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The First (Monroe’s) Arkansas Cavalry Regiment was a Confederate cavalry unit that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the American Civil War. Also designated as the Sixth Arkansas Cavalry and First Trans-Mississippi Cavalry, it is one of three regiments to be named First Arkansas Cavalry. Participating in military engagements in Arkansas at Cane Hill, Fayetteville, Devil’s Backbone, Pine Bluff, Elkin’s Ferry, Poison Spring, and Marks’ Mills, along with Price’s Missouri Raid, it was stationed in Texas when Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi Theater surrendered on May 26, 1865.
The regiment originated in August 1862 with the consolidation of Captain James M. O’Neill’s Thirteenth Arkansas Cavalry Battalion and Captain Patrick H. Wheat’s cavalry squadron. Additional independent and partisan companies were assigned by September, bringing the unit to regimental strength. It consisted of eleven companies from Arkansas, Bradley, Clark, Hempstead, Columbia, Drew, Jefferson, Prairie, and Saline counties. It was initially commanded by James F. Fagan. Lieutenant Colonel James C. Monroe was promoted to colonel and given command after Fagan’s promotion to brigadier general in October 1862.
Assigned to the brigade of Brigadier General William Cabell, Monroe’s Cavalry saw its first action of the war on December 6, 1862, near Cane Hill (Washington County) and on December 7 at Prairie Grove (Washington County). Monroe’s regiment next participated in the Action at Fayetteville on April 18, 1863, followed by the September 1, 1863, Action at Devil’s Backbone (Backbone Mountain) near Fort Smith (Sebastian County), before retreating to the vicinity of Arkadelphia (Clark County). On October 25, Monroe’s troops, assigned to Major General John S. Marmaduke’s division, participated in the assault at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), where Confederates failed to dislodge the Union forces fortified in the heart of the city.
During the April 1864 Camden Expedition, Monroe’s men engaged in the initial skirmishes between the armies at Elkin’s Ferry on April 3–4, 1864, and assisted in the destruction of a Union supply train at Poison Spring on April 18. Seven days later, they engaged a large Federal force at Marks’ Mills, capturing all the wagons and artillery, along with most of the troops.
In August 1864, Major General Sterling Price started north on his disastrous Missouri Raid. His forces were composed of two Missouri cavalry divisions and Fagan’s Arkansas Division. Monroe commanded his regiment as part of Cabell’s Brigade, Fagan’s Division. Its first major engagement was on September 27, 1864, near Pilot Knob, Missouri. Union forces took refuge in Fort Davidson, which proved to be impenetrable in Price’s repeated assaults. Fagan’s division was required to cross open ground in the face of withering fire, incurring heavy casualties among his regiments. During the night, Union forces slipped out, making a full escape, while Price moved westward across the state.
Monroe’s regiment fought numerous running battles in late October while attempting to escape converging and superior Union forces. October 21–22 witnessed Monroe’s men fighting on the Little Blue River and at Independence, Missouri. Fagan’s division, as rear guard, was attacked and lost many men. At Westport, Missouri, on October 23, Price attempted to attack enemy forces to his front and rear. Unable to overpower either of the Union commands, Price attempted to escape southward through Kansas. On October 25 at Marais des Cygnes River, Fagan’s division, including Monroe’s regiment, attempted to hold Union troops in check. After heavy fighting, they were overwhelmed, losing many men. After crossing the river, Monroe engaged the enemy at Mine Creek, Kansas, losing more of his already depleted regiment. The swollen Marmiton River forced Price to make yet another stand, costing Monroe even more men.
Managing to escape the determined Union cavalry, Price’s forces retreated back into Missouri but were surprised on October 28 in a sudden attack near Newtonia. With only a weak attempt at defense, most of Price’s remaining forces rapidly retreated southward through Indian Territory and Texas, before finally returning to Washington (Hempstead County) on December 2, 1864. During the entire operation, Monroe’s survivors marched more than 1,400 miles, losing a large number of its troops in the numerous battles and skirmishes.
The remnant of the regiment saw no fighting for the remainder of the war and was stationed in Texas when General Kirby Smith surrendered the department on May 26, 1865. The regiment was ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, to receive their paroles but did not report. Instead, the regiment attempted to escape to Mexico, hoping to continue the war. Upon reaching the Trinity River, the men had a change of heart, voted to disband without formally surrendering, and returned to their homes.
For additional information:
Bearss, Edwin C. Steele’s Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Little Rock, AR: Eagle Press, 1990.
Williams, Charles G., ed. “A Saline Guard: The Civil War Letters of Col. William Ayers Crawford, C.S.A., 1861–1865.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 31 (Winter 1972): 328–355.
———. “A Saline Guard: The Civil War Letters of Col. William Ayers Crawford, C.S.A., 1861–1865, Part II.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 32 (Spring 1973): 71–93.
Last Updated 7/19/2017
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