During the American Civil War, Arkansas was a Confederate state, though it had initially voted to remain in the Union. Following the capture of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Abraham Lincoln called for troops from every Union state to put down the rebellion, and Arkansas and several other states seceded. For the rest of the war, Arkansas played a major role in controlling the vital Mississippi River and neighboring states, including Tennessee and Missouri.
It raised 48 infantry regiments for the Confederacy, mostly serving in the Western Theater, though the 3d Arkansas Infantry Regiment served with distinction in the Army of Northern Virginia. Major General Patrick Cleburne was the state’s most notable military leader. The state also raised some Union regiments, though these were mostly used for local anti-guerrilla patrols.
Numerous skirmishes as well as several significant battles were fought in Arkansas, including the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, a decisive one for the Trans-Mississippi Theater which ensured Union control of northern Arkansas. The state capitol at Little Rock was captured in 1863. By the end of the war, programs such as the draft, high taxes, and martial law had led to a decline in enthusiasm for the Confederate cause. Arkansas was officially readmitted to the Union in 1868.
The slave state of Arkansas was a part of the Confederate States during the American Civil War, and provided a source of troops, supplies, and military and political leaders. Arkansas had become the 25th state of the United States, on June 15, 1836, entering as a slave state. Antebellum Arkansas was still a wilderness in most areas, rural and sparsely populated. As a result, it did not have early military significance when states began declaring secession from the Union. State Militia forces seized the Federal Arsenal in Little Rock before Arkansas actually voted to secede. The small Federal garrison was forced to evacuate after a demand by Arkansas Governor Rector that the arsenal be turned over to state authority. At the beginning of 1861, the population of Arkansas, like several states of the Upper South, was not keen to secede on average, but it was also opposed to Federal coercion of seceding states. This was shown by the results of state convention referendum in February 1861. The referendum passed, but the majority of the delegates elected were conditional unionist in sympathy, rather than outright secessionist. This changed after the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion. The move toward open war shifted public opinion into the secessionist camp, and Arkansas declared its secession from the Union on May 6, 1861.
At the Arkansas secession convention in March 1861, Henry M. Rector, the Arkansas governor, addressed the convention in an oratory urging the extension of slavery:
The area of slavery must be extended correlative with its antagonism, or it will be put speedily in the ‘course of ultimate extinction.’… The extension of slavery is the vital point of the whole controversy between the North and the South… Amendments to the federal constitution are urged by some as a panacea for all the ills that beset us. That instrument is amply sufficient as it now stands, for the protection of Southern rights, if it was only enforced. The South wants practical evidence of good faith from the North, not mere paper agreements and compromises. They believe slavery a sin, we do not, and there lies the trouble.
— Henry Massey Rector, Arkansas Secession Convention, (March 2, 1861).
The Alabaman secession convention adopted several resolution explaining why the state was declaring secession. They stated that “hostility to the institution of African slavery” from the free states was the primary reason why the state was declaring that it had seceded from the United States. It also stated that the free states’ support for “equality with negroes”, which Arkansas was opposed to, was another reason.
Three years later, one Arkansan man, supported the view of the secession convention regarding slavery, stating that if the Union were to win the war, his “sister, wife, and mother are to be given up to the embraces of their present dusky male servitors.”
Arkansas Confederate units
Arkansas formed some 48 infantry regiments for the Confederate Army in addition to numerous cavalry and artillery battery units to serve as part of the Confederate Army. The 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles, and the 1st, 4th, and 6th Arkansas Infantries would go on to see considerable action as a part of Major General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Including those stated above, all but one infantry regiment and all of the cavalry and artillery units served most of the war in what was known as the “Western Theater”, where there were few battles that were on the scale of those in “Eastern Theater”. One infantry regiment, the 3rd Arkansas, served in the East for the duration of the war, thus making it the state’s most celebrated Confederate military unit. Attached to General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, the 3rd Arkansas would take part in almost every major Eastern battle, including the Battle of Seven Pines, Seven Days Battle, Battle of Harper’s Ferry, Battle of Antietam, Battle of Fredericksburg, Battle of Gettysburg, Battle of Chickamauga, Battle of the Wilderness, and the Appomattox Campaign.
Though it was with the Confederacy that Arkansas sided as a state, not all Arkansans supported the Confederate cause. Beginning with the fall of Little Rock to Union forces in 1863, Arkansans supporting the Union formed some eleven infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments, and two artillery batteries to serve in the Union Army. None of those saw any heavy combat actions, and few took part in any major battles. They served mostly as anti-guerrilla forces, patrolling areas that had heavy Confederate guerrilla activity. Another significant event brought on by the fall of Little Rock was the relocation of the state capital. Initially state government officials moved the capital offices to Arkadelphia, Arkansas, but it remained there for only a short time, being moved deeper into Confederate occupied territory, in Washington, Arkansas, where it would remain for the rest of the war.
