Early life and career
James F. Fagan was born in Louisville, Kentucky. When he was ten years old, his family moved to Little Rock, the capital of the recently created State of Arkansas. His father had been hired to work on the Old State House. His father died during his youth and his mother, Catherine A. Fagan, in 1842 married Samuel Adams, who became Governor of Arkansas two years later.
After his stepfather's death, Fagan took control of the family farm along the Saline River in southern Arkansas. Though he was a member of the Whig Party, he represented the heavily Democratic Saline County for one term in the Arkansas state legislature. Fagan served in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War in the 1st Arkansas Volunteer Cavalry under General Archibald Yell and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
At the start of the Civil War, Fagan raised a company for the Confederate Army and became its captain. When his unit was folded in with the 1st Arkansas Infantry, Fagan was elected as colonel of the combined 900-man regiment. They were formally mustered into service in Lynchburg, Virginia in May 1861. His regiment was a part of the first wave of Confederate attacks under Albert Sidney Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh. He also participated in the battle at Farmington, Mississippi, on May 9 and the Siege of Corinth, but fell into disfavor with his superior officer, Braxton Bragg. He was soon transferred to the Trans-Mississippi District, where he fought at Cane Hill and Prairie Grove in command of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry.
Fagan was promoted to brigadier general on September 12, 1862, and commanded a brigade entirely composed of Arkansas regiments. He played a central role in the Battle of Helena, where he and his brigade made repeated assaults on Federal artillery batteries. He assumed command of Sterling Price's division upon the latter's promotion, and played a role in the successful defense of Little Rock.
He participated in the Arkansas portion of the Red River Campaign and played a central role in the battles during the Camden Expedition, including the successful destruction of a Federal supply train at the Battle of Marks' Mill, which led to the Federal retreat from southern Arkansas. In recognition for his service in the Camden Expedition, Fagan was promoted to major general on April 24, 1864, and commanded the Arkansas division of Confederate cavalry during Price's Raid into Missouri. His division broke in a "disgraceful manner" during the failed assault on Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, Missouri. During Price's withdrawal from Missouri and Kansas, Fagan and Marmaduke's divisions were overwhelmed at the Battle of Mine Creek. The end of the war found Fagan in command of the District of Arkansas of the Trans-Mississippi Department, which was active militarily until late April 1865.
General Fagan's first wife was the sister of General William Nathan Rector Beall. He was also related by marriage to Governor Henry Massey Rector.
Fagan was not paroled by the U.S. government until June 20, 1865. After his parole, he returned to his farm to make a living. Fagan participated in the Brooks-Baxter War of Arkansas in 1874, serving as Joseph Brooks main commander, despite Fagan's former service as a Confederate officer. He was appointed United States Marshal by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875. He served as a receiver for the United States Land Office in 1877. In 1890, he ran for Arkansas Railroad Commissioner, but was defeated.
James Fleming Fagan died in Little Rock, Arkansas. He is buried at the historic Mount Holly Cemetery in that city.
The Gen. James Fleming Fagan Camp #280 of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars was named in his honor.
- Civil War Battlefield Guide, Second Edition, Kennedy, Francis H., 1998, Houghton & Mifflin
- Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
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