On May 5, 1862 the US War Department created the Department of Kansas, and appointed 35 year old Brigadier Gen James G Blunt Commander. He migrated to KN from OH during the 1850’s and assisted John Brown in sending escaped slaves to Canada while practicing medicine in Greely KN. He didn’t have much to recommend militarily speaking except for a bulldog disposition similar to that of Gen Grant’s. His greatest asset was consistent good luck.
Gen Curtis crossed into AR northwest of Batesville approximately May 1 and felt somewhat relieved at the cessation of the rainy season with improved road conditions. The officers and men he led were all Midwesterners, mostly from IL with the smallest contingents from KN, WI and OH. Their world had been rolling prairies with prosperous farms and bustling towns and cities.
They were mostly young men in their twenties and away from home for the first time. Their encounter with the Ozark highlands at the beginning of their odyssey through MO and AR was at first a fascinating experience through an alien environment. Frequent descriptions of the beauty of the highlands filled diaries and letters to home and into prominent newspapers. It was, wrote a cavalryman “a wonderful change of scenery to the boys from the IL prairies.” One soldier observed; “The green pines and cedars look very pretty on the barren stony hills.”
Initially they acted like tourists in any day and age. One trooper from the wide open spaces of KN amused himself by pushing large rocks over steep cliffs “to see and hear them fall in the abyss below.” Another Kansan informed his brother that Arkansas (Benton CO) “is one remarkable country (sic) for fine streams of pure running water.”
But after a few weeks ,the Army of the Southwest became tired tourists and the excitement of the march began to wane. The bloody battle of Pea Ridge, the onset of torrential rains and the rigors of the eastward slog across the Ozark Plateau eroded morale and inspired contempt. “We are in a perfect wilderness, where not anything is to be seen but trees, stumps, hills and rivulets”, whined one officer. With harsh negative sentiment an Iowan described the landscape as “the roughest, meanest country God ever made (I think).” One infantryman ranted to the Indianapolis (IN) Dailey Journal, that the army of the Southwest was lost somewhere in “one of the most rantankerous, half-manufactured sections of the country you ever saw.”
What was so undesirable and repulsive to what had been a mountainous wonderland, was nothing compared to the disparagement of the inhabitants. “You have no idea how miserably poor the inhabitants of this section (Benton CO ) of the country are,” wrote one man to his mother. “They have barely enough to keep body and soul together which I suppose they make by hunting and I do think they are not fit for anything else.” The list of derogatory comments was endless. One soldier wrote the New York Tribune that Arkansas was a “semi-savage State.” Finally a WI soldier gave expression to his derision by declaring; “I have often heard and read of the ignorance of Southern people, but I have never been so convinced of the fact until I have had the opportunity of conversing with them.”
When the Army of the Southwest arrived in Batesville on May 5, the accolades were enormous. Not enough good could have been said for such a refined and pleasant appearing town and most spent an entire day walking around staring at the houses. But no amount of praise was redemptive enough to diminish the states tarnished reputation.
Before the war, AR already had an unfortunate reputation as a rugged wilderness populated by crude backwoodsmen. The disparaging descriptions given by the invaders reinforced this negative image and gave it widespread circulation among hundreds of thousands of Americans through newspapers from the Midwest to the east coast—-an image that plagues the state to this day. (William L Shea, A Semi-Savage State: The Image of Arkansas in the Civil War, AHQ, Winter 1989.)
On May 5, Governor Rector issued an inflammatory proclamation threatening to secede from the Confederacy. Abandonment of AR had cast a deep feeling of despair, but newspapers responded with an uproar of protest. The Gazette, True Democrat and Washington Telegraph claimed the governor only spoke for himself, and not for the vast majority of the people in the state. They also refrained from making derogatory remarks about the governor, but out-of-state newspapers were hostile and sometimes vicious in attacking him.
Many veterans of the battle of Shiloh were now on convalescent leave. In AR County, Sergeants Andrew J Gunnell, Daniel Brown and Private Frederick Foster would recuperate from their wounds to serve again. “Fred” Foster of Casscoe had farmed a small portion of a 40 acre strip one-half mile west of Cook’s Lake and would survive the conflict for his final homecoming.