"Doc" Rayburn's military career began October 21, 1861, when he entered Confederate service as a Private in Company C, 12th Texas Cavalry Regiment. In 1862, enroute to Tennessee with Parson's Brigade, he was left in Des Arc, either sick or wounded. While recovering, he persuaded other young men to help the Confederate cause and was successful in organizing a small company to begin their guerilla strikes against Union troops. From White, Prairie and what is now Lonoke County, the recruits came. Rayburn was elected Captain, assisted by Lt. John Bethell and a young man named Snigley. Their activities earned the name "The Phantom Unit" and attracted the interest of General McRae who was influential in obtaining recognition of the unit in the Confederate Army.
An oft-told story is the series of events leading up to the acquisition of Captain Rayburn's favorite horse, Limber Jim, who carried Captain Rayburn through the war. Doc Rayburn was young, blonde and blue-eyed. He borrowed a Des Arc woman's clothes, dressed himself in them and went to DeValls Bluff where Union troops were stationed. A Union officer invited him to a dance. Entering with a group of girls, he was able to manage well. Leaving before the dance was over, he took Limber Jim, a beautiful black horse belonging to the Union officer. Later he and his men stole other horses from the Garrison's prairie pasture hiding in the White River bottom Forrest, southwest of West Point.
The highlight for Rayburn's Company came when they served as guards for General Sterling Price and were with him throughout the Missouri campaign in 1864. As a Union reward had been offered for Rayburn "dead or alive", he was arrested and placed in a Union prison; his followers were paroled. The rigors of war, along with the treatment and exposure in prison caused Captain Rayburn to contract tuberculosis. His many friends, knowing he could not live long, managed to secure his release in 1865. Captain Howel A. "Doc" Rayburn was buried in a cemetery near Wattensaw Bayou area near Des Arc.
R. T. Martin, also a Confederate veteran, spent his last years at Beebe, Arkansas, and eulogized Doc Rayburn and his youthful comrades in these words: "Doc Rayburn sleeps in an unmarked grave. His grave can never be officially decorated but perhaps blossoms of wild flowers have shed their fragrance upon the young hero's grave through the years. Others of less heroism have been honored more. Great Generals have declared that no greater heroism was shown during the war than was displayed by youths from sixteen to twenty years of age, both Union and Confederate. Much older men were often led into battle all during the Civil War by these brave young men."
Born in Roane County, Tennessee, 1842, Howel Raburn was the fourth child of Hodge and Susan Raburn. His siblings were, according to the Shelby County, Texas, 1850 census: James, Mary C., William, Milton, and Robert L. He married Mary A. Booth of West Point in 1863; the marriage recorded in White County as is a will of the widow, Mrs. M. A. Rayburn, filed January 13, 1904.
The above material was taken from items in the White County Heritage Quarterly published by White County Historical Society, used by permission of Mrs. Leister Presley, Presley Research, Searcy, Arkansas, and President of the White County Historical Society.