150 years ago ths week, the Little Rock Arsenal Crisis hits its climax: will the Civil War start in Little Rock, Arkansas? The unfamiliar Arkansas historian may not have any idea how close a clash between “the soverign people of Arkansas” and the Federal forces came to reality.

Because there were so many important and quite interesting dispatches sent between Totten and Rector, the records in their entirity appear below up to February 8, 1861 in this column. The next few pages have been lifted from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion; for those who own a set, follow along from page 639, Volume 1, Series 1:

LITTLE ROCK, February 6, 1861.

I have to inform the authorities that companies of armed citizens from various section 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. Instructions are urgently and immediately asked. Collision seems inevitable if this arsenal is to be held.

Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Post.
Colonel S. COOPER, Adjutant-General U. S. Army.

The following dispatch was, perhaps, the document that started Totten wondering what to do with the current situation in Little Rock. It is important for the reader to remember, that when Totten refers to the President, Lincoln will not take office until March 4, 1861. Therefore, Buchannan will be the Commander-in-Chief who will receive these dispatches. Hoping that the inevitable collision between the North and South woudl occur on someone elses’ watch, Totten realizes the seriousness of the situation:

Little Rock, Ark., February 6, 1861.

SIR: I have the honor herewith to inclose a copy of a communication just received from H. M. Rector, governor of the State of Arkansas, demanding the surrender of this arsenal to the State authorities.

As I have already written and telegraphed you for the information of the President, I am perfectly in the dark as to the wishes of the administration, from the want [of] instructions haw to meet such a crisis as at present. If I had positive orders to cover the case in point I should obey them implicitly; but I have nothing whatever, within my knowledge, indicative of the course the Government wishes its agents to pursue, and I am therefore left to act as my judgment and my honor as a Federal officer dictate under the present trying circumstances.

I inclose also copies of certain resolutions, passed by the citizens of Little Rock, and of the common council of said city, explanatory of the circumstances under which the matter above referred to had been brought about.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Post.
Colonel S. COOPER,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.

[Inclosure A.]


Little Rock, Ark., February 6, 1861.

SIR: There is now in this city a considerable number of the citizens of this State who have come here, under arms, with the avowed purpose of taking possession of the U. S. Arsenal.

Reliable information has been received that a large force of citizens are on the march to this place for the same purpose. This movement is prompted by the feeling that pervades the citizens of this State that in the present emergency the arms and monitions of war in the arsenal should be under the control of the State authorities, in order to their security. This movement, although not authorized by me, has assumed such an aspect that tit becomes my duty, as the executive of this State, to interpose my official authority to prevent a collision between the people of the State and the Federal troops under your command.

I therefore demand in the name of the State the delivery of the possession of the arsenal and monitions 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 of March next. This course is the only one which can possibly prevent the effusion of blood and the destruction of the property of the citizens and the Government. I beg leave to assure you that the steps which the citizens have seen fit to take is not prompted by any personal distrust of you, but the jealousy which naturally exists towards the authorities of the United States under the present unhappy condition of the country.

This communication will be handed you by T. D. Merrick, general of First Division of the Arkansas Militia, who will call on you personally, accompanied by his staff, and who will receive from you your response.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Governor of Arkansas.

Captain TOTTEN,
Commanding U. S. Arsenal, Little Rock, Ark.

[Indorsement.] This is the paper marked “A.”
Governor of Arkansas.

Captain, Second Artillery.

[Inclosure B.]

Little Rock, Ark., February 5, 1861-3 o’clock p. m.

Resolved as a sense of this council, That if there be any impending danger or necessity which requires the seizure of the U. S. Arsenal at head of the State, to order such seizure to be made by the organized military power of the State.

But that all unauthorized attempts to seize the arsenal by persons without orders from the governor is an insult to his station and authority, and deserves the reprehension of all our people, and calculated to injure the cause of States rights, and we earnestly recommend the governor to interpose his authority to check any such movements if unauthorized by him.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolution be immediately communicated to the governor, and that a committed, to consist of the whole council, be appointed for that purpose, and the same committee to communicate with the leaders of such movement.

Mayor pro tem.
A. J. SMITH, City Recorder.

Little Rock, Ark., February, 6, 1861.