By the end of the war, many of the Arkansas regiments were serving with Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, and most were with that Army when it surrendered on April 26, 1865, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Noted Arkansas commanders
Arkansans of note during the Civil War include Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne. Considered by many to be one of the most brilliant Confederate division commanders of the war, Cleburne is often referred to as “The Stonewall of the West.” Also of note is Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, a former United States Representative, who commanded Confederate forces at the Battle of Cane Hill and Battle of Prairie Grove. Brigadier General Albert Rust, through his political influence, helped to form the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, and until his promotion to general commanded that regiment. He later commanded forces at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Battle of Shiloh, ultimately serving under General Sterling Price. Colonel Van H. Manning took over command of the 3rd Arkansas following Rust’s promotion, and was commended for bravery in several engagements, most notably at the Devil’s Den during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Arkansas State Troops provided the bulk of forces for the second major battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in southeastern Missouri. Although this first major battle in the western theater was a victory for southern forces, the Arkansas forces moved back to Arkansas and in a dispute over transfer to Confederate Authority, were disbanded. Remaining Confederate Forces in Arkansas were transferred east of the Mississippi River in the fall of 1861, and spent the remainder of the war serving in that theater.
General Earl Van Dorn was dispatched to Arkansas early in 1862 to build a new force. General Van Dorn led his new Army of the Frontier into the Battle of Pea Ridge in late February 1862. This battle was a defeat for southern forces and led to the loss of northwest Arkansas. Immediately following the battle of Pea Ridge General Van Dorn transferred his forces east of the Mississippi River in an attempt to support Confederate Forces in what would become the Battle of Shiloh. Although General Van Dorn’s force arrived too late to participate in the battle, they remained east of the Mississippi River for the remainder of the war.
In April 1862 when General Van Dorn left the state, Brigadier General Roane refused to go with Van Dorn because Roan believed that Arkansas Troops should be left to defend their state. Van Dorn detached Roane and left him in command of all military forces in Arkansas, but he did not leave Roane any organized body of troops to command.
General Roane approached the Governor of the State Henry M. Rector, for assistance in raising new forces. Governor Rector told General Roane to stop any troops then within the state for the state’s defense. There were four companies of the 12th Texas Cavalry at Pine Bluff at the time waiting on a steamboat to take them to Memphis where their Colonel, Parsons, was waiting for them with the two companies of the regiment who were en route to join Van Dorn at Corinth Mississippi per Van Dorn’s orders. The remainder of the 12th Texas Cavalry were at Little Rock and Benton heading to Pine Bluff for transportation.
On May 1, 1862, Governor Rector, feeling that Union General Samuel Curtis’ army was on the way to capture Little Rock, abandoned Little Rock and moved the state Government to Hot Springs, Arkansas. So for the first three weeks of May 1862 there was no military or State Government at Little Rock. General Roane went to Pine Bluff and enlisted the help of Major General James Yell commander of the Arkansas State Militia and began recruiting for a new Army of the Southwest in the Department of Arkansas. General Yell was a “States Defense first” advocate and lent his power to aiding Roane along with Arkansas Confederate State Senator Colonel Robert Johnson also of Pine Bluff. These three men were the backbone of the newly reconstituting Army of the Trans Mississippi Department. The companies which eventually became the 26th Arkansas Infantry Regiment had started the recruiting process before General Van Dorn left the state and had just been organized when General Roane moved his headquarters to Pine Bluff from Little Rock.
Governor Rector in the meantime sent dispatches to President Jefferson Davis threatening to secede from the Confederacy unless he sent some sort of support. Which Davis did in the form of the CSSPontchartrain and CSS Maurepas. The State Government did not return to Little Rock until the Pontchartrain arrived and a week later Gen Thomas C. Hindman arrived to take command from Roane, and ordered all troops at Pine Bluff to Little Rock.
General Hindman was dispatched to take command of what had been designated as the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi. Through rigorous enforcement of new Confederate conscription laws, Hindman was able to raise a new army in Arkansas. Union forces threatened the state capitol of Little Rock in the summer of 1862, but settled for occupying the city of Helena and turning it into a major logistical hub.
