The unit, originally known as the 17th (Rector's) Infantry Regiment, was organized at Fort Smith, Arkansas, on November 17, 1861. The men elected Frank A. Rector, who would later command the 35th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, colonel of the regiment. The other regimental officers were:Lieutenant Colonel Sam W. Williams.
Adjutant William A. Dowdle.
The regiment consisted of eight companies, which were drawn mostly from Sebastian County and the surrounding area. The unit was composed of volunteer companies from the following counties:Company A – of Sebastian County, commanded by Captain Henry Kayser. A number of men from this Company subsequently served in Company A, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Company B – of Sebastian County, commanded by Captain E.A. Adams. A number of men from this Company subsequently served in Company A, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Company C – of Sebastian County, commanded by Captain Josephes Dotson. The First Lieutenant of this company was Henry J. McCord who would later command the 35th Arkansas. According to the unit muster rolls several men of this company were left sick in the hospital in Arkansas when the remainder moved under General Van Dorn to reinforce General Beauregard at Corinth, Mississippi in April 1862. They were ordered to rejoin their company and were en route to do so when General Thomas C. Hindman ordered them to remain in Arkansas and assigned them to Company A, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment. The muster roll also indicates that approximately three fourths of the unit had previously served in Gratiot's 3rd Regiment, Arkansas State Troops. 20 men from this company would be assigned to Company A, 35th Arkansas Infantry on June 12, 1862.
Company D – of Washington County, commanded by Captain George W. Van Hoose. A number of men from this Company subsequently served in Company A, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Company E – of Washington County, commanded by Captain Joseph R. Parks. This unit was organized as a volunteer militia company in Illinois Township, of Washington County, in the 32nd Regiment, Arkansas State Militia on August 22, 1861.>
Company F – of Sebastian County, commanded by Captain David Arbuckle. A number of men from this Company subsequently served in Company A, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Company G – of Madison County, enlisted on 22 November 1861, for 12 Months, under the command of Captain Stephen B. Enyart. Most of this company subsequently served in Company K, 22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Company H – the "Hempstead Rifles Number 2" of Hempstead County, commanded by Captain Benjamin P. Jett, Jr. This company was originally organized as a volunteer company in the 8th Regiment, Arkansas State Militia. The unit was mustered into the 3rd Regiment, Arkansas State Troops and participated in the Battle of Wilson's Creek. After the 3rd Regiment was disbanded, the unit returned to Hempstead county and reorganized.
The regiment's first major action was the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, where, from most accounts, Rector's regiment did not acquit itself well. A Missouri (Confederate) artillery battery found the regiment's colors lying on the field, and for a time refused to return the flag to Rector, saying that a regiment that would abandon its colors in battle had no right to carry them after the battle. Colonel Sid Jackman relayed a camp rumor regarding Colonel Rector's behavior at the battle of Pea Ridge,
"It had been reported and generally believed by the Missouri troops, that a regiment of Arkansas troops, led by Col. Frank Rector, had behaved very badly in he fight with Curtis at Elk Horn. It was said that Rector had ran off and hid his guns in a cave, during the fight. Whether this was true or not, I do not know. I sumply related the charge, but do not make the charge. Colonel Rector was, at that time, our Brigade Quarter Master, and was a most cautious and estimable gentleman."
Another account of the 17th Arkansas's conduct at the Battle of Pea Ridge was given in 1895 in a letter from former Captain Ben B. Chism to Mrs. Harlow Bishop of Junction City, Texas:
The 17th Arks. Infty [sic] Regt. was organized at Cross Hollows, Arks. in Washington County I believe in Fall of 1861. Frank Rector was elected Col. John Griffith Lt. Col. Matheson Major. The Regt. went into Winter quarters at Bentonville, Arks. and left there a short time before the battle of Elk Horn (Pea Ridge) in which battle the Regt. participated on both 7th & 8th March 1862. You had [a] brother either killed or wounded in this battle.
