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Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

Before the Civil War began, Arkansas’ military consisted of largely a rag-tag group of local militias scattered across the state. By March of 1861, Arkansas could boast of quite a few militia groups from which the Confederate army would eventually be composed. One of those militia groups in Pine Bluff was the Jefferson Guards. The Jefferson Guards would eventually be one of the companies of men in Patrick Cleburne’s 15th Arkansas Infantry in May 1861.

According to the Weekly Arkansas Gazette, the local Pine Bluff militia loved to parade around town showing off their new flashy uniforms and found any excuse to do so. The two representatives from Jefferson County in the secession convention, R.W. Johnson and General James Yell were escorted by the militia unit to the court house, “with bayonets bristling from their guns, and keeping step to martial music.”

The editorial noted, “Our citizen soldiery here are invincible in peace, and they merely wished to render military honors to a General and a Colonel who desired to point out to them ‘the wisest and safest policy for the interest, the honor, and the future security of Arkansas'”.

While Arkansas awaits her fate in or out of the Union in 1861, the first secession convention raised many questions and exposed the fears and hopes of a state without proper direction. The editorial continued, “The secessionists have laid down their programme, the stakes are all set, and now if they can work up to them they say they will be the proudest and the happiest people on earth in a Southern Confederacy.”

While the first official shots of the Civil War was a month away and Arkansas having not left the Union, the idle time was spent churning pages and pages of political editorials in the attempt to convince the state that secession was her best action to take.

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.