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By George Rugg
The author of this 1863 Confederate cavalryman's diary never identifies himself by name, nor does he specify his regiment. But a comparison of internal evidence with available records permits an attribution to Thomas Jacob Barb (1842-1899), a private and corporal then serving in Lucius M. Walker's division in the army's District of Arkansas. In his entry for 21 July, the author notes that "to day I was made corporal of Geo W. Rutherford's company" (8r). Rutherford was captain of Company D in the 1st (Dobbin's) Arkansas Cavalry Regiment; the author's service with this unit is confirmed by much else in the diary, including the mention of a number of other men who served in the company. The author also specifies his age (he turned 21 on 5 September 1863; 16r) and his residence (in or near Batesville, Independence County, Arkansas; 3r, 8v). All this information is consistent with surviving records pertaining to Barb, the son of Elkanah D. and Louisa Davis Barb, born 5 September 1842 in Athens, Alabama.
The 1860 census identifies Thomas Barb (or "Bart," as the enumerator recorded the name) as a clerk, residing with his parents and four siblings on the family farm in Ruddell Township, outside Batesville. Barb enlisted in the Confederate service at Batesville in July 1862. At the time of the diary's first entries (June 1863) he was already a member of Dobbin's Cavalry, formed the previous April under the command of Colonel Archibald S. Dobbin. A younger brother, Gustavus Henry Barb (1843-1929), served alongside Thomas in Company D.
The Barb diary is a leather-bound volume (14 cm) of 18 leaves; leaves 3 to 18 (with pages numbered 1 to 32 in manuscript) contain dated diary entries. These entries extend from 18 June to 11 September 1863; all but eleven days are accounted for during this span. Typical entries are 20 to 50 words in length. There are, in addition, several pages of accounts. Barb appears to have kept the diary entirely in pencil; subsequently, about half the entries (3r to 11v) were traced over in black ink, in what is probably Barb's hand. Entries on one additional page (18v) are traced over in ballpoint. On the back pastedown appears the inscription: "This is a confederate soldier diary — where I captured it I do not now remember. HRC". A second inscription, in a different hand, identifies "HRC" as Lieutenant Hugh R. Creighton of the Union army's 2nd Arkansas Cavalry.
The military content of the diary is notable, as Barb provides a careful account of his movements during a significant phase of the Trans-Mississippi war. In fact, the diary's contents are bracketed by two Confederate defeats that left the Federals in control of the state of Arkansas north of the Arkansas River. In his entries of late June and early July, Barb describes the failed attack of the Confederate general Sterling Price on the Federal base at Helena, on the Mississippi (4 July). It was from this point that Union forces mounted an expedition against the capital of Little Rock, on the Arkansas, later that summer. Barb has a good deal to say of this forty day campaign, which ended with Price's evacuation of the city on 10 September. His entries of 25 to 27 August describe the cavalry engagements around Brownsville and Bayou Meto, just east of Little Rock. And he was involved in the sharpest fighting of 10 September, at Bayou Fourche, as the Confederate cavalry contested the Federal advance long enough to allow the outnumbered infantry to withdraw from the town. Barb's assertion in the entry for 10 September that "the big expected fight for our capitol is come and gone and wasent nothing but a skirmish the cavalry done all the fighting" was quite accurate — as was his observation that, after Little Rock, desertion rates in Price's army were very high.
In his entries of 6 and 7 September Barb mentions one of the bizarre incidents of the Little Rock campaign — and indeed, of the entire Trans-Mississippi war. This was a duel fought on the morning of 6 September, as the Federals were closing in on Little Rock, by Barb's division commander, Lucius M. Walker, and fellow division cavalry commander John Sappington Marmaduke. The duel resulted from a challenge by Walker provoked by Marmaduke's accusations of cowardice; it resulted in Walker's death.
Records of Barb's later service are sketchy, citing only his parole at Jacksonport, Arkansas, in 1865. After the war he farmed in Marion County in north-central Arkansas. He was married at least twice, to Mary Summers (1867) and to Mary Palmer Mason (1879). On 3 February 1899 the Yellville, Arkansas Mountain Echo reported that "Thomas Barb of Denton's Ferry died last Friday night. It is thought he, too, drank some of the wood alcohol." The week before, the paper had reported the deaths of three other men, who had "confiscated" a jug of wood alcohol from a drug store in Mountain Home, Baxter County.
Bibliographic note: For a roster of the officers and men of Dobbin's 1st Arkansas Cavalry, see the compilation by Wanda Ridge at http://www.couchgenweb.com/civilwar/dobbindx.htm. Reports in the Official Records relating to the Confederate attack on Helena appear in Series I, Volume 22, Part I, pp.383-442; see especially 433-38. Reports relating to the Little Rock campaign appear in Series I, Volume 22, Part I, pp.468-544; see especially 520-44. For the Walker-Marmaduke affair see Leo E. Huff, "The Last Duel in Arkansas," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 23 (Spring 1964), 35-49. For an overview of the summer's campaigns see Thomas A. DeBlack, "1863: 'We Must Stand or Fall Alone'", in Mark K. Christ, ed., Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas, Fayetteville AR, 1994, pp. 59-103. many thanks to Nancy Britton, editor of the Independence County (Arkansas) Chronicle, for her assistance researching this introduction.
Index of Diary
||DATE(S) OF ENTRIES
|Front Pastedown, 1r||Accounts||Jun 6|
|1v, 2r||Accounts, Diary||19 Jun|
|2v, 3r||Accounts, Diary||Jun 18, 1863|
|3v, 4r||Diary||Jun 21 - 27, 1863|
|4v, 5r||Diary||Jun 28 - Jul 4, 1863|
|5v, 6r||Diary||Jul 5 - 7, 1863|
|6v, 7r||Diary||Jul 8 - 16, 1863|
|7v, 8r||Diary||Jul 16 - 22, 1863|
|8v, 9r||Diary||Jul 24 - 27, 1863|
|9v, 10r||Diary||Jul 28 - 31, 1863|
|10v, 11r||Diary||Aug 1 - 5, 1863|
|11v, 12r||Diary||Aug 6 - 9, 1863|
|12v, 13r||Diary||Aug 10 - 20, 1863|
|13v, 14r||Diary||Aug 21 - 25, 1863|
|14v, 15r||Diary||Aug 26 - 28, 1863|
|15v, 16r||Diary||Aug 9 - Sep 6, 1863|
|16v, 17r||Diary||Sep 7 - 9, 1863|
|17v, 18r||Diary||Sep 10, 1863|
|18v, Back Pastedown||Diary, Endorsements||Sep 11, 1863|