Twelfth Arkansas Infantry Battalion (CS)
aka: Rapley's Sharpshooters
The Twelfth Arkansas Infantry Battalion was a Confederate unit that served in both the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters during the American Civil War. The battalion consisted of men from across the state of Arkansas and selected from Colonel Thomas P. Dockery’s Arkansas infantry brigade. Its appointed field officer was Major William F. Rapley of Little Rock (Pulaski County).
The battalion organized on June 11, 1862, at Priceville, Mississippi, in accordance with General Order No. 39, calling for the creation of a battalion of sharpshooters for each brigade in the Army of the West. Requirements insisted that it be made of “chosen men, able bodied, active, and good rifle shots and of tried courage.” These battalions were intended to become the elite units of Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of the West.
Colonel Thomas P. Dockery began his organization by assigning quotas to regiments in his brigade as follows: Eighth Arkansas Battalion (twenty-nine men), Eighteenth Arkansas (forty-three men), Nineteenth (Dockery’s) Arkansas (forty men), Twentieth Arkansas (thirty-eight men), and Twenty-First Arkansas (fifty men). Upon completion of selection of the marksmen, Company A consisted of men of the Eighteenth Arkansas; Company B, the Twenty-First Arkansas; Company C, the Twentieth Arkansas; and Company D, the Nineteenth Arkansas. The selected soldiers of the Eighth Battalion were distributed among the four companies, bringing the battalion’s assigned strength to approximately 200 sharpshooters, with command assigned to Major William F. Rapley.
The battalion began a rigorous training regimen, producing an elite force of marksmen. Its primary purpose was to produce enough accurate and deadly fire to allow Confederate forces to maneuver and gain advantage over the enemy. Its secondary functions would be to provide rear guard defenses on the retreat and inflict high casualties on enemy pickets and artillery during static defensive warfare.
The Twelfth Arkansas Battalion transferred to Brigadier General William Cabell’s brigade and—along with the Eighteenth, Nineteenth (Dockery), Twentieth, and Twenty-First Arkansas infantry regiments—served in Brigadier General Dabney Maury’s Division, Major General Sterling Price’s 1st Corps, Army of the West, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding.
The Twelfth Battalion engaged in combat for the first time during the initial stages of the Battle of Iuka in Mississippi on September 16, 1862, followed by heavy action during the Confederate assault on Corinth, Mississippi, on October 3–5, 1863. On October 3, Rapley’s men supported Phifer’s Brigade during its assaults on the enemy lines. On October 4, along with Cabell’s Brigade, it advanced into the enemy positions, meeting a superior force of fresh Union troops that unleashed a point-blank volley into their ranks, creating many casualties. With no support at hand, the Arkansas units were forced into a hasty retreat and saw no further action that day. On October 5, the brigade was again engaged at Davis’ Bridge on the Hatchie River during the Confederate retreat from Corinth. Casualties for the Twelfth Arkansas Battalion numbered four killed, twenty wounded, and thirty-three missing.
By October 30, 1862, the battalion was placed in an all-Arkansas brigade commanded by Colonel Jordan Cravens, and it was sent to the vicinity of Port Hudson, Louisiana. In January 1863, it transferred to Brigadier General Martin Green’s Missouri brigade in Bowen’s Division, where it initially defended against approaches to Vicksburg before being transferred to garrison Grand Gulf, Mississippi. During the Vicksburg Campaign, the Twelfth Battalion experienced heavy fighting on May 1, 1863, at Port Gibson near Union Church, losing thirty-seven men as casualties. On May 16, they fought a bloody battle at Champion’s Hill, followed the next day by fighting at Big Black Bridge, where many survivors were cut off and captured. The remnant of the battalion retreated into the Vicksburg defenses and endured a forty-day siege in which their marksmanship proved deadly in trench warfare. With the Confederate surrender on July 4, 1863, many of the surviving members made their escape rather than take chances of reprisal.
The soldiers were transferred or escaped and returned to Arkansas to await parole and exchange. Once exchanged, some of the battalion survivors reconstituted the unit and were assigned to Dockery’s Brigade of Major General James Fagan’s cavalry division during the Camden Expedition of 1864. Records do not indicate if the unit served on the Missouri Raid, although Major Rapley served in Fagan’s cavalry division as a staff officer, participating in that campaign. At the end of the war, most of the men were included in surrender terms with the respective units of which they were members.
For additional information:
Ballard, Michael B. Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi River. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Cozzens, Peter. The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.