Unquestionably, the most famous Arkansas regiment of the Civil War was Rust’s-Manning’s 3rd Arkansas Infantry. The 3rd Arkansas has the most complete regimental records of any Arkansas regiment; its actions and campaigns are minutely documented; and there are numerous letters, diaries and personal accounts available. You’d think that the 3rd Arkansas would be free of the confusion over Arkansas regimental designations, right?
Never under-estimate the power of the Trans-Mississippi Department to screw things up. Even the famous old 3rd Arkansas Regiment of the Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia, is not immune from the confusion.
To begin with, the 3rd Arkansas was not a regiment authorized by the State Military Board. By the time that a couple of dozen volunteer companies in South Arkansas had recruited and organized, the State had already reached its goal of eight regiments, so the services of these new companies were declined (Hey, the war is going to be over by Christmas, right?). So, these companies decided to go to Virginia and volunteer their services there. One group organized themselves into a regiment at Lynchburg and elected James F. Fagan as their colonel. The C.S. War Department mustered them into service as the 1st Regiment Arkansas Volunteers. A little while later another group showed up at Lynchburg, organized themselves into a regiment, and elected Albert Rust as their colonel. They were mustered into service as the 3rd Regiment Arkansas Volunteers (I’ll discuss the 2nd Regiment in another post). Things are finally looking up.
The trouble is, the State Military Board, back home, had already authorized a 1st and 3rd Arkansas Regiment of State Troops. The 1st Regiment was commanded by Col. Patrick R. Cleburne (I’ll discuss its designation problems in another post). And the 3rd Regiment..…. well, here’s where it gets confusing. The State Military Board had authorized a 3rd Regiment of State Troops as a cavalry regiment under Col. DeRosey Carroll, and ordered it to join the “division” (actually a brigade) commanded by Brig. Gen. Nicholas B. Pearce in northwest Arkansas. The free-spirited General Pearce ignored the unit designations authorized by the State Military Board, and assigned his own designations, based on when each regiment showed up in camp to muster. The first bunch to show up were the boys on horseback, so the 3rd Regiment Arkansas State Troops magically became the 1st Regiment (the “real” 1st Regiment, under Cleburne, was at the other end of the state, near Pocahontas). The officially-sanctioned 2nd Regiment Arkansas State Troops, under Col. John R. Gratiot, showed up third, and was immediately renamed the 3rd Regiment. Thus, all accounts of the State Troops in northwest Arkansas, including the battle of Wilson’s Creek, refer to Gratiot’s regiment as the 3rd Arkansas. There are those to this very day who insist that Rust’s 3rd Arkansas (Confederate) was the outfit that fought at Wilson’s Creek, despite unimpeachable documentation showing that Rust’s boys were camped on the Greenbrier River in Virginia.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and some bozo on General Price’s staff decides to designate the Arkansas infantry regiments in the District of Arkansas as “Trans-Mississippi Rifle Regiments.” Col. Asa S. Morgan’s 26th Arkansas Regiment was designated as the 3rd Trans-Mississippi Regiment, which was immediately taken up by the officers and men as the “3rd Arkansas Regiment.” Again, there are those who insist that the so-called 3rd Arkansas that fought on this side of the river was Col. Van H. Manning’s 3rd Arkansas in the Army of Northern Virginia. Presumably, Manning’s boys commuted back and forth between Arkansas and Virginia, obviously having to catch a red-eye flight in order to fight at Jenkins’ Ferry and make it back in time to fight at the Wilderness.
Genealogical researchers are the hardest to convince of the truth of the matter. The “real” 3rd Arkansas was an elite regiment, serving in a world-famous brigade, in perhaps the finest army ever to campaign on an American battlefield. It was singled out for the highest praise by everyone of importance in the Confederacy. Its legacy is honored even today. There are a number of genealogical researchers who engage in all kinds of logical gymnastics to shoe-horn their ancestor into the “real” 3rd Arkansas—apparently so they can bask in the reflected glory of that band of heroes. I don’t know why they can’t proud of their ancestor’s actual service in Gratiot’s “3rd” Arkansas—whose charge up Oak Hill was as magnificent a feat of glory as any in the war—or why they can’t be satisfied with the admirable record of the 26th Arkansas (3rd Trans-Mississippi/3rd Arkansas), which fought to the end under brutal conditions, half-rations, and little pay.
Anyway, that’s part two of this researcher’s lament. Next up, the four 15th Arkansas regiments.