Since November, 1860, “out of the blue”, a United States artillery contingent made its way to Little Rock and settled in the long-vacated Little Rock Arsenal. The arrival of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, Company F, peaked the curiosities of the general public in the capitol city. Commanded by Captain James Totten, the Little Rock Arsenal would become the center of attention within the next few weeks as tensions begin to mount.
The following reports, found in the first volume of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, include the initial coorespondance with Washington, D.C. regarding two dispatches sent from the Governor of Arkansas, Henry M. Rector. Totten implies the intention of remaining at his post at the Little Rock Arsenal until March 4th, 1861 and asks for specific instruction on how to handle the impending crisis looming over Little Rock, Arkansas:
Numbers 1. Reports of Captain James Totten, Second U. S. Artillery, of the seizure of the U. S. Arsenal at Little Rock, Ark.
LITTLE ROCK ARSENAL,
Little Rock, Ark., January 29, 1861.
SIR: I have the honor herewith to inclose a copy of a communication received this day from his Excellency Henry M. Rector, governor of the State of Arkansas, and also a copy of my reply to his excellency’s communications.
Please submit both these communications to the Secretary of War for the decision of the President of the United States, with the request that instructions be sent me as to my future action in the premises. I also request that means and money may be sent me to carry out the orders I may receive.
I forward, in the same mail with this, copies of the communications, herein mentioned, to the general commanding the Department of the West. I deem it necessary in this connection respectfully to inform the authorities concerned that, in my opinion, most positive and unequivocal instructions are called for, in order that I may not mistake the intentions of the administration regarding the matter at issue. I believe 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 than command this arsenal, and, if left to his own discretion, he may not in everything correspond with the wishes of the Federal authorities.
Whatever orders may be given, 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 net entirely trustworthy at present. I would not myself, in the present instance, trust to this doubtful medium of communication if I had means at my disposal of sending an officer to Washington, and, indeed, if I can procure the necessary funds, I may yet forward copies of the various communications now inclosed by such an agent as indicated.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Post.
Colonel S. COOPER,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington City, D. C.
The following “Inclosures” include a dispatch sent by the Governor of Arkansas to Totten on January 29, 1861 and the response of the commanding officer at the Little Rock Arsenal to Rector’s dispatch. These documents were sent to Washington, D.C. on February 29, 1861 after having received the first official communication from Governor Rector the day prior.
THE STATE OF ARKANSAS,
Executive Department, Little Rock, January 28, 1861.
CAPTAIN: The public exigencies require me to make known to you that the U. S. Arsenal at this 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 ins aid arsenal.
Any assurances that you may be able to give touching the observance of these two latter conditions will greatly tend to quiet the public mind, and prevent a collision between the sovereign people of Arkansas and the Government troops now stationed at this point.
HENRY M. RECTOR,
Governor of Arkansas and Commander-in-Chief.
Captain TOTTEN, U. S. Army, Little Rock Arsenal.[Inclosure B.]
HEADQUARTERS LITTLE ROCK ARSENAL,
Little Rock, Ark., January 29, 1861.
SIR: I have to acknowledge the receipt of you communication of the 28th instant, which was handed to me this morning by your aide-de-camp, J. J. Gaines, esq., and in answer thereto, to say to your excellency that my understanding leads me to believe that the troops under my command 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 apprised.
As you will readily understand, I cannot give your excellency any assurances as to what instructions may in 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 to 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. I have furthermore to remind your excellency that as na officer of the Army of the United states, my allegiance is due to that Government in whose [service] I am, and that I act by its authority and permission, and until absolved from the allegiance my honor is concerned in the faithful performance of what I may conceive to be my duty.
I shall forward your communication to the Secretary of War to be laid before the President of the United States, and ask instructions relative to the matter contained in it, and, if not prohibited by these authorities, I will cheerfully inform your excellency what these instructions are.
In the mean time let me say, in conclusion, that I most cordially concur with your excellency int he desire to avoid collision between the Federal troops under my command and the citizens of Arkansas, and shall do everything in my power which an honorable man in my position can or dare do to prevent so deplorable an event.
I am, respectfully,
Captain, Second Artillery, U. S. Army.