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First Arkansas Light Artillery

The First Arkansas Light Artillery was a militia battery mustered on September 27, 1860, at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) as part of the Provisional Army of Arkansas. The volunteer unit was first commanded by Captain J. G. Reid under the designation of the Fort Smith Artillery.

The battery first marched north alongside units under Brigadier General Nicholas Bartlett Pearce to join secessionist forces in southwestern Missouri, before being mustered in as part of the Confederate army. On August 10, 1861, after combining with a large but poorly organized rebel force of Missouri State Guard troops under General Sterling Price, they were attacked by Federal forces at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri. During the resulting Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the battery held a ridgeline east of the creek, alongside other provisional Arkansas units. Though mostly unengaged in the fighting, the battery was instrumental in assuring the security of the Confederate rear when Union forces threatened to outflank the Rebel army.

Following the excursion north, the battery reorganized on September 17, 1861, under Captain David Provence, officially resigning from the Army of Arkansas. The battery—designated the First Arkansas Light Artillery as part of the Confederate army—retained seventy-five percent of the original unit roster.

On March 7, 1862, the battery again fought alongside Gen. Price at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Benton County. Despite the best efforts of the combined Confederate artillery, the Union batteries proved to be too well coordinated, effectively silencing any attempts at significant Rebel artillery barrages. The battle ultimately proved to be a disastrous Confederate defeat, leaving Missouri firmly in Federal hands.

Following word of the even more disastrous Confederate defeat at the Battle of Shiloh on April 7, 1862, the First Arkansas and other units moved toward Corinth, Mississippi, to aid in the defense of the major railway hub there. On May 9, 1862, the battery fought in an engagement with advancing Union forces at Farmington, Mississippi, slowing the advance of Federal troops. As Federal troops closed in around Corinth, General P. G. T. Beauregard moved the Confederate army to Tupelo, Mississippi, under cover of darkness. When Federal troops seized the city on May 30, they found only dummies that had been used to mask the Rebel escape.

After the successful withdrawal, Capt. Provence resigned his commission to accept another command as a colonel, leaving Lieutenant J. T. Humphreys to assume command effective on June 10, 1862. Shortly thereafter, in an attempt to turn the war in favor of the Confederacy, a reorganized army of Rebel troops marched into Kentucky in hopes of threatening the Ohio River region and recruiting desperately needed soldiers. On August 29, 1862, the First Arkansas engaged Federal forces near Richmond, Kentucky. Following a prolonged infantry engagement, the sustained fire of Rebel artillery broke the Union right flank, resulting in a rout. More than 4,000 Federal troops were captured or deserted in the aftermath.

Increased Union resistance due to heavy reinforcements culminated in the Battle of Murfreesboro in Tennessee (December 31, 1862, through January 2, 1863). Initially, the Confederate forces were able to press the Union right flank, owing in part to the concentrated fire of combined Rebel artillery batteries. However, Federal troops were able to hold a tight defensive perimeter around the Nashville Turnpike along Stone’s River, preventing defeat while suffering terrible losses. Both sides ultimately fought to a stalemate, though Northern forces claimed a victory since the Confederates withdrew from the field, leaving Murfreesboro heavily entrenched in Union hands for the remainder of the war.

On September 19, 1863, the battery was involved in the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. Vicious Confederate attacks under the command of General James Longstreet exploited an opening and broke the Federal lines, owing in part to the artillery fire laid by the First Arkansas and other batteries in the center lines. Breaking the Union army into full retreat, the Rebels seized the heights around the important railway hub of Chattanooga, Tennessee, resulting in a protracted siege of the city. From September 20 through November 25, Confederate forces attempted to wrestle Chattanooga from Union hands with heavy bombardments but were ultimately forced from the area due to substantial Federal reinforcements.

During the siege, Capt. Humphreys resigned his command of the battery, resulting in the promotion of J. W. Rivers. The First Arkansas was merged with artillery batteries from Arkansas and Kentucky in January 1864 and stationed in the defenses around Mobile, Alabama. For the remainder of the war, the battery remained part of these defenses until being surrendered on May 4, 1865, by Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, nearly one month after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

For additional information:
Isbell, Timothy T. Shiloh and Corinth: Sentinels of Stone. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

Korn, Jerry. The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge. New York: Time-Life Books, 1985.

Monks, William. A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. West Plains, MO: West Plains Journal Co, 1907.

Donald Lewis
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Last Updated 4/30/2012

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