Samuel Madison Corley was born in 1809 at Shelbyville in Rutherford County, Tennessee. On July 13, 1829 he married Esther Priestley at Wilson, Tennessee. They would have four children together and Samuel would soon become involved with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Feeling the need to spread the Christian faith, he moved his family to Clarksville, Texas where Corley became pastor at Shiloh Church. Within a short time he became very popular and was soon preaching at a number of surrounding churches as well. Things seemed to be going great for the family until 1842 when Esther passed away. Pastor Corley was never the same after and soon began to wander from his Texas home.
On May 1, 1847 Samuel Corley became a private in Captain Sims Company of the First Texas Regiment Mounted Volunteers in the war with Mexico. He only served one month though and was mustered out on June 5th. Returning home he took over leadership of the Clarksville Female Academy. By 1849 Corley had become military chaplain at Fort Towson in the Indian Territory. He would serve at that post until December 31, 1852 when he moved to Arkansas. Samuel Corley took over the Cumberland Church in Helena and lived near James C. Tappan. As the Civil War began to approach he threw his support to the Confederacy.
The Second Arkansas Infantry was organized at Helena in June 1861 under Colonel Daniel S. Govan and the hard work of General Thomas S. Hindman. Samuel Corley enlisted as chaplain of the new regiment and followed them to Tennessee. Unhappy with his assigned duties though, he resigned November 2, 1861 and returned to Helena.
On January 25, 1862 Samuel Corley wrote the following letter to Major General Albert Sidney Johnson:
I have a cavalry company now ready for organization to serve three years or during the war. Will you receive us and furnish us subsistence, transportation, etc. We need saddles, bridles, holsters and whatever else the government can furnish. We shall arm with double barrel shot guns, sabers and the best pistols we can get. We shall also wish the government to furnish holsters. Please inform me by telegraph or letter.
By May of 1862 Captain Samuel Corley and his company are stationed at Fort McCulloch in the Choctaw Nation. In August 1862 he draws rations for 121 horses and 24 mules for his command who are in the field. Sometimes his men were known as Corley’s Spies because they knew the territory around Helena so well. By early 1863 he and his men have become company A of Colonel Archibald S. Dobbins First Arkansas Cavalry. Samuel Corley is promoted Major. With this command he participates in the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863. After the army’s defeat, the First Arkansas falls back with the rest of the army.
In August 1863 Union General Frederick Steele began his campaign to capture the Arkansas state capital of Little Rock. His cavalry left Helena first and then Steele marched out with 6,000 infantry. Soon bolstered by reinforcements Steele’s army grew to nearly 15,000 men supported by forty nine cannons. To confront this massive force the Confederates gathered about 1,200 cavalry under Colonel Dobbins along a twelve mile stretch of the Arkansas River. The following engagement would be known as the Battle of Bayou Fourche.
The Battle of Bayou Fourche took place on September 10, 1863. Dobbin’s Regiment was under the command of Major Samuel Corley. His men covered the retreat of the Confederate artillery to Bayou Fourche without any casualties. They then confronted the entire Federal command firing at the advancing enemy, It was at this point that the gallant Major Corley fell. He had just said a prayer, “Blessed be the Lord God, who teacheth my fingers to battle, and my hands to war.” Corley then began to wave his sword to encourage his men when he was shot in the chest. With their leader now down, his men quickly retreated leaving the mortally wounded Corley to be captured.
A Union officer promised the pastor to send his effects back to his family. Major Corley died the next day on September 11th. Carrol Corley, the Major’s servant, was sent over to the Confederate lines with Major Corley’s horses, sword, watch and other personal effects. They then buried him in a peach orchard near the battle field. Years later Corley’s remains were removed to the Confederate Cemetery at Helena by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Reverend Samuel Madison Corley – Cumberland Presbyterian. http://www.cumberland.org
Hanley, Ray & Hanley, Steven. “Remembering Arkansas Confederates and the 1911 Little Rock Veterans Reunion” Arcadia Publishing. 2006, Charleston S.C.
“Register of Officers and Agents: Civil, Military and Naval in the service of the United States” September 30, 1851. Washington, D.C. Gideon and Company Printers. 1851.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union And Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 22, page 541 and 542.