Second Arkansas Infantry Battalion, CSA
A Brief History
The information on these pages was edited
and graciously given to the Edward G. Gerdes Arkansas Civil
War page by Bryan R. Howerton, who we thank so much.
The 2nd Arkansas Infantry Battalion was one of only three Arkansas units which served in Virginia during the Civil War. The 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment arrived in Virginia in June 1861, and was present, though not engaged, at the battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in July. The 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment arrived in Virginia in July 1861, and was sent to the mountains of western Virginia.
After about three months’ service, the 1st Arkansas Regiment sent officers back to Arkansas on recruiting service. They found three volunteer companies being organized at El Dorado, Hot Springs and Pine Bluff, and encouraged them to head east and join up with the 1st Arkansas. Two of the companies promptly adopted the name of the 1st Arkansas Regiment’s colonel, James Fleming Fagan. Captain Henry H. Beavers’ company became the “Fagan Guards,” and Captain John R. Lacy’s company became the “Fagan Rifles.” Captain Joseph A. Gregory’s company continued to be known as the “Hot Springs Infantry.”
The companies completed their organization in September 1861, and headed for Virginia, where they were attached to the 1st Arkansas, fully expecting to remain a part of that regiment. However, the Confederate War Department refused to permit the 1st Arkansas to exceed its authorized regimental strength of ten companies. Instead, the Adjutant and Inspector-General’s Office issued Special Orders, No. 194, dated October 29, 1861, which stated: “The following companies of Arkansas Volunteers are organized into a battalion to be designated the Second Infantry Battalion, Arkansas Volunteers, Major Bronaugh commanding.”
William Naylor Bronaugh had been a professor at St. John’s College at Little Rock. At the outbreak of the war, he enlisted in Co. D, 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment, was immediately elected third lieutenant, and shortly thereafter was appointed regimental adjutant.
The newly-organized 2nd Arkansas Battalion spent the first half of its existence assigned to picket duty in the Aquia District of Virginia—Major-General Theophilus Hunter Holmes, commanding—as part of Brigadier-General Samuel Gibbs French’s mixed brigade, which included the 35th Georgia, 22nd North Carolina, 2nd Tennessee, 47th Virginia, Fredericksburg Artillery, Maryland Flying Artillery, Caroline Light Dragoons and Stafford Rangers.
Spending the winter of 1861-62 on the shores of the Potomac took its toll on the battalion. The muster rolls for the period indicate that a large percentage of the troops were hospitalized, or were already dead. The following spring, however, would be worse.
The 2nd Arkansas Battalion was transferred to Brigadier-General William Dorsey Pender’s brigade, in Major-General Ambrose Powell Hill’s “Light Division,” in preparation for the campaign which would come to be known as the Seven Days’ Battles. With the 2nd Arkansas Battalion in Pender’s brigade were the 16th, 22nd and 34th North Carolina Regiments, and the 22nd Virginia Battalion. Heavily engaged throughout the campaign, the 2nd Arkansas Battalion failed to survive it. At Beaver Dam Creek, near the village of Mechanicsville, Virginia, on June 26, 1862, the little battalion led the assault on the Federal position, and was decimated.
There is no official casualty list or after-action report from the 2nd Arkansas Battalion for the Battle of Mechanicsville—there were no commissioned or non-commissioned officers left standing to make out any reports. The battalion roster shows many names with the notation, “no further record.” Since most of those so noted never returned to Arkansas, it is presumed that they were killed in the battle. Sadly, the sacrifice of those brave Arkansas boys will never be officially recognized.
The “Richmond Dispatch” newspaper, however, provided this acknowledgment of the heroism and sacrifice of the 2nd Arkansas Battalion, in an article published shortly after the battle: “. . . [T]hey were cool and determined; they looked with confidence upon the calm, dauntless brow of their commander, Major Bronaugh, and hailed in their hearts the triumph yet to come. . . The Arkansas Battalion lost more men in proportion to its number than that of any other command. They went into the fight like men and discharged their duty bravely, and when darkness closed the conflict, Major Bronaugh [mortally wounded] was found heroically at his post with but twelve men, whom he had rallied in the hottest of the fight.”
The remnant of the 2nd Arkansas Battalion was formally disbanded under Special Orders, No. 152, dated July 15, 1862. The 139 survivors were transferred to the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, but most of them were soon discharged for various wounds and illnesses. Many of those who were well enough to remain in service with the 3rd Arkansas would later fall at Gettysburg, Chickamauga and the Wilderness. A dozen or so would survive to be surrendered at Appomattox Court House.
Note: A company of Maryland troops, called
the “Maryland Zouaves,” was attached to the 2nd Arkansas Battalion from
February to June, 1862, but no muster rolls of the company for this period
has been located.