10Feb/16

One Hundred and Fifty-Five Years Ago: Federal Garrison of the Little Rock Arsenal Continues

Get your copy today

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

As U.S. troops continued their garrison of the Little Rock Arsenal amid the hot-headed tempers of Jefferson and Phillips County militia surrounding of the arsenal grounds, the U.S. commander James Totten became more and more confused as to his mission. By the opening days of February, he knew he was a pawn being played by several U.S. congressmen from Arkansas and several businessmen of Little Rock.

In a February 6, 1861 dispatch from Totten to his commander in Washington, D.C. following the formal letter from Governor Rector demanding the surrender of the federal arsenal to the state of Arkansas, Totten notes, “As I have already written and telegraphed you for the information of the President [Buchanan], I am perfectly in the dark as to the wishes of the administration, from the want [of] instructions how to meet such a crisis at present.”

To make matters more confusing, even to the present-day historian, Totten, on the same day, sent a dispatch to his supervisor in D.C. informing him of the dire situation and the hasty need for instructions. He told Colonel S. Cooper, the Adjutant-General of the U.S. Army, “I have to inform the authorities that companies of armed citizens from various sections of this State have already arrived, and it is said there will soon be five thousand here for the express purpose of taking this arsenal…Collision seems inevitable if this arsenal is to be held.”

The armed militia from Jefferson and Phillips Counties, while surrounding the arsenal, took camp on the grounds of the Arkansas capitol, now the Old State House Museum on Markham.

One of the boldest acts of defiance includes the following excerpt from a dispatch from Arkansas Governor Henry M. Rector to Captain Totten held up in the Little Rock Arsenal: “I therefore demand in the name of the State the delivery of the possession of the arsenal and munitions of war under your charge to the State authorities, to be held subject to the action of the convention to be held on the 4th March next.” The fourth of March was not only the date slated for Lincoln’s inaugural, but also the day slated for the state’s secession convention. Coincidence? Probably not.

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.

03Feb/16

One Hundred and Fifty-Five Years Ago: First Shots of the Civil War in Pine Bluff

Get your copy today

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1860

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, some historians argue the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Pine Bluff. First shots? Well, there was an act of war committed by the citizens of Jefferson County against the United States government as reports were circulated regarding the United States Army in the Little Rock Arsenal being resupplied with military stores. As steamboats were making their way to resupply the troops, Arkansas militia in Pine Bluff had other plans.

According to Unionist William Demby from Pine Bluff, “This was about the time the incendiary, exciting, and false reports were being sent out from Little Rock.” He noted in his memoirs, “This notorious robbery was the first violent measure of the gathering mob.” As the boats neared Pine Bluff, shots across the bow of the boat led the captain of the vessel to dock immediately. As the boats landed, it was discovered that the goods onboard, “were of the finest and best quality, such flour, and other articles of provision had never before been seen in Pine Bluff.” Demby commented, regarding the illegal seizure of Federal property, “Many had a desire to test the quality, and made free to help themselves to what they wished, especially the fine liquors.”

Pine Bluff militiamen were not the only ones with a fever for poking the proverbial bear. Demby wrote in his memoirs, “No sooner had this brilliant achievement of robbery at Pine Bluff been consummated, than the mob at Helena, with a similar spirit longing for plunder, determined upon the capture of the Arsenal at Little Rock.”

The militia from Helena, determined to make an attack on the Little Rock Arsenal by way of Pine Bluff, boarded transports and headed toward the Arkansas River from the Mississippi River port community. The site was one Demby related in his memoirs later: “Men and boys of all grades and ages, capable of bearing shot guns, butcher knives, and a certain portion of whiskey, were seen running with maddened excitement in every direction, preparing to join in the enterprise that was to make each participant a hero to be read of in all time among the brave and chivalrous sons of Arkansas…they proceeded to Little Rock, all together in high glee, well stimulated with Yankee whiskey.”

The drunken mob arrived in Little Rock and the Little Rock Arsenal Crisis would reach a near tipping point as the Federal soldiers were still trying to make sense of it all. Over the next week the crisis will be explained through primary documents found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.

