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David B. Arthur - Introduction and Index

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By George Rugg

David B. Arthur was born on 31 January 1837 in Richmond, Virginia, the eldest son of the Welsh immigrant Evan Arthur and Martha Bivan Arthur. Evan Arthur was an ironworker, and found employment at several American rolling mills (including the Tredegar Works in Richmond) before moving to Iowa to try his hand at farming. By 1851 the Arthurs had moved again, to the lead mining region of southwest Wisconsin, eventually settling in Beetown, Grant County. David Arthur was married in 1858, to Mary Morrallee. The 1860 Federal census identifies him as a miner, living adjacent to his father in Beetown. During the great Federal recruiting effort of mid-1862, Arthur enlisted in the army; he was mustered in to Company I of the 20th Wisconsin Infantry (called the "Hope Guards") on 23 August, as 1st sergeant.

The Arthur diary is a leather-bound volume (15 cm) of 47 leaves, with 90 pages of content in Arthur's hand, mostly in pencil. At its heart are 70 consecutive pages (3v to 38v) of dated entries, running from 20 October 1862 to 12 June 1863. Entries are brief, running between 20 and 50 words. Two additional pages of entries (46r and 47v) are addressed to Arthur's wife Mary. Most of the remaining pages are given over to accounts.

For all but the last few days of the diary's chronological span, the 20th Wisconsin was attached to the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division of the Army of the Frontier. This was the Union military presence in one of the war's remote, yet still consequential, theaters: the rough border country of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. Arthur's entries for the last three months of 1862 describe the regiment's participation in several distinct expeditions or campaigns. The first was an expedition south to Cross Hollows, Arkansas; this and the return march to Wilson's Creek, Missouri, in rainy weather which left many in the regiment sick, are related in Arthur's diary entries for late October and November. The second, and most memorable, campaign was a forced march culminating in the battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas (7 December 1862). And in late December, the 20th reconnoitred south across the Boston Mountains to Van Buren on the Arkansas River, without significant result. After these months of campaigning, most of the winter and spring of 1863 were spent in camp, ultimately at Lake Springs, Missouri. The diary ends shortly after the regiment (newly attached to the Army of the Tennessee) left Missouri to participate in the great siege at Vicksburg.

Certainly the Arthur diary's most notable military content pertains to the battle of Prairie Grove — one of the few major set-battles in a theater typified by skirmishing and guerilla actions. The battle was the outcome of a Confederate offensive by Thomas Hindman against the Union division of James Blunt, positioned in northwest Arkansas more than one hundred miles south of the Army of the Frontier's two remaining divisions (commanded by Francis Herron). When on 3 December Blunt learned that Hindman was moving northwards against him, he telegraphed Herron to come to his support. The latter's troops — which included the 20th Wisconsin — moved southward with all possible speed, only to endure the brunt of the fighting on 7 December when Hindman maneuvered around Blunt to encounter Herron. The ensuing battle was a tactical stalemate but a strategic victory for the Union; the Confederates withdrew during the night and never again threatened Federal primacy in northwest Arkansas or in Missouri.

Arthur's entries for 3-7 December record the progress of what was, by all accounts, a remarkable march. According to the figures in the diary the troops covered 120 miles in under 96 hours, mostly by forced day marches; these figures are quite consistent with those elsewhere reported. Some troops completed the march barefoot; many others became stragglers. Of Prairie Grove itself Arthur has relatively little to say. But the testimonial written to his wife shortly after the battle ("Well Mary I have been in a severe hand to hand fight old soldiers say as severe as any fight that has been fought during the war") is, given the circumstances, understandable. Around noon the 20th Wisconsin and 19th Iowa were ordered forward up a wooded slope against what appeared to be the thinly defended Confederate right. On arriving at the summit of the ridge the Federals were counterattacked in strength and driven back down the hill. The 20th suffered over 200 casualties in perhaps fifteen minutes, including 50 killed — the greatest losses of any Union regiment engaged. Arthur himself was unhurt. The diary entry for the following day (8 December) suggests that as of 10 AM the Federals were still expecting to resume the battle, when in fact Hindman had slipped away during the night. The truce to which Arthur refers had been granted by Blunt at dawn, at Hindman's request; it was in fact a ruse, to discourage Federal pursuit. The same day Arthur was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, since one of Company I's officers, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Bintliff, had been killed in the battle. Arthur later speaks of raising $85.00 within the regiment for Bintliff's widow; Arthur and Bintliff were friends, and Bintliff, a Grant County preacher, had been instrumental in raising the company.

