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Alexander Travis Hawthorn was a lawyer and Baptist minister who is best known for serving as a brigadier general in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Serving in the Western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, Hawthorn led units at both the Battle of Helena and at the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry.
Born on January 10, 1825, in Conecuh County, Alabama, Alexander Hawthorn was the son of the Reverend Kedar Hawthorn and Martha Baggett Hawthorn. Growing up in Wilcox County, he attended school at Evergreen Academy and Mercer University. Moving to Connecticut in 1846, he attended Yale Law School for the next two years. With the outbreak of war with Mexico, Hawthorn returned to Alabama, where he joined a unit of troops preparing to join forces already in the field. Elected lieutenant of his company, Hawthorn missed most of the major fighting and served with his unit as a guard to keep communication lines open between the army and the coast.
At the end of the war, Hawthorn returned to Alabama before moving to Camden (Ouachita County) to begin a law practice. He married Anna Medley in 1850; they went on to have a son. After several years in Arkansas, the Hawthorns moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where Alexander opened a mercantile business. With the outbreak of war and Arkansas’s secession in 1861, Hawthorn returned to Arkansas, where he joined the Sixth Arkansas Volunteer Infantry, serving as lieutenant colonel. The colonel of the regiment, Richard Lyon, was killed on October 10, 1861, when his horse fell off a cliff, and Hawthorn was promoted to colonel to replace him.
Hawthorn led the regiment effectively at the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. After the engagement, the Confederate army reorganized, and regiments were allowed to reelect their officers. Hawthorn was not reelected as colonel of the Sixth, and after leading a brigade of troops from Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas in the summer of 1862, he returned to Arkansas that fall.
Hawthorn was assigned command of the Thirty-ninth Arkansas and led that regiment as part of Brigadier General James Fagan’s brigade at both the Battle of Helena and the Battle of Prairie Grove. After the defeat at Helena, Hawthorn led his regiment during the Little Rock Campaign and subsequent retreat to southwestern Arkansas.
Confederate forces reorganized during this period, and Hawthorn was promoted to brigadier general in February 1864. Taking command of a brigade that consisted of his old unit and three other regiments from Arkansas, he served in Brigadier General Thomas James Churchill’s Arkansas division. Moving southward to Shreveport, Louisiana, in March 1864 in an effort to meet a Federal army advancing up the Red River under the command of Major General Nathaniel Banks, the Arkansans were held in that city while a separate Union force under the command of Major General Frederick Steele moved into southwestern Arkansas.
Eventually, Hawthorn and the rest of the division were sent into battle against Banks near Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Although suffering heavy casualties, the Confederates were successful in turning back the Federal advance into Louisiana. Turning to face Steele’s army, Hawthorn and his brigade moved back into Arkansas with the rest of Churchill’s division. Meeting Steele near Jenkins’ Ferry, Hawthorn led his brigade in an assault through standing water. The Arkansans were repulsed, and later attacks by other Confederate troops met with the same result.
With the conclusion of the battle, Hawthorn and his brigade continued to serve in southern Arkansas. At the end of the war, Hawthorn fled to Mexico and later Brazil, where he resided until 1874. Returning to the United States, he resided in Atlanta, Georgia, where he became an ordained Baptist minister in 1880. Moving to Marshall, Texas, he was a minister until his death on May 31, 1899, in Dallas. He is buried in Marshall.
For additional information:Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr. Yale’s Confederates: A Biographical Dictionary. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2008.
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
David SesserHenderson State University
Last Updated 5/27/2017
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