Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New and Noteworthy----1863, A Year of Turning Points: Arkansas

Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle for a State, Mark K. Christ, University of Oklahoma Press, notes, bibliography, index, maps, illustrations, 321 pages, $34.95.

The Arkansas River, bisecting the state, in 1862 was a breadbasket for much of the trans-Mississippi Confederacy. Its productivity resembles Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Also like Virginia, Arkansas was reluctant to join the Confederacy. The slave holding delta and lowland counties favored secession and the western mountainous regions favored the Union. The state's assembly on December 22 1860 called for a convention to meet; on January 15, 1861 the state's senate agreed and set the date as February 18 for an election of delegates to the state's convention. Two weeks before the Arkansas convention, the Confederacy declared its existence on February 4.

For the most part, the election confirmed a strong Unionist population. The convention was set for the first Monday in August. But Lincoln's call for troops and a fear that southern and eastern Arkansas counties would leave both the Union and the northern and western counties in it compelled the convention to vote Arkansas out of the Union.

Not all Arkansans rushed to the Confederate cause. The mountainous north-central Arkansas region generated the Arkansas Peace Society, a county home guard militia of ardent Unionists. A small Confederate army proceeded from northwest Arkansas and into southwest Missouri were in engaged Federal troops at Wilson's Creek. The Battle of Wilson's Creek was on August 10, 1861, near Springfield, Missouri. It was the first major battle of the war west of the Mississippi River and is called the Bull Run of the West.

The Battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) sent them back into Arkansas on March 7 and 8, 1862, in northwest Arkansas, near Bentonville. By July 12 1862 a federal army occupied Helena, one of Arkansas' major cities ranked in importance right behind Little Rock, its capital. Throughout the rest of 1862 and 1863 a vicious guerrilla war was waged and the major battles at Arkansas Post, Helena, Bayou Fourche, Fort Smith that guarded the Arkansas River as it crossed into the Indiana Territory, and Pine Bluff were fought.

Well mapped and well illustrated Civil War Arkansas: The Battle For A State lacks only a chronology of Arkansas' Civil War history. Mark K. Christ's text is clear, concise and compelling. Balancing the major army campaigns in the state, the impact of the Federal brown water navy, the guerrilla war, the Native Americans on both sides, and the slaves and contrabands, Christ has composed a story diligence, exhaustion, cruelty and luck. Presenting descriptive anecdotes from the primary sources of soldiers and civilians, Native Americans and African Americans, Christ's narrative moves the reader through Arkansas' truly uncivil civil war and how it turned on soldiers courage and civilians endurance.

Bottom Image Source: interactive National Park Service map

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