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.
besides Hitler and Munich and stuff! A lot of other things happened in the history of the world!
Reread Larry McMurtry’s short life of Crazy Horse.
Discovered something new: when No Water shot Crazy Horse for running away with his wife Black Buffalo Woman, he borrowed the gun he used from Bad Heart Bull.
This Bad Heart Bull was an uncle of Amos Bad Heart Bull, the ledger artist, who made this drawing of the death of Crazy Horse:
At the time of his death, Amos’ sketchbook was given to his younger sister, Dolly Pretty Cloud. In the 1930s, she was contacted by Helen Blish, a graduate student from the University of Nebraska, who asked to study her brother’s work for her master’s thesis in art. When Pretty Cloud died in 1947, her brother’s ledger book full of drawings was buried with her.
Before they were buried, the drawings were photographed by Blish’s professor, Hartley Burr Alexander, and they’re reprinted in this volume:
Amos Bad Heart Bull was only one of the Ledger Artists.
Much Ledger Art can be seen digitally through the Plains Ledger Art Project at UC San Diego.
Amos Bad Heart Bull’s work is vivid:
A literal translation of the Lakota word čhaŋtéšiče is “he has a bad heart”, but an idiomatic meaning is “he is sad.” Tȟatȟáŋka Čhaŋtéšiče would likely have been understood in the same way “Sad Bull” would be in English. When Lakota names are translated literally into English, they may lose their idiomatic sense.
Crazy Horse, Little Bighorn, these names alone are compelling enough. Cavalrymen wiped out to the last man on the plains, these stories are interesting, or they have been to me as long as I remember.
This book couldn’t’ve been more what I wanted. I first discovered it when TV commercials for the miniseries aired.
In my opinion the miniseries is damn good, but the book! Part of what makes it so compelling is Connell sees how the telling of what happened, the attempt to figure out what happened, is as interesting as what happened itself. The history of the history is as interesting as the history.
Connell starts his book with the troopers who discovered the stripped and mutilated bodies on the hillside, then takes us on a digressive journey towards how this happened, what happened, and what it all might mean, if anything.
Wikipedia presents this disputed picture of Crazy Horse. It cannot be him. He would never. At Fort Robinson?? A desolate prairie outpost? This was taken in a city. Etc. From what we know of Crazy Horse, this is the opposite of what he would do.
But who knows? Who is it? Ghosts appear and disappear.
Crazy Horse had a daughter named They Are Afraid of Her. She died, probably of cholera, McMurtry says, when she was three.
How about the legend of what happened at the Baker Fight:
In the middle of a frantic battle a man sits on the grass and smokes a pipe.
This occurred during what is sometimes called the Arrow Creek Fight, or the Baker Fight.
found that here.
Once spent some time on Google Maps trying to find the site of the Baker fight.
While reading about one of the few white men Crazy Horse trusted, Doctor Valentine McGillycuddy:
I find a reference to a thirteen volume set, Hidden Springs of Custeriana.
The hunt for hidden springs in the long pored-over records of the past. The ledger photographed, then buried in Nebraska.
The famous King moments are so burned into our collective dream history that they can lose their freshness. .
Somewhere recently I came across a clip of the line at 0:40 above, truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.
A quote from
James Russell Lowell. The Present Crisis, which he wrote in 1844, when he was deep in abolitionism.
King returned to this line often.
Good reminder that truth being on the scaffold and wrong being on the throne is not a new problem.
This movie is on HBO this month. I saw the movie in the theater and thought it was pretty good. It really captured the batty, Lewis Carroll eccentricity element of Churchill and the British Parliament.
But one thing that I was wondering about was the title. I remembered a story I’d heard years ago about Churchill visiting Harrow in 1941. The schoolboys sang a new verse to an old song:
When Churchill visited Harrow on October 29 to hear the traditional songs again, he discovered that an additional verse had been added to one of them. It ran:
“Not less we praise in darker days
The leader of our nation,
And Churchill’s name shall win acclaim
From each new generation.
For you have power in danger’s hour
Our freedom to defend, Sir!
Though long the fight we know that right
Will triumph in the end, Sir!”
Churchill didn’t care for the word darker. In his speech to the school he said:
You sang here a verse of a School Song: you sang that extra verse written in my honour, which I was very greatly complimented by and which you have repeated today. But there is one word in it I want to alter – I wanted to do so last year, but I did not venture to. It is the line: “Not less we praise in darker days.”
I have obtained the Head Master’s permission to alter darker to sterner. “Not less we praise in sterner days.”
Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.
Getting all that from the National Churchill Museum.
I believe this Wikipedia page is inaccurate:
“The Darkest Hour” is a phrase coined by British prime minister
Did he coin this phrase?
Winston Churchill to describe the period of World War II between the Fall of France in June 1940 and the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 (totaling 363 days, or 11 months and 28 days), when the British Empire stood alone (or almost alone after the Italian invasion of Greece) against the Axis Powers in Europe.
Perhaps he uses it in his volumes of history, which I don’t have at hand. But that’s not the source Wiki cites. In the cited “Finest Hour” speech, Churchill did use the phrase “darkest hour,” but to refer to what a sad period this was in French history:
The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many Frenchmen-and of our own hearts-we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle.
I bought screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s book:
on Kindle and did a search. Unless I’m missing something, I can find no other time in the book where Churchill himself is quoted using the phrase “darkest hour.”
So, the movie about Churchill uses for its title a term that Churchill himself specifically asked people not to use.
My question as always: is this interesting?
Those songs are just in my genes, and I couldn’t stop them comin’ out. In a reincarnative kind of way, maybe. The songs have got some kind of a pedigree to them. But that pedigree stuff, that only works so far. You can go back to the ten-hundreds, and people only had one name. Nobody’s gonna tell you they’re going to go back further than when people had one name.
(Bob Dylan interview with Jonathan Lethem in Rolling Stone.)
Picture it: Philadelphia, Friday, May 25, 1787.
The convention is getting started. First job is to choose a president. Mr. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania nominates George Washington of Virginia.
Mr Jn RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous, and observing that the presence of Genl Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might be otherwise be proper.
General Washington was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the chair by Mr R. Morris and Mr. Rutlidge; from which in a very emphatic manner he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.
That’s George Washington, the guy who had just defeated the British Empire, who held the Continental Army together over seven horrible years on the strength of his own character. He begins this job with an expression of humility. An apology for any involuntary errors.
Then Madison adds, in a parenthetical:
Happy Fourth of July everybody!