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Hawthorne’s Arkansas Infantry Regiment was a Confederate unit that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the American Civil War. Most of the companies raised were in response to the 1862 Confederate Conscript Law, so the unit consisted of both volunteers and conscripts. The original commander was Colonel A. W. Johnson, who resigned in November 1862 and was replaced by Colonel Alexander T. Hawthorne.
The regiment was enrolled on June 17, 1862, at Trenton (Phillips County) and designated the Thirty-ninth Regiment Arkansas Infantry by the Confederate War Department. It was also referred to as the Sixth Trans-Mississippi Infantry Regiment by department numeration or the Sixth Arkansas Infantry due to its association with Colonel Alexander T. Hawthorne, who previously commanded the Sixth Arkansas Infantry east of the Mississippi River. Most often it was referred to by the name of whoever was commander at the time. It was composed of men from Saline, Hot Spring, Yell, Phillips, Monroe, Greene, Madison, Marion, and Sebastian counties. As the companies contained many conscripts, desertion was a problem.
In summer and fall of 1862, the regiment camped at Des Arc (Prairie County) and then Camp Hope near what is now Old Austin (Lonoke County) before marching to northwestern Arkansas to defend against invading Union forces led by Brigadier General Francis Herron. As part of Brigadier General James Fagan’s brigade, the regiment experienced its first fighting December 7, 1862, at the Battle of Prairie Grove. In the initial advance by the Federals, a Confederate artillery battery was overrun but was immediately retaken by Hawthorne’s men. In the heavy action along the ridge near the Borden House, Hawthorne lost twenty-two killed and twenty-nine wounded. Returning to central Arkansas, Hawthorne’s regiment established winter quarters and reorganized with the addition of three dismounted cavalry companies.
On July 4, 1863, Hawthorne’s Regiment 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. Hawthorne went forward, along with Bell’s Thirty-Seventh Arkansas Infantry, and the Federal artillery in Battery C and Fort Curtis immediately opened devastating fire on their ranks. Hawthorne and Bell managed to take four of the five lines of rifle pits as they struggled toward the Union position in extreme heat and over rugged terrain. Casualties were extremely high, and as their advance faltered, Union forces counterattacked, cutting off many of Hawthorne’s and Bell’s survivors and capturing them en masse. The Confederate forces failed to take the city of Helena (Phillip County), eventually retreating back to Little Rock (Pulaski County). In the fighting for Battery D, Hawthorne lost seventeen killed, fifty-three wounded, and sixty-seven captured.
For the next month, Hawthorne’s regiment served at various locations along the White River, until Federal forces began their advance on Little Rock. During the initial cavalry battles of August 1863, Confederate infantry, including Hawthorne’s men, 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) and gave up the state capital to the Federals.
Hawthorne’s men garrisoned at Camden (Ouachita County) until April 1864, when they were ordered to northern Louisiana to assist in the defense against Union forces during the Red River Campaign. Before they could arrive, Confederate forces fought at Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, Louisiana, causing Major General Nathaniel Banks to retreat. The entire Confederate army then turned north to assist Major General Sterling Price and his cavalry in Arkansas in turning back Major General Frederick Steele’s forces coming out of Little Rock.
Hawthorne was promoted to brigadier general in February 1864 and was replaced by Major John B. Cocke. Under Cocke’s leadership, the regiment participated in the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry on April 30, 1864, on the Saline River. It charged in the first wave and was pinned down in a water-filled swale in the middle of a muddy corn field. It fought fiercely until heavy Confederate casualties resulted in orders to withdraw. Colonel Cocke was one of the many casualties left dead on the field, and command fell to Lieutenant Colonel Cadwallader Polk.
The remnant of the regiment 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 simply disbanded without formally surrendering. 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: Pioneer Press 1967.
Christ, Mark. “The Battle of Helena.” Blue and Gray Magazine 32 (October 2016): 6–11, 42–50.
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.
Last Updated 7/20/2017
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