One hundred and fifty years ago, the American Civil War was no longer a vague and distant abstract concept of great armies fight in glorious battles in far off lands; quite the opposite was true for Arkansas. As Federal troops steadily inched their way in a Southerly direction, the Southern people of Arkansas continued preparation for the imminent invasion. The proverbial “Clouds of War” were looming at a not-so-very-distant point of no return for the citizens of Arkansas and their army.
A February 13 edition of the Little Rock-based True Democrat newspaper prophesized, “Within a few weeks, we will have some desperate fighting either in Missouri or in Arkansas, and we need then every man that can be spared, and every gun that can be gotten.” The article continued, “The descriptions of the state of the country, and the acts of the enemy, given by our informants, are absolutely frightful.” The people of Arkansas would not know the true definition of “frightful” for another few weeks yet.
Federal acts of barbarism was not the only frightful acts worrying Arkansawyers one hundred and fifty years ago. Last year we saw the organization of the 15th Arkansas Infantry Regiment, commanded by Patrick R. Cleburne. Approaching nearly a full year of service, the regiment had never been issued more than 500 dollars’ worth of uniform supplies. Outraged by Governor Henry M. Rector’s lack of organization to see to it that the Arkansas troops were adequately supplied, an article appeared in the same issue of the True Democrat that noted, “These delinquencies on the part of the Military Board, or our governor, if he be responsible, are outrages upon a chivalrous and patriotic body of men, and deserve the unqualified indignation of the entire people of the State.”
This week’s rather lengthy column will conclude with an excerpt from a column written one hundred and fifty years ago entitled simply “The Crisis”: “We must defend our northern border. Every available gun, every weapon of every kind, must be put in order, and men must be sent promptly to the Arkansas line. The footstep of the invader has polluted the soil of Arkansas- let us swear that he shall be driven hence.”
The first shots of the War in Arkansas come on February 16, 1862 as Federal Commander Samuel Curtis attacked Confederate General Sterling Price at Big Sugar Creek in extreme North West Arkansas, only miles from Elk Horn Tavern situated atop Pea Ridge; the engagement at Pott’s Hill left over a dozen Confederates killed and one Union soldier dead.