1860 saw the climax of the opening of military institutions of various degrees in Arkansas. January, 1860 saw the first mention of the Pine Bluff Military Academy for secondary education while this week’s “150 Years Ago…” column focuses more specifically on the higher learning offered at the newly-established St. John’s College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Though the college was not completed when it opened it’s doors in October, 1859, by September, 1860, St. John’s College had become a mustering and parade ground for the local State Militia.

This week’s column features two separate accounts found in an 1860 edition of the Old-Line Democrat. The document notes the importance of the newly-built St. John’s College, built by the Freemasons. The article notes that it was the “first college at the capital of the State…”, while two similar colleges were built before St. John’s, both in North Arkansas at Cane Hill and Fayetteville, respectively.

St. John’s college will play an incredibly important role in the next few months leading up to the first shots of the War as it becomes the premiere drilling and parade grounds of the various groups that will comprise Arkansas Militia units, specifically the 10th Arkansas Militia which will be comprised of cadets and soldiers that will eventually make their way into the Confederate Army under the banner of the 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, CSA (Also known as The Capitol Guards).

[LITTLE ROCK] OLD-LINE DEMOCRAT, September 13, 1860
St. John’s College.

This first college at the capital of the State we hope to see well patronized the coming season.

No institution of like character in the West can command the services of an abler faculty. The Trustees looked carefully at this consideration as being of the first importance in inaugurating an institution of learning and have spared no expense to obtain this first great desideratum, the ablest and most efficient teachers that the country could afford.

The gentlemen who have accepted the several positions in the faculty have, we learn, so far satisfied every expectation that could have been formed of their worth and fitness for those positions to which they were so highly recommended.

We are assured that they furnish us a home institution which will afford advantages inferior to those of none, however famous, abroad.

The establishment and support of home institutions is an end we ought to be studiously, earnestly solicitous to attain.

The reasons prompting such a desire are manifold, and so obvious as scarcely to need being alluded to.

In the first place, the money expended in support of them, will be spent at home. The libraries, apparatus, and other accessories of learning, with which they should be furnished, will dispense their benefits at home. The talents and influence of those who are chosen on account of their superior qualifications of learning and piety to conduct them will be exerted for the good of the entire community at home. The associations formed at them between the young people sent there to be educated, the most enduring that can be formed in all the relations of life, cannot but be productive of the most beneficial results, both to themselves and the State and community, in which their capacities for usefulness may afterwards be exerted, in a concert of action, in the good faith of a fellowship, which not even the most repelling of the realities of after life can ever serve to impair. Unity of purpose and of action is the lever of power, of success.

There is no way of achieving it for a State, like that of training the rising generation together; in a home brotherhood according to one design. Let us estimate this subject as its great importance requires.

In the same edition of the Old-Line Democrat, the “unusual display” of the local militia battalion muster is the first mention found in Arkansas papers noting the activities of the local militia. This week’s column included one of the most important sources of the military activities in 1860 Arkansas as the citizen fighting force braces for the inevitable “crisis” to come within the next few months.

Over the next few months, the reader should pay very close attention to the names mentioned in these 1860 sources as they will relate to the overall picture of Arkansas during the Civil War. For example, Captain Peay will surely be mentioned many time to come through the 1862 mustering of troops during the reorganization of the Army of the Trans Mississippi. Other notables will be introduced to the reader over the next few weeks as the militias take on a new life in Arkansas.

[LITTLE ROCK] OLD-LINE DEMOCRAT, September 13, 1860

An unusual display in these parts was afforded on Saturday last, by a battalion muster of the militia. The battalion was formed on the grounds of St. John’s College, with cavalry as well as infantry.

There were many interested, and several very interesting, spectators of the scene. In what arm of the service Major, do you class pleasure carriages filled with ladies? O dis-arm?—We noticed that their effect upon a cavalry man had nearly dismounted him.

Major MacAlmont in Blue, Gilg, chapeau beau [?] and feathers was said to resemble strongly the OLD hero of Lundy’s Land and city of Mexico, while his youthful, but as “gloriously arrayed” and gallant adjutant was likened unto the great “Old Hickory.” He showed something of the same stern spirit by bringing in Lieut. Jacobi, “a prisoner of war,” as the Lieutenant styled himself when he surrendered up his sword.

Several of the companies of these citizen soldiers are rapidly learning the drill under their energetic officers and perform various evolutions of the drill, with skill and ease.

Capt. Peay’s company of volunteers, the Capital Guards, is as handsome a company as we ever say, though “we have been to the east and we have been to the west.” Sergeant Lookman [?], of this company, for readiness with which he regulated the movements of the battalion of which he was on the right, deserves high commendation.