12th Arkansas Battalion, CSA.
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The following is a roster of most of the members of Rapley’s Sharpshooters. This list is as complete as I can make it; however, I suspect that about 20 names (mostly former members of 8th Arkansas Battalion) are lost to history.
On June 11, 1862, Major-General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West at Priceville, Mississippi, issued General Orders, No. 39, calling for the organization of a battalion of sharpshooters in each brigade of the army. “These Battalions will be made up of chosen men, all of whom must be able-bodied, active and good rifle shots and of tried courage. . . All of the officers of the Battalion will be carefully selected and thoroughly examined before being recommended to the President for promotion or appointment to the Battalion. It is desired to bring the effective strength of each Battalion up to seven hundred and fifty (750) rank and file, if possible, and no pains will be spared to make the Battalions the elite of the Army of the West. An opportunity is therefore now afforded to young men of spirit to enroll themselves in a corps which is unquestionably to become the most distinguished in our Army. It is hoped and expected that no man will offer or be accepted into this select corps who is not resolved to lead in every daring enterprise which may be undertaken. Brigade Commanders will commence enrolling the Sharpshooters at once. Every proper means will be taken to fill up the Battalions as soon as possible. The men and officers of each company will be from the same State. The Brigade ordnance officers will see that the Sharpshooters are equipped with long range guns, and if possible that the guns of each company are of uniform calibre.”
In compliance with these orders, Colonel Thomas Pleasant Dockery, commanding the Second Brigade, ordered, on June 14, “there will at once be organized a Battalion of Skirmishers for this Brigade. These men will be detailed from the companies composing the different Regts of this Brigade in proportion to their physical ability, courage & skill as Marksmen. It is the intention to make this Battalion very efficient, therefore the officers will be selected with specially to their qualifications & will be recommended by the Inspector Genl & Brigade & Division Commanders to the President for promotion. Capt. Griff Bayne has been recommended as Capt. of Infantry, P.A.C.S. & authorized to organize a Battalion of Skirmishers in accordance with instructions above given. Commanders of Regts & Battalions will accordingly assist Capt. Bayne in selecting the required No. men from their respective commands and hold them in readiness subject to his orders.”
The quota of men from each of the regiments composing the Second Brigade was as follows:
8th Arkansas Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel
Batt L. Jones, 29 men.
18th Arkansas Regiment, Colonel David W. Carroll, 43 men.
19th Arkansas Regiment, Colonel Thomas Pleasant Dockery, 40 men.
20th Arkansas Regiment, Colonel Henry Poston Johnson, 38 men.
21st Arkansas Regiment, Colonel Jordan Edgar Cravens, 50 men.
The regimental commanders promptly provided the required number of volunteers. However, the mercurial Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, of the 8th Arkansas Battalion, refused to comply. He had earlier been forced to relinquish an entire company to the 25th Arkansas Regiment, in order to bring that regiment up to its full complement of ten companies, and resented the fact that his now-understrength battalion must once again be forced to give up more men. Lieutenant-Colonel Jones was promptly court-martialed on two charges—disobedience of orders and conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline—and cashiered from the army. The organization of the battalion of sharpshooters proceeded.
The 12th Arkansas Battalion (Sharpshooters) was formally organized on June 30, 1862, with four companies: Company A (composed of volunteers from the 18th Arkansas Regiment), Company B (composed of volunteers from the 21st Arkansas Regiment), Company C (composed of volunteers from the 20th Arkansas Regiment) and Company D (composed of volunteers from the 19th Arkansas Regiment). The volunteers from the 8th Arkansas Battalion were distributed among the four companies. The first commander of the sharpshooters was a Major C. L. Jackson, who assumed command on June 30 and was relieved of command on July 29. I have been unable to further identify this individual or determine why he was relieved. Few official records of the 12th Arkansas Battalion survive, apart from one muster roll and a few personal papers. William Field Rapley, an Arkansan serving in the Missouri State Guard, was appointed major of the battalion on July 29, and held the command to the end of the war. From this time forward, the battalion was known as “Rapley’s Sharpshooters.”
Rapley’s Sharpshooters underwent rigorous training, quite unusual for a typical Confederate unit, and became an efficient, professional, and deadly force. They needed to be, for they soon began a furious year of combat, unequaled in the Army of the West. The Sharpshooters were the army’s “fire brigade,” specializing in rear-guard actions, holding off superior Union forces while the Confederate army tried to maneuver through Mississippi. They were tenacious fighters and suffered correspondingly heavy casualties at Corinth, Hatchie Bridge, Big Black River and Port Gibson.
Along with the rest of the army, the Sharpshooters finally found themselves surrounded and under siege at Vicksburg. It was here that they did what they were organized to do. Vicksburg was a sharpshooter’s paradise, and during the long months of the siege, they made life deadly for Union artillerymen and pickets with their long-range rifles. When the Vicksburg garrison finally surrendered on July 4, 1863, many of the Sharpshooters escaped rather than risk surrender to a vindictive enemy they had sniped at so successfully for so long.
There are no official records of the Sharpshooters after Vicksburg. In piecing together information from secondary and indirect sources, it appears that some of the Sharpshooters reorganized their battalion back in southern Arkansas, after being exchanged, and spent the remainder of the war on picket patrols in southwest Arkansas and northeast Texas. It is known that Major Rapley and his adjutant were paroled at Shreveport, Louisiana, in June 1865.
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