Arkansas in the American Civil War

State of Arkansas
National Flag (1861–1863)[1]
Great Seal (1864–1865)
Nickname(s): None
Capital Little Rock (1861–1863)
Washington (1863–1864)
Largest city Little Rock
Admission to Confederacy  May 18, 1861 (9th)
Population 435,450 Total
* 324,335 free
* 111,115 slave
Forces supplied Total
* soldiers
* sailors
* marines
Major garrisons/armories  Fort Smith
Little Rock Arsenal
Governor Henry Rector (1861–1862)
Harris Flanagin (1862–1864)
Lieutenant Governor None
Senators Robert Johnson (1862–1864)
Charles Mitchel (1862–1864)
Augustus Garland (1864)
Representatives List
Restored to the Union June 22, 1868

Arkansas had initially voted to remain in the Union. But after Lincoln called for troops from every Union state to put down the rebellion after the capture of Fort Sumter, it seceded and then played a major role in controlling the Mississippi and neighbouring states.

Arkansas raised 48 infantry regiments for the Confederacy, mostly serving in the Western theatre, though the 3rd Arkansas 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.

The Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862 ensured Union control of Northern Arkansas, and Little Rock was captured in 1863. Programs such as the draft, high taxes, and martial law led to a decline in enthusiasm for the Confederate cause. The state was 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. Arkansas declared its secession from the Union on May 6, 1861, as the ninth of the eleven slave-states to join the Confederacy.


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).[2]

The Arkansan 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.[3]

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."[4]

Arkansas Confederate units

Main articles: List of Arkansas Civil War Confederate units, Book:Arkansas Confederate Infantry Units, Book:Arkansas Confederate Cavalry Units, and Book:Arkansas Confederate Artillery 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.[5][6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.

Major campaigns

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. Many of these units would eventually be assigned to Patrick Cleburne's division of the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the remnants would surrender with that army in North Carolina at the close of the war.

General Earl Van Dorn was dispatched to Arkansas early in 1862 to build a new force. After a call for the raising of additional companies by Governor Rector, General Van Dorn led his new Army of the West, into the Battle of Pea Ridge, March 6–8, 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 was ordered to transfer his forces east of the Mississippi River to reinforce Confederate forces in northern Mississippi, near Corinth. Van Dorn's forces, would be heavily engaged in operations around Corinth in the summer and fall of 1862. Brigadier General Evander McNair's brigade of the Army of the West would eventually find its self assigned to the Confederate Army of Tennessee and it's remnants would finally surrender with that army in North Carolina at the close of the war. Other parts of the Army of the West and several Arkansas regiments which had previously served at Fort Donaldson and Island No. 10, would find themselves trapped in the Siege of Vicksburg and the Siege of Port Hudson in the summer of 1863.[9]

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 left Roane virtually no organized forces to defend the state.

General Roane approached the Governor Henry M. Rector, for assistance in raising new forces. Governor Rector told General Roane to stop any troops passing through the state and utilized them 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. 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 Robert Johnson also of Pine Bluff. These three men were the backbone of the newly reconstituting Army of the Trans-Mississippi Department. Governor Rector in the meantime sent dispatches to President Jefferson Davis threatening to secede from the Confederacy unless he sent some sort of support. Davis's answer came in the form form of the CSS Pontchartrain and CSS Maurepas which were dispacted to Little Rock. The State Government did not return to Little Rock until the Pontchartrain arrived and a week later Maj. 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.[10]

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 Seven Days Battles, Second Manassas and Harper Ferry.[11]

General Hindman's aggressive tactics caused complaints that he was ruling by martial law, which led the Confederate Government to dispatch General Theophilus H. 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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. Confederate forces retreated to southwestern Arkansas and a new Confederate State capitol was established at Washington, Arkansas in Hempstead County.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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 remnants of 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.[18] The Arkansas infantry regiments assigned to General E. Kirby Smith's Department of the Trans-Mississippi were surrendered on May 26, 1865.[19][20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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 Civil War battles fought in Arkansas:

Battle Start End
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

See also


  1. "Neither Arkansas nor Missouri enacted legislation to adopt an official State flag" (Cannon 1994, p. 48).
  2. Arkansas Secession Convention. 1861. p. 4.
  3. The Journal of the Arkansas Secession Convention. Arkansas. 1861. pp. 51–54. Retrieved March 19, 2016.
  4. Key, Thomas (April 10, 1864). "Diary entry". Arkansas. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
  5. Joslyn, Maurial P. (January 1996). ""For Ninety Nine Years or the War" The Story of the 3rd Arkansas at Gettysburg". The Gettysburg Magazine (14). Archived from the original on 22 April 2004. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  6. Brig. Gen. J.B. Robertson's Official Report (OR) For The Battle Of Gettysburg
  7. History - Arkansas Troops
  8. arhonor
  9. Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford Univ. Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  10. Neal, Diane (1997). The Lion of the South: General Thomas C. Hindman. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press. p. 216. ISBN 0-86554-556-1.
  11. Doyle Taylor, "Re: Artillery Transfers" Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 16 May 2004, Accessed 17 December 2012.
  12. Hilderman, Walter C. III Theophilus Hunter Holmes: A North Carolina General in the Civil War. McFarland & Company Inc., 2013. ISBN 978-0-7864-7310-6.
  13. Ira Berlin et al., eds, Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867, Vol. 1: The Destruction of Slavery (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 260
  14. Bearss, Edwin C. "The Battle of Helena, July 4, 1863", Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn, 1961, Vol. 20.
  15. Burford, Timothy Wayne, and Stephanie Gail McBride. The Division: Defending Little Rock, August 25–September 10, 1863. Jacksonville, AR: WireStorm Publishing, 1999.
  16. Bearss, Edwin C. Steele's Retreat from Camden and the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry. Little Rock: Arkansas Civil War Centennial Commission, 1967.
  17. Sinisi, Kyle S. The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.) xviii, 432 pp.
  18. Howerton, Bryan R., "Jackson Light Artillery (Thrall's Battery)", Edward G. Gerdes Civil War Page, Accessed 30 January 2011.
  19. Howerton, Bryan, "1st, 2nd & 3rd Consolidated Arkansas Infantry Regiments", Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 26 July 2011.
  20. Field, Ron, The Confederate Army, 1861–1865 (4), Virginia & Arkansas, Osprey Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-1-84603-032-1, page 23
  21. Howerton, Bryan, "Re: 17th/1st/35th/22nd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.", Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 26 October 2011, Accessed 26 October 2011.
  22. Howerton, Bryan R. "Re: Jacksonport 1865 surrender list?" Archived April 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board, Posted 1 January 2004, Accessed 1 January 2012.


Further reading

External links

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