A Brief History of the 1st Arkansa Volunteer Infantry

By Patrick McSherry
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Camp Thomas, Chickamauga, Georgia, 1898
 A Grand Review held at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga, Georgia, 1898

General:

The First Arkansas Volunteer Infantry served its term of service within the continental United States. It did not see service overseas.


Unit History:

The 1st Arkansas Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service at Little Rock, Arkansas between May 14 and 20, 1898. At the time of mustering in, the regiment consisted of forty-six officers and 966 enlisted men, under the command of Col. Elias Chandler. At age forty-two Chandler had served in the U.S. Army for seventeen years, becoming the colonel of the 16thU.S. Infantry. He then taught military tactics at Arkansas Industrial University in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for four years. Chandler was considered to be an excellent choice to command the new regiment.

The companies in the regiment were formed in the following locations:

Company A – Hot Springs (known as the “Hot Spring Rifles”)

Company B – Pine Bluff (Knowns as the “Jefferson Fencibles”)

Company C – Fort Smith

Company D – Fort Smith

Company E – Hope and DeQueen (Known as the “Ferguson Guards”)

Company F – Springdale

Company G – Helena (known as the “Helena Light Guards”)

Company H – Arkadelphia

Company I – Van Buren

Company K – Paris (known as the “Andrew Jackson Rifles”)

Company L – Chicot and Texarkana (Known as the “Governor’s Guards”)

Company M – Camden (known as the “Greening Rifles”)

 
The regiment departed Camp Dodge, Little Rock on May 25, bound for the new training camp constructed on the Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga, Georgia, arriving two days later. The regiment was joined by the regiment’s mascot, a bald eagle named “Winnie Davis.” On arrival, the regiment spent the night in their rail cars, marching to the camp after breakfast. They found themselves marching into a camp inhabited by 45,000 men, with inadequate water and sanitation. On arriving, the regiment was assigned to the First Battalion, Second Division of the Third Army Corps. The regiment spent its time drilling and preparing for being sent to the front. However, orders to be sent abroad never came.

In the beginning of August, representatives of the regiment, including most of the officers, sent a telegram to the Arkansas Governor, Dan W. Jones, asking him to use his influence to have the regiment included in the expedition to Puerto Rico, since the action in Cuba had ended. The letter pointed out that the regiment was the first raised in Arkansas and was in a “high state of efficiency.” The regiment briefly thought its desires were realized as orders came to join the Puerto Rico expedition. The camp was packed in order to be in readiness to depart, but the order was countermanded, and the regiment stayed where it was.

Meanwhile, conditions at the overcrowded camp continued to deteriorate. Sergeant Leon J. Smith, Company F, minced no words about conditions in the camp. Returning to Arkansas on leave, he told the    newspaper that “Camp Thomas is an awful place. Those who have not been there have no idea of what a hell hole it was…the place has no sewerage or even good drainage. Why, you could smell the place before you got within five miles of it. The dirt and decaying matter have saturated the ground, seeped down and polluted the water…” Because of water and sanitation problems, the deaths in camp began to spike. In addition the conditions in the hospitals were deplorable, and an investigation into the Second Division Hospital was opened based on complaints filed by Col.  Chandler. The tales told by the men about the army hospitals showed a system that was overwhelmed. Corporal John Berhart of the 1st Arkansas indicated that he was in the hospital and received no medical attention for eight days, had to fight to get something to eat, and when he did receive food, it included tainted beef. Captain O. E. Byers indicated that men were rturned to the regiment from the hospital who were still quite ill. Men complained of being refused food and water, and dying men being entirely neglected. The investigation found the allegations to be true. The Army soon decided that the only solution was to move as many men out of the camp as was possible. By the end of August, the 1st Arkansas was one of only six regiments left at the camp.

On August 12, an armistice was struck between the U.S. and Spain, effectively ending the war’s fighting. After this time, the men of the regiment were reported to have become quite lax in their duties, realizing that they would play no part in the war’s outcome, and were only waiting to return to civilian life.  Sgt. Smith stated that “After the fighting ceased, though, you couldn’t get anything out of the boys – they lost all interest in the drills and sham battles [war games].” An offer was made to allow some of the men to join the 2nd Arkansas Volunteer Infantry, which would remain in service until February, 1899. It is unclear if anyone took the offer.

The regiment was reassigned to the Second Brigade, First Division of the Third Army Corps on September 1, 1898. A week later, on September 8, the regiment boarded the train to return to Little Rock, where it arrived in two days time and encamped at Fort Logan H. Root. The regiment was mustered out on October 25, 1898. At the time of mustering out, the regiment consisted of forty-six officers and 1,227 enlisted men.

The war ended on December 10, 1898, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

During its term of service, the regiment lost twenty-two enlised men to disease, two men men to an accident and had twenty men desert.

 
Bibliography:
 

“Chafe for Service,” The Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas). August 2, 1898, 1.

“Col. Elias Chandler” The Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas). April 20, 1898, 1

“Coming Home To-day,” The Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas). September 8, 1898, 6.

Correspondence relating to the War with Spain And Conditions Growing Out of the Same Including the Insurrection in the Philippine Island and the China Relief Expedition. Vol. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902) 583.

“First Regiment, Arkansas Volunteers,” The Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas). May 24, 1898, 6.

“Our Boys Coming Home,” Fort Smith Times (Fort Smith, Arkansas). September 6, 1898, 1.

“The Volunteer Army,” Times Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana). May 28, 1898, 1.

"Told by Victims," Labette County Times-Statesman. (Oswego, Kansas), October 13, 1898, 1.


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