This Preservation News column by Mark K. Christ of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission appeared in the December 13 issue of Civil War News.
Civil War battlefield preservation is alive and well in Arkansas, and the 150th anniversary commemoration of the conflict is giving new impetus for preservation efforts around the state.
The Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission is one of the only – if not THE only – Civil War 150 state organization that has made preservation of battlefields a stated goal during the commemoration.
Working closely with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which has been involved in battlefield preservation efforts for more than 20 years, the commission has worked with a number of projects to further their goals of saving hallowed ground from development. You can learn more about the ACWSC at www.arkansascivilwar150.com.
Among the major efforts now underway in Arkansas:
• Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society (RBBPS) is currently working to acquire five acres that were the site of Confederate artillery positions during the Aug. 27, 1863, battle of Bayou Meto, where Rebel troops temporarily halted the Union drive to capture the state capital at Little Rock.
RBBPS has already saved around 30 acres of the battlefield, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and through an ongoing partnership with the Arkansas Humanities Council has placed interpretive panels throughout the battlefield.
The organization is seeking legislative funding for part of the purchase, but additional money will be needed to close the deal. Donations can be sent to Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society, c/o Jacksonville Museum of Military History, 100 Veterans Dr., Jacksonville, AR 72076.
• Friends of Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield received a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to prepare a preservation plan for the site of the April 30, 1864, battle in which Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele’s Federal army fought a desperate rearguard action as it attempted to cross the swollen Saline River at the end of the disastrous Camden Expedition.
Casualties were high on both sides (two Confederate brigade commanders were mortally wounded in the action) in the battle, which was depicted in the opening scenes of the 2012 film “Lincoln.” Some key property holders appear to be interested in selling, and FJFB is raising funds toward that end. To learn more, visit http://jenkinsferry.com.
• A battlefield plan has been written for two other Camden Expedition battlefields, Elkins’ Ferry and Prairie D’Ane, both located in Nevada County.
The Elkins’ Ferry site, where a fierce battle was fought April 3-4, 1864, at the crossing of the Little Missouri River, is owned by a timber company and efforts are being made to negotiate a sale of the entire site. The Prairie D’Ane battlefield is also remarkably intact, and both sites are National Historic Landmarks.
• Helena, site of a desperate July 4, 1863, battle to relieve pressure on Vicksburg on the same day that Mississippi River bastion surrendered, is undergoing a Civil War renaissance.
The Civil War Helena project has initiated extensive interpretation, with wayside exhibits explaining all aspects of how the war affected the city; Freedom Park, which explores the African American experience; and a recreation of Fort Curtis, the main Union fortification during the war, which was built from the original 1863 plans.
The Civil War Trust worked with partners in Helena to acquire 56 acres of rugged terrain over which Confederate Gen. James Fagan’s Arkansas division struggled in their attack on Battery D on the south end of town. Additional battlefield preservation opportunities abound.
• The Northwest Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail has been working with a number of partners – including the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, Heritage Trail Partners and the Arkansas Humanities Council – to interpret the Nov. 27, 1862, battlefield, which was the site of a nine-hour battle fought over 12 miles of the rugged Boston Mountains.
While battlefield preservation has not yet been pursued at Cane Hill, a resurgent preservation group in the Washington County town makes it a possibility.
• The Devil’s Backbone battlefield — which has the coolest name of any Arkansas Civil War site — was the scene of a Sept. 1, 1863, rearguard action as Confederate troops protected their supply wagon after abandoning Fort Smith.
The battle had some interesting aspects – a large percentage of the Confederate troops were actually conscripted Unionists who fled en masse when the battle began – and its landscape is still largely intact. The Civil War Trust acquired 10 acres at Devil’s Backbone, and other parcels are available.
• Friends of Dunagin’s Farm Battlefield are working to preserve the site of a Feb. 17, 1862, scrap during the Pea Ridge Campaign that was the first battle fought entirely in the state of Arkansas. Working with local partners, the group has refurbished interpretive signage at the site and is exploring ways to preserve the battlefield.
Arkansas was the scene of more than 770 offensive operations during the Civil War, ranging from pitched battles such as Pea Ridge to skirmishes like the one at Lunenburg in 1864, in which all of the combatants on both sides were from hilly Izard County.
As interest in preserving these sites grows and gains proponents, there will still be plenty of opportunities to save hallowed ground when the Civil War bicentennial begins.