General Hindman sent numerous requests for arms back across the Mississippi River. Many weapons were transferred to the Trans Mississippi District from Vicksburg in what became known as the “Fairplay Affair”. A shipment of 11,000 arms arrived at Pine Bluff from Vicksburg by way of Monroe, La. out of a shipment of 18,000 that were originally sent. 5,000 of those 18,000 were captured on the steamer Fair Play by the Union and 2,500 of them went to General Richard Taylor’s army in Louisiana. These weapons had come from the arsenal of eastern Confederate states that had been returned to the state arsenals as the Confederates had re-equipped themselves with the better captured Union arms. These guns were the castoffs and unusable weapons from the various state armories which had been returned to those armories after the Confederate armies east of the Mississippi had been re-equipped from the “Battlefield Quartermaster” of 7 Days, 2nd Manassas and Harper Ferry.
General Hindman’s aggressive tactics caused complaints that he was ruling by martial law, which led the Confederate Government to dispatch General Holmes to assume command of the new Department of the Trans-Mississippi. General Hindman was retained in command of the I Corps of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Hindman led this new force, composed largely of conscripts, in an attempt to clear northwest Arkansas of Union forces. The offensive ended in defeat at the Battle of Prairie Grove in Northwest Arkansas in December 7, 1862.
When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, Union forces were in occupation of northwestern Arkansas. Local Union commanders, who had been aggressively enforcing the Confiscation Acts to grant freedom to slaves of rebel owners, put the proclamation into effect immediately, freeing many slaves in the area.
General Hindman was transferred east of the Mississippi to the Army of the Tennessee, leaving General Holmes and General Price in command in Arkansas. Holmes moved his army across the state and attacked the Union supply depot at Helena in an attempt to relieve federal pressure on Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Confederate attack was repulsed at the Battle of Helena on July 3, 1863. The Federals followed up this victory by moving against the state capitol at Little Rock, which fell to the Union army in early September 1863. Confederate forces retreated to southwestern Arkansas and a new Confederate State capitol was established at Washington, Arkansas in Hempstead County.
With the Union base at Helena now secure, Maj. Gen. Fred Steele decided it was time to seize the state capitol at Little Rock. General Price, commanding District of Arkansas in place of General Holmes, opposed Steele’s advance with his cavalry forces, while strengthening the northern approaches to the city. Clashes occurred at Brownsville, West Point, Harrison’s Landing, Reed’s Bridge, and Ashley’s Mills (or Ferry Landing). Steele ultimately out flanked Price’s defensive preparations by crossing the Arkansas River and attacking from the south side of the river. Confederate forces opposed this attack at the Battle of Bayou Fourche, near the current Bill and Hillary Clinton International Airport, but ultimately General Price decided to abandon the city rather than risk being trapped in a siege operation.
The next major action in Arkansas was the Camden Expedition (March 23 – May 2, 1864). Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele and his Union troops stationed at Little Rock and Fort Smith were ordered to march to Shreveport, Louisiana. There, Steele was supposed to link up with a separate Federal amphibious expedition which was advancing up the Red River Valley. The combined Union force was then to strike into Texas. But the two pincers never converged, and Steele’s columns suffered terrible losses in a series of battles with Confederates led by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price and Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the Battle of Marks’ Mills, Battle of Poison Spring and the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry. Ultimately Union forces managed to escape back to Little Rock where they basically remained for the duration of the war.
The victory by Confederates in the Red River Campaign and its Arkansas segment, the Camden Expedition, opened a brief window of opportunity for Arkansas Confederates. Missouri General Joseph Shelby was dispatched to northeast Arkansas with his cavalry brigade and began recruiting. Throughout the summer of 1864, Confederate strength in northeast Arkansas steadily grew with many men who had either deserted from their previous commands or become separated, returning to Confederate Service. The last formation of new Confederate units occurred during this time with the formation of the 45th through the 48th Arkansas Mounted Infantry Units. Several existing Arkansas Units were converted to Mounted Infantry and dispatched to northeast Arkansas. Shelby was eventually able to seriously threaten vital Union lines of communication along the Arkansas River between Helena and Little Rock, and for a while it appeared that Confederates would mount a serious attempt to retake the Capitol in Little Rock. However, Confederate authorities in Richmond were pressuring General Kirby Smith to dispatch some of his infantry to reinforce Confederate armies east of the Mississippi. This caused an uproar with the Arkansas confederate infantry units, and as a compromise, General Smith approved a plan by Major General Sterling Price to organize a large scale raid into Missouri that would coincide with the November 1864 Presidential Elections.
Many Arkansas troops participated in the last Confederate offensive operation in the Trans-Mississippi Department, when General Price led a large cavalry raid into Missouri in the fall of 1864. Following Price’s defeat at the Battle of Westport in on October 23, 1864, most of the Arkansas cavalry units returned to the state and were furloughed for the remainder of the war.
