In discussing the state of confusion in the designation of Arkansas Confederate regiments, we have another example in “The Three Faces of the 15th Arkansas” (with apologies to the author of “The Three Faces of Eve,” about the woman who had a split personality).
The “real” 15th Arkansas Regiment—the one authorized by the State Military Board—was the one originally commanded by Col. James M. Gee. This regiment was organized at Camden on January 2, 1862, comprised of companies from Columbia, Hempstead, Lafayette, Ouachita, and Union counties. Most of this unlucky regiment was captured the very next month when Fort Donelson fell on February 16, 1862. Most of the men were sent to the military prison at Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois. If ever there should have been a criminal investigation into the treatment of prisoners of war, then the fate of the 15th Arkansas would have been the smoking gun. The death rate in this regiment was appalling. Here are some of the company commanders’ reports—Co. A, “62 surrendered, 58 carried off, 5 escaped, 27 died, 27 returned.”—Co. B, “67 surrendered. 29 died in prison, 9 in Hospitals, 34 returned.”—Co. E, “Surrendered at Donelson. Majority died in prison.”—Co. F, “Surrendered 50 men including officers, 22 died in prison, 26 returned.” You get the picture.
After being exchanged, the regiment was reorganized at Jackson, Mississippi, on October 16, 1862, and Benjamin W. Johnson was elected colonel. The companies were reorganized and redesignated, and the four Arkansas companies of the disbanded 40th Tennessee Regiment were consolidated with the 15th Arkansas. Nine months later, the regiment was again captured at the fall of Port Hudson, Louisiana, on July 9, 1863. This time, though, the men were paroled and, except for the commissioned officers, were allowed to return to Arkansas. By the time the regiment was declared exchanged, it was so badly understrength that it was consolidated with the remnants of other regiments and became part of the 3rd Arkansas Consolidated Infantry about May 1864. Thus, this regiment faded from history.
In the next post, the second 15th Arkansas Regiment.