The Regiment was hard pressed and retired [on the] 8th for want of ammunition, it seemed the Confederate Army had pretty well all left the battlefield before the 17th retreated. The enemy pressed us hard. I remember this incident we had little or no ammunition and were retreating slowly when an artillery officer galloped up to Col. Griffith who was commanding (Col. Rector, owing to a severe cold could not be heard to give a command) and said to him, "For God's sake, save my battery!". Three or four pieces of artillery were coming down a hill side Col. Griffith answered, "Captain, I have no ammunition, but I can use the bayonet!". The command was given "By [?] Regiment into line, guard against cavalry". In this position we stood in line, until the Federal Cavalry had flanked us pretty well on the left, getting into our rear, at this juncture a Missouri (Confd.) Regt. passed near to us, making its way after our retreating army.
When it was found the enemy was in or nearly in our rear, the command was given to move, and we started at a double quick, but we could not follow the army. my recollection is we moved North pursued by the Federal Cavalry. we were cut off from the main army and the pursuit of us by the enemies' cavalry continued till late in the evening. When traveling in the mountains we [returned to?] the army. At this time Genl. Pike was seen making his way from the direction of the battlefield accompanied by two or three aids [sic]. He was hailed by Col. Griffith and asked what should [be] done. Genl. Van Dorn had retreated to the Northeast and we were making our way in a South or Southwestern direction [here Chism inserts 'North or Northeast' as an apparent afterthought/correction]. Genl. Pike told Col. Griffith to disband his Regt. and let them go in squads of five or six men and make their way to Van Buren, [to] fall in with the Army there. This was [the] cause of the 17th Ark. breakup, for not more than half of the Regt. reported at Van Buren to go on East of the Miss. river, the Regt. numbering some 200 went with Genl. Van Dorn to Corinth, Miss. reaching that point some time in April 62. Here the Regt. was reorganized, John Griffith elected Col., Joseph Dodson Lt. Col., B.P. Jett Major.
When General Van Dorn moved his army east of the Mississippi, following the Battle of Pea Ridge, portions of Companies A,B,C, and G remained in Arkansas. These companies then became part of the 35th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Frank A. Rector.
The remaining companies of the 17th Regiment were at Corinth, Mississippi, with the Army of the West. At Corinth, John Griffith was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, commanding what was now a battalion-sized 17th Arkansas. Under Lieutenant Colonel Griffith's leadership, the unit performed so well at the Battle of Corinth that General Hebert wrote, in his after-action report: "Under my personal supervision no one faltered, no one hesitated to meet the foe, even in hand-to-hand conflict if required. I must, however, put into the positon [sic] of brave and true men the small numbers of the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Arkansas Regiments of Infantry, of the Second Brigade, upon whom past circumstances had cast a doubt. Nobly, heroically have they proven themselves true patriots and brave soldiers." Another account stated: "All the duties in camp, on the march, and in the field the regiment has so promptly performed and are unsurpassed in any service for good breeding, soldierly deportment, description, drill, bravery, and patriotism. The officers are pattern gentlemen, brave soldiers, and noble patriots." Clearly, the 17th Arkansas had left the cloud of Pea Ridge behind them.
In March 1863, the 17th Arkansas was consolidated with the 11th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and reorganized as the 11th & 17th Arkansas Mounted Infantry. Although the two regiments were from different parts of the State (the 11th Arkansas was mostly from Saline County and a few other southern counties), with different battle histories, the merger clicked. Under first Colonel John L Logan and later Col. John Griffith's command, the 11th & 17th Arkansas spent the rest of the war as the Confederate Army's 'fire brigade' in southern Mississippi. As Union columns made repeated incursions into the area over the next couple of years, the South's counter-moves invariably involved the 11th & 17th Arkansas.
At this time, Genl. Grierson made his famous raid across the Confederacy. The Consolidated 11th & 17th Arks. Regts. were sent out to intercept the enemy, but as Genl. Grierson, commanded his Cavly. [sic], he passed around us and went into Baton Rouge. Genl. Gardner commanding at Port Hudson sent an order out to Col. Logan (for Port Hudson had been surrounded by Genl. Banks while we were after Grierson) to seize horse and mount his command. This was done and the Regts. operated as mounted Infty., afterwards Cavalry from the vicinity of Port Hudson to Yazoo City back and forth until the close of the war, and surrendered at Jackson, Miss., Apl. 1865.