02Feb/16

City of Progress: The untold legacy of Pine Bluff

City of Progress: The untold legacy of Pine Bluff

City of Progress: The untold legacy of Pine Bluff

Lori Walker, Assistant Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Pine Bluff, will share her love and appreciation of the city’s rich history and abundant historical resources.

Walker has worked to develop Pine Bluff’s history and heritage into a tool for economic development, focusing on the role of African Americans during the Civil War and afterwards, as they helped move the city forward.

The picture above is of a street car business owned by Wiley Jones, an ex-slave who became one of the first wealthy African Americans in the South and a leader in the Pine Bluff community.

This Delta Drop-In program is free and open to the public. The location is 141 Cherry Street in historic downtown Helena, Arkansas.

27Jan/16

Little Rock Arsenal Crisis Begins One Hundred and Fifty-Five Years Ago

Get your copy today

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1860

By the close of January 1861, things had been set in motion in Arkansas putting the state on a collision course with the Federal government. Abraham Lincoln, though elected back in November, President Buchanan was still in charge of the country in Washington, D.C. Though some historians have thought over the years that Lincoln was behind the positioning of troops in Arkansas and other states in the south following the election of 1860, recent research has proven otherwise.

An extraordinary set of circumstances put Captain James Totten in a rather awkward position. With southern eyes watching Totten’s every move, citizens in Little Rock began to ask questions. Why was the United States Army in town? Why are they garrisoning the arsenal after it had been empty for so many years? The artillery commander Totten was asking those same questions.

In a dispatch sent from Governor Henry Rector to Totten on January 28, 1861, the governor told Totten, “The public exigencies require me to make known to you that the U.S. Arsenal at the place will be permitted to remain in the possession of the Federal officers until the State, by authority of the people, shall have determined to sever their connection with the General Government, unless, however, wit should be thought proper to order additional forces to this point; or, on the other hand, an attempt should be made to remove or destroy the munitions of war deposited in said aesenal.” The dispatch went on to tell Totten that any assurances of the above would, “prevent a collision between the soverign people of Arkansas and the Government troops now stationed at this point.”

Having read the communication from the governor, Totten at that point realized there were things going on behind the scenes in which he was only a pawn in a larger proverbial game of political and military chess. After reading Rector’s confusing dispatch and allowing himself time to ponder the correct response to the governor, Totten’s reply relayed, “to say to your excellency that my understanding leads me to believe that the troops under my commend were ordered here at the request of some of the members of congress from this state, and several good citizens also, for what reasons, if any, I have not been appraised.”

Totten told the governor, “I cannot give your excellence any assurances as to what instructions may in the future be issued regarding this arsenal and the Federal troops now stationed here, but I can assure you that so far as I am informed, no orders, such as you refer in your two propositions, have been issued, nor do I believe, privately and unofficially, that any such orders will be given by the Federal Government.”

Little to Totten’s knowledge, a group of armed men from Helena and Pine Bluff would descend upon the arsenal and surround Totten and his confused artillerymen. As the confusion for Totten began with the dispatch from Rector, a mob in Pine Bluff was pulling over a steamboat full of military equipment. Things were about to get interesting in Arkansas. The next column will look closely at a newly-found account of the steamboat affair at Pine Bluff.

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.

26Jan/16

Toothpick Update: Books for the Battlefield

Civil War Hub of Arkansas

Civil War Hub of Arkansas

Helping the Helena battlefield has never been easier. Just read certain books and 100% of the proceeds go directly to maintaining the Arkansas Toothpick, maintenance of sites, including battlefield, addition of interpretation, and everything else dealing with the July 4, 1863 battlefield in Helena, Arkansas. All you have to do is buy one of the following books and 100% of the proceeds will help buy flags to keep on the flagpoles, repairs, maintenance, etc.

