The 17th Arkansas Infantry was organized with 9 companies on August 1, 1861 in Fairfield, Yell County, Arkansas under orders of the Arkansas Military Board. The field and staff officers were Col. George W. Lemoyne, Lt. Col. S.W. Williams, and Major Lawrence of Danville, and adjutant William A. Dowdle of Conway County. The company commanders were: Co. A, Cpt. J.M. Dowdle, Conway county; Co. B, Cpt Bryan A. King, Conway county; Co. C, Cpt. Harsell, Pope county; Co. D, Cpt. John Mills, Yell county, Co. E, Cpt. John Perry, Johnson county; Co. F, Cpt. Bone, Yell county; Co. G, Cpt. Bull, Prairie county; Co. H, Cpt. J. Homer Scott, Pope county; and Co. I, Cpt William Herrod, Yell County. Maj. Lawrence was accidentally killed near Pocahontas on the march into Missouri, and Cpt. J.M. Dowdle was promoted to major in his place, Jordan E. Cravens then being elected from the ranks to replace Cpt. Dowdle as A Co. commander. After serving a short time in the garrison of Fort Pillow, TN, the regiment was held to duty in the vicinity of Memphis and in the early summer of 1862 was assigned to Rust's Brigade, Jones' Division in the Army of the West where it participated with distinction in the Corinth campaign and the battle of Corinth.
Maj Robert H. Crockett became Colonel of the regiment by promotion, and Cpt. W.N. Parrish was promoted to Lt. Col. "for gallant conduct on the field." After the Battle of Corinth on October 3-4, 1862, the 17th and 21st (McCarver's) Arkansas were consolidated into a single unit. Cpt. Jordan Cravens of Co. A was elected colonel of the consolidated regiment, which was thereafter known as the 21st Arkansas, and assigned to duties in the Army of Mississippi, defending Vicksburg, MS. The 17th/21st Arkansas participated in the battle of the Big Black River on May 17, 1863, and thence served in the garrison of Vicksburg during the 47-day siege of that place. The regiment was surrendered with the Vicksburg garrison on July 4, 1863. Col. Cravens was captured at the Big Black River and, with the other officers, was sent as a prisoner to Johnson's Island for the duration of the war.