Thirty-Second Arkansas Infantry (CS)

The Thirty-Second Arkansas Infantry Regiment was a Confederate unit that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the Civil War. Organized on June 16, 1862, as Matlock’s Arkansas Cavalry Battalion, it was later converted to infantry. More than fifty percent of the regiment was composed of men from Independence, Jackson, Searcy, St. Francis, and White counties, with the remainder being conscripts. Appointed officers were Colonel Charles Matlock, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Young, and Major Lucien Gause.

While serving as independent companies and Matlock’s Battalion, the troops fought in numerous small skirmishes in northeastern Arkansas at Smithville in Lawrence County, Searcy Landing on the Little Red River, Whitney’s Lane, Cache River near Cotton Plant (Woodruff County), and Groves Glades on the White River. On July 18, 1862, the battalion was dismounted and augmented with additional companies of conscripts and converted to infantry. Designated as the Fourth Trans-Mississippi Infantry by Major General Thomas Hindman, it received official designation from the Confederate War Department as the Thirty-Second Arkansas Infantry.

On September 28, 1862, the regiment was assigned to Colonel Dandridge McRae’s brigade and ordered to report to Brigadier General J. S. Rains near Elk Horn in northwestern Arkansas. Colonel Matlock resigned due to illness in November and was later captured while recruiting. He died a prisoner of war at Camp Chase, Ohio. Regimental command passed to Lieutenant Colonel Young, with the brigade assigned to Brigadier General Francis Shoup’s Division of Major General Thomas Hindman’s army. The Thirty-Second’s first major engagement was the December 7, 1862, Battle of Prairie Grove. Shoup’s Division deployed along a prominent ridge in the vicinity of the Fayetteville–Cane Hill Road eastward toward the Borden House, where the Thirty-Second assisted in repelling the early assaults of Brigadier General Francis Herron’s Union forces. No casualty report exists for the regiment to detail losses in the heavy action along the ridge near the Borden House and into the prairie. However, Colonel Young was killed during the battle, and Major Gause was elected to replace him. At the close of the battle, Hindman withdrew due to lack of supplies, and the Thirty-Second eventually returned to central Arkansas, establishing winter quarters at Little Rock (Pulaski County).

On July 4, 1863, the Thirty-Second Arkansas participated in the Battle of Helena. Price’s entire division, including McRae’s brigade and the Thirty-Second, was tasked with attacking Battery C, while other brigades attacked remaining Union positions. McRae’s units assaulted the fort from the north and assisted in overwhelming its defenders, who fled into Helena (Phillips County) and the safety of Fort Curtis. McRae was ordered by Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes to move to the south and assist Brigadier General James Fagan’s brigade then attacking Battery D and in need of assistance. McRae moved with only 200 available men of his brigade and began receiving fire from front and rear, forcing him to withdraw his depleted force. During the assaults on Battery C and Battery D, the Thirty-Second lost seventeen killed, forty-six wounded, and twenty-six missing or captured. The Confederate forces failed to take the city and the next day withdrew to Little Rock.

For the next month, the regiment served at various locations in central Arkansas until Federal forces began their advance on Little Rock. During the initial cavalry battles of August 1863, Confederate infantry, including the Thirty-Second, 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, retreating to Arkadelphia (Clark County), giving up the state capital to Federal forces. With many men residing in northeastern Arkansas, desertion impacted the regiment, but even more so in the Thirtieth Arkansas. As a result, the remnant of the Thirtieth consolidated with the Thirty-Second Arkansas in December, under the command of Colonel Gause.

The Thirty-Second moved to Camp Sumter, Hempstead County, where it established winter quarters and was assigned to Brigadier General Thomas Churchill’s brigade. Upon Churchill’s promotion to division command, Colonel Gause inherited command of the brigade, with Lieutenant Colonel Hicks commanding the Thirty-Second.

In the spring of 1864, Union forces in Louisiana initiated the Red River Campaign, hoping to join with General Frederick Steele’s Army of Arkansas in the vicinity of Shreveport, Louisiana, and capture Confederate headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department. All Confederate infantry were ordered south to assist in turning back the Union advance. The Thirty-Second was held in reserve during the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, but actively participated in attacking General Nathaniel Prentice Banks’s rear guard at Pleasant Hill on April 5, 1864. General E. Kirby Smith then marched north with the Confederate infantry to assist Major General Sterling Price, holding Steele’s army at bay near Camden (Ouachita County). After defeats at Poison Springs and Marks’ Mills and running out of supplies, Steele hastily retreated toward Little Rock.

Confederates caught up to Steele trying to cross the flooded Saline River on April 30, resulting in the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry. Churchill’s division arrived first and was ordered to the attack immediately. Tappan’s Brigade made the initial attack before stalling, and Hawthorne’s brigade moved forward to assist, meeting the same fate. Gause’s brigade advanced, supported by Clark’s and Burns’s Missouri brigades on his left and right. As Gause’s troops neared the enemy line, they fired a number of volleys and charged. The Thirty-Second responded as the brigade surged forward, driving the Federals back. After advancing almost a mile, Gause realized that the Missourians on both his flanks had retreated and ordered his troops to retire. Federal forces rapidly advanced to cut Gause off, and the withdrawal turned into a rapid retreat. After re-crossing the muddy battlefield, the Thirty-Second halted to rest and resupply with ammunition before moving forward in support of the advance of the Texas Division. As the Texans were repulsed and withdrew, the Federals took the opportunity to retreat across the river, leaving the Confederates in control of the battlefield. No regimental report for the Thirty-Second exists; however, Gause stated that he lost sixteen killed and sixty-seven wounded from the brigade in what became its last combat action.

The remnant of the regiment saw no fighting for the remainder of the war and was stationed at various locations across southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana until moving to Marshall, Texas, where General Smith surrendered the department on May 26, 1865. Ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, to receive their paroles, the regiment did not report, but simply disbanded without formally surrendering, while most individually journeyed to their homes, receiving their paroles at various locations along the way.

For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Little Rock: Arkansas Civil War Centennial Commission and Pioneer Press, 1995.

Shea, William. Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Anthony Rushing
Bryant Public Schools

Last Updated: 11/27/2019

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