Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

Order your copy today- Click on the book cover.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, the great question of whether Arkansas was going to leave the union or not was on the table. 1860 was a year that propaganda began to heat up as the election drew closer. As Lincoln was elected in November 1860, he was not on the ballot in any Southern state. The South saw Lincoln as a Northern president with hits of abolition in his political platform. In any case, would Arkansas give him a chance?

Arkansas Governor Henry M. Rector, in the “Journal of the Convention of the State of Arkansas”, in “An Act to Provide for a State Convention” sets February 18, 1861 as the date of the election on whether Arkansas would hold a convention to decide whether to leave to Union or not. If the people of the state decided to hold a convention, it would begin on March 2, 1861.

With one hundred and fifty-five years of hind-sight separating us from the January 15 question being considered, we know it took Arkansas two conventions to secede from the Union, only because of Lincoln’s request for troops on April 15. Using the make-up and general rules guiding the General Assembly in 1861, the governor began using a proven model of legislation. While composed of ten sections, Section 8 of the Act provided, “That upon the organization of said convention, it shall take into consideration that condition of political affairs, and determine what course the State of Arkansas shall take in the present political crisis.”

While secession was being considered in mid January 1861, a Federal artillery unit had been garrisoning the Little Rock Arsenal since November 1860. While Little Rock was not as politically fervent on secession as, say Helena or Pine Bluff, the capital city became the perfect backdrop for the drama that was about to play out. The first communication sent officially from the Little Rock Arsenal by the Federal commander will be discussed in the next column.

The editor of this column, Ron Kelley, is a Public Historian in Helena, Arkansas and writes for the Helena World newspaper. Kelley is the author of Diary of a State: 1860 and Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861. For more information on Arkansas in the Civil War, go to

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861 contains over 200 pages of primary source documents that, for the first time ever, tell the whole story of the Civil War in Arkansas from both sides using their own words. Some documents are in print for the very first time, including letters, official correspondence, historical accounts of battles, newspaper editorials, and much more. It took over a decade to compile the documents that help tell the story of Arkansas the first year of the Civil War.