The Delta of Arkansas and Mississippi in the 1850s was a hard place to live. There was disease, flooding and violence. It took a special kind of person to live there and this adventure is probably what attracted Archibald Stephenson Dobbins.
Archibald Dobbins was born around 1827 in Mount Pleasant located in Maury County, Tennessee. His parents were David Dobbins and Catherine Gilchrist. As a young boy he probably helped his father on their family farm. Young Archibald grew up in a fairly large family. On February 3, 1849 he married Mary Patience Dawson. Archibald and Mary were living with his parents on the 1850 U.S. Census in Maury County. Sometime after that census was taken, he and Mary moved to the Mississippi Delta as large numbers of others did in the mid 1800s. On the 1860 U.S. Census, Archibald is listed as living in Coahoma County, Mississippi. His neighbors included the Gillock and Montroy families near Moon Lake. Dobbins has a personal estate of $40,000 and owns real estate valued at $125,000 making him one of the wealthiest farmers in northern Coahoma County. Archibald and Mary have three children. Their names are Catherine born in 1853, Martha born in 1856 and Agnes born in 1858. All list Mississippi as their place of birth. Archibald also owned land in Arkansas near Helena. He called his home Horseshoe Island Plantation. In 1860 the Sheriff of Phillips County listed Dobbin’s taxable property at $92,205. Whether he was living in Phillips or Coahoma County in 1861 is not known, but at some point he sent his family back to Mt. Pleasant in Maury County. M. J.M. Dobbins and G. B. Dobbins are also living in Coahoma County. Both were brothers of Archibald. They were listed on the 1850 U.S. Census in Maury County, Tennessee. Their names appear under David Dobbins as M.J.M born about 1820 and Duncan B. being born about 1830.
M.J.M. Dobbins served as 2nd Lieutenant of Company H of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry. He was wounded at Peachtree Creek on July 20, 1864 and died August 11, 1864. On that record, he is listed as Milton J.M. Dobbins. He is listed as 41 years old and was mustered into service on April 10, 1862 at Grenada. He is identified as being born about 1819 in Tennessee on the 1860 census in Coahoma County. His personal estate value was $8,000 and real estate value at 40,000. He and his brother were living at Robson Landing. Milton’s brother is listed as being born about 1831 in Tennessee. On that record, his name appears as G.B. and he is a physician. It is known that Duncan was a doctor, so his name was apparently misspelled on the 1860 census. Duncan died in Maury County, Tennessee on August 25, 1903 and is buried at Lawrence Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant. No record of his service was found in the Civil War.
Archibald S. Dobbins records are not complete, but there is a hint to what he did before and during the war. Archibald signed a voucher at Tupelo, Mississippi June 20, 1862 for corn for the use of Biffle’s Cavalry. The 2nd Battalion, Tennessee Cavalry (Biffles) was organized at Camp Lee in Maury County, Tennessee. He appears on another voucher dated November 20, 1862 for 500 bushels of corn. Archibald was also mentioned by General Hindman as Volunteer aid de camp (A.D.C.) on December 7, 1862. On one record he is listed as being appointed Volunteer Aid De Camp and colonel for Major General Hindman in December 1862. This was in Hindman’s Corps, Army of the Trans-Mississippi. The Battle of Prairie Grove took place on December 7, 1862 so Dobbins was an aid to General Hindman during this conflict.
Not long after the Battle of Prairie Grove, Colonel Dobbins was given orders to organize the various Confederate units operating in and around Phillips County, Arkansas. These companies would eventually become the 1st Arkansas Cavalry in January 1863. His regiment was unassigned until May when it became part of an Arkansas cavalry brigade of General L.M. Walker’s Division. On July 4, 1863 Colonel Dobbins led his command in the Battle of Helena.
Official Report of Colonel Archibald S. Dobbins, Arkansas Cavalry dated July 5, 1863 in the field:
General L.M. Walker : I respectfully submit the following report of the movement of my regiment on the 4th ultimo:
According to your order I moved my regiment and battery of four pieces on the evening of the 3d from the Bouie Farm, on the Little Rock Road, 4 miles west of Helena, to the old Porter Farm east of Crowley’s Ridge, on the road leading from Helena to Sterling, a distance of about 15 miles, and remained at that place until 2 o’clock on the morning of the 4th; then moved down the road to a point here the mill road intersects the Sterling road, 1 1/2 miles north of Helena, where I dismounted 150 men, and sent them forward as skirmishers beyond the blockade to within three quarters of a mile of Helena and a short distance above the levee leading out from the hills. I then dismounted 150 more men, and sent them forward to the same point, and extended the line of skirmishers from the hills to the Mississippi River. I then drew up the remainder of the regiment in line of battle north of the blockade, about 400 yards in the rear of the line of skirmishers, and then awaited to hear the result of the attack made by General Marmaduke upon the battery and fortifications on Rightor Hill, and not learning anything definite, and discovering the enemy moving up between the levee and Mississippi River. I moved my battery forward, according to your order, and commenced firing on the enemy advancing, and also the enemy’s batteries playing upon General Marmaduke’s command and my front. I then advanced causing the enemy to fall back, moving their battery some 600 yards down the levee. About two hours after, the enemy again advanced, with artillery and a much larger force than at first. I again opened fire on them with my battery and small arms and with the assistance of a portion of Colonel Newton’s regiment, again caused them to fall back and move their battery farther down the levee, after which skirmishing was kept up until some three hours after the firing had ceased along our entire line, at which time I received your order to fall back slowly on the Grant Mill road, which I succeeded in doing without losing any men after I left the battlefield. The loss in my regiment, in the engagements, was 4 killed and 8 wounded- 1 mortally, 2 seriously, and 5 slightly.
