FIRST ARKANSAS INFANTRY VOLUNTEERS.
Submitted by Curtis A. Hannah
In November, 1862, authority was given by Major General Schofield, then commanding the "Army of the Frontier," to Dr. James M. Johnson, of Huntsville, Madison county, Arkansas, to raise Infantry troops from the State. This authority was general, one regiment to be completed, however, before another was undertaken; and such a course was to be pursued until a different policy should be determined upon.
Early in the war Dr. Johnson's Union sentiments were avowed, and in April, 1862, being able no longer to remain at home in safety, he left Huntsville, with Isaac Murphy, now governor of the State, and his brother, F. M. Johnson, afterwards major 1st Arkansas infantry. Arriving at an outpost of the old "Army of the Southwest," at Keitsvillc, Missouri. He promptly reported to General Curtis, then In command of this army, and was placed upon his staff as a volunteer aid. Subsequently he rendered valuable services to Generals Schofield, Totten. and Herron, and accompanied the " Army of the Frontier," on Its first march into northwestern Arkansas, in October, 1862, under the command of General Schofield, Returning with this army to Elkhorn Tavern, he received the authority alluded to, marched with the army In the campaign that terminated in the battle of Prairie Grove, and on the establishment of Fayetteville as a post opened as a recruiting office for the 1st Arkansas Infantry Volunteers. Recruiting proceeded with rapidity, and on the 25th day of March 1863, the regiment was raised, and Dr. Johnson was mustered into the service as its colonel. The following communication from Major F. M. Johnson, then in command, gives some account of the subsequent services of the regiment:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST ARKANSAS INFANTRY , Fort Smith June 26, 1865
GENERAL, I have the honor to submit the following report:
At the time of the muster in of J. M. Johnson as colonel of this regiment it numbered thirty-six commissioned officers and eight hundred and ten enlisted men, recruited in the previous sixty days in Madison, Washington, Newton, Benton, Searcy, and Crawford counties.
It participated in the battle for Fayetteville, under the immediate command of Lieutenant Colonel E. J. Searle and Major E. D. Ham, on the 18th day of April, 1863, and marched for Springfield, Missouri, on the 25th day of that mouth. On the 6th day of July it was ordered to Cassville, Missouri, where it shortly afterwards arrived, and on the 17th day of August joined the Army of the Frontier, under command of Major General Blunt. at Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, pursued the rebels under Cooper and Stanwatie to Perryville, in the Choctaw Nation, and, returning to Fort Smith, was the first regiment to enter the garrison, on the first day of September, 1863. Shortly afterwards, by order of Brigadier General McNeil, the regiment proceeded to Waldron, and remained there until February, 1864, when it was again ordered to report at Fort Smith. to take part In the movement southward, under Brigadier General Thayer; left Fort Smith with the frontier division on the 24 day of March 1864, forming part of the first brigade, under Colonel John Edwards; participated in the battle of Moscow, losing three then killed and several wounded ; entered Camden on the 16th day of April, 1864, and was engaged in a reconnaissance of the enemy after the battle of Poisoned Springs ; left Camden on the 26th of April, and as part of the right wing of the Union army, was engaged with the enemy at the battle of Saline River. where it repulsed a strong flanking party with considerable loss to the enemy, and losing no men itself. On the first day of May, 1864, the regiment arrived at Little Rock, and proceeded thence to Fort Smith, where it arrived on the 17th day of the same mouth ; since which time it has been engaged in escort and guard duty on the frontier. The greatest aggregate was in November, 1863- nine hundred and seventy-nine (979) officers, and men ; the lowest March 11, 1865, seven hundred and seventy-four, (774;) present aggregate, seven hundred and eighty-eight, (788,) thirty-one (31) commissioned officers and seven hundred and fifty seven (757) enlisted men. " Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“F.M. Johnson, Major Commanding Regiment.”
