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Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

As U.S. troops continued their garrison of the Little Rock Arsenal amid the hot-headed tempers of Jefferson and Phillips County militia surrounding of the arsenal grounds, the U.S. commander James Totten became more and more confused as to his mission. By the opening days of February, he knew he was a pawn being played by several U.S. congressmen from Arkansas and several businessmen of Little Rock.

In a February 6, 1861 dispatch from Totten to his commander in Washington, D.C. following the formal letter from Governor Rector demanding the surrender of the federal arsenal to the state of Arkansas, Totten notes, “As I have already written and telegraphed you for the information of the President [Buchanan], I am perfectly in the dark as to the wishes of the administration, from the want [of] instructions how to meet such a crisis at present.”

To make matters more confusing, even to the present-day historian, Totten, on the same day, sent a dispatch to his supervisor in D.C. informing him of the dire situation and the hasty need for instructions. He told Colonel S. Cooper, the Adjutant-General of the U.S. Army, “I have to inform the authorities that companies of armed citizens from various sections of this State have already arrived, and it is said there will soon be five thousand here for the express purpose of taking this arsenal…Collision seems inevitable if this arsenal is to be held.”

The armed militia from Jefferson and Phillips Counties, while surrounding the arsenal, took camp on the grounds of the Arkansas capitol, now the Old State House Museum on Markham.

One of the boldest acts of defiance includes the following excerpt from a dispatch from Arkansas Governor Henry M. Rector to Captain Totten held up in the Little Rock Arsenal: “I therefore demand in the name of the State the delivery of the possession of the arsenal and munitions of war under your charge to the State authorities, to be held subject to the action of the convention to be held on the 4th March next.” The fourth of March was not only the date slated for Lincoln’s inaugural, but also the day slated for the state’s secession convention. Coincidence? Probably not.

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.