Mar/Apr 2000

For More Details
The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism distributes several brochures on the Civil War in the state, including the comprehensive “Arkansas History and Heritage Trail.” Call 1-800-628-8725 or order through the state’s Web site at www.arkansas.com. Or contact Arkansas state parks at 1-888-AT-PARKS.

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Echoes of war
Memorials and battlefields preserve Civil War history in Arkansas

By Durand Young

It was the most tragic time in Arkansas history. The state was an early target for Confederate and Union armies because of Mississippi River commerce and its role as the gateway to the Southwest. More than 750 military engagements were recorded on Arkansas soil. Several battle sites have been preserved as memorials to the country’s most disastrous period. Here’s a sampling of those sites.

Northwest Arkansas

On two cold March days in 1862, more than 26,000 soldiers clashed in the first major Civil War engagement in Arkansas, the Battle of Pea Ridge, also known to the Confederacy as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern. The Union victory was the largest battle west of the Mississippi River. One Union officer would later write he had not seen any fighting compared to that at Elkhorn Tavern on March 7.

Pea Ridge National Military Park in the northwest corner of Arkansas (near Rogers), preserves 4,300 acres of the battle site’s hills, woods and open fields. A seven-mile, self-guided auto tour leads visitors to points of interest, including reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern. For more information, call (501) 451-8122.

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park (501-846-2990), located southwest of Fayetteville, memorializes the intense fighting and retreat of Confederate forces on Dec. 7, 1862. It was the last major engagement in northwest Arkansas. The park contains 19th-century buildings and a mile-long walking trail of the battlefield. The visitor center offers an audiovisual program and exhibits.

Headquarters House Museum (501-521-2020), which served as headquarters for both sides during the war, was in the midst of the Battle of Fayetteville in April 1863 when Confederate forces tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the small Union contingent based in the city. Living history programs are presented at the 1853 Greek Revival home. The Fayetteville Confederate Cemetery provides a peaceful, picturesque resting place for casualties from Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and other battles.

Fort Smith, on the Arkansas River at the state’s western border, changed hands twice during the war. In July 1864, Rebels mounted a six-day attack, but the U.S. Army retained control. The annual Siege of Fort Smith event (this year, July 29) features uniformed re-enactors, living history camps and demonstrations at Fort Smith National Historic Site. For additional information, call (501) 783-3961.

Southwest Arkansas

Seeking a source of vital cotton, the Union launched the Red River Campaign to capture Texas in 1864. Union Gen. Frederick Steele and an army of 13,000 men marched southwest from Little Rock toward Shreveport, La.

Spring rains, stubborn Confederate resistance and supply problems slowed his progress. Skirmishes at Elkins’ Ferry and Prairie De Ann, near Prescott, were followed by crippling losses of supply trains at the Battle of Poison Spring (west of Camden) and the Battle of Marks’ Mills (southeast of Fordyce). Facing starvation or capture, Steele turned north toward safety in Little Rock.

Stalled by the flooded Saline River, he suffered further losses in the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, south of Sheridan. Fighting both the river and the Rebels, he finally crossed the water, but the Red River Campaign was over–a costly failure.

White Oak Lake State Park at Bluff City, the Grant County Museum in Sheridan and several antebellum homes occupied by generals from both sides in Camden tell the war history of the area.

Old Washington Historic State Park, northwest of Hope, contains the county courthouse that became the Confederate Capitol of Arkansas after the fall of Little Rock in 1863.

Central Arkansas

Several sites important in the Little Rock Campaign of August and September 1863 are included in a driving tour brochure prepared by the Central Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail Association. This campaign helped secure northern Arkansas for the Union. Other significant sites include Little Rock National Cemetery, the Old U.S. Arsenal and the Old State House, now a museum, where Arkansas seceded (it took two votes) from the Union on May 16, 1861.

Southeast Arkansas

At Arkansas Post south of Gillett, 30,000 Union troops and federal gunboats overwhelmed the Confederate garrison of Fort Hindman on Jan. 10 and 11, 1863. It resulted in the largest Confederate surrender of troops west of the Mississippi, and destroyed the remains of the town.

The Arkansas Post National Memorial offers visitors a museum and wayside exhibits that tell the story of the town, which dates from 1686–1863. Some Civil War artifacts are also on view. For more information, call (870) 548-2207.

On July 4, 1863, the same day that Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg and Vicksburg surrendered to Grant, Union troops occupying Helena, Ark., repelled a Confederate attack.

Other Arkansas battle sites include: Chalk Bluff Battlefield Park near St. Francis, Canehill in the Boston Mountains and Ditch Bayou near Lake Village.

The Civil War lives on in parks, monuments and at public events throughout Arkansas. It is in remembering the past that we can hope for a better future.

Durand Young is a contributor from Bella Vista, Ark.



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