One hundred and fifty years ago, Arkansas was indeed under siege. Two opposing armies were preparing for a confrontation and both the Confederate and Federal armies did all they could to weaken the opposing side. With the citizens of the state caught in the middle, most lost everything they owned. The wake of destruction was unimaginable, and the repercussions of the wanton disregard for personal property is an event of which the Delta has yet to recover from.
In an April 1863 editorial entitled “The Starvation Policy” in the Little Rock-based Arkansas True Democrat, the author related that, “It has been known, for weeks, that the federals in this State, as well as others, were destroying all farming implements, seizing all provisions and preventing the planting of crops, with the avowed determination to starve the people into submission.” This was surely the case during the Siege of Vicksburg, which left untold multitudes of women and children in starvation.
The editorial was quick to throw the blame onto the Lincoln Administration, as was the case in utilizing propaganda to create a sense of urgency in raising more troops in Arkansas: “But it is now certain that orders to that effect have issued from Lincoln’s war department. In Phillips, Chicot, and other counties, where the federals have a foothold they have and are burning all the fences, plows and farming utensils they find.”
In newspapers, both then and now, one has to read with caution to pick through the mythology created out of a necessity in discrediting the foe. However, there does seem to be evidence to suggest that, though very heated and biased, the events noted in the editorial were based in reality. Contraband or liberated slaves were not the only ones flooding through to the Federal lines: “They are sending thousands of women and children within our lines, destroying all the provisions they find and preventing the people from planting.”
When studying the American Civil War, we tend to get caught on the large grandiose battles and the plight of the common soldier, but we tend to forget the toils and suffering of the common citizen caught in the middle of clashing.