Confederate Military History, Vol. 13: Arkansas

Confederate Military History, Vol. 13: Arkansas.

This work spanning fifteen extensive volumes is the result of contributions by many Southern men to the literature of the United States that treats of the eventful years in which occurred the momentous struggle called by Mr. A. H. Stephens “the war between the States.” These contributions were made on a well-considered plan, to be wrought out by able writers of unquestionable Confederate record who were thoroughly united in general sentiment and whose generous labors upon separate topics would, when combined, constitute a library of Confederate military history and biography. According to the great principle in the government of the United States that one may result from and be composed of many – the doctrine of E pluribus unum–it was considered that intelligent men from all parts of the South would so write upon the subjects committed to them as to produce a harmonious work which would truly portray the times and issues of the Confederacy and by illustration in various forms describe the soldiery which fought its battles. Upon this plan two volumes – the first and the last-comprise such subjects as the justification of the Southern States in seceding from the Union and the honorable conduct of the war by the Confederate States government; the history of the actions and concessions of the South in the formation of the Union and its policy in securing the existing magnificent territorial dominion of the United States; the civil history of the Confederate States, supplemented with sketches of the President, Vice-President, cabinet officers and other officials of the government; Confederate naval history; the morale of the armies; the South since the war, and a connected outline of events from the beginning of the struggle to its close. The two volumes containing these general subjects are sustained by the other volumes of Confederate military history of the States of the South involved in the war. Each State being treated in separate history permits of details concerning its peculiar story, its own devotion, its heroes and its battlefields. The authors of the State histories, like those of the volumes of general topics, are men of unchallenged devotion to the Confederate cause and of recognized fitness to perform the task assigned them. It is just to say that this work has been done in hours taken from busy professional life, and it should be further commemorated that devotion to the South and its heroic memories has been their chief incentive. This volume thirteen out of fifteen, covering the Civil War in Arkansas.

Confederate Military History, Vol. 13: Arkansas

Confederate Military History, Vol. 13: Arkansas.

Format: eBook.

Confederate Military History, Vol. 13: Arkansas.

ISBN: 9783849662929.


Excerpt from the text:


Chapter 1


The exciting political campaign of 1860 was over. Henry Massie Rector had been elected governor of the State by a combination of Democrats and old-line Whigs; the legislature was Democratic by a large majority. The total vote cast in the election of August was 61,198, of which Rector received 31,948 and R. H. Johnson, 29,250. The Thirteenth general assembly of the State met at Little Rock, November 5th, and continued in session until January 21, 1861, when it adjourned to meet November 4th, and, after a short session, adjourned again to reassemble March 8, 1862. January 15, 1861, it passed an act looking to the warlike defense of the State, calling for a State convention which should determine the attitude of Arkansas in the crisis which was impending, and for organizing the militia and providing arms to keep down disturbances and repel invasion. Two commissioners were authorized to buy arms, for which $100,000 was appropriated, and Thomas J. Churchill and C. C. Danley appointed such commissioners. They expended but $36,000 for that purpose, when it was realized that no arms would be allowed to be shipped to the State from Cincinnati, to which point they had been ordered from the Northern armories. The convention, if it should be ordered by the popular vote, was to assemble at Little Rock, in obedience to the proclamation of the governor, on the first Monday after March

