The Richmond Register

January 1, 2013

Three Confederate officers at Battle of Richmond became governors of Arkansas

One officer meets future wife at Madison County Fair


Special to the Register

RICHMOND — Three Confederate officers at the 1862 Battle of Richmond may have been on the Civil War’s losing side, but they achieved political success in Arkansas, where each became governors.

One was running for office even as he chased Union soldiers through the Richmond Cemetery at the battle’s conclusion. Another returned to Richmond for a post-war visit and married a woman from a prominent Richmond family.

These are brief accounts of their lives.

Harris Flanagin

Harris Flanagin, a native of New Jersey, was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1842. He later was a delegate to the Arkansas Secession Convention.

Although educated in New Jersey Quaker schools, he would become a soldier as a middle-aged lawyer in Arkansas. He began his career by teaching school in Pennsylvania and then Illinois, where he studied law. Flanagin moved to Arkansas in 1839 at age 22 and settled in Arkadelphia. By 1850, he owned 2,500, 13 town lots, six slaves and furniture worth $1,000, a valuable amount for that time and place.

He entered the war as a captain, fought two battles and was promoted to colonel before taking part in Kirby Smith’s Kentucky campaign.

Although relatively unknown in the fall of 1862, Flanagin defeated an unpopular incumbent to become Arkansas’ seventh governor.

His role as the state’s chief political leader became irrelevant after Confederate forces abandon the state capital Little Rock in 1863. The federal government appointed a new governor the following year.

After the war, Flanagin revived his law practice, served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1872 and to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1874. He died that year at age 56.

James P. Eagle

Born in Tennessee, James P. Eagle’s family moved to Arkansas when he was a teenager. He was a sheriff’s deputy when he enlisted in a Confederated mounted rifle unit.

He served in Gen. Thomas Churchill’s division at the Battle of Richmond, seeing most of his action in the battle’s final stages around the Richmond Cemetery.

Eagle finished the war as a lieutenant colonel, participating in campaigns throughout the western theater

Returning to Arkansas, he became a wealthy farmer and was elected a legislator in 1872 and a delegate to the state’s 1874 constitutional convention.

After serving as speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, Eagle was elected governor in 1888 and 1890. His terms saw improvements in prison reform and support for education. He was instrumental in the drive for woman suffrage and opposed many of the racially discriminatory laws enacted by the legislature.

While governor, Eagle welcomed U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, the first time a sitting president had visited the state. A very religious man, Eagle also was a Baptist minister and served 24 years as president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention.

As did other soldiers who fought in Battle of Richmond, Eagle attended the 1870 Madison County Fair. During his visit, he met Mary Kavanaugh Oldham and married her 12 years later.

Mary’s brother, William K. Oldham, also was governor of Arkansas, serving for a short time in 1913.

Eagle died in 1904.

Thomas J. Churchill

Thomas Churchill was a Louisville native educated at St. Mary’s College in Bardstown who studied law at Transylvania University in Lexington.

He served as first lieutenant with the Kentucky Rifles in the Mexican War in which he was captured in 1847.

After the conflict that added vast amounts of territory to the United States, including what are now California, Arizona and New Mexico, Churchill moved to Little Rock, Ark., where he came postmaster in 1857.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Churchill recruited a mounted rifles regiment and fought in one battle before being promoted to brigadier general in March 1862.

His division, made up mostly of Arkansas infantry and Texas dismounted cavalryman, fought gallantly at the Battle of Richmond, according to Phillip Seyfrit, Madison County historic properties director.

A few of Churchill’s Arkansas troops were among the first “sharpshooters,” or snipers, used in the Civil War’s western theater.

Churchill’s sharpshooters were in the vicinity of Pleasant View, the Kavanaugh Armstrong house, when his division flanked the federal forces during the battle’s first phase.

The action caused the Union right flank to collapse just south of the Mt. Zion church.

To surprise the federal troops, Churchill sent his men on a dangerous march through a hidden ravine. The maneuver became known as “Churchill’s Draw.”

Churchill’s men also figured prominently in the fighting around Duncannon Lane and in the Richmond Cemetery.

Later in the war, he was promoted to major general and fought in the Red River campaign.

After the war, Churchill returned to Arkansas where he was state treasurer from 1874 until 1880, when he was elected governor by a large margin.

While Arkansas’ chief executive, Churchill made strides in the areas of heath care and education, including creation of a normal school at Pine Bluff to train black teachers, now the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

On the down side, Churchill’s gubernatorial term was marred by claims of shortages while he was treasurer. However, Churchill made good on the debts, and the shortages later were found to be bookkeeping errors.

Churchill died in 1905, and was buried dressed in his Confederate uniform.

He was the last surviving general of the Battle of Richmond.