One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansas had begun its preparations for war, both on the home front as well as on the national front. As state and Confederate regiments were being formed throughout the state, the national scene was looking quite grim; it was apparent that neither the Unionists nor the Confederates would be able to make peace.
While Arkansas was busily preparing her sons for war, on May 24, 1861, the Federal army crossed the Potomac River in the vicinity of Washington and illegally seized the Virginian city of Alexandria only one day following Virginia’s official vote of secession. On that same day at Ft. Monroe, U.S. Officer Benjamin Butler refused the release of three slaves that had entered the Union lines, noting that they were “contraband of war”. Thus a new dimension to the issue of slavery, an issue that would follow the Union forces well into Arkansas in 1863.
One of the Arkansas units to make its final preparations this week one hundred and fifty years ago was the Pulaski Artillery, commanded by Captain William Woodruff. According to an 1861 Arkansas newspaper regarding this new unit, the Pulaski Artillery found themselves in Benton County near the boundary of Arkansas and Missouri. If there were an invasion of Arkansas, it would surely come from the north. Prior to their departure, they were presented a “beautiful banner”in a ceremony in which the following words were given to the new recruits:
“You are about to leave your firesides, your friends and your homes, to do battle in your country’s cause. The peril of war is upon us, and you are about to meet it. The highest attribute of man is courage to defend the right. Your cause is right—it is just; and may the ‘God of battles’ be with you… Take then this flag and let your determination be like that of the Spartan mother’s advice when she presented her son with his shield: ‘Come home with it or come home on it.”
And right they were. According to the most ignored Federal document our nation has ever endorsed, the United States Constitution, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention voted down a clause that would make the United States a “perpetual union” and the states were therefore free to secede. In fact, secession was never made illegal, even to the present date. So, the next time you see a Confederate Flag or a reenactor wearing the gray, let that serve as a reminder of the perpetuation of our greatest achievement in our nation’s history: the endorsement of the United States Constitution, the same document that the armed services and the President swear an oath to uphold.