Josiah Francis Earle (1828–1884)

Josiah Francis Earle was a landowner in eastern Arkansas who served in the Civil War as a Confederate officer. The town of Earle (Crittenden County) is named for him.

Born on September 15, 1828, in Camden County, North Carolina, Earle was the second child of Josiah Earle and Nancy Lamb Earle. His father owned a number of trade ships operating in the Atlantic between the United States and the West Indies.

At least one source lists Earle as serving during the Mexican War, although it is not clear if he actually participated in the conflict. He moved to Arkansas as a young man, settling in Crittenden County. He appeared on an 1850 listing of residents in Proctor Township, Crittenden County, as a laborer. His mother also appeared on the list. In 1860, Earle appeared in the federal census as a court clerk with real estate valued at $5,000.

Enlisting into Arkansas service at Marion (Crittenden County) on June 3, 1861, soon after the Civil War began, Earle was elected as captain of his company, named the Crittenden Rangers. The company enlisted into Confederate service on July 29, 1861, in Pocahontas (Randolph County). Originally Company C of the Sixth Arkansas Cavalry Battalion, the unit served in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, seeing action at a number of battles. After the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, the battalion was disbanded, and part of the company was transferred to the Helena Artillery, while the remainder became Company A of the Second Arkansas Cavalry. Earle served with the regiment at the Battle of Iuka and the Second Battle of Corinth. In January 1863, the company transferred to the Third Arkansas Cavalry and became Company E of that regiment. The regiment saw service in Tennessee, including the Battle of Thompson’s Station and the Tullahoma Campaign. Promoted to major on March 17, 1863, Earle resigned from the army due to unspecified health reasons on August 19 of the same year, and the resignation was accepted on September 1. With the resignation accepted, Earle returned to Arkansas.

After recovering from his health problems, Earle organized and led a company of Confederate cavalry operating in northeastern Arkansas. It is unclear when this company organized. On January 17, 1865, Earle’s company joined two regiments of Arkansas cavalry and formed a brigade under the command of Colonel Oliver Perry Lyles, a fellow officer from Crittenden County. The brigade was tasked with patrolling the northeastern corner of the state and saw little action for the remainder of the conflict. Much of his time spent in the area focused on finding deserters and avoiding Federal patrols and gunboats along the Mississippi. At the conclusion of the war, Earle surrendered with his company at Wittsburg (Cross County). During the conflict, the highest rank that Earle held was major of the Third Arkansas Cavalry, and he ended the war in command of a company, with the rank of captain.

Returning home, Earle married Louisa Burrus Richards on November 15, 1865, in Tyronza Township, Crittenden County. The couple had four sons and two daughters, with both daughters and one son surviving into adulthood.

After the war, Earle became a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan in eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee. According to lore, Earle was captured by Federal forces in Tennessee and ordered to be hanged. After he was transported across the Mississippi River to Hopefield (Crittenden County), a group of fellow Klansmen rescued him.

Earle became a significant landowner in the western part of Crittenden County. In the 1880 census, he was listed as a farmer, with three children living in the home along with him and Louisa.

Earle died on March 7, 1884, at his home in Crittenden County. After his death, a train stop was established near his home and was named Earle. The town incorporated in 1905. Louisa died in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1891.

For additional information:
Hooker, Ruth Earle Nelms. Thomas Lamb, 1609–1646, of Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony and Some of His Descendants in America, the Albemarle and New England Ancestry of Major Josiah Francis Earle of Crittenden County, Arkansas. N.p.: 1947.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 10/15/2019

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