Get your copy today

Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

By the close of January, 1861 the Federal commander, Captain James Totten, then held up in the Little Rock Arsenal, had been wondering for two months  the goal of his garrisoning of the arsenal grounds. Having been in command of an arsenal in Arkansas since the election of Lincoln without any orders or mission began to raise concerns. Totten wrote to Colonel S. Cooper, the Adjutant-General for the United States Army in Washington, D.C. for clarification of his duties.

Totten began his communication to Cooper On January 29, “…with the request that instructions be sent me as to my future action in the premises.” Totten continued, “I also request that means and money may be sent to carry out the orders I may receive.” Having received no orders to date and no idea why he was dispatched to Little Rock, Totten continued, “I deem it necessary in this connection respectfully to inform the authorities concerned that, in my opinion, most unequivocal instructions are called for regarding the matter at issue.”

Totten believed, “there is trouble ahead for this command, and that by the 4th day of March coming decided action will be absolutely imperative in the officer who may then command this arsenal, and if left to his own discretion, he may not in everything correspond with the wishes of the Federal authorities.” March 4 was the date assigned for the secession convention if one were voted upon. It was. It was also the date of Lincoln’s inaugural address. It is highly doubtful that the secession convention and Lincolns inaugural being on the same date as being a coincidence.

Totten knew something was amiss and he knew he was dead in the middle of a situation that could very easily go bad. The first inkling that something was out of the ordinary can be seen in Totten’s communication noting that whatever orders were given or expected of him from the Federal authorities in D.C., “I respectfully ask that they may be sent by a reliable agent, and not by mails, as there appears to be some reason in believing that they are not entirely trustworthy at present.”

Historians have long debated the communications sent and received during the Little Rock Arsenal Crisis, and Totten’s newly-found dispatch shows likewise, that something was not consistent with reliable communications. The next column will expose a proverbial smoking gun to show a conspiracy in the works by Arkansas congressmen.

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.