The Fifteenth Arkansas Infantry Regiment (Gee-Johnson)
|The 15th Regiment Arkansas Volunteers was organized in the summer of
1861 in Camden Arkansas. It was recruited primarily from Columbia,
Hempstead, Lafayette, Ouachita, and Union Counties, all located in the
southwestern and south-central area of the state. Six companies were
formed and designated A through F. Apparently four other companies
intended for the regiment were reassigned. The records show that the
regiment was organized officially on January 2, 1862, with the following
officers: Colonel James M. Gee, Lt. Colonel John C.
Wright, Major P. Lynch Lee, and Adjutant Benjamin W. Johnson. The company
commanders were: Co. A, Captain S. L. Proctor; Co. B, Captain Henry
Purifoy; Co. C, Captain Robert Jordan; Co. D, Captain L. W. Matthews; Co.
E, Captain W. H. Perkinson; and Co. F, Captain Alexander Byrne. It
was known as Gee's Regiment, since there were several other units also
designated as 15th Arkansas Infantry.
In mid-December, 1861, the regiment was ordered to Memphis. Some of the companies began marching eastward from Camden in early January, and at Gaines' Landing on the Mississippi River, took a steamer to Memphis. (Read a letter from Molias Hardy to his wife written while on the march toward Gaines' Landing). One company was ordered to Little Rock, then went on to Memphis. The regiment camped for a few days at Memphis, and were then ordered to Fort Heiman, a new fort being constructed on the Tennessee River, arriving around January 28. On February 5, the troops moved across the river to Fort Henry.
The regiment participated in the defense of Fort Henry, and when it was obvious that the fort would be captured, it was hurriedly ordered to march to Fort Donelson to defend that position against the coming Federal attack, leaving behind much of their extra clothing and other gear. This would make their coming winter months much more difficult. After a heavy Federal bombardment and fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Confederates surrendered Fort Donelson on February 16. Gee's regiment had 7 killed and 17 wounded out of a total of 270 men.
Most of the enlisted men were taken to the military prison at Camp Butler at Springfield, Illinois, with some going to Camp Douglas at Chicago. Some of the officers were sent to Fort Warren, Massachusetts, some to other camps. The regiment remained in captivity for about seven months. The conditions for the enlisted prisoners were very poor, and a large number died of illness (including Molias Hardy, mentioned above). A list of the soldiers of the 15th Ark. who are buried at Camp Butler is given here. In late September, 1862, the survivors were released and sent to Vicksburg to be exchanged. After parole, they were transported to Jackson, Mississippi to reorganize the regiment.
At Jackson, four companies of men from Arkansas serving in Walker's 40th Tennessee Regiment were transferred to the regiment, joining the survivors of the original six companies to form a new regiment. Colonel Gee had been released from Prison in July because of illness, and was not present for the reorganization. The new officers elected were: Benjamin W. Johnson, Colonel; Paul Lynch Lee, Lt. Colonel; and William E. Stewart, Major. The new regiment would be know as the 15th Arkansas Infantry (Johnson's). The new designations of the ten companies and their commanders were as follows:
The regiment was officially reorganized on October 16, 1862, and was immediately ordered to Port Hudson, Louisiana, and upon arriving on November 1, were placed under the command of Brig. General W. N. R. Beall. The unit was involved in several engagements and skirmishes in the Port Hudson area prior to the beginning of the siege on May 24, including the Battle of Plain's Store on May 21.
When the siege by Federal forces began, Johnson's men were ordered to take up a new position on the Confederate lines within the Port Hudson garrison, one that came to be known as "Fort Desperate". The story of the regiment's heroic defense of this position is given in some detail on this site.
A good first-hand description of the actions of the 15th Arkansas Regiment at Port Hudson, and afterwards, is given in Chapter II of "The Escape of Captain Joe and Lieutenant Dock Daniel".
After the surrender on July 9,1863, the enlisted men were paroled and released (on July 12), and ordered to Washington, Arkansas. The officers were sent to Federal prisons, most remaining there until the end of the war. The regiment was not reorganized, but was combined with men from several other units. Little is known of the men of the 15th Johnson's Regiment after Port Hudson, but those remaining in service seem to have been under the command of Brig. General Thomas Dockery. The records are unclear, but some were part of a temporary regiment known as Dawson's-Hardy's Consolidated Infantry (also known as Hardy's Arkansas Infantry) in late 1863 and early 1864 (this number included John R. Hardy, a Fort Desperate veteran). Later a new regiment, named the Third Infantry Regiment Consolidated, Trans-Mississippi Department was formed which included Dawson's-Hardy's and several other regiments. This new regiment participated in the Red River Campaign of 1864. No rosters survive from this regiment. It is believed that the remnants of the 15th Regiment remained in Arkansas until the end of the war.
For more information on the Fifteenth Arkansas Regiment, I recommend Bobby N. Down's book, Arkansas Fifteenth (Gee-Johnson) Regiment Infantry.