Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Homecircle: Kinship and Community in the Third Arkansas Infantry, Texas Brigade, 1861-1865

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Homecircle: Kinship and Community in the Third Arkansas Infantry, Texas Brigade, 1861-1865

Article excerpt

I lost my brother on the bloody field of Sharpsburg though three years my junior he [h]as grown into manhood before his years-he was my constant companion from childhood-we were not blessed with a sister near our own age-so we were thrown entirely together. he had his faults. was wild and impetuous- was ever ready to avenge the slightest insult to himself or his friends. [H]e was feared by his foes and loved by his companions. We held everything in common-if he had anything and I wanted it I used freely and reciprocally. [H]e was just to every one-the Great God dispenses all things for the best-I submit to His will.

Benjamin F. J. Hyatt, June 14, 18631

WRITING FROM THE CONFEDERATE Army of Northern Virginia's Winchester camp in the second autumn of the Civil War, twenty-one-yearold sergeant Benjamin F. J. Hyatt of the Third Arkansas Infantry poured out his sorrow to his cousin Lizzie Killian. "Every letter I receive from home bears a sad tale," Hyatt lamented. "[A]lmost every homestead is in mourning for some gallant member of the homecircle."2 Hyatt, a student at the University of Mississippi and the eldest son of a minister from Monticello, Arkansas, had good reason to grieve, and not just over bad news from home. Two weeks earlier, on September 17, 1862, Benjamin Hyatt's "homecircle" had been shattered when his brothers Elijah and Robert fell at the battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. The Third Arkansas Infantry Regiment had suffered heavily on that bloodiest single day in American military history. The regiment went into combat with 350 men. By the end of the day, 202 of them had been killed, wounded, or captured. Twentysix of the casualties were men from Hyatt's Company C, the "Confederate Stars." "My brothers were both shot down in the field-severely, and I fear mortally wounded," he wrote to Lizzie. "[T]hey were both wounded in the thigh-they were left in Maryland with our wounded." Hyatt had been sick in an army hospital and missed Antietam. By the time he rejoined the regiment, he was frantic for information about his missing brothers. "I can not learn any correct [news] from them," he told Lizzie. "I did hear that Elijah was dead and that Robt's leg was amputated. You may judge of the suspense I experience. [M]y cousin was also wounded." Hyatt agonized because he had not been beside his brothers at their moment of ultimate need. "I would have given anything to have been with my brothers when they fell."3

Benjamin Hyatt's distress was not unique, nor would it be the last time that war disrupted the bonds among kin and comrades in the Third Arkansas Infantry Regiment. From 1861 to 1865, Hyatt and nearly fifteen hundred other Arkansans served in the Army of Northern Virginia, facing death, disease, hardship, separation from homes and loved ones, and the terror of combat on distant battlefields. Most Third Arkansas men came from six counties in southern Arkansas: Ashley, Drew, Union, Dallas, Desha, and Hot Spring. Most were unmarried farmers in their twenties, and only a handful owned slaves. First assigned to Walker's division and then to the famous Texas Brigade of Longstreet's corps, the men of the Third Arkansas Infantry fought in nearly every major engagement in the Eastern Theater. By the army's final surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865, only 144 soldiers remained in the Third Arkansas Infantry's ranks. The Hyatt brothers were not among these final few. Seventeen-year-old Robert survived captivity and amputation but returned home to Arkansas as an invalid in January 1863. Twenty-one-year-old Elijah died of his wounds in Union hands a few days after Antietam. Benjamin, the letter writer and the only Hyatt brother left in the regiment after 1862, was eventually promoted to sergeant major and wounded at Chickamauga in September 1863. He lingered for several days before he too died.4

The Civil War represented an unprecedented personal calamity for hundreds of thousands of others as well. …

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