About the time of the meeting of the general assembly, in November 1860, the Second United States artillery had been transferred from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to the arsenal at Little Rock, where it remained stationed during the sitting of the first session of the legislature. The removal may have occurred in the ordinary routine of the regular service, but there had not been soldiers in the old barracks for many years. It had been used exclusively as a depot for arms and munitions, occupied by a military storekeeper and a few non-commissioned officers and mechanics. The Second artillery was composed of about seventy-five men, under command of Capt. James Totten, of the regular army, whose father, Dr. William E. Totten, occupied some position on the grounds by appointment of the war department. Captain Totten was a genial and accomplished gentleman, whose half-brother had intermarried with one of the most respected and influential families in the city and State, owning slaves, and being Democrats, but sympathizing with the cause of the Union. The denizens of the towns in Arkansas, whose inhabitants were engaged in merchandise or mechanical pursuits, were generally of Northern birth or extraction, and were strongly in favor of the Union, upon any conditions. The oldest and most distinguished citizens of Little Rock were from New York and Philadelphia, and the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and were an element of wealth, refinement and intelligence. The dwellers of the ‘hill country’ were from the mountain regions of Tennessee, and of the Appalachian chain throughout its whole length, a very different type from those above named, and were also advocates of the Union. The planters of the lowlands, generally from Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, were outspoken advocates of separation from the contaminating and menacing influences of the people of the ‘Free States,’ believing they would never be satisfied until, through business devices or legislation, they could control the great planting interest for their own profit or destroy it through the liberation of the slaves. The planters had been worked up to a white heat by the utterances of Mr. Lincoln in his debate with Douglas, and the unprovoked descent of Osawatamie Brown, backed, as they believed, clandestinely by a very powerful element of ethico-political leaders at the seats of influence in the North. The legislative representatives of the cotton counties looked with suspicion upon the unusual removal of a battery of artillery to the State capital while they were engaged in deliberations which they wished to be far removed from every semblance of coercion.

Governor Rector was inaugurated on November 15, 1860. In his inaugural address he counseled moderation in the action of the State government. He hoped for the display of a more conciliatory disposition on the part of the successful candidates in the late Federal election than could be discerned in the unauthorized publication of the press, and in sectional agitation going on in all parts of the common country. But, should the new officers yield to such influences and manifest the same spirit which had caused many powerful States to deliberately violate the compact of the Union, and should the general government take any step to encroach upon the constitutional rights of the Southern States, then the State of Arkansas should place herself in the column with her sister States of the South, and share their destiny.

Governor Rector was a native of St. Louis, Mo., where his father, Col. Elias Rector, had been formerly surveyor-general of the Territory of Missouri, which then included Arkansas. He removed to Arkansas before he arrived at maturity, for the care of landed interests which he had inherited from his father. He was descended, in part, from the Seviers, of Tennessee, and was a relative of Senator, and one-time United States Minister, A. H. Sevier, of Arkansas. He resided at Little Rock, after holding several positions, as member of the general assembly from Saline County, United States marshal of the western district of Arkansas, surveyor-general, and associate justice of the Supreme court.

At that time Little Rock was a small city of about 3,000 inhabitants. Its chief importance was derived from its official character, as the dwelling place of government officers, State and Federal, the seat of the superior courts, and the place of residence of the leading lawyers of the State. As a commercial center it possessed but little importance. But there were few communities that could boast a more elevated and refined society. Composed of the higher classes, educated by the advantages of travel and favorable contact with the learned and gifted of the older States at the Federal capital, they were trained through an intercourse which made courtesy, forbearance and superior attainments the indispensable elements of success and happiness. No spot of earth ever surpassed it in the generous and unrestricted hospitality of its citizens, which may be compared to that extended by ‘renowned Alcinous, host of old Laertes’ son,’ in the Homeric romance. It is needless to say that the results of the war and the commercial growth of the place have obliterated many of these ancient customs and greatly transformed all this.

In the latter part of January, or first of February, after the legislature had taken a recess until March, Maj. H. A. Montgomery, of Memphis, completed his line of magnetic telegraph from that city to Little Rock. A line had already given communication from Memphis to Helena, Ark., on the Mississippi river, in the midst of one of the most productive cotton regions in the State. Montgomery had, the year before, obtained a charter for a company to operate this line, of which Charles P. Bertrand, a wealthy citizen and lawyer, formerly of New York, was president, and James Henry, a merchant, formerly of Massachusetts, was secretary. Major Montgomery was a practical operator, with L. C. Baker for his assistant and, eventually, chief operator. On the evening of the completion of his line to Memphis, Montgomery called on the writer of this history with the announcement that he was about to send his first dispatch, which it was his desire to have the writer formulate. He was in earnest, and the initial message was framed and handed him, containing, among other things, a repetition of the rumor, then in circulation at Little Rock, that Major Emory had been ordered from Fort Gibson, on the frontier, to reinforce Captain Totten at the arsenal at Little Rock. This rumor, whether true or false, had been mentioned with gratification by divers friends of the Union cause in the city, and as Fort Gibson was only 80 miles west of Fort Smith, and the river navigable, it was a piece of news worthy of a telegraphic message. It was sent as an item of news solely, and without a thought that it would give rise to any practical results in the then uncertain and helpless condition of affairs.

