety-four other officers were being taken to a prisoner-of-war camp at Fort Delaware, New Jersey, on the transport Maple Leaf, Witt led an attack on their captors, seized control of the vessel, and landed behind Rebel lines.

After returning to Arkansas, Witt organized the remnants of his old infantry regiment into the Tenth Arkansas Cavalry (CS), operating as an irregular unit from their base at Quitman (Cleburne and Faulkner counties) and, as one historian noted, “throughout the last eighteenth months of the war, Witt’s men scoured the countryside of north central Arkansas, harassing Union expeditions and scouting operations.” The Tenth Arkansas frequently clashed with the irregular Unionist cavalry band led by Jeff Williams.

Witt’s troopers accompanied Major General Sterling Price in his disastrous 1864 raid into Missouri, returning to Arkansas late in the year. On February 12, 1865, Witt and dozens of his men surrounded Williams’s cabin near Center Ridge (Conway County) and killed him, leading Williams’s sons to pursue a vendetta against the men of the Tenth. As the war ended, Witt refused to surrender until the independent Unionist units were disbanded, and he urged Federal authorities to occupy postwar Arkansas with troops from other states and “not to send men of this State, who have personal grudges.” He was paroled at Jacksonport (Jackson County) on June 5, 1865.

He married Henrietta C. Miller in 1865; they had four children.

Witt returned to Van Buren County, operating a farm. He was elected to the Arkansas Senate representing Van Buren and Izard counties in 1866–1867. He served as a delegate to the 1874 Constitutional Convention and, when its ratification was delayed because the returns from Madison County were lost in the mail, he took a train to Clarksville (Johnson County) and rode a horse to Huntsville (Madison County) to gather duplicate returns and bring them to Little Rock. “In fifty-six hours, he traveled two hundred twenty miles by railroad and one hundred thirty miles horseback over one of the roughest roads in the union,” the Arkansas Gazette reported. He was elected chancery court clerk the following year and was appointed as a state militia officer.

Witt moved to Conway (Faulkner County) in 1877 and operated a drugstore. He was appointed postmaster in May 1884 and served in that role for five years.

Witt fell ill around 1900 and died on April 29, 1903. Former governor James P. Eagle was among the speakers at his funeral. Witt is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Conway.

For additional information:
Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

Barnes, Kenneth C. “The Williams Clan: Mountain Farmers and Union Fighters in North Central Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 52 (Autumn 1993): 257–285.

Blevins, Brooks. A History of the Ozarks. Vol. 2, The Conflicted Ozarks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019.

“Col. Allen Rufus Witt.” Find a Grave. (accessed April 13, 2023).

“The Funeral of Col. A. R. Witt.” Arkansas Gazette, May 1, 1903, p. 5.

Goodspeed Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1889.

“Hon. A. R. Witt.” Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1874, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


No comments on this entry yet.