As the 20th Wisconsin pulled back to winter quarters the diary's content turns to the more predictable activities of camp life. Arthur comments on the weather, on his (seemingly extensive) correspondence, on drill, guard duty, and other military routine. As a newly minted officer — third in command in the company, in normal circumstances — he was responsible for a good deal of paperwork, and frequently mentions the names of enlisted men in this context. The final entry (12 June 1863) makes it clear that Arthur sent the diary home to his wife just prior to his unit's involvement at Vicksburg.

Arthur would serve with the 20th Wisconsin for the remainder of the war, being promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 30 March 1864. He was mustered out with the regiment on 14 July 1865. After the war he left the lead mines and turned to trade.

Bibliographic note: For a roster of the officers and men of the 20th Wisconsin see the Wisconsin Historical Society's online digital edition of the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Madison, 1886, at Reports in the Official Records relating to the Prairie Grove campaign appear in Series I, Volume 22, Part I, pp. 67-158, and in the Supplement, Part I, Volume 4, pp. 33-92. See also William L. Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, Chapel Hill NC, 2009. Thanks to James Hibbard, archivist at the SW Wisconsin Room at the University of Wisconsin Platteville's Karrmann Library, for his assistance researching this introduction.

Index of Diary

Front pastedown, 1rName and addressnd
1v, 2r[blank]nd
2v, 3rAccount of rations receivedSep 3 - 9, 1862
3v, 4rDiaryOct 20 - Nov 11, 1862
4v, 5rDiaryNov 12 - 21, 1862
5v, 6rDiaryNov 22 - Dec 6, 1862
6v, 7rDiaryDec 7 - 13, 1862
7v, 8rDiaryDec 14 - 29, 1862
8v, 9rDiaryDec 30, 1862 - Jan 11, 1863
9v, 10rDiaryJan 12 - 20, 1863
10v, 11rDiaryJan 21 - 29, 1863
11v, 12rDiaryJan 30 - Feb 6, 1863
12v, 13rDiaryFeb 7 - 13, 1863
13v, 14rDiaryFeb 14 - 19, 1863
14v, 15rDiaryFeb 20 - 25, 1863
15v, 16rDiaryFeb 26 - Mar 4, 1863
16v, 17rDiaryMar 5 - 10, 1863
17v, 18rDiaryMar 11 - 16, 1863
18v, 19rDiaryMar 16 - 19, 1863
19v, 20rDiaryMar 20 - 25, 1863
20v, 21rDiaryMar 25 - 30, 1863
21v, 22rDiaryMar 30 - Apr 2, 1863
22v, 23rDiaryApr 3 - 6, 1863
23v, 24rDiaryApr 6 - 10, 1863
24v, 25rDiaryApr 11 - 15, 1863
25v, 26rDiaryApr 16 - 19, 1863
26v, 27rDiaryApr 20 - 23, 1863
27v, 28rDiaryApr 24 - 27, 1863
28v, 29rDiaryApr 18 - May 1, 1863
29v, 30rDiaryMay 2 - 5, 1863
30v, 31rDiaryMay 6 - 9, 1863
31v, 32rDiaryMay 10 - 13, 1863
32v, 33rDiaryMay 14 - 17, 1863
33v, 34rDiaryMay 18 - 21, 1863
34v, 35rDiaryMay 22 - 25, 1863
35v, 36rDiaryMay 26 - 29, 1863
36v, 37rDiaryMay 30 - Jun 2, 1863
37v, 38rDiaryJun 3 - 12, 1863
38v, 39rDiary (38v); Accounts (39r)Jun 12, 1863 (38v); Feb 20 - Apr 8, 1863 (39r)
39v, 40rAccountsFeb 9 - May 18, 1863
40v, 41rAccountsJan 25 - Mar 23, 1863
41v, 42rAccountsJan 15 - Feb 28, 1863
42v, 43rAccountsJan 21 - Feb 4, 1863
43v, 44rAccountsFeb 2, 1863
44v, 45rPicket dutynd
45v, 46rAccount against John Bintliff (45v); Diary (46r)Aug 17 - Oct 9, 1862 (45v); Dec 27, 1862 - Jan 11, 1863 (46r)
46v, 47rDiaryDec 7, 1862
47v, Back pastedownDiaryJan 8, 1863

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