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The Twenty-First Arkansas Infantry Regiment was a Confederate unit that served in both the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters during the American Civil War. The regiment was organized on May 15, 1862, in Corinth, Mississippi, by the consolidation of four companies of the Fourteenth (McCarver’s) and six companies of the Seventeenth (Lemoyne’s) Arkansas Infantry regiments. It was composed of companies and men primarily from Conway, Izard, Johnson, Lawrence, Pope, Prairie, and Yell counties, and its appointed field officers were Colonel Jordan E. Cravens, Lieutenant Colonel William Matheny, and Major William Dowdle.
The regiment, initially assigned to Brigadier General Albert Rust’s brigade, participated in the initial defense of the city of Corinth, Mississippi, in May before Confederate forces retreated farther south. Later that summer, the Twenty-First Arkansas transferred to Brigadier General William Cabell’s brigade and—along with the Twelfth Arkansas Infantry Battalion, Eighteenth, Nineteenth (Dockery), and Twentieth 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 first combat for the regiment was October 3–4, 1862, during the Confederate assault on Corinth. On October 3, the Eighteenth and Twenty-First Arkansas regiments initially attacked along the Purdy Road near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad without incurring serious casualties. On the morning of October 4, the brigade was ordered to the extreme left to guard the crossing of the Purdy Road and the Missouri and Ohio Railroad. The Twenty-First advanced with its brigade to within 700 yards of the Federal breastworks, where it halted for over an hour, suffering an incessant artillery bombardment. Ordered to the support of Gates’s Missourians, the Arkansans advanced a quarter of a mile and met the enemy 300 yards in front of his breastworks, driving them over and beyond the works. Here, the Arkansas brigade was met by a superior force of fresh Union troops who unleashed a point-blank volley into their ranks, producing many casualties. With no support at hand, the Arkansas regiments were forced into a hasty retreat and saw no further action that day. On October 5, the brigade was again engaged at Davis’s Bridge on the Hatchie River during the Confederate retreat from Corinth. Marching at the rear of the Confederate column, the brigade rushed to the front and engaged the enemy in the latter stages of the fight, incurring slight losses. During the three-day battle, casualties for the Twenty-First Arkansas numbered twenty-seven killed, forty-one wounded, and fifty-eight missing.
By October 30, 1862, the regiment was placed in an all-Arkansas brigade commanded by Colonel Cravens, and 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, Mississippi, before being transferred to garrison Grand Gulf, Mississippi. During the Vicksburg campaign, the Twenty-First experienced heavy fighting on May 1, 1863, at Port Gibson near Union Church, losing thirty-seven men as casualties. On May 16, it again fought a bloody battle at Champion’s Hill, and the following day at Big Black Bridge, where many survivors were cut off and captured. The remnant of the regiment retreated into the Vicksburg defenses and endured a forty-day siege before the capitulation and Confederate surrender on July 4, 1863.
The enlisted soldiers were transferred across the Mississippi River, back to Arkansas, in order to await parole and exchange. Once exchanged, exact duties, assignments, and activities are unknown due to lack of surviving evidence. The remnant of the Twenty-First Arkansas was officially consolidated in June 1864 with survivors of the Fourteenth (Powers) Arkansas Infantry, Fifteenth (Northwest) Arkansas Infantry, and the Sixteenth Arkansas Infantry to form the First Consolidated Arkansas Infantry. Assigned to Brigadier General Evander McNair’s 2nd Brigade in Major General Thomas Churchill’s division of the 2nd Corps, Army of the Trans-Mississippi in September 1864, the Twenty-First did not participate in further engagements. The final months of the war were spent garrisoning posts across southern Arkansas at Monticello (Drew County) and Camden (Ouachita County) and at Minden, Louisiana, before relocating to Marshall, Texas, in April 1865. When General Kirby Smith surrendered the department on May 26, 1865, the survivors of the Twenty-First Arkansas were ordered to Shreveport, Louisiana, to receive their paroles. However, the majority of those remaining 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: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.
Anthony Rushing Benton, Arkansas
Last Updated 3/7/2019
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