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Arkansas in the Civil War: 1861

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address reached Arkansas and was not well-received. Delivered on March 4, 1861, the speech was not received west of the Mississippi River until a few days afterward.

According to a Memphis newspaper, “Honest Abe has been safely delivered of his Inaugural, is snugly quartered in the White House, with Gen. Scott’s Pretorian guards to protect him, and legions of hungry Wide Awakes and Abolitionists thronging around Washington, its purieus, the Capitol, and Departments, seeking the offices in his bestowal.”

In a time where communication took days in some cases for news to travel from the east coast to Arkansas, Lincoln’s speech in many cases would have been read aloud for groups of people to hear or published in local papers. According to the same Memphis newspaper the Avalanche, “The Inaugural, in full, was first ventilated here yesterday morning, in the True Democrat.” The editorial continued, “It is universally conceded here, as elsewhere, by every man that ‘knows a hawk from a bandy saw,’ that if he carries out the programme there laid down, war is inevitable.”

Like today a mistrust in an opposing political party can border on unfounded fears. A Little Rock newspaper even related, “The overwhelming vote for a [secession] Convention can mean nothing else than a full adjustment of our rights in the Union, or secession from it.”

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.