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.