Traveling through Arkansas last spring, I tried to wrap my head around the Civil War as it played out there.
Like, what happened here? At some point did a Union army march through here?
In Arkansas in 1860, there were 435,450 total residents counted in the census.
Of these, 111,115 or about 20% were slaves.
There were 11,481 slaveowners in Arkansas.
And 144 free colored people.
Much of Arkansas at that time was wilderness. The big plantations were down in the Delta, the low bottom country in the south and east of that state, along the alluvial Mississippi floodlands, seen here on Raven’s excellent topographical map.
Here on the 1861 Coast Survey map of slave population, we can see where Arkansas slaves were:
Everyone needs a getaway once in a while. A getaway from the job, the house, the day-to-day routine and yes, even those that mean the most to us – our families.
reads the copy on this guide to touring the still-standing plantation houses of Arkansas. Presumably a getaway was not an option in 1860 for the 111,115 slaves.
In May, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the United States. At the secession convention, Isaac Murphy was one of the few no votes:
The convention voted to take Arkansas out of the Union, but Murphy and four other delegates opposed this step. The convention chair called on the five to switch their votes. All four of the other “nay” delegates changed their votes, but Murphy refused. Initially his position was popular in Huntsville, but as the war went on, Confederate sentiment increased.
About a year later, in spring, 1862, Union General Samuel Curtis marched in from Missouri, leading volunteer regiments from Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana (mostly). At the battle of Pea Ridge he drove back the Confederate forces sent to stop him.
Curtis kept on marching his army across Arkansas, following more or less the course of the White River.
As Curtis marched along, he picked up thousands of freed slaves.
Curtis was stifled in his effort to capture Little Rock by lack of supplies (his guys were pretty much living off the land) and by the forces raised by Confederate general Thomas Hindman.
Gregory J. W. Urwin summarizes:
Hindman’s General Orders Number 17 instructed “all citizens from this district” to organize themselves into ten-man companies under elected captains and start killing Yankees. An estimated 5,000 men responded to this summons by August 1862. They may not have been a decisive factor in Samuel Curtis’ failure to take Little Rock, but they aroused the ire of Union forces by picking off sentries and couriers, ambushing small patrols and foraging parties, and firing on gunboats and transports. Federal commanders announced that they would hold civilian responsible for any guerrilla activity occurring in their vicinity. When warnings failed to restrain the irregulars, details of Union soldiers and sailors began burning small hamlets or individual houses and barns. This retributive strategy caused many Arkansans to abandon their homes in the delta and north of the Arkansas River, but it did not suppress guerrilla depredations.
Curtis and his army (and irregular army of freed slaves) crossed the state, and reached Helena, on the Mississippi river. From there he could be resupplied by river since by now the Confederate river navy had been pretty much destroyed. Memphis had fallen, giving a clear path along the Mississippi north of Vicksburg.
As for Hindman, he got a fort named after him, at Arkansas Post, where the Arkansas River forks off and heads towards Little Rock. This was in important spot, and some Confederates from Texas held it until the Union Navy came up there in January, 1863, and blew it away.
Hindman was replaced by Theophilus Holmes
Jefferson Davis begged Holmes to bring his troops out to help relieve the tightening siege at Vicksburg, across the river in Mississippi. But Holmes had his own problems. Says Wikipedia (lifting from Walter Hilderman’s biography):
For the most part, the Confederate forces in this remote area were little more than a disorganized mob of militia scattered across all corners of the state. There were few weapons available and even fewer modern ones. The soldiers for the most part had no shoes, no uniforms, no munitions, no training, organization, or discipline, a situation worsened by the fact that many communities in Arkansas had no government above the village level. People did not pay taxes or have any written laws and strongly resisted any attempt to impose an outside government or military discipline on them. Soldiers in the Arkansas militia did not understand the organization of a proper army or obeying orders from above. Even worse, many of them were in poor physical condition and unable to handle the rigors of a lengthy military campaign. Holmes for his part believed that he could muster an army of about 15,000 men in Arkansas, but there would be almost no competent officers to lead it anyway. Further compounding his difficulties were multiple Union armies converging on the state from all sides. In this situation, Holmes wrote to Richmond that if by some miracle, he could organize the Arkansas militia into an army and get them across the Mississippi River, they would simply desert as soon as they got to the east bank.
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg fell. On that day, a bit late, Holmes attacked the Union forces at Helena, Arkansas
but they were blasted away both by Union troops in the city and massive gunboats in the river. A disastrous, pointless defeat, too late to do any good even if it hadn’t failed.
With the fall of Vicksburg (and the last ditch failure at Helena) the Union had control of the entire Mississippi River. Gen. Fredrick Steele was sent out across the river and into Arkansas:
Steele and his army of Wisconsins, Illinoisians, and German immigrants arrived in Little Rock by September, 1863. The Confederate state capitol had been moved to Washington, Arkansas.
