Van Buren Frontier Guards
Arkansas State Troops
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The Frontier Guards spent the next few months recruiting and drilling. On February 23, 1861, they, along with Independent Light Horse Guard (Captain Powhatan Perkins), took part in the annual muster and parade of Crawford county’s Fifth Regiment, Arkansas Militia. On April 24, 1861, the Van Buren Press announced that, “The ranks of this Volunteer Company are fast filling up—numbering now nearly fifty members. Their new uniform was received by the steamer Leon on Monday, and in it the Guards will make a very handsome appearance. At a regular meeting on Saturday night, they tendered their services to the Governor for duty on the frontier, by a unanimous vote. They drill every night.” On the same day, the Van Buren Press reported: “The Frontier Guards, of this City, under command of Lieut. J. P. King, returned from their expedition to Fort Smith, this afternoon. Praise was awarded them for soldierly bearing and fine appearance equal to any on the Ground.”
Immediately following Arkansas’ secession from the Union, the Frontier Guards were ordered to take to the field. The Van Buren Press reported, on Wednesday, May 29, 1861: “Capt. H. T. Brown’s Infantry Company, the ‘Van Buren Frontier Guards’, were, in consequence of orders from Gen. Pearce, put upon the march. They had not a moment’s warning—no time for farewells or preparations. But there was no esitation, and at the word ‘forward’, the steady tramp of their old home drill was exchanged for the march of real service. It was contemplated to tender to the Guards some token of esteem upon their leaving; but the urgency of the orders upon which they act prevented. Had it been known that they were to leave, there would have been, short as the time was, a befitting indication of the regret experienced at their departure. The prayers of the mother, wife, and sister, and the smiles of the fair are with them.”
The company reached Camp Walker, near Harmony Springs, in Benton county, Arkansas, in June 1861, and were sworn into State service for three months. They were assigned to the infantry regiment of Colonel John Rene Gratiot as Company G. According to the regimental numbering plan of the State Military Board, this regiment was officially designated as the Second Regiment (Infantry), Arkansas State Troops. However, Brigadier-General Nathaniel Bartlett Pearce, commanding State troops in northwest Arkansas, generally did things his own way, and assigned his regiments sequential numbers based upon their date of enlistment. Thus, Gratiot’s regiment is referred to in most contemporary records as the Third Regiment (Infantry), Arkansas State Troops.
The Arkansas State Troops, along with Brigadier-General Ben McCulloch’s Confederate brigade, marched north into Missouri, where they linked up with Major-General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard [roughly equivalent to the Arkansas State Troops]. The combined force, consisting of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas troops, then moved to a point south of Springfield, Missouri, and encamped on Wilson’s Creek.
On the morning of August 10, 1861, a Union force under Brigadier-General Nathaniel Lyon launched a powerful but badly coordinated attack upon the Southern encampment. The ensuing battle lasted until noon, and has been described as one of the most vicious, desperate engagements in the western theater. Gratiot’s regiment had been held in reserve for the first hour or so, when a renewed Union assault on the Confederate right flank prompted calls for its immediate deployment. Forming in a long battle line, the regiment charged up Oak Hill. When they were within forty yards of the Federal lines, the enemy opened fire. Captain Brown, leading the charge, sword in hand, was killed in the volley, as were Privates James Adkins and D. B. Carr. Private George Clark was shot through both legs; Private John Clark’s arm was shattered. Others who fell wounded were Sergeants Neal and Wallace, Corporal Whitfield, and Privates Davis, Deshazo, Howard and Mareau. Private Charlie Ward’s life was saved when a minnie ball struck his pocket watch and was thereby deflected. Recovering from the shock of that devastating volley, the Frontier Guards, along with the rest of the regiment, continued the charge and broke the Federal line. The battle ended with the Federal troops retreating in great disorder back to Springfield, leaving their General Lyon dead on the field. This victory came at a great cost to Gratiot’s regiment—out of approximately 500 men who had mustered a few hours before, over 100 were casualties. Remarking on the gallant charge of Gratiot’s regiment, Confederate General McCulloch said, “You saved me and the battle.”
Following the battle of Wilson’s Creek (or Oak Hill, as it is generally known in the South) the Arkansas State Troops were mustered out of service. The Frontier Guards were mustered out on September 19, 1861. The Guards returned to Van Buren, where most of them soon enlisted in regular Confederate regiments. A large number of them enlisted in Company G, 35th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, naming their new company “The Brown Guards,” in honor of their fallen captain. James Pleasant King, who had served as the first lieutenant of the Frontier Guards, was elected captain of the Brown Guards, and was soon appointed as colonel of the 35th Arkansas.
Roster of the Van Buren Frontier Guards
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to have more information about the Civil War and Pension Records of the men who served in these Companies, contact Bryan R. Howerton or Jeri Helms Fultz
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