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.
During a speech in November 1957 Eisenhower employed the saying again. He told an anecdote about the maps used during U.S. military training. Maps of the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe were used during instruction before World War I, but educational reformers decided that the location was not relevant to American forces. So the maps were switched to a new location within the U.S. for planning exercises. A few years later the military was deployed and fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine: 2
I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.
I remember learning at the Nixon library about Nixon’s writing routine when he wrote this book in a house in Apple Valley, CA:
He used a Dictaphone or wrote longhand, working in seclusion, according to Esquire Magazine.
For breakfast, he ate a bowl of Grape Nuts and drank a can of orange juice. He wrote until noon, then paused for a ham sandwich.
Believe I first heard Eisenhower’s quote from Jeff Melvoin at a WGA showrunner training like mini-camp. I’ve found it profound.
One time a female Uber driver told me the secret to winning over women is “plan ahead.”
A brief skim of Eisenhower images on NARA.GOV leads us to this gem
This book is an excellent size and weight. Small, portable, yet solid. It’s published by the Naval Institute Press, they who took a chance on an unknown insurance man named Tom Clancy who’d written a thriller called The Hunt For Red October.
Amazon suggested this book to me as I was browsing translations of Sun Tzu. Military history has interested me since I was a boy, maybe because 1) the stakes are so high and 2) the stories are so vivid. Metaphors and similes drawn from famous war events are powerful and stark. Consider for example Friedman’s description of the Battle of the Bulge:
… Although the Germans had caught the Allies at their culminating point, the Germans reached their own far too early. Newly created infantry units were filled with hastily trained and inexperienced conscripts. These green units could not effectively hold the territory gained by the leading panzer units. On 22 December the fog cleared and Allied air units hammered the German formations from the skies. Despite the prestaged fuel reserves, panzer units still ran out of fuel, just when they needed it to escape the Allied aerial counterattack.
Buried in there is a tactical lesson, and also an intense story about some poor children getting blown up right before Christmas.
The author was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. If I understand right, might make this book the equivalent of a book called like Writing A Hit TV Show by a staff writer. But Friedman seems like he’s gone deep on the knowledge, and there’s a quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni on the back. Good enough for me.
Alexander The Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, vice just reading – the men who have gone before us. We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience.
So goes a quote from James Mattis that opens this book. Friedman cites the example of Cortes in 1520 CE, referring to written accounts of Alexander’s battle at Gaugamela eighteen hundred years before to design his tactics against the Mexica/Aztec.
What is strategy? What is tactics? Where do they divide? Friedman summarizes Clausewitz:
Clausewitz divided warfare into tactics, actual combat between opposed military forces, and strategy, the latter being the overarching plan for using tactical engagements to achieve the ends as set forth by policy… The strategy acts as a bridge between the tactical actors (military forces) and the desired political end state of the entity those forces serve.
Much of this book is summaries of Clausewitz, really and Sun Tzu as well. How could it not be?
What I thought I remembered most of all from Clausewitz is the concept of Figerspitzengefühl, fingertips-feel, a sensing of what’s going on, and where. But I don’t have my copy of Vom Kriege at hand, and searching for fingerspitzengefühl it seems possible the term may be of later origin. Maybe it was discussed in the introduction.
Clausewitz is very concerned with will, the imposing of one’s will on the enemy, breaking the will of the enemy. Given the time and place where Clausewitz was coming from, 1800s what’s now-Germany, I can’t help but think this idea of will was connected to other philosophers like Kant who were pondering the meanings and dimensions of will around then.
Friedman picks up on the idea of will, or what he refers to as moral cohesion. He digs in on the idea of destroying the enemy’s moral cohesion.
Clausewitz defined the destruction of an enemy as “they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight” (emphasis added). This does not mean that the enemy force must be totally destroyed. Indeed, he went on to say, “when we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must be considered. In other words, breaking the moral cohesion of the opposing force is destruction of that force as an effective unit and the true goal of tactics.
In a whole chapter on moral cohesion, Friedman quotes Marine Major Earl “Pete” Ellis speaking of how important it was to marines fighting insurgents in the Philippines to believe that the United States was acting from “purely altruistic motives.” Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is quoted as well: “In general, defeat occurs when the enemy believes he is beaten… Defeat is a psychological state.”
Friedman brings out Clausewitz’s concept of “the center of gravity,” too, and points out, in a thought-provoking way that it’s not totally clear what Clausewitz meant or understood by “gravity,” and what Clausewitz understood about physics. Clausewitz died in 1831 — have we even figured out gravity now? Clausewitz noted that the center of gravity could be a capital city, an ally, the shared interests of an alliance, particular leaders, or popular opinion. The North Vietnamese correctly located the center of gravity of the US in the Vietnam War as American political will. They destroyed our moral cohesion.
Friedman is tough on the U.S war in Iraq, which he says is “a glaring example of tactics, strategy, and policy in disarray.” We need to maintain our sense of moral cohesion. It’s slipping away from us.
We get some Boyd, too, a favorite here at HelyTimes. As a bottom line lesson on tactics, this is pretty clear and cool:
Boyd says if you move and decide faster than your enemy, you will win.
Friedman concludes by pointing out that tactics are subordinate to strategy.
The tactician employs tactics that will best serve the strategy, but he must also know when a flawed strategy cannot be achieved with reasonable tactics. Duty might still demand that he try to accomplish the mission, but he will need to inform the strategist that his aims are improbable.
Taking on a big concept like tactics and attempting to codify and create a short, comprehensible theory or unified system is a nobel mission. I found On Tactics profitable to read and full of stimulating ideas and examples.
From a list of cool things in Michael Ovitz memoir:
10. Sun Tzu Move II: “I’d wash my hands 30 times a day and insist that my assistants not touch my food.”
11. As a result, he never got sick, except when he took vacations.
12. Sun Tzu Move III: “When the leading figures in television entered our lobby, we kept them waiting long enough to be spotted by anyone who happened to be in the building.”
by Richard Rushfield in his newsletter The Ankler ($45 a year to subscribe, recommended if you are interested in Hollywood).
Rushfeld points out, how many agents even have a favorite philosopher?
I got down this Penguin edition. Impressed with this John Minford translation:
How do we even translate whatever character represents “dispositions”?
Whom did Ovitz consider “the enemy”? WMA? When Sun Tzu used the word enemy, what other meanings could that word have had, in English, I wonder?
Dr. Melfi tells Tony Soprano if he wants to become a better gang leader, he should read Sun Tzu. How much would it help him?
learned the origin of the word “drugs” from:
an intense book!
(source is this Vanity Fair article). The ancient sages and strategists would’ve enjoyed that one. The intersection of becoming and fighting.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting
Sun Tzu said. Maybe. Can’t vouch for the translation. Elsewhere rendered as:
To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
to defeat the enemy without battle is the whole of my art