When the war ended, the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment surrendered with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865. The remnants of Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division of Arkansas Troops surrendered with the Army of Tennessee at Bennett Place near Durham Station, North Carolina on April 26, 1865. The Jackson Light Artillery was among the last of the Confederate troops east of the Mississippi to surrender. The Jackson Light Artillery aided in the defense of Mobile and surrendered with the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. The battery spiked its guns and surrendered at Meridian, Mississippi, May 11, 1865. The Arkansas infantry regiments assigned to General E. Kirby Smith’s Department of the Trans-Mississippi were surrendered on May 26, 1865. When the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered, all of the Arkansas infantry regiments were encamped in and around Marshall, Texas, as war-ravaged Arkansas was no longer able to provide adequate sustenance to the army. The regiments were ordered to report to Shreveport, Louisiana, to be paroled. None of them did so. Some soldiers went to Shreveport on their own to be paroled, but the regiments simply disbanded without formally surrendering. Most of the Arkansas Cavalry Units were surrendered by Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, Commander of the Military Sub-District of Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. General Thompson agreed to surrender his command at Chalk Bluff, Arkansas on May 11, 1865, and agreed to have his men assemble at Wittsburg and Jacksonport, Arkansas to lay down their arms and receive their paroles. The cavalry units formally surrendered and were paroled at Wittsburg, Arkansas on May 25, 1865 or at Jacksonport, Arkansas on June 5, 1865. Many smaller commands surrendered at various Union posts, including Fort Smith, Pine Bluff and Little Rock in May and June 1865.
The Fort Smith Council was a series of important meetings held at Fort Smith in September 1865 that were organized by the United States government for all Indian tribes east of the Rockies. The purpose was to discuss the future treaties and land allocations following the close of the Civil War. Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress readmitted Arkansas in June 1868.
Battles in Arkansas
The following is a list of American Civil War engagements fought in Arkansas between 1862 and 1865:
|Battle of Arkansas Post||January 9, 1863||January 11, 1863|
|Action at Ashley’s Station||August 24, 1864||August 24, 1864|
|Battle of Bayou Fourche||September 10, 1863||September 10, 1863|
|Skirmish at Brownsville||August 25, 1863||August 25, 1863|
|Battle of Cane Hill||November 28, 1862||November 28, 1862|
|Battle of Chalk Bluff||May 1, 1863||May 2, 1863|
|Battle of Dardanelle||January 14, 1865||January 14, 1865|
|Battle of Devil’s Backbone||September 1, 1863||September 1, 1863|
|Battle of Dunagin’s Farm||February 17, 1862||February 17, 1862|
|Battle of Elkin’s Ferry||April 3, 1864||April 4, 1864|
|Action at Fayetteville||April 18, 1863||April 18, 1863|
|Action at Fitzhugh’s Woods||April 1, 1864||April 1, 1864|
|Action at Fort Smith||July 31, 1864||July 31, 1864|
|Battle of Helena||July 4, 1863||July 4, 1863|
|Battle of Hill’s Plantation||July 7, 1862||July 7, 1862|
|Battle of Ivey’s Ford||January 17, 1865||January 17, 1865|
|Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry||April 30, 1864||April 30, 1864|
|Skirmish at Jonesboro||August 2, 1862||August 2, 1862|
|Skirmish at L’ Anguille Ferry||August 3, 1862||August 3, 1862|
|Battle of Marks’ Mills||April 25, 1864||April 25, 1864|
|Action at Massard Prairie||July 27, 1864||July 27, 1864|
|Battle of Mount Elba||March 30, 1864||March 30, 1864|
|Battle of Old River Lake||June 5, 1864||June 6, 1864|
|Battle of Pea Ridge||March 6, 1862||March 8, 1862|
|Battle of Pine Bluff||October 25, 1863||October 25, 1863|
|Skirmish at Pitman’s Ferry||October 27, 1862||October 27, 1862|
|Battle of Poison Spring||April 18, 1864||April 18, 1864|
|Action at Pott’s Hill||February 16, 1862||February 16, 1862|
|Battle of Prairie D’ Ane||April 9, 1864||April 14, 1864|
|Battle of Prairie Grove||December 7, 1862||December 7, 1862|
|Battle of Reed’s Bridge||August 27, 1863||August 27, 1863|
|Battle of Saint Charles||June 17, 1862||June 17, 1862|
|Battle of Salem||March 13, 1862||March 13, 1862|
|Skirmishes at Taylor’s Creek and Mount Vernon||May 11, 1863||May 11, 1863|
|Action at Wallace’s Ferry||July 26, 1864||July 26, 1864|
|Battle of Whitney’s Lane||May 19, 1862||May 19, 1862|