After the defeat at Helena, a number of Confederate officers began to argue about why the army failed. One of these arguments was between Generals Lucius M. Walker and John S. Marmaduke. Their anger grew worse and eventually led to a duel between the two in which Marmaduke killed Walker. Dobbins, being a close friend of Walker, refused to serve under Marmaduke from that point onward. Things came to a boiling point during the campaign for Little Rock. Colonel Dobbins had assumed command of Walker’s division after that officer’s death. On September 10, 1863, Colonel Dobbins was in charge of the last line of defense at the Arkansas River when he began to fall back. He was met by General Marmaduke, who had assumed command of all cavalry forces. The two men began to argue after Dobbins again asserted he would not serve under Marmaduke. Colonel Dobbins was arrested for disobedience of orders. Though the army returned him to his command, the charges were not dropped. A court martial later found him guilty and General Holmes ordered him to be discharged. Nevertheless, the discharge was later dropped and Dobbins allowed to return.
On July 26, 1864 Colonel Dobbins defeated a Union force from Helena at the Battle of Wallace’s Ferry on Big Creek. In the fall of 1864, Colonel Dobbins led an Arkansas cavalry brigade in Price’s Missouri Raid and again his conduct was called into question. This occurred on September 27, 1864 in the attack on Pilot Knob, Missouri. Dobbins’ Cavalry Brigade was assigned to guard the sector where the Federal garrison eventually made its escape. One story has it that Dobbins was enticed by a lady to bring his troopers to her plantation for a barbecue leaving the escape route open. The Union forces escaped when Dobbins’ pickets mistook them for a Confederate column. This reflected badly on both Dobbins and his men.
“The Intrepid Dobbins” as he was nicknamed, largely escaped the disasters that befell Price’s army at the battles of Wesport and Mine Creek in October 1864. During the winter of 1864 and 65, Dobbins succeeded Acting Brigadier General Charles W. Adams as District Commander of North East Arkansas. It was at this point that he was appointed a brigadier general under the new cavalry leader M. Jeff Thompson. Before any official confirmation could take place though the civil war ended. For northeast Arkansas, the official end occurred at Jacksonport where Thompson officially surrendered on June 4, 1865. Apparently a number of Confederates had refused to surrender and made their escape westward toward Texas. Dobbins was among this number. He eventually was paroled as colonel, commanding a brigade, in Galveston, Texas on July 13, 1865.
Archibald Dobbins moved around after the war including Memphis and New Orleans attempting to start a new life for his family. It is believed his wife remained in Tennessee with his two daughters. One of the children had passed away during the war. With the South’s economy not in the best of shape however and unhappy with the direction of things, he then decided to follow many other Southerners out of the country. His friend Thomas Hindman was in Mexico, but Dobbins decided to go further south to Brazil. In a letter to his wife at Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, he wrote that, “I have been all over Europe and Brazil….I never intend to return to the States on account of my political difficulties.” He asked Mrs. Dobbins to come to Rio, located in what he termed, “the finest country in the world.” On November 26, 1867, Dobbins was at the port city of Santaren near the juncture of the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers. In a letter to his two daughters dated October 5, 1868, he wrote, “I am now on my own place thirty miles above Santarem.” In the same letter he hinted as to why he left by telling them, “your father was a soldier and did his duty from the beginning to the close of the war faithfully and fearlessly and hoped that after the war to be allowed to live in peace and make an honest living for his wife and children, but the cursed Yankees were not satisfied and drove him from his wife and children to a foreign land.”
On the 1870 U.S. Census, Mary Dobbins was living with two children Catherine and Agnes in Maury County, Tennessee. Later that year, Archibald’s brother Duncan returned from Brazil. He told the family that Brazil was impossible, but Archibald would not give up the idea. Mary’s last letter from her husband was dated August 29, 1869 from Itaituba which was a trading post 150 miles south of Santarem. In it, he relates that he is trying to construct a saw and gist mill employing semi savage local Indians. The family never heard from him again. Mary believed he was killed not long after the letter by these same Indians. Other stories have him living in Rio and still being alive in 1880. No one truly knows. He never returned home though. The widow Dobbins grew old living in Maury County, Tennessee telling her children the stories of their father. May Patience Dobbins passed away on September 27, 1916.
The Confederate settlements in Brazil and Mexico never became successful and many of the families who moved to the jungles of Latin America soon returned home. Although some of these families remained, and their offspring can still be found in Brazil celebrating their Confederate ancestors, most were like Archibald Dobbins. He had first moved to the wilds of the Delta along the Mississippi River, then fought during the bloody Civil War and finally met his end supposedly in Brazil. Archibald Dobbins is indeed a son of the Delta even though his remains aren’t found beneath the lush dark soil. He wouldn’t give up, he was looking for his own place, and that is what we do in My Delta.
Although never officially approved as a general, Archibald Dobbins is listed as being one of the seven generals from Phillips County, Arkansas in the Civil War. Years later a memorial stone was placed in Maple Hill Cemetery honoring him. His exact date and location of death is unknown.
Allardice, Bruce. More Generals in Gray, Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge 1995. pp 79 – 80.
Dobbins’ 1st Arkansas Cavalry, C.S.A., https://www.couchgenweb.com/civilwar/dobbhist.htm
Sesser, David. Archibald Dobbins, “The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture” Henderson State University 2017.
Dalehite, Bob. “Arch S. Dobbins.” “Philips County Historical Quarterly 4 (September 1965) 15 – 31.
Archibald S. Dobbins – Ranger 95
Archibald Dobbins – Ancestry.com
Local Maury Co. History – Elm Springs – Sons of Confederate Veterans. https://www.elmsprings.scv.org
General Archibald Stephenson Dobbins (1836 – 1867) Find a Grave Memorial. https://www.findagrave.com