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Arkansas Confederate Mounted Rifles: A Tale of Bravery and Sacrifice

Desmond Walls Allen of Arkansas Research, PO Box 303, Conway, AR, published 1988 “First Arkansas Confederate Mounted Rifles.” Dorothy W Wilson, published in 1995 by ARC Press of Cane Hill, Arkansas, the “Rial Williams’ Thirty-One Children.” Both authors drew upon “Reminiscences of Company “H” First Arkansas Mounted Rifles” by Dr. Robert H. Dacus, August 1, 1897, and a Diary kept by Private T. Jeff Jobe of Des Arc, Arkansas, on his service in the Regiment.

Redmond Roger Williams was called “Red,’ who, at age 20, with his brother, Henry Harrison Williams, age 18, and two cousins, Ruel, age 17, and Mathew Williams, age 29, responded to the call of T. J. Daniels in the spring of 1861 to form the first Confederate Company of volunteers from Yell County, Arkansas. (Daniels lived on his farm five miles west of Dardanelle, and the Williams were neighbors.)

A Union Divides

The election of 1860 was hot and heavy. On election day, August 6, the people defeated Arkansas’ political family, electing a new Congressman and a new Governor, and for President, electoral votes went to John C. Breckenridge, a former US Vice President and Kentucky Senator. The State is divided by region and economics. In early November 1860, the 2nd US Artillery quietly arrived in Little Rock to guard the Federal Arsenal. On the 15th, Governor Rector is inaugurated and the first governor to call for secession, but there is little interest in the State. By December, a concentrated effort is underway to bring about secession. Rumors abound. In February, the people voted for a secession convention.

On March 4, 1861, the day Lincoln was inaugurated, the Secession convention convened; but on the 16th, secession was defeated 39-35. Political war breaks out with efforts to oust the Governor. On April 27, the Secession Convention reconvened but was forced to adjourn in early June without acting. This does not end the political strife.

On June 25, General Hardee is ordered to command Arkansas by Confederate Government and arrives in late July. General McCulloch of Texas joins forces with Arkansas troops and issued a call for three-year service to the Confederacy. Hardee finds few arms, ammunition, or clothing and informs General Price in Missouri that he cannot save Missouri until organized and supplied. State troops balk at being transferred to Confederate control and go home. Arkansas’s Army has melted away in disgust over their treatment by early September. The Governor made efforts to raise Confederate volunteers. By the summer, Ft. Smith became a large Confederate training camp.

Thomas J. Churchill, a veteran of the Mexican War, who had served as a lieutenant in the 1st Kentucky Mounted Riflemen, was authorized by the new Confederate Government to raise a regiment of mounted rifles. The new Regiment was formed with companies from various counties and marched to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The Regiment Forms

In the early morning of June 4, 1861, Sixty-five men from Yell County gathered at Dardanelle, Arkansas, to join with T. J. Daniels. Each man furnished his horse, some with their weapons. When all were assembled, they rode to Russellville, where they joined the marching Regiment at noon and marched toward Fort Smith.

Citizens with secession sentiments had turned out to cheer on the men. A grocery store owner opened his doors and said, “Come ye that thirst, come to the fountain and drink without money and price.”

They marched about ten miles from Russellville and camped for the night on the North bank of the Arkansas River. They marched 18 miles the next day over land that was “rough, poor and rocky and was as tiresome to me as to the teams drawing our baggage and provisions.” They camped that night near the bridge over the Arkansas River just east of Clarksville.

The next day, June 6, the Regiment was marched to the courthouse, where for two hours, they were made to listen to an “old July 4 harangue” by a local politician, “which would have been a shame to the name of Clarksville had it not been for that the fair sex came to his relief with their pleasing smiles and songs…we departed in peace and fond remembrance….”

The Regiment camped 4 miles from Ozark that night and moved on early the next morning. On Saturday night, June 8, the Regiment camped 14 miles east of Van Buren on Little Fog Creek. The next day the Regiment marched through Fort Smith to five miles west of Mazard Prairie, but no wagons with supply or provision had arrived. So many of the men went into Fort Smith on Sunday.

In his diary, Jeff Jobe wrote, “Today would have been Sunday had I been at home, but in Fort Smith, it was not so. The citizens of this place regard Sunday as other days and do business accordingly. Some stores were closed, but other businesses, such as drinking, gambling, fighting, etc., went on much as usual. This place is not as bad as I had been informed it was, but God knows it is bad enough.”