When spring began in 1864, Steele marched his army toward Washington, AR. (Here is an excellent map of how this went down). Steele had something like 7,000 soldiers. Steele was supposed to eventually meet up, in Shreveport, Louisiana, with General Nathaniel Banks and his 30,000 guys from the Department of the Gulf.
Traveling cross country in this hot and hostile part of the world was not easy. By the time Steele got to Camden, Arkansas, his guys didn’t have anything to eat, and word reached him that Banks’ army had been stopped anyway.
Steele had with him the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, and he sent them out to collect some food. At Poison Spring, they were surrounded by the Confederate Second Indian Brigade or Choctaw Brigade.
I’ll let Confederate Colonel Tandy Walker tell the story:
I feared here that the train and its contents would prove a temptation too strong for these hungry, half-clothed Choctaws, but had no trouble in pressing them forward, for there was that in front and to the left more inviting to them than food or clothing—the blood of their despised enemy.
They set on the 1st Kansas Colored.
In all, the 1st Kansas lost nearly half of its numbers.
After this defeat, running out of food, with the planned meetup unlikely to come off, Steele decided to retreat back to Little Rock. When he got as far as Jenkins Ferry, in the pouring rain, he realized the Confederates were about to catch up to him. So he had his guys dig in. Steele’s troops killed some unknown number of the attacking Confederates.
What a mess that must’ve been. After the turnaround of the Camden expedition, the Union army stayed near their bases in the cities. Confederate marauders rode all over the place. Colonel Marcus LaRue Harrison led the Unionist 1st Arkansas Cavalry:
Harrison established a network of fortified “farm colonies,” populating them with the families of men who swore to serve in home guard companies. Anyone living within ten miles of a colony had to join it or was assumed to be a bushwhacker.
I agree with Naval Institute, interviewing Shelby Foote.
Naval History: It has always been frustrating that the Western rivers get hardly any play in Civil War History.
Foote: Well, the whole Western theater gets hardly any play. I sometimes think that the people in this country who know less about the Civil War than any other one group of people are Virginians. They may know a little more than South Dakotans, but that’s about all.
They think that the war was fought in Virginia, while various widespread skirmishes were going on out West. The opposite is closer to the truth
Looking for more info about Jenkins Ferry I found this picture on the Grants County Museum page, seems like the situation in that area has improved.
Most of the Confederate regiments raised in Arkansas served in the western theater. An exception was the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment was sent to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, only 144 men of the Third Arkansas remained out of the 1,353 mustered into it from the start of the war
Here is their battle flag.
After the failure of the Camden expedition, the Confederates had about 100 encampments in south Arkansas. Where do I get that number? From this incredible book:
This book is a digitized version of the maps Confederate engineer Richard M. Venable made in 1864. Venable and his guys were only able to reconnoiter the southern 29% of the state. I’m not sure whether that was because the northern portion was in Union hands and they couldn’t go there, or if that was just the resources they had, at a time when the Confederates in Arkansas were operating in the south, and might have to make moves further south or west.
The maps in this book are incredibly detailed, you can see, for example, which homesteads in Lafayette County had female heads of household, and which were the houses of widows.
Here’s a thorough review of the book. I was really impressed by it, it’s rare to find historic maps at this level of detail and readability, as the review notes, this was “obviously a labor of love.” How much need you have in your home for a detailed atlas of 1864 Arkansas is for you to determine, but for me it did make the past come alive. If you’re doing any traveling in the state of Arkansas and you’ve read this far in HelyTimes, consider investing in a copy. (hell I’ll loan you mine.)
When did the Civil War really end in Arkansas? In a special election in 1863, Isaac Murphy was elected governor:
He presided until 1868. By 1874 there was close to an armed conflict over who would run Arkansas, and that was pretty much the end of Reconstruction in the state.
The following 35 governors of Arkansas, ruling for a total of 90 years, were all Democrats, until Republican Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in 1966 defeating James D. Johnson.
Maybe the Civil War ended in Arkansas when federal troops integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1956-7.
Or maybe it ended with the election of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.
Shouldn’t you be allowed to vote for whoever you want?
I remember the anger at the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. I get it. I voted for Al Gore, I loved Al Gore, Al Gore is like my dream politician (boring experienced intellectual veteran centrist conservationist globalist). But the people who voted for Nader get to vote for Nader! Al Gore didn’t earn their vote. They don’t owe Al Gore a rotten fig. You can’t be mad at the people who voted for someone else for not cynically falling into line to vote for an establishment centrist they didn’t prefer.