Book 1: Diary of a State: 1860
Book 2: Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861
Book 3: Songs and Poems of Arkansas during the Civil War

Help us help our sites! Show your support for what we do because noone else does except the Arkansas Toothpick readers who have helped so much in the past help raise money for the cameras for the Confederate Cemetery, which have helped a lot! Thank you in advance for any support anyone can give us. Plus, the books are good and cheap!

24Jan/16

Arkansas in the Civil War: One Hundred and Fifty-Five Years Ago

Get your copy today

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

By the close of January, 1861 the Federal commander, Captain James Totten, then held up in the Little Rock Arsenal, had been wondering for two months  the goal of his garrisoning of the arsenal grounds. Having been in command of an arsenal in Arkansas since the election of Lincoln without any orders or mission began to raise concerns. Totten wrote to Colonel S. Cooper, the Adjutant-General for the United States Army in Washington, D.C. for clarification of his duties.

Totten began his communication to Cooper On January 29, “…with the request that instructions be sent me as to my future action in the premises.” Totten continued, “I also request that means and money may be sent to carry out the orders I may receive.” Having received no orders to date and no idea why he was dispatched to Little Rock, Totten continued, “I deem it necessary in this connection respectfully to inform the authorities concerned that, in my opinion, most unequivocal instructions are called for regarding the matter at issue.”

Totten believed, “there is trouble ahead for this command, and that by the 4th day of March coming decided action will be absolutely imperative in the officer who may then command this arsenal, and if left to his own discretion, he may not in everything correspond with the wishes of the Federal authorities.” March 4 was the date assigned for the secession convention if one were voted upon. It was. It was also the date of Lincoln’s inaugural address. It is highly doubtful that the secession convention and Lincolns inaugural being on the same date as being a coincidence.

Totten knew something was amiss and he knew he was dead in the middle of a situation that could very easily go bad. The first inkling that something was out of the ordinary can be seen in Totten’s communication noting that whatever orders were given or expected of him from the Federal authorities in D.C., “I respectfully ask that they may be sent by a reliable agent, and not by mails, as there appears to be some reason in believing that they are not entirely trustworthy at present.”

Historians have long debated the communications sent and received during the Little Rock Arsenal Crisis, and Totten’s newly-found dispatch shows likewise, that something was not consistent with reliable communications. The next column will expose a proverbial smoking gun to show a conspiracy in the works by Arkansas congressmen.

The editor of this column, Ron Kelley, is a Public Historian in Helena, Arkansas and writes for the Helena World newspaper. Kelley is the author of Diary of a State: 1860 and Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861. For more information on Arkansas in the Civil War, go to www.arkansastoothpick.com.

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.

23Jan/16

Arkansas Toothpick Security Updates

Civil War Hub of Arkansas

Civil War Hub of Arkansas

Over the past few months, the Arkansas Toothpick website has been under constant attack from middle eastern countries, namely Turkey. We have purchased and installed premium security updates to help secure the Civil War Hub of Arkansas. The biggest problem we have faced is that when the hackers tried to hack into the Toothpick and got the password wrong so many times, the website put itself on lockdown, not allowing even the editor to log in. Now that premium software has been purchased and installed, we should not experience anymore issues like that. So if you have wondered why we slowed down on the updates over the past few months, that is the biggest reason why. The sale of Ron Kelley’s newest book “Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861” purchased the security updates. 100% of all proceeds of that book go directly to preservation of Civil War Arkansas, whether it be the Arkansas Toothpick or battlefield maintenance. If you do experience any problems on the Arkansas Toothpick, please let us know!

22Jan/16

One Hundred Fifty-Five Years Ago: Recap of 1860

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

Over the past five years there have been numerous new finds in the way of research on the topic of the Civil War in Arkansas. Diaries have been made public for the first time. A closer review done on the official records. Transcriptions of a multitude of newspaper articles and editorials. These and countless other new media have shed light on many questions that, until recently, little was known.