At a called meeting of the city council, held at 4 o’clock p. m. of this day
Present: Charles P. Bertrand, mayor pro tem., and Aldermen Waid, Peary, Tucker, watkins, Henry, Robins, and George
The following preamble and resolutions were introduced by Alderman Geo. C. Watkins:

“Whereas an armed force of about four hundred men from different parts of this State are assembled at Little Rock for the purpose of seizing the U. S. Arsenal at this place, under the apprehension that the arsenal and the arms and the munitions of war stored therein may at no distant day be used to the injury of the people of this State, and it is reasonably certain that such force will soon be increased to one thousand men, or to five thousand, if necessary for the purpose designed;

“And whereas the governor of the State has on this day officially assumed the responsibility of said movement, and has made a demand in the name and by authority of the State upon the officer in command of the arsenal to surrender the same to the authorities of the State;

“And whereas the arsenal is so located that any attack or defense of it would involve the destruction of much of the property of private citizens of Little Rock, and the loss of many lives of our citizens, and the probable sacrifice of the officers and their command in charge of the arsenal: Therefore, “Resolved, That this council de earnestly deprecate a hostile collision in their midst between the forces of the State and the United States troops stationed at the arsenal, and hope that same may be avoided if it can possibly be done consistently with a proper sense of duty and honor on the part of those upon whom rests the responsibility of a collision and the deplorable consequences that would inevitably result from it.

“Resolved further, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to the governor of the State, and also a copy of the same of the officer in command of the arsenal at this place.”

A true copy from the record:

Acting Recorder pro tem.

[Inclosure D.]

Whereas many good citizens of this State have come to Little Rock in obedience to what they supposed to be the orders of the governor, to assist in taking the U. S. Arsenal at this place; and whereas the governor disavows such orders as being without his authority or sanction: Therefore,

“Resolved, As the opinion of this meeting, that tit is the duty of the governor to assume the responsibility of this movement or to interpose his authority and influence to prevent it.

“Resolved further, That in case there be, in opinion of the governor, any danger or necessity for seizing the arsenal, we earnestly recommend him,as the only way to prevent the effusion of blood, to order the same to be done in his official capacity and in the name and by authority of the State, and to that end that he make an official demand upon the officers in charge of the arsenal to surrender the same to the State authorities.

“Resolved further, That in our opinion the governor, as the executive head of the State, may rely upon the sympathy and co-operation of all good citizens in what he may do by authority of the State and her organized military power.

“The foregoing resolutions were, this 6th day of February, 1861, unanimously adopted by a mass meeting of the citizens of Little Rock, Arkansas.

“JOHN D. KIMBELL, Secretary.”

LITTLE ROCK, ARK., February 12, 1861.

SIR: I have the honor herewith to inclose for the information of the President the originals of four papers relative to my withdrawal from Little Rock Arsenal with my command of the 8th instant.

I forwarded by mail copies of these papers on the 9th of this month, and now inclose the originals by General S. H. Hempstead, of Little Rock, a reliable gentleman, who has politely offered to deliver to you any communication I may wish to send.

For any additional information concerning my retiring from Little Rock I have the honor to refer you to my letters of previous dates. I shall also be most happy to explain any point relative to the matter which may not appear clear already from my past communications.

I beg also to refer to Adjutant-General to the bearer of this, General Hempstead, for much information which it did not appear to me necessary to make known officially. I refer more particularly here to he rumored action taken by the governor of Arkansas to collect forces at Little Rock for the purpose of seizing the arsenal, and also to the views of his conduct and that of his friends and counsellors, taken by the city of Little Rock in its public meetings and the meetings of its council very recently.

I inclose a copy of my letter of transmittal of the 9th instant (inclosed then), with the copies of the original papers now forwarded. [Inclosure E.]

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain, Second Artillery.

[Inclosure B.]

Little Rock, Ark., February 6, 1861.

SIR: In the present trying circumstances by which the undersigned finds himself surrounded, as a Federal officer, he is anxious to learn officially from your excellency, before answering your demand s for the surrender of the U. S. Arsenal at this place, the following important points, viz:

1st. If this arsenal and all the minutions of war stored therein are left instant as at the hour of 3 o’clock p. m. to-morrow, by the United States forces now in charge of them, will the governor of the States of Arkansas officially take charge of said arsenal and munitions of war in the name of the United States Government, and hold them in that light until future circumstances shall legally absolve him for the responsibility?

2nd. If the United States forces now garrisoning Little Rock Arsenal evacuate said post, and leave the monitions of war intact as at the hour of 3 o’clock p. m. to-morrow, will the governor o the State of Arkansas officially guarantee to said forces an unmolested passage through the State in any direction the officer commanding said troops may elect, and guarantee, moreover, to said forces that right of carrying with them all the public and private property they brought with them to said arsenal, all which has been purchased for or by them, and all which has been sent to them since stationed at said arsenal, consisting of ordnance and ordnance stores, clothing, camp and garrison equipage, and barracks and mess furniture, as also provisions and all their individual or private properly.

3rd. If the arsenal and monitions of war stored therein are left intact as at the hour of 3 o’clock p. m. to-morrow, will the governor of Arkansas, in his official capacity, guarantee to the united States forces now in charge therefor the right of marching away from said place with hall the honor due to them as Federal officers and soldiers who do not surrender their trust, but simply evacuate a post for want of instructions from their superiors in office, and in doubt as to the propriety of bringing on civil war among their fellow-countrymen?