Same deal with Susan Sarandon! She can vote for whomever she wants, cool for her for having interesting choices. You’re gonna blame her for Trump? Blame the woman who had an absolute slam dunk layup election on her hands, who had many advantages, enormous amounts of money, her husband was a very popular President of the United States two Presidents ago, for failing to convince enough voters to vote for her.
Dr. Jill Biden, in New Hampshire, says:
You have to swallow a little bit and say, ok, I personally like so and so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.
If you check out the video you can also see Joe Biden’s first campaign ad, which highlights how “all the polls agree” Joe Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump.
Quit your thinkin’, voter, this one’s been decided for you. Who’re you gonna believe, your judgment or some polls we pulled together?
The whole premise of the Biden campaign makes me sick. This is a guy who was a weak, confused candidate who couldn’t stop himself from making stuff up and plagiarizing not just speeches but the family histories of other politicians when he was in his prime! And now he is… guess how old Joe Biden is.
Did you guess 72? 74?
Joe Biden is seventy-six years old! He will be seventy-eight if he takes the oath of office in Jan 2021. Eighty-two at the end of his first term.
What has Joe Biden done with his life? I get that he was Obama’s pretend best friend, but really, who is a person who in Joe Biden’s thirty-eight some years of public life he really helped? Uplifted?
(skimming his Wikipedia page)
OK I guess he did stand up for Delaware’s chicken farmers, Delaware’s banks, and in many ways benefitted the people of Delaware (by getting them federal taxpayer money). He was an advocate for Delaware, a state with a population of about one-quarter of the city of Los Angeles.
Where has he been on the big issues? He voted against the “good” Iraq War, the one we won, and for the bad one, the one that was a stupid, deceitful, horrible disaster from start to… finish? I guess it’s over? For us?
(Oh no wait we still have five thousand troops there.)
Joe Biden is sometimes said to know a lot about foreign policy but he was exactly wrong on the biggest American disaster of my lifetime.
Biden has said, “I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I’ve crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate.”
OK, well that is cool, but didn’t the same bill also eliminate higher education for inmates and create new death penalty offenses?
The argument I hear for Joe Biden is that white Rust Belt working class men, who are alleged to have cost Hillary Clinton the election in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc, like him. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, I am not a white Rust Belt working class man.
I do think that:
1) the group credited with “swinging” the last election is never the group credited with swinging the next one
2) it’s not my job as a voter to put myself in the hypothetical mindset of some possible swing voter in another state and attempt to pander to their whims in order to take out the current whim-panderer.
It’s my job to choose the candidate who I try and suss out has the best character, judgment, and policy understandings and preferences to be the President of the United States.
For a campaign to suggest anything else, to suggest five months before the first primary/caucus that voters should shut up and get in line, that this is your only option, is so insulting I can scarcely believe it.
We try not to be all negative at Helytimes, so in the interest of saying something nice about Joe Biden he does have a great smile.
What a name for a place.
between 1150-1350 these structures were built in, around, and above this canyon:
Gotta check that out sometime:
Was this era in the American Southwest something like roughly the same period, the early 12th century in Ireland:
To be glib, early medieval Ireland sounds like a somewhat crazed Wisconsin, in which every dairy farm is an armed at perpetual war with its neighbors, and every farmer claims he is a king.
Or was Hovenweep perhaps something more like a monastery?
Some Anasazi taking the Benedict Option?
Thought this was a good trip report from Hovenweep.
Got to Hovenweep trying to read about traditional architecture in the American desert regions. What kinds of buildings have people with few tools and tech built? What lasts?
This guy took on the challenge of building a pit house and kiva.
Easier than a kiva would be a false kiva:
My assistant shows us the height of the walls.
This part of the fort was too well defended to explore.
Note the width of the walls. This suggests fairies of significant size. Not inconceivable that these fairies stood as high as five or even six apples.
The inhabitants of the fort wallow in safety.
Many forts like this can be found in Ireland, sometimes billed as “Iron Age forts.” When was the Iron Age?
The Iron Age is taken to end, also by convention, with the beginning of the historiographical record. This usually does not represent a clear break in the archaeological record; for the Ancient Near East the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire c. 550 BC (considered historical by virtue of the record by Herodotus) is usually taken as a cut-off date, in Central and Western Europe the Roman conquests of the 1st century BC. The Germanic Iron Age of Scandinavia is taken to end c. AD 800, with the beginning Viking Age.
The distant and mysterious past, in other words.
Insight into the “crazed Wisconsin” period of Irish history.