Monday the 10th broke with the sun glittering over the prairie. Those who imbibed too freely the day before awoke to the cheering of the men about to be formally enlisted into the Regiment. Before noon, all the men marched out on the prairie and formed a line on horseback by Company. They then dismounted, and each one’s horse was valued. They were then sworn into service of the Confederate State.

The sixty-six men from Yell County enlisted for 12 months, dating from June 9. The men elected T. J. Daniels to be captain. The unit was known as Captain Daniels’ Company, Churchill’s Regiment. I. T. Brown was elected Lieutenant, H. C. Dawson, Second Lieutenant, and M. A. J. Bonville, Third Lieutenant. J. C. Banks was elected First Sergeant, G. J. A. Jacoway, Second Sergeant, G. T. Holmes, Third Sergeant, Jacob Cowger, Fourth Sergeant, with B. B. Banks as First Corporal, Bostic Dawson, Second Corporal and R. W. C. Akin, Third Corporal.

The camp of instruction began immediately with drilling and marching, both mounted and dismounted. They drilled from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. Within days they would show off in dress parades. Many men had brought their shotguns from home. Those without weapons were offered flint muskets. All wanted better guns.

Some men went hunting after drill, and some would go into Ft. Smith to take advantage of the…opportunities to sin. A few would return to camp so drunk they fell off their horses and had to be carried to their tents. Some brought bottles from town and hid them in the weeds and grass. It was great sport trying to find the stashes.

At night the men talked of their dreams of future glory and feared the war would be over before they could show their fighting qualities. Little did they know what waited for them. From the original 65 men, the unit would see service from 118. Of that number, only seven would be present at the final company roll call on May 2, 1865, at Jamestown, NC.

Boats continually ran up the Arkansas River bringing supplies until the river got so low that “catfish have to employ the turtles to tow them over the sand bars.” Of all the supplies, the regular issue of cavalry saddles, swords and rifles never arrived. The only choice was between their shotguns and the issue of old “flintlock steel muskets.”

The talk was that the Regiment was to go to Missouri. The Company was divided over the supply question. Many wanted to go with the proper cavalry equipment. The issue was much discussed and debated in every Company. As a result of the conflict, every Company in the Regiment voted on going or staying. On June 20, they voted to go.

By the 27th, many men had gone to town to purchase on-credit items needed for the Missouri trip. They would pay when they drew their bounty pay for clothes, etc. Friday, June 28, was spent preparing for the march. By 10 a.m. the next day, they marched to Van Buren through Ft. Smith. They made 21 miles on the first day. They turned north the next day and marched 19 miles. They were only about 2 miles from the Indian Nation across the State line in Oklahoma territory. It was rough going, especially for the wagons. By the night of July 4, they were about 25 miles south of Neosho, Missouri, which they thought held 2,000 federal troops. All expected their first fight the next day. They marched the last 16 miles to Neosho in six hours.

As the Regiment approached Neosho, Col. Churchill took six companies up the right-hand road, while Lt. Col Matlock took four companies and went up the left. They saw Union men running to the courthouse as they approached the town. Matlock rode his men with flags waiving to within 40 yards of the courthouse, which was the Federal headquarters. Dr. Armstrong was sent to demand the Federals surrender. Displaying a white flag, he approached the courthouse door, demanding the Federal troops surrender and giving them 10 minutes to decide.

Churchill arrived, and 375 Union soldiers and 500 arms were captured. A diarist wrote of the event and commented, “The ladies of Neosho deserve for their kind hospitality bestowed indiscriminately upon officers and privates upon this occasion the highest praise from this Regiment.”

The next morning the Regiment moved out at 5:00 a.m. by the forced march toward Carthage, where they camped 3 miles south. There was nothing to eat, so some men shot a “fine beef.” At about midnight, 1,400 of their hoses stampeded. The only damage was one horse killed. They marched back to Neosho the next day because the Union forces had left for Springfield.

Their wagons and provisions caught up to them in Neosho, which included several captured wagonloads. Leaving early the next morning was soon discovered that several men were left in town. An armed 20-man detail returned to Neosho to persuade the enjoyers of the hospitality to return to the fast marching Regiment.

When they camped that night, they found no provisions for the horses. Their campsite was along a creek beside a beautiful oat field that solved the horses’ problem.

They broke camp and marched for about 7 hours to a good site where they would camp and drill for several days. On July 15, the camp was moved a few miles near Bentonville, Arkansas, where again they drilled for 10 days until they moved to Keitsville, Missouri, where they remained.

The men drew more coffee than money, so it became the median for exchange. It was traded for whiskey, chickens and eggs, and anything else a man might need or want.

