Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry (CS)
The Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry regiment was a Confederate unit that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the American Civil War. Organized in the summer of 1862, most of the companies were raised prior to—but in direct response to—the 1862 Confederate Conscript Law, making it a volunteer regiment. It was composed primarily of men from Benton, Crawford, Franklin, Sebastian, and Washington counties. The original command staff consisted of Colonel William H. Brooks, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gunter, and Major James Woolsey. Initially referred to as the Second Regiment, Northwest Division by the state military board, the Confederate War Department re-designated it as the Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry.
During the summer and fall of 1862, the regiment trained in northwestern Arkansas before moving south to the Arkansas River near Spadra Bluff and then Massard Prairie near Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Assigned to the brigade of Brigadier General James Fagan in Brigadier General Francis Shoup’s division, the Thirty-Fourth moved into northern Arkansas in late November along with the rest of Major General Thomas Hindman’s army.
The regiment experienced its first fighting on December 7, 1862, at the Battle of Prairie Grove. The initial advance by the Federals overran and captured William Blocher’s Confederate artillery battery. The Thirty-Fourth, along with Alexander T. Hawthorne’s Thirty-Ninth Arkansas, fired a volley and charged the enemy, driving them back into the prairie where the slaughter was great. In the heavy, back-and-forth action along the ridge near the Borden House and into the prairie, the Thirty-Fourth lost twenty killed and mortally wounded, as well as thirteen wounded. At the close of the battle, Hindman withdrew due to lack of supplies, and the regiment eventually returned to central Arkansas, where it established winter quarters at Little Rock (Pulaski County). Additionally, fifty-one were listed as deserting or AWOL (absent without leave). Most of these deserters were from Washington and Benton counties, and these desertions no doubt occurred on the retreat.
On July 4, 1863, the Thirty-Fourth Arkansas participated in the Battle of Helena. Fagan’s brigade was tasked with attacking Battery D, the southernmost of four Union positions along the hills west of the town. Due to confusion in other brigades regarding when to attack, Fagan launched the attack alone at sunrise as ordered. Fagan sent the Thirty-Fifth, Thirty-Seventh, and Thirty-Ninth in a direct assault on Battery D but diverted Brooks’s Thirty-Fourth to the south of town to prevent any Union flanking attempt on his lines. While their comrades fought desperately, the Thirty-Fourth endured artillery fire from Union gunboats and artillery. When ordered to withdraw, the Thirty-Fourth rejoined the brigade, having suffered only one man wounded during the battle. The Confederate forces failed to take the city, eventually retreating to Little Rock.
For the next month, the regiment served at various locations along the White River as part of Fagan’s brigade until Federal forces began their advance on Little Rock. During the initial cavalry battles of August 1863, Confederate infantry, including the Thirty-Fourth, held strong works east of the city and north of the Arkansas River. When Union cavalry successfully forded the Arkansas River below Little Rock on September 10, 1863, the infantry withdrew through Little Rock and gave up the state capital to Federal forces. Confederate forces retreated to Arkadelphia (Clark County) before moving to Camden (Ouachita County). While stationed here, the brigade underwent leadership changes, and Colonel Hawthorne, now promoted to brigadier general, took over as commander of the brigade, now assigned to Major General Thomas Churchill’s Arkansas division.
In March 1864, General Nathaniel Banks embarked on his Red River Campaign. Major General Frederick Steele moved south out of Little Rock, hoping to assist Banks in the capture of Trans-Mississippi headquarters at Shreveport, Louisiana, and to threaten Texas. In early April, Churchill’s division was ordered to Louisiana to assist in the defense against Union forces. Arriving at Shreveport, Hawthorne’s brigade was too late to participate in the battles of Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, Louisiana, and, along with the entire Confederate army, turned north to assist Major General Sterling Price and his cavalry in blocking Steele’s forces coming out of Little Rock.
The Thirty-Fourth’s final battle was April 30, 1864, at Jenkins’ Ferry on the Saline River. As part of Hawthorne’s brigade, the regiment advanced into a muddy cornfield in an attempt to alleviate pressure on General James Tappan’s stalled brigade. It, too, became pinned down in a water-filled swale, where it fought fiercely until heavy casualties resulted in orders to withdraw. No reports from any of Hawthorne’s regiments exist. Due to heavy casualties, including Colonel Brooks and most senior field officers, command fell to Major Fontaine R. Earle, who commanded the regiment for the duration of the war.
The remnant of the Thirty-Fourth Arkansas saw no fighting for the remainder of the war and was stationed at Marshall, Texas, when General Kirby Smith surrendered the department on May 26, 1865. Ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, to receive their paroles, the regiment did not report but traveled to Fort Smith to surrender and received their paroles on June 9, 1865.
For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Little Rock: Pioneer Press 1967.
Christ, Mark. “The Battle of Helena.” Blue and Gray Magazine 32 (October 2016): 6–11, 42–50.
Cluck, Damon. Arkansas Confederates: The Infantry Regiments. Vol. I, 4th ed. Mainz, Germany: PediaPress, 2012.
Leuschen, Paul. “The Thirty-Fourth Arkansas Infantry Regiment, Confederate States of America; From Its Organization in June 1862, to Its Surrender in 1865.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas, 1997.
Richards, Ira Don. “The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 20 (Spring 1961): 3–16.
Shea, William. Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
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