In fact, land in pre-twelfth century Ireland had little political value. Although there were rich plains, it was not a farming culture but a decentralized grazing one in which wealth was measured in cattle. There were no cities, and the kingdoms, which rarely had roads or clearly defined boundaries, were separated by a dense forests and bogs, which were more of a deterrent to travel (or easy military movement) than the mountains. A reading of the sometimes-cryptic early annals suggests and endless series of battles and cattle raids. To be glib, early medieval Ireland sounds like a somewhat crazed Wisconsin, in which every dairy farm is an armed at perpetual war with its neighbors, and every farmer claims he is a king.
Some tite illustrations in the book:
For a dip into Irish history, you can’t top:
The illustrations go a long way towards telling the story.
It’s not all bad.
Edward McGuire’s portrait of Seamus Heaney.
Ryan then took questions. This was the first one: “The President made some new false statements yesterday, notably that there are major terrorist attacks that the media, essentially, isn’t covering. Are you getting concerned at all about his grasp of the truth?”
Ryan shrugged his shoulders.
[…finally he answers]
“Look,” he said. “I’m going to do my job. I’ll let you guys do yours with respect to how you report, or what you don’t report. The problem is we do have a war on terror in front of us. We do have isis trying to conduct terror attacks across the globe. This is a real serious problem. And what I am focussed on is doing our job and making sure our law-enforcement authorities, our military, have the tools to keep us safe.”
Paul Ryan has a real shot at going down in history as a pristine example of cynical soul-selling.
Are the Republicans really for:
- the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual
- sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”
- the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia
- societal norms and public order
- the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society
- the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions
- a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere
Is DT making things better, stronger, or greater on any of those fronts? How’s his prudent statesmanship? What message does he send on virtue, morality, character, stability? He’s rich (maybe) but does he demonstrate industry and thrift? How’s he on education to inculcate good character and teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia? “Family values?”
The Republican Party did this to us. Reince Priebus, Trump chief of staff, is an old Wisconsin buddy of Paul Ryan.
The best case is Paul Ryan is trading all the other values for fighting “the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions” but even he must know by now he’s fighting cannibalism by signing up with a bigger, worse cannibal.
Best case for Ryan is he makes it harder for people to pay for health care first.
Good luck! Get ‘im, Scott Pelley!
This book is so full of compelling anecdotes, character studies, and surprising, valuable lessons of leadership that I kind of can’t believe I got to it before Malcolm Gladwell or David Brooks or somebody scavenged it for good stories.
Consider how hard it would be to get fifteen of your friends to leave for a road trip at the same time. How much coordination and communication it would take, how likely it was to get fucked up.
Now imagine trying to move 156,000 people across the English Channel, and you have to keep it a surprise, and on the other side there are 50,350 people waiting to try and kill you.
Even at a lower scale, say a brigade, a brigadier general might oversee say 4,500 people and hundreds of vehicles. Those people must be clothed, fed, housed, their medical problems attended to. Then they have to be armed, trained, given ammo. You have to find the enemy, kill them, evacuate the wounded, stay in communication, and keep a calm head as many people are trying to kill you and the situation is changing rapidly and constantly.
Being a general is a challenging job, I guess is my point.
I saw this post about Gen. Mattis, possible future Secretary of Defense, on Tom Ricks blog:
The story was so compelling that I immediately ordered Mr. Ricks’ book:
A fantastic read. Eye-opening, shocking, opinionated, compelling.
The way that Marc Norman’s book on screenwriting works as a history of Hollywood:
The Generals works as a kind of history of the US since World War II. I’d list it with 1491: New Revelations On The Americas Before Columbus as a book I think every citizen should read.
The observation that drives The Generals is this: commanding troops in combat is insanely difficult. Many generals will fail. Officers who performed well at lower ranks might completely collapse.
During World War II, generals who failed to perform were swiftly relieved of command. (Often, they were given second chances, and many stepped up).
Since World War II, swift relief of underperforming generals has not been the case. The results for American military effectiveness have been devastating. Much of this book describes catastrophe and disaster, as I guess war is even under the best of circumstances and the finest leadership.
Ricks is such a good writer, so engaging and compelling. He knows to include stuff like this:
Ricks describes the catastrophes that result from bad military leadership. How about this, in Korea?:
What kind of effect did this leadership have, in Vietnam?:
He discusses the relationship of presidents and their generals:
Here is LBJ, years later, describing his nightmares:
Ricks can be blunt:
Hard lessons the Marines had learned:
A hero in the book is O. P. Smith
who led the Marines’ reverse advance at the Chosin Resevoir, when it was so cold men’s toes were falling off from frostbite inside their boots:
The story of what they accomplished is incredible, worth a book itself. Here’s Ricks talking about the book and Smith.
A continued challenge for generals is to understand the strategic circumstances they are operating under, and the political limitations that constrain them.
Recommend this book. One of the best works of military history I’ve ever read, and a sobering reflection on leadership, strategy, and the United States.