On July 28, a detachment from Company D fired the first shots in anger at the Regiment when they skirmished with a company of Federals, killing 17 without losing their own. Drilling continued. Dress parades were held almost every night. On August 1, they left for Springfield and the Regiments’ baptism of fire. The entire Confederate Army of about 27,000 men was on the move. The first night they camped after going 13 miles. While they needed forage for the horses, the foraging parties would not go far from camp because the Union forces were also there. Marching the next day was slow, with so many men and horses on the muddy roads. Water was scarce. Men drank water from the ruts. The horses did without.

On the third day of the march, the Regiment was in the lead for the Army. Going was easier. After 5 miles, they stopped and fed the horses oats and corn “found” in the area. Three persons came among the Regiment, dressed in woman’s clothes that afterward were thought to be male spies. The Union Camp was found to be about two miles away. When the scouting party returned, the Regiment beat a hasty retreat. The Federals did the same but in the direction of Springfield.

By the last days of July, word had begun to spread of the Confederate victory in Virginia near Manassas at a creek called Bull Run, from which Union forces made the “Great Skedaddle” back to Washington, DC.

On the night of August 4, the order of battle was read to the Regiment. General Benjamin McCulloch of Tennessee, a former Texas Ranger, commanded all Confederates after General Sterling Price had turned command of his Missouri troops to him. McCulloch ordered all Generals to ride at the head of their troops. The men were ordered to speak only in whispers. They were going to push back the Union forces under the command of General Nathaniel Lyons.

At midnight they moved out with the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles leading the way for McCulloch’s Brigade of about 2720 men. After an hour, they halted to let infantry regiments lead. After two hours, they proceeded, with many sleeping in the saddle. They camped at Moody’s Spring that night and used farmer Moody’s fodder to feed their horses.

The Union forces were outnumbered and kept returning to Springfield, Missouri. From the October 1996 issue of the Blue and Gray Magazine, we learn that the Northern Army comprised mostly foreign-born immigrants – German and Irish. The US Regulars wore blue coats; the Missouri Unionists wore gray and different companies of the 1st Iowa wore different styles or colors of uniforms.

As General Lyon fell back to Springfield, his boss, General Fremont, would not send reinforcements. On August 6, the Confederates went another two miles and camped on Wilson Creek with the entire Army. They were ten miles from Springfield. The Confederate Army camp was a sight to see!

Three days in camp allowed the troops to rest and eliminate those “varmints” that plagued any soldier who moved off the well-traveled road into brush and grass. The affliction affected all soldiers – North and South. A northern soldier, Private E. F. Ware of Company E, First Iowa Infantry Regiment, in his 1907 book, “The Lyon Campaign and History of the 1st Iowa Infantry – 1861,” described the treatment.

Several of us boys combined and got water from a well, made a fire, and boiled the usual seven different kinds of insects from our clothes. The Dig Spring affair had filled our clothes with an overabundance of crawling things; chiggers from the grass and seed ticks from the brushes were the worst. The chiggers started in on us low down, and about all got burrowed in by the time they had got up to our knees. But the seed ticks seemed to want to crawl, so they ran up or down, but when they came to the compression of the army belt and could not conveniently search further, they began to bore in and begin a business; so did the woo-ticks. The latter would bore their heads clear in, and if their bodies were broken off and the heads left in, the place became a festering sore. At the time of which I am now speaking, I was bitten all up and had a girdle of sore spots around my waist, and I put in the time, on August 8, as much as I could, in getting these injuries healed. The prescribed treatment for chiggers was to take a smoked bacon rind, smoke it over a smoldering chip fire, and rub with it the places where the chiggers had bored. Then, wash it off in an hour or so with strong bar soap. This seemed to neutralize the poison and kill the chigger, and recovery was rapid. But the ticks had to be picked out with a sharp point of a knife, and then we rubbed chewing tobacco on the spot. The tobacco seemed to kill the poison, but if any part of the tick remained in, a sore was the consequence, no matter what was done. After tobacco had been well applied, strong soap seemed to clear the spots out and hasten recovery.’

Union and Confederate forces began to attempt to discover the enemy’s strengths and plans. Both were used to spy and cavalry scouting. General Lyons held a council of war on the afternoon of August 8. General McCullough finalized his plans on the evening of August 9. The next day the battle, which became known as Wilson Creek (if you are Union) or Oak Hill (if you are Confederate), was to be fought, but not how the Confederates planned. The battle would take the life of one of our Williams Boys!

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