One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansawyers faced an imminence of having to choose sides in the ever-increasing conflict between the United States and the Confederate States governments. As noted in an April, 1861 edition of an Arkansas newspaper, “This morning we reared a pole, towering 110 feet, and from its lofty summit stretches out our southern flag, the star of Arkansas in the distance, like the swift comet, seeking to form one of those brilliant seven that are shedding light upon the independent pathway of our Confederacy.” To recap the events that led to the early May, 1861 dilemma in which Arkansas found herself, one has to begin with the seizure of the Little Rock Arsenal in February, 1861 by the Arkansas militia.
Another key event leading to the dilemma was the refusal by Arkansas Governor Henry Massie Rector in complying with President Lincoln’s April 15th request for Arkansas troops in helping the U.S. quell the frenzy of Confederate patriotism in the South following the April 12th bombardment of Ft. Sumter. Immediately following Rector’s decision, a mob of citizens in Cincinnati seized militia store en route to Arkansas, which was quickly followed up with a similar seizure in Pine Bluff of military stores aboard two steamers en route to Ft. Smith.
These series of events lead to the capture of the U.S. Arsenal in Ft. Smith by Arkansas militiamen and the mass-mustering of Arkansas militia volunteers across the state. Regarding the state militia responsible for the seizure of the Ft. Smith arsenal, “They were all well armed, drilled and uniformed, and consisted of the flower of the chivalry of that portion of the State. Their disappointment upon learning, when they reached the place of disembarkation, that the enemy had ingloriously fled, was not disguised, and was, doubtless, as we can well imagine, deep and sincere. Yes, the bird had flown.” Of the property seized by Arkansas militiamen were: “6000 bushels of corn, 500 tons of hay, 100 mules, a number of wagons, a large quantity of quarter master’s stores, possession of the buildings of the fort, which are very fine—constituting a property worth about three hundred thousand dollars.”
Amidst the multitude of factors leading Arkansas into making some very important decisions, the obvious necessity for holding a second secession convention became apparent; on May 6, 1861, Arkansas would finally make her decision.