Col. Logan, some time, I think, later part 1864, was called West of the Miss. River, this through [sic] Col. Griffith in command of the Regt. and Col. Griffith commanded this Regt. and more than once a Brigade in a number of engagements within the territory mentioned. Col. Griffith was loved by all his men and a braver spirit or a man with warmer heart never left home to do battle.
I should mention an incident that was a compliment to Col. Griffith's Regt. (the Consolidated Regt.). I think it was Genl. S.D. Lee, who inspected our Regt. in [the] Summer of 1864 and upon his recommendation the Secretary of War granted a furlough to the entire Regt. for 60 days, to cross the Miss. River and go from Brookhaven, Miss. or that section, to Arks. to recruit our ranks, we were now reduced to 120 men all told. It was quite dangerous to cross the Miss. River as there were gunboat [sic] all along the river and patrols constantly on the lookout for Confederates from either side. The crossing could be affected only by crossing at night time when all was quiet by the use of skiffs, one man to row and two, sometimes four, horses were carried over by holding to the bridles to keep their heads up. At the end of the sixty days the Regt. recrossed the Miss. River, below Natchez some twenty miles, the day, or night of President Lincoln's re election, though we were two nights in getting over.....
Col. Griffith commanded in a number of minor engagements after his Regt. were mounted. I cannot recall all these an [?] engagement [at] Clinton, Plains Store, La., Pig Pens near Yazoo City Miss., Ebenezer Miss., I cannot tell all. It was six men from Col. Griffith Regt. that slipped through three lines of Federal pickets, and captured Genl Neil Dow at Port Hudson. I laid the plan, and Col. Griffith commanded the attack upon the Federal Gunboat Petrel or Duchess of the old Navy. We captured the boat guns etc. [?] This one while above [?] Yazoo City, Miss.
Ben B. Chism
Colonel Griffith seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to determining when and where to strike a larger enemy force to cause the most damage. The 11th & 17th Arkansas was renowned for its scouting and tracking abilities. The regiment served to the end of the war in this capacity. The regiment was involved in the following engagements:Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas March 6–8, 1862.
Siege of Corinth, Mississippi, April to June 1862.
Battle of Iuka, Mississippi, September 19, 1862.
Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, October 8, 1862.
Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 24-July 9, 1863.
Some of the unit members were captured at Port Hudson on July 9, 1863.
There are two surviving flags which are traditionally associated with the Griffith's 17th Arkansas Infantry Regiment:
Flag of the 17th Arkansas Infantry, currently located at the Old State House Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas, is a Van Dorn Pattern flag. Only the cotton crescent and five of the original thirteen stars remain of this fragment of the flag of the 17th. The flag saw heavy service as the regiment it designated was at Elk Horn (Pea Ridge) and then transferred to Mississippi. After a 48-day siege at Port Hudson, Louisiana, the 17th Arkansas and other Confederate forces surrendered on 1 July 1863. Silk with cotton crescent, start and border, 34 1/2" x 29 1/2".
A 1st National Flag Pattern battle flag was presented to a company known as the "Hempstead Rifles" was raised in Hempstead County, Arkansas in May 1861. Enlisted for only three months, they became Company B, 3rd Regiment, Arkansas State Troops and were engaged in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. Returning to Arkansas, the company was mustered out of service on September 17, 1861, with the majority of the troops enlisting in regular Confederate units. The Hempstead Rifles No. 2 became the core of Company H of the newly formed 17th Regiment Arkansas Infantry. By this time there was little need for company flags since the regimental flags were used as a symbol of combined companies. Although made in recognition of the re-created Hempstead Rifles, this flag is not likely to have been used in the field.
This regiment surrendered at the close of the war at Citronelle, Alabama, on 4 May1865.