A Unionist’s records: Private Henry Abbott, 1st Arkansas Cavalry

My fellow blogger Robert Moore is knee deep studying Shenandoah Unionists.  Great stuff.   An example of the full spectrum of colors that typifies the sesqucentennialist* study of the Civil War.   We learn more about the war when we consider these stories, which lay beyond the well defined boundaries that have so long defined the study of the war.

While Robert looks to the Virginians, my interest, perhaps due to my Trans-Mississippi roots, is towards those from Arkansas.  Not counting US Colored Troops units raised in the state, four regiments of cavalry, three regiments of infantry, six battalion-sized formations, and a battery of artillery fought under Arkansas designations.  That’s a sizable number considering Arkansas was not a populous state at the time (by comparison, the state raised 48 militia and volunteer infantry regiments for the Southern cause). Estimates are 10,000 Arkansans served in blue.

Most of the Unionist units had their roots in the northeastern part of the state.  Perhaps similar to the “hill-folk” of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, those living in the Ozarks of Arkansas were not staunch secessionists.  After early setbacks for the rebel cause in that sector, many families there complained of attacks by pro-Confederate raiders.  Many families fled their homes, seeking relief inside Federal lines.  Once there, many of the able body men began enlisting in the Union cause.  For those wishing to get a contemporary account of this unionist sentiment, there is Loyalty on the Frontier by Albert W. Bishop.  (Bishop was a Wisconsin officer, appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry.   So consider his intent and perspective when reading that account.)

Among the first Arkansas union regiments organized was the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (Union).  On May 31, 1862, the War Department authorized the formation of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry, drawing upon the Arkansans entering the Federal ranks.  The regiment spent most of the war patrolling and scouting.  At Prairie Grove, their first major battle, on December 7, 1862, members of the regiment were caught up in a route of adjacent Federal cavalry.  But the regiment performed well in the battle of Fayetteville the following April.  For the remainder of the war the unionist cavalry served to counter guerrilla activity.  While not an illustrious unit, the 1st Arkansas Cavalry served well.

Given that brief introduction to the regiment, let me focus one of those Arkansas unionists – Private Henry Abbott.  One of the service record cards provides several leads at to Abbott’s story:

Six foot two, with blue eyes, fair complexion and light hair… must have been a favorite with the ladies….   According to the records, Abbott was a farmer from Washington County. Abbott was twenty years old when he enlisted at Fayetteville (Washington County seat) in January 1863.  The date, I think, is important.  Barely a month after Prairie Grove, the Federals then occupied many key points in the hills of northeast Arkansas.

Subsequent record cards indicate Abbott served in the regiment without unaccounted absence.  Most interesting to me, he was detached for duty in a howitzer section (likely mountain howitzer) for much of his service.  He received his muster out in October 1864.

So what factors may have influenced Abbott’s choice to enlist in the Union cause?  Given the lead of Abbott’s pre-war residence and profession, a logical start point is the Census of 1860.  The only Washington County entry that *might* represent Abbott is that for a “James Abbott” who worked on the Sam Olde farm just northwest of Prairie Grove.  The entry matches Henry Abbott’s reported birth year.  Still, more circumstantial information than hard fact.

Of more interest to me, the record search for “Henry Abbott” also produces this record card:

Yes, that is for a Confederate unit – Company E, 17th Arkansas Infantry.  This Henry Abbott enlisted (I presume) in February 1862 for 12 months. Enlistment point was Bentonville, which is just north of Washington County.  The enlistment date is too early for the Conscription Act.  According to the record cards, Abbott was home sick practically from the date of enlistment.  There is no record of him getting paid.  No records exist for this “Henry Abbott” service in the Confederate army past October 1862.

So… are these Federal and Confederate Henry Abbotts one and the same?  Not enough information to say.  But one has to wonder.

At a minimum, one Henry Abbott of Washington County, Arkansas – an able body male of conscription age – waited to join the Federal army in early 1863.  A documented Southern Unionist….


* Yes, sesqucentennialist, as opposed to the centennialists.  If it hasn’t been invented already, let me be the first.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

9 thoughts on “A Unionist’s records: Private Henry Abbott, 1st Arkansas Cavalry

  1. Good stuff. Sounds like it’s time to check a couple more records… 1890 vet’s census, Arkansas Confederate pensions, and US pensions. The result might… just maybe… reveal whether or not he flipped. It’s especially entertaining to find a former Confederate who swapped jackets, in the US pension records. That little detail about not having borne arms voluntarily is always an interesting read, as to how they worked their way out of that. But, I have to ask… why drawn to this one fellow?

    1. Robert, the pension index indicates he filed for a pension in 1890 and it was accepted. He stayed in Washington County, and he died in Springdale, Arkansas in 1918. From my cursory research, I find no CS pension for a Henry Abbott.

      Why Henry Abbott? Pattern of research. When I research cannons I start with the lowest number and go to the highest. When I start looking at regimental rolls, I start with A and go to Z. I find that helps eliminate any bias or improper focus.

    2. Depending on how much you want to dig, but the detailed text of that US pension might reveal he was a former Confederate… and, alas, you have easy access in your neck of the woods!

  2. I am an amateur genealogist and have lots of relatives in the First Arkansas Union Cavalry. I have done extensive research about this. What I found is that many of the Union Members in NW Arkansas were originally members of the Arkansas Peace Society. At first, they simply wanted to be conscientious objectors and stay neutral, but of course that wasn’t possible. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2821 Many of these men were arrested and jailed in Sebastian County, then marched to Little Rock where they were forced to join the Confederacy.or be hung. Of course, they deserted at first opportunity. Your Henry Abbott was likely a member of this group.

    1. I’m also an amateur genealogist and I have one relative who served with the Ist Arkansas Union Cav. I found this person quite some time ago, and that he was in Fayetteville during the Battle of Prairie Grove. The one sad point is that he caught pneumonia and died in the Spring of 62 or 63. I have had difficulty finding where he is buried and what part his Company played in the action at Prairie Grove. I believe he had already passed when the battle of Fayetteville occurred. If anyone can help, I would sure appreciate it. He enlisted in the Stone County Home Guard in Missouri, and was then sent with the rest of his unit to Springfield to form part of the new 1st Arkansas. I know much of their duty in the area was chasing off bushwackers and Confederates who were pestering the local population. I don’t know enough about the battle of Prairie Grove, or what happened with his Unit while they were stationed in Fayetteville. Any information would be great. I have a person doing some research for me, and is very good, but I noticed this thread, and thought it couldn’t hurt to ask around for additional help.

      Thank you,

      Jeffery Parker

  3. A book entitled “The First Arkansas Union Cavalry 1862-1865” by Russell Mahan, first written in 1996, is available in a new 6 x 9 paperback format on Amazon.com. It is the history of the regiment from formation to mustering out.

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