Thirty-First Arkansas Infantry (CS)
The Thirty-First Arkansas Infantry was a Confederate unit that served in the Western Theater during the American Civil War. The unit was composed of men primarily from Conway, Independence, Jackson, Pope, Van Buren, and Yell counties. Organized originally as a four-company battalion under the command of Major Thomas H. McCray in January 1862, it reorganized on May 25, 1862, as the Thirty-First Arkansas Infantry with ten companies. The original field officers were Colonel Thomas H. McCray, Lieutenant Colonel James F. Johnson, and Major James W. Clark.
After initial assignment to the brigade of Brigadier General J. L. Hogg in Major General John P. McCown’s division at Corinth, Mississippi, it was ordered to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and transferred to the division of Brigadier General Thomas Churchill of Lieutenant General Kirby Smith’s Army of Kentucky. McCray was placed in command of a brigade composed of four Texas regiments and the Thirty-First Arkansas. As part of General Braxton Bragg’s 1862 invasion of Kentucky, it experienced its first combat at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, on August 30, 1862. The Thirty-First participated in two charges, driving the enemy from the battlefield and through the town, losing three killed and six wounded.
Upon returning to Mississippi, the Thirty-First was assigned to Brigadier General Evander McNair’s Arkansas brigade of Major General John P. McCown’s division in the Army of the West, serving the remainder of the war in that brigade. Stationed at Shelbyville, Tennessee, the Thirty-First missed the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862. Due to the heavy casualties incurred by the Twenty-Fifth Arkansas at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, it temporarily consolidated with the Thirty-First under command of Lieutenant Colonel Eli Hufstedler in April 1863.
The brigade was assigned to General Joseph E. Johnston’s forces in an unsuccessful effort to relieve pressure on the Vicksburg, Mississippi, defenses. After the fall of Vicksburg, Major General Sherman moved against Johnston, who had withdrawn to Jackson, Mississippi. After heavy fighting on July 11, 1863, rather than risk envelopment, Johnston retreated, leaving Jackson in Union possession. The Thirty-First defended against these Union assaults and afterward returned to duty in the Army of Tennessee. Due to combat losses and desertion, the Thirty-First was permanently consolidated with the Fourth Arkansas Infantry Battalion and Fourth Arkansas Infantry Regiment, all under command of the Fourth’s Colonel Henry Bunn. Colonel McCray transferred to Arkansas and served the remaining years of the war in the Trans-Mississippi Department.
On September 19–20, 1863, the consolidated Thirty-First/Fourth Battalion/Fourth Arkansas fought at the bloody two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. McNair’s Brigade saw heavy action in several successful assaults on enemy positions, eventually capturing enemy artillery pieces, numerous prisoners, and two stands of colors, one belonging to the Eighth Kansas Infantry. The consolidated regiment, numbering 385 soldiers, fired seventy rounds apiece, losing eighteen killed, fifty-six wounded, and twenty-nine missing. Nine members of the Thirty-First Arkansas were identified for valor and placed on the Confederate Roll of Honor for Chickamauga.
The members of the Thirty-First Arkansas remained as part of the Fourth Arkansas, comprising only two companies of the regiment. Still part of the same Arkansas brigade, now commanded by Brigadier General Daniel H. Reynolds, they served throughout the Atlanta Campaign, seeing heavy action in numerous battles. In heavy fighting from May to August at Dug Gap, Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, and Ezra Church, casualties significantly reduced the two companies of the Thirty-First. After the fall of Atlanta, the men embarked on the disastrous Franklin-Nashville Campaign in November and December 1864. After the battles of Springhill, Franklin, and Nashville, what was left of the Thirty-First Arkansas retreated into Alabama, and in the spring, the entire Army of Tennessee moved to North Carolina in an attempt to prevent William T. Sherman’s army from combining with Ulysses S. Grant’s in Virginia. The survivors of the Thirty-First fought the last major battle of the war at Bentonville, North Carolina, on March 19–20, 1865. On April 9, all the depleted Arkansas regiments were combined into the First Arkansas Infantry Regiment Consolidated and included in the surrender and parole at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865. Afterward, the soldiers were offered free rail travel toward home where available. A number of survivors of the Thirty-First Arkansas were on board a train that derailed at Flat Creek Bridge, Tennessee, on May 25, 1865. A large number of men were killed or seriously injured; this most likely included some members of the Thirty-First, although no list has been found to document the casualties.
For additional information:
Bass, Ronald. The History of the Thirty-First Arkansas Confederate Infantry.” Conway: Arkansas Research, 1996.
Christ, Mark K., ed. Getting Used to Being Shot at: The Spence Family Civil War Letters. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002.
Connelly, Thomas L., and McDonough, James Lee. Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.
Gammage, Washington Lafayette. The Camp, The Bivouac, and the Battlefield. Little Rock: Arkansas Southern Press, 1958.
Leeper, Wesley T. Rebels Valiant: Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles (Dismounted). Little Rock: Pioneer Press, 1964.
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