“A.W. BISHOP, Adjutant General, Arkansas,”
Aside from the operations of the regiment embraced in this brief report, detachments were frequently sent out to succor Union men- a duty from which their familiarity with the country, they were particularly well qualified to discharge. In September 1863, it became known at Fort Smith that several hundred men of this class had gathered together from the surrounding country, upon and near the Magazine Mountain, whither they had been compelled to flee for security, and though generally having arms of their own, were much in need of ammunition. To relieve them, Captain Williams C. Parker, of the 1st Arkansas infantry, was directed to proceed, with sixty men, to their rendezvous; which he did, accomplishing the object for which be was sent. On his return, while crossing Haguewood prairie, in Franklin county, he was suddenly confronted by the rebel General Shelby’s command, then moving northward on his well-known raiding expedition into Missouri. A stubborn fight ensued, Captain Parker slowly falling back until he reached the timber, where the unequal contest was still carried on. until, finding himself nearly surrounded, he directed his men to escape as best they could. In this encounter he lost twenty-two men killed and taken prisoners, but killing and wounding nearly the same number of the enemy. Captain Parker himself succeeded with the rest of his men in arriving safely at Fort Smith, when instant measures being taken by Colonel Johnson to advise Colonel Harrison, then commanding at Fayetteville, of Shelby's march northward, the Intelligence was quickly circulated throughout southwestern Missouri, and Shelby's movement was in a great measure frustrated.
As early as the summer of 1862 bands of Union men similar to that relieved by Captain Parker had, in various portions of western Arkansas, couxoried together, and, though compelled by oppression and violence to leave their homes, were accustomed to take refuge among the hills and in the woods, and no extent of persecution succeeded in driving them from the State. Commonly known as' Mountain Feds.," they were true to the Union under the most discouraging circumstanced, and from time to time gave valuable assistance to the
organized forces operating in various portions of the State. To those in command at Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Van Buren, Clarksville, and Dardanelle, they were especially serviceable, and though it would be difficult, if not impossible, now to recount their exploits. they will long be remembered In Arkansas its men whose loyalty was put to the severest tests, shining out conspicuously when the federal arm was not outstretched for their relief. Many of then, entered various Arkansas regiments, the 1st infantry among the number, as the Union army advanced ; but not until the rebellion was suppressed did some of them cease their irregular though necessary warfare. From Newton county they were never entirely driven. and through their resistance, which was specially organized and directed by James R. Vanderpool, of that county, captain of company C, 1st Arkansas infantry, rebel conscription therein was in a great measure defeated.
In Yell county William J. Heflington, well known in western Arkansas as " Wild Bill," maintained himself with a band of these men for months, when the surrounding country was held by the enemy, and repeated efforts were made for his capture. Afterwards reporting to Colonel Johnson with a number of his men, who were organized into a company. with himself its captain, he again moved southward of the Boston mountains, and crossing the Arkansas river, was preparing to conduct other citizens to the federal lines, when he heard of the abandonment of northwestern Arkansas by the Union forces, (April, 1863,) and determined to remain in the state until the August following, when he was killed by guerillas, near the Arkansas river, while going northward to procure relief for a large number of the Union men of his section of the State, who banded together in the vicinity.
Occupation of Fort Smith and Little Rock by the Union forces, in the September following, most of them enlisted in various Arkansas regiments, the 1st infantry among the number. In November, 1863, while this regiment was stationed at Fort Smith, about three hundred of it’s men were vaccinated with spurious vaccine matter, a large number of whom were permanently disabled, and many others, whose disability unfitted them for duty, it became necessary to discharge.
On the 30th of October, 1863, while this regiment was on duty at Fort Smith, a mass meeting of Union men was held at that place, for the purpose of inaugurating measures that should lend to the restoration of civil government in the State, at which Colonel Johnson was unanimously nominated to represent the people of western Arkansas in the Congress of the United States. In November he was elected, and again in October, 1865, for the third congressional district. Though thus a member elect of the 38th and 39th Congresses. and necessarily called away from his regiment in his efforts to secure the recognition of the State government by Congress, he served with the regiment when not thus occupied, and with it was mustered out, at Fort Smith, on the 10th day of August, 1865.