After the battle of Pea Ridge in north Arkansas, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn was ordered to move the Army of the West to the east of the Mississippi River to help block the Yankee invasion into Mississippi. He left the state of Arkansas almost defenseless not only troops but all weapons, and all other war machinery. Twelve hundred troops, many of which were unarmed were left in the command of Brig. Gen John Seldon Roane, a one time governor of Arkansas and Mexican War veteran. This prompted governor Henry Rector to threaten to succeed the state from the Confederacy. With the Yankee Army moving slowly toward Little Rock, from the north, with 20,000 men, the Confederacy sent Maj. General Thomas Hindman to the state to start building the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. He begin stopping troops, on their way to the war in the east, from Texas and ordered all non-Indian troops stationed in the Indian Territory to come to the aid of the state. Also, one of General Sterling Price’s Missouri division was transferred to the state.
General Hindman issued General Orders No. 17 in which he wrote: “For the more effectual annoyance of the enemy upon our rivers and in our mountains and woods all citizens of this district who are not subject to conscription are called upon to organize themselves into independent companies……….When as many as 10 men come together for this purpose…….they will at once commence operation against the enemy without waiting for special instruction.” They were to attack isolated Federal pickets and scouting parties, to kill pilots on riverboats, and to otherwise cause mayhem behind enemy lines, “using the greatest vigor in their movements.” Hindman succeeded in raising over 5,000 irregular soldiers between its issuance on June 17, 1862 and that August. Many of these band were genuine guerrilla fighters who disrupted Union operations for the rest of the war. Thousands, however, formed gangs of armed thugs that by the end of the war were opportunistically attacking Union, Confederate, and civilian targets with equal savagery. The true legacy of General Orders No. 17 is a record of horror that rivals that of the more publicized and romanticized guerrilla war in Missouri.
(Ref.___”Civil War Arkansas, 1863” by Mark K. Christ; pages 24-25)
Eighteen sixty three and the Union Army occupation brought about a Confederate group of men who was just as vicious as the Yankee Graybacks. The men brought about much misery and added to the total devastation of South Arkansas. Most were Confederate deserters who could not deal with regular army life. They liked the freedom of acting independently and the excuse to plunder the country side. They called themselves “Companies of Independent Scouts.” The Yankees used terms like bushwhackers, and bands of guerrillas. These men inflected untold suffering throughout South Arkansas.
Most of the time when reading about this type of warfare in Arkansas it is about something that happened in the north part of the state. In the Ozarks, but it was just as bad in South Arkansas, especially after 1863.
Like the Yankee Graybacks, the Confederate Bushwhackers were characterized by their merciless, murdering, arson, robbery, rape, pillage and ambushing. Most of their deeds were directed toward the Union sympathizers but there were exceptions. If they saw a fine saddle horse in a pasture, or a mule, they would say “it must belong to a Yankee” and they would steal it. If they knew of a smokehouse that had meat in it they would steal it. It did not matter if it belonged to a Yankee sympathizer or a Confederate. Some of the citizens reported that they were robbed by one army one day and the other army the next day. At times their home were burned leaving them with only the clothes they had on their backs.
Some of these men who rode with the irregular units surrendered when the war was over, others continued their devilish act for several years after the official ending of the war.