One of the most important questions asked prior to and during the 150th commemoration concerned the causes of the Civil War. In Arkansas, as a researcher, I have seen that there can not be one answer; blanket statements do not do the topic justice. As we set the clock back 155 years ago, we get a picture of Arkansas and that picture is bleak. As a state heavily reliant upon the lucrative cotton trade, Arkansas’ livelihood was threatened by the election of an abolitionist president Abraham Lincoln. The abolitionist party to which he belonged was the newly-formed Republican Party.

With mistrust directed toward a president that was elected and having not appeared on the ballot in many southern states, coupled with the threat of a slave rebellion akin to John Brown’s rebellion at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, the United States and Arkansas were poised for a difficult time ahead.

1861 began with what has been dubbed “The Little Rock Arsenal Crisis”. Known by Civil War historians in Arkansas, the relatively little-known affair was a tipping point in Arkansas politics and was nearly the site of the first shots of the Civil War. The story begins when Lincoln secures the presidency of the United States as the sixteenth president in November 1860. Immediately, and apparently out of the clear blue, a Federal artillery unit arrived at the Little Rock Arsenal, which had been abandoned for years.

Recap: Arkansas was a slave state and Lincoln did not appear on the ballot in 1860. Lincoln is elected and seemingly the Federal government sent government troops to garrison a Federal arsenal left abandoned for many years all of a sudden. To the average Arkansawyer in 1860, this would have been seen as overreaching and unnecessary and at the very least intimidating to be sure.

Now known as the MacArthur Museum of Military History in downtown Little Rock, the Little Rock Arsenal and the crisis that nearly erupted into a Civil War will be the topic in the next column with the presentation of a document that gives the reader a better picture of what happened one hundred and fifty-five years ago.

The editor of this column, Ron Kelley, is a Public Historian in Helena, Arkansas and writes for the Helena World newspaper. Kelley is the author of Diary of a State: 1860 and Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861. For more information on Arkansas in the Civil War, go to www.arkansastoothpick.com.

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.

21Jan/16

Steamboat Sundays in Helena

American Queen steamboat docked in Helena, Arkansas on the Mississippi River.

American Queen steamboat docked in Helena, Arkansas on the Mississippi River.

Helena will host 12 American Queen steam boat stops in 2016; the December boats were cancelled. The Steamboat Sundays will begin on March 6 and will include interpretation for Fort Curtis, Freedom Park, the Helena Museum, and the Delta Cultural Center. The American Queen will stop in Helena on March 6, March 20, April 3, April 17, May 1, May 22, June 5, June 19, July 3, September 11, November 13, and November 27. If you would like to volunteer at the Helena Museum, the Delta Cultural Center, or one of our Civil War sites on these days as a tour guide, docent, or just want to volunteer your time on other days as well, we would love to have you! Send us an email info@arkansastoothpick.com.

20Jan/16

Rare Living History Event This Weekend in Helena

Petersburg, Va. Sections of chevaux-de-frise before Confederate main works

Petersburg, Va. Sections of chevaux-de-frise before Confederate main works

Not very often do you get an opportunity to watch Civil War soldiers do Civil War soldier stuff, but this weekend in Helena, Arkansas a group of soldiers will have camp set up on the battlefield at Fort Curtis and will perform daily routine soldier tasks, including marching, firing muskets, basic camp life, and they will be building battlefield obstacles including the ever-popular Cheveaux De Fris, or “Horse Fences”, as seen in the photo. Guests will leave with a better understanding of what a soldier did when he was not off fighting battles. While in town be sure to visit the Delta Cultural Center on Cherry Street and the Helena Museum on Pecan Street. If you are looking for a great place to eat lunch, there are several eateries in the historic downtown area of Helena. Camps will be open from 8am-5pm. Living historians participating will be historic correct and their actions, likewise. Do not miss out on some great photo opps!
For more information contact Ron Kelley at 870-592-0079 or info@arkansastoothpick.com.

To maintain historic accuracy on living histories such as the one Saturday, living historians are trained professionally and are coming on an “invite-only” basis to be able to provide the best experience for the general public. If you are interested in becoming a living historian or a battlefield volunteer in Helena, contact us at the number and/or email above.