The next morning found Montgomery considerably worked up by news he had received of the effect of his dispatch at Helena, to which place it had been forwarded from Memphis. His information was to the effect that it caused great excitement at Helena. The citizens had met in mass meeting and tendered the governor 500 volunteers to take the arsenal and expel the Union troops! The adjutant-general made his appearance with the dispatch, from the hands of the governor. It was signed by well-known, honored citizens. The adjutant-general complained of the impropriety of a direct offer of volunteers to the governor of a State which had not seceded and might not secede. Only a few weeks before, South Carolina, and in this same month, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and Georgia, had passed ordinances of secession; and Texas, February 11th, submitted it to a vote of the people, to be taken on the 23rd of that month. But Arkansas had not yet voted to hold a convention. The adjutant-general concluded that such a tender of troops to the governor was impracticable under the circumstances. He would telegraph the citizens of Helena to that effect, since the governor had given him the dispatch to answer.

Adjutant-General Burgevine was brother-in-law of Governor Rector, and brother of the Burgevine of whom Gen. Edward Forrester wrote in his reminiscences of the great Tai-Ping rebellion in China, describing the battle of Fung-Wah: ‘This was the last battle fought by the “ever victorious army” under my command. My broken health compelled me to retire, and General Burgevine was appointed my successor.’

‘But, General,’ it was suggested, ‘suppose you frame a dispatch as follows: “The governor has no authority to summon you to take possession of a Federal post, whether threatened to be reinforced or not. Should the people assemble in their defense, the governor will interpose his official position in their behalf.” ’ The adjutant-general resolved to send a dispatch in something like these words, and did so, with the immediate effect of arousing, not only the citizens of Helena and vicinity, but all the planting region which received the news, and the movement to take the arsenal was immediately set on foot.

The Yell Rifles, of which that most distinguished officer, Patrick R. Cleburne, was a member, and a company of cavalry under Captain Gist, brother of Governor Gist of South Carolina, came overland, mounted and armed; the Phillips Guards, an infantry company commanded by Captain Otey, came by steamer up the Arkansas river. Several impromptu organizations came by steamer from Pine Bluff, and others by land on horseback. Soon there were several thousand men in Little Rock, assembled for the purpose of demanding the surrender of the arsenal and taking possession of the arms and munitions there stored. The inhabitants of the little city were in a state of most intense excitement.

The arsenal was situated in a grove of twenty acres, and consisted of a large two-story brick building, with octagonal tower, in which were stores of arms and munitions of war; a handsome brick residence; and in the background a row of barracks, two stories high, with double verandas; besides several office buildings and guardhouses, situated about the lawn. Captain Totten’s was no enviable position. He had 75 men, a strong position in the storehouse, several pieces of light artillery, plenty of cartridges and caps for a month’s siege. He had disposed his men and artillery in convenient positions, in case of the attack of a mob upon him; but the arsenal, partly within the city, was so near the principal residences that he could not fire without endangering non-combatants and the helpless, who were his friends and relatives. It was never in his thought, perhaps, to fire upon the city, except in an emergency he could not foresee. The armed citizens with whom he had to deal knew and respected the proprieties. They asked for a consultation with Captain Totten, through the governor, as mediator. Captain Totten replied courteously, saying that he did not have any knowledge as to whether the arsenal would be reinforced, or what might be the action of the government; but he would do all he could in his position to prevent bloodshed and promote peace.

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