Thirty-Third Arkansas Infantry (CS)
The Thirty-Third Arkansas Infantry was a Confederate unit that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the Civil War. The unit was primarily composed of men from Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Montgomery, and Ouachita counties.
Ten independent companies rendezvoused at Camden (Ouachita County) on July 11, 1862, and were ordered to Camp White Sulphur Springs outside Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) for training. The appointed field officers were Colonel Hiram S. Grinstead, Lieutenant Colonel H. W. McMillan, and Major W. L. Crenshaw. It officially mustered into Confederate service as the Thirty-Third Arkansas and was assigned to Colonel Robert Shaver’s brigade before moving to northwestern Arkansas in October. Additionally, the muster roll included eleven enslaved members serving primarily as cooks.
The Thirty-Third experienced its first combat on December 7, 1862, at the Battle of Prairie Grove. Positioned just west of the Fayetteville–Cane Hill Road facing northwest, the Thirty-Third, composed of 306 men, occupied the left flank of Shaver’s brigade. While General Francis Herron’s attacks on the Confederate right raged throughout the morning, the Thirty-Third awaited the Union assault on the left. At 2:00 p.m., the Thirty-Third repelled the charge of the First Pin Indian Regiment, driving them through the fields to their front. Here, the Thirty-Third’s casualties consisted of two killed, eleven wounded, and twelve missing. That evening, due to lack of supplies, Major General Thomas Hindman retreated back to Van Buren (Crawford County), and the Thirty-Third returned to central Arkansas, establishing winter quarters near Little Rock (Pulaski County).
In early 1863, the regiment was reassigned to the brigade of Brigadier General James Tappan and ordered to Louisiana to support General Richard Taylor’s forces opposing General Ulysses S. Grant’s operations near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Confederates operated near Lake Providence, Louisiana, to disrupt agricultural efforts on the Union-leased plantations. The Thirty-Third operated in the vicinity of Delhi, Louisiana, attacking and burning plantations and disrupting Union efforts. This culminated in a battle at Goodrich’s Landing on June 29, 1863, where they assisted in destroying property, securing much needed supplies, and capturing a portion of the First Arkansas Infantry of African Descent.
Missing the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863, Tappan’s Brigade returned to Arkansas in August 1863 and assisted in the defense of Little Rock. In August 1863, the Confederate infantry, including the Thirty-Third, 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, retreating to Arkadelphia (Clark County), giving up the state capital to Federal forces.
In the spring of 1864, Union forces in Louisiana moved northward in the Red River Campaign, hoping to link up with General Frederick Steele’s Army of Arkansas in the vicinity of Shreveport, Louisiana, and capture the Confederate headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department. In a defensive maneuver, all infantry, including Churchill’s troops, were ordered south in time to participate in the battle of Pleasant Hill, turning back the Union advance. General E. Kirby Smith marched north with his infantry to assist Major General Sterling Price, who held Steele’s army at bay near Camden. After defeats at Poison Springs and Marks’ Mills and running out of supplies, Steele hastily retreated toward Little Rock.
On April 30, Confederates caught Steele’s troops trying to cross the flooded Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry. Thomas Churchill’s Arkansas Division, the first to arrive, immediately deployed for action. Tappan’s Brigade led the first assault into the dismal bottoms, with the Thirty-Third held as a reserve for the brigade. Heavy fighting erupted all along the line, stalling the assault in a water-filled swale in a cornfield. With their comrades pinned down, Colonel Grinstead was ordered forward and led the Thirty-Third onto the battlefield. Here, Grinstead was killed, while the brigade fought outnumbered until the timely arrival of Hawthorne’s Brigade. As casualties mounted and ammunition dwindled, Gause’s brigade, along with Clark’s and Burns’s Missouri brigades, relieved James Tappan and Alexander T. Hawthorne, who fell back to regroup. After the Texas Division’s failed assault, Steele took the opportunity to retreat across the river, leaving the Confederates in control of the battlefield. During the battle, the Thirty-Third Arkansas lost twenty-one men killed and seventy-one wounded in what became its last combat action.
Serving the remainder of the war in Arkansas and Louisiana, the regiment was stationed at Marshall, Texas, when General Kirby Smith surrendered the department on May 26, 1865. Ordered to Shreveport to receive their paroles, the regiment did not report but simply disbanded without formally surrendering. Most of the 132 survivors 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 Jenkin’s 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.
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