One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansas was host to two major armies in the Northwest section of the state. As thousands of men joined the Confederate ranks from all regions of Arkansas, the need for hospitals became evermore apparent. The state and her citizen army were preparing for the inevitable clash.
Built in the late 1850’s, St. John’s College, which was the site for militia musters and drill in 1860, was converted to a hospital for sick and wounded soldiers in early 1862. The timing could not have been more perfect, as a March 6, 1862 newspaper related that “I come with another appeal to the patriotic ladies of our rustic city, in behalf of more sick soldiers, forty, that are now in our St. John’s Hospital, belonging to Col. Locke’s Texas regiment that passed through our city a few days ago.”
The same day the above was published, the first major clash between the Confederate forces and the U.S. Army occurred at Pea Ridge. This two-day battle resulted in sealing Arkansas’ and Missouri’s fate. On the first day of battle, U.S. General Curtis held off the Confederate offensive while on the second day the Confederates were driven from the field of battle. The Northwest section of the state would remain in Federal hands throughout the remainder of the War.
There were a total of 1,384 Federal casualties while the Confederate casualties totaled approximately 2,000. While the U.S. Army remained in Northwest Arkansas, Van Dorn would move his army east of the Mississippi River leaving the state virtually unprotected. Wounded Confederate soldiers begin making their way to South Arkansas to makeshift hospitals, including Camp White Sulphur Springs near Pine Bluff.
Arkansas continued to brace for the impending battles in North Arkansas as planters and farmers in South Arkansas continued to churn out record cotton crops and tons of corn to sustain her soldiers and citizens.