First Arkansas Infantry (US)
The First Arkansas Infantry Volunteers (US) was recruited and organized in Fayetteville (Washington County) by Dr. James M. Johnson of Huntsville (Madison County) following the Battle of Prairie Grove. Johnson and his brother were associates of noted loyalist Isaac Murphy, who later became governor of Arkansas. The unit consisted of unionists from Washington County and other northwestern Arkansas counties including Madison, Newton, Benton, Searcy, and Crawford.
The unit was mustered in on March 25, 1863, with thirty-six officers and 810 enlisted men. An April 1 report from Colonel M. LaRue Harrison of the First Arkansas Cavalry makes clear the condition of the first recruits:
“The First Arkansas Infantry will number in a few days an aggregate of 830 men; probably 700 of them effective. They are totally without transportation, clothing or tents, or equipments of any kind, except the arms picked up on the Prairie Grove battle-ground, which are of all patterns and calibers. The destitution of clothing is very great, and much suffering and sickness prevails on account of it; besides, it would be a ruinous policy to place this undrilled, barefooted, butternut regiment in the field to be mixed up with and cut in pieces by rebels in the same dress.”
The unit was on duty in Fayetteville through April, led by Colonel James Johnson, and was involved in the April 18, 1863, Action at Fayetteville, along with the First Arkansas Cavalry. According to the report from Col. Harrison, the First Arkansas Infantry was still not in uniform, but seven companies were posted as a reserve, and three companies were formed at the center of the Federal line.
Initially, the regiment was attached to the Army of the Frontier under Brigadier General John Schofield and was then moved to Springfield, Missouri, later in April, remaining there until July. The First Arkansas Infantry was involved in actions with the Army of the Frontier in the Cherokee Nation before pursuing William Cabell’s forces to Perryville (Perry County) and then moving to Fort Smith (Sebastian County) on September 1, 1863. The unit recruited additional soldiers from the Fort Smith area, some of them deserters from Confederate forces. They headquartered in Waldron (Scott County) and scouted the area during the winter and early spring.
Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s Frontier Division was at Fort Smith when he was ordered to consolidate with General Frederick Steele in Arkadelphia (Clark County) by April 1.The First Arkansas left Fort Smith on March 24, 1864, to participate in Gen. Steele’s Camden Expedition. They did not rendezvous with Steele until April 9 at Prairie D’Ane and skirmished until April 11. The unit participated in the Action at Moscow on April 13 and entered Camden (Ouachita County) on April 16. They engaged in a reconnaissance of the enemy after the Engagement at Poison Spring and left Camden on April 26. The First Arkansas, as a part of the left wing of the Union army, was engaged with the enemy at the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry on the Saline River. The regiment arrived at Little Rock (Pulaski County) on May 1, 1864, and then moved to Fort Smith, arriving on May 17.
Col. James Johnson was elected, though never seated, to Congress in November 1864 while stationed at Fort Smith. The First Arkansas was involved only in garrison duty at Fort Smith during the rest of 1864 and early 1865. During the winter, the Federals sent hundreds of civilians north to Missouri and nearly abandoned Fort Smith. Undoubtedly, some of those civilians were family and friends of members of the unit. A report from an officer of the First Arkansas Cavalry scouting the counties of Carroll, Marion, and Searcy made clear the sacrifice by the loyal Arkansans serving in the U.S. Army: “The country is filled with refugee Missourians, who are committing all kinds of mischief, plundering the families of the soldiers who are serving in our regiment and the First Arkansas Infantry.”
The First Arkansas Infantry was mustered out on August 10, 1865.
For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Little Rock: Arkansas Civil War Centennial Commission, 1967.
Christ, Mark K. Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas of Press, 1994.
History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
Last Updated: 10/26/2021