Explicit and entailed answers to each and every one of these questions will have great influence upon the undersigned in his answer to the communication of the governor of Arkansas, which is promised by 3 o’clock p. m. to-morrow.

I am, very respectfully,
Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Post.
His Excellency HENRY M. RECTOR, Governor of Arkansas.

[Inclosure C.]

Little Rock, Ark., February 7, 1861.

Captain JAMES TOTTEN, U. S. Army,
In charge of U. s. Arsenal, Little Rock:

SIR: Your communication of the 6th instant (yesterday), propounding to myself certain propositions, explicit and detailed answers to which would have great influence upon you in your answer promised the governor of Arkansas by 3 p. m. to-day, was received at about 11 o’clock this morning.

After mature reflection I propose to accept yours first, second, and third propositions, with the following understanding: That being informed your command brought no cannon with you-so none are to be taken away. You shall have a safe passage out of the State in any direction you may please with your command, provided, however, you do not station yourself within the limits of the State of Arkansas or on the borders thereof.

Whatever your command, either of private or public property, brought with them you will be permitted to take away.

I have the honor to be, captain, respectfully, your obedient servant,

Governor of Arkansas.

[Inclosure D.]

LITTLE ROCK, ARK., February 8, 1861.

Memorandum this day made and signed by James Totten, captain of Second Artillery, in the Army of the United States, and Henry M. Rector, governor of the State of Arkansas.

This paper, marked A,* signed by us, is the demand made by the governor upon Captain Totten for the deliver of the U. S. Arsenal at this place to the State authorities. the paper marked B, signed by us, is a copy of the response of Captain Totten to that communication. The paper marked C, signed by us, is the response of the governor accepting, as therein stated, the terms of the paper B.

It is further witnessed, that on this day, at the hour of 12 m., said Captain Totten, with his command, doth retire from said arsenal, and delivered the same, with all its sores, arms, and monitions of war, intact, to the governor of Arkansas, pursuant to the tenor and purport of said papers A, B, C. And the said Captain James Totten protests that he had thus acted because in the presence of a greatly superior armed force, and which he became satisfied would soon become overwhelming by re-enforcements in case of resistance, involving the sacrifice of his command, without regard to the probable loss of life on the part of the assailants; because any defense of the arsenal in the city of Little Rock, whether successful or unsuccessful, would necessarily involve, to a greater or less extent, the destruction of property in the city, and the loss of lives of the peaceful citizens and families dwelling therein; because, being without instructions from his Government, he took, of necessity, the responsibility of doing what he thought proper and best under all the circumstances, desiring to avoid cause of civil war in this Government, by the first instance of a hostile and bloody collision, yet protesting for himself and in the name of his Government against events beyond his control, and which have actuated him to this course.

(Signed in duplicate.)

Governor of Arkansas.

Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding Little Rock arsenal.

[Inclosure E.]

LITTLE ROCK, ARK., February 9, 1861.

SIR: I have the honor herewith to inclose for the information of the President copies of four distinct papers relative to a solemn and ever-to-be-regretted act which had been force upon me through the necessities of the circumstances surrounding me. The papers marked A, B, C, and D explain the whole sad affair from beginning to end, in connection with information previously communicated, and comment on my part, therefore, seems unnecessary at present. I have been forced, as the inclosed papers will show, to retire with my command from Little Rock Arsenal, and yield my charge into the hands of Henry M. Rector, governor of the State of Arkansas, who has taken charge of the same in the name of the United States, to hold it in that light until legally absolved from the trust.

I hope I have acted in the whole matter in a manner which will meet the approbation of the Federal authorities. My object throughout these trying circumstances has been to avoid bringing about bloodshed and civil war in this immediate vicinity among peaceable, law-abiding, and loyal citizens of the United States. In doing so, I sincerely believe, in the absence of all instructions, I have only done what appears to be the course indicated by the present administration in this past course, so far as I am informed. It gratifies me beyond measure to be able, on this occasion, to bear honest testimony to the honorable, high-toned, loyal, and law-abiding action taken by the great majority of the most respectable citizen of Little Rock. From the richest tot he poorest, I am happy to say, there was but one sentiment, and that was in opposition to the course of the governor and those who counseled and aided him in the deed done.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain, Second Artillery, Commanding.

Colonel S. COOPER,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington City, D. C.

[Inclosure F.]

Numbers 3.
Little Rock, Ark., February 8, 1861.

The troops of this command, consisting of Company F, Second Artillery, and all the enlisted men of the Ordnance Department, will be prepared to move to-day from this post to a camp to be selected by the commanding officer on the banks of the Arkansas River.

The command will depart as soon as the necessary transportation can be provided.

By order of Captain Totten:
Second Lieutenant, Second Artillery, Post Adjutant.