The Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board

14th Arkansas Regiment, No. 1

The original 14th Arkansas Regiment is one of the most extraordinarily difficult regiments I’ve ever researched—or tried to research, I’m not at all satisfied with what I’ve managed to put together so far about this outfit. And I’m not alone, apparently. There have been two or three postwar accounts written about the 14th Arkansas, all of which contain misinformation to some degree or other.

Anyhow, here goes nothin’…….

The regiment known today as the 14th (Powers’) Arkansas Infantry, was composed of ten companies from Carroll, Fulton, Izard, Marion, Newton and Searcy counties, which were mustered into service in July 1861 at Camp Adams, near Yellville, Arkansas. The driving force behind the organization of the regiment was State Senator William C. Mitchell, who notified the Governor that he had gathered his own company and nine other companies at Yellville, and was ready and able for service. The Governor accepted their services, and the State Military Board assigned Mitchell’s group the designation of 14th Arkansas Regiment.

One of the things that makes this regiment difficult to figure out is the fact that there are practically no surviving regimental records of the 14th Arkansas’ first year of service. The muster-in rolls were never sent to the C.S. War Department at Richmond, and the regiment’s copies of the records were lost at Pea Ridge, where the wagon containing the adjutant’s portable desk was lost, burnt or captured. Thus, nothing comprehensive is known about the original members of the regiment, or deaths, discharges, promotions, etc. The regiment’s records, for all practical purposes, begin in May 1862, when the 14th Arkansas was reorganized for the war.

By pulling together bits of information from a wide variety of secondary sources, we know that the regiment was composed of true and eager volunteers, despite being drawn from a part of the State with strong pro-Union sentiments. The 14th Arkansas was very poorly armed with a bewildering variety of shotguns, old flint-lock muskets, and about every kind of muzzle-loaded musket and pistol you can imagine. Quite a few of the men were armed only with home-made knives and hatchets. They had no uniforms—only homespun clothing—and virtually no accoutrements or camp equipment. Despite all these drawbacks, the 14th Arkansas Regiment was mustered into service at Yellville in August 1861, for a period of twelve months (remember that term of service—it’ll come up again). The field officers were Col. William C. Mitchell, Lieut. Col. Eli Dodson, and Maj. John Allen. The names of the original company commanders cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy, due to the aforementioned lack of records.

After being mustered into service, Brig. Gen. William J. Hardee, commanding Confederate forces in northeast Arkansas, refused to accept the poorly-armed and completely untrained 14th Arkansas into his command. He said he didn’t have the arms to equip them, or the time to train them, so the regiment sat around in camp until Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch, commanding Confederate forces in northwest Arkansas, and badly in need of additional troops (Brig. Gen. Nicholas B. Pearce had just disbanded all of the Arkansas State Troops in McCulloch’s command, leaving McCulloch in a lurch), invited the 14th Arkansas to join his command. He even managed to find about 300 muskets for them.

The 14th Arkansas fought at Pea Ridge, and from all accounts performed pretty well in that very confusing battle. Sadly, the men who were killed in the battle are, for the most part, unknown because of the lack of regimental records. From Union prisoner of war records we know that Colonel Mitchell and over 30 of his men were captured. And, as stated above, the regimental adjutant’s records were forever lost to history.

After the battle of Pea Ridge, the 14th Arkansas, along with the rest of Van Dorn’s Army of the West, was ordered to Mississippi, and from this point forward we have some documents to rely on. The regiment was reorganized at Camp Churchill Clark, near Corinth, Mississippi, on May 8, 1862, and new company rolls were drawn up and sent to Richmond—finally some records we can hang our hat on—but this was a dark, dark day for the 14th Arkansas.

As we’ve discussed before, the reason for the army-wide reorganization in May 1862 was the provisions of the Conscription Act enacted by the Confederate Congress the previous month. All twelve-month regiments had to re-muster and enlist for two years or the duration of the war; a new election of officers was ordered; and men who were exempted from service by age or other reasons under the Conscription Act were allowed to take a discharge and go home. The reorganization went off without a hitch among the other Arkansas regiments in and around Corinth, but it blew the 14th Arkansas Regiment apart. From what I can tell—and, mind you, I’m doing some speculation here—the regimental officers did not make clear to the men just what was happening. Most of the officers declined to stand for reelection, resigned their commissions, and quietly left camp. After the men elected their new officers, they were informed that, by participating in the election, they were agreeing to the extension of their term of service from twelve months to two years or the war. The men went ballistic. They felt that they had “been had.” A large percentage of the regiment up and left camp en masse on June 3, 1862. It wasn’t cowardice or dereliction of duty that drove these men. They were deeply aggrieved over, as they saw it, being lied to and misled by their officers. If Colonel Mitchell had not been captured at Pea Ridge, things probably would have turned out differently. Mitchell was a popular and extremely well-liked and respected commander. He almost certainly would have handled the reorganization differently. His successor was Col. Eli Dodson. I can’t tell if Dodson wasn't up to the job, or if things just spun out of his control on him, but shortly after he was assigned to duty as regimental commander on May 23, 1862, his regiment just melted through his fingers.

Interestingly, the great majority of the men who deserted in the flap over their term of service, went home and immediately enlisted in the 27th (Shaler’s) Arkansas Regiment—for a term of service of three years or the war! So the dispute with those fiercely independent mountaineers was not the term of service, per se, simply the fact that they had had no say in the matter. By enlisting in a new regiment, they, not a bunch of lying officers, decided how long they would serve. Honor and independence were thus preserved, and most of the former 14th Arkansas boys served honorably and valiantly for the rest of the war.

Back in Mississippi, the 14th Arkansas, with its numbers reduced to less than 200 officers and men, was basically combat-ineffective. It was raided to obtain warm bodies for other commands. In September 1862, for example, a whole bunch of the 14th Arkansas boys were sent over to the 27th Texas Cavalry to fill out the ranks of an under-strength company. Recruiting parties sent back to Arkansas were detained by Hindman and attached to regiments in the Trans-Mississippi Department. At some point, and I admit that I haven’t reseached this thoroughly yet, Col. Frank P. Powers was brought in to snap the regiment back into shape. When the U.S. War Department put together the Compiled Service Records for this regiment, they cataloged it as the 14th (Powers’) Arkansas Infantry.

Anyway, the regiment fought at Corinth in October 1862, and acquitted itself well in that battle. Still chronically under-strength, the 14th Arkansas was field-consolidated with the 18th and 23rd Arkansas Regiments in February 1863, and was part of the Port Hudson garrison when the place surrendered on July 9, 1863. The men were exchanged in Arkansas, and the remnants of the old 14th Arkansas were lumped in with the 1st Consolidated Arkansas Infantry.

There's much more research needed on this regiment, and I haven't done this particular regiment justice with my meager efforts. But hopefully it will counteract some of the deeply flawed postwar accounts of the 14th Arkansas.

Next, the “other” 14th Arkansas Regiment.

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