Washington County, Arkansas in the Civil War

The position of Washington County on all the questions which led up to the Civil War was similar to that of the State as a whole. She was reliably Democratic, and at the presidential election of 1860 gave Breckenridge a majority of 149 votes; her interests and sympathies were all with the South, but there was a decided feeling against disunion until the war had actually begun.

On January 24, 1861, the Legislature passed a bill providing for an election to vote upon the calling of the State Convention, and also to select delegates to the convention, provided it were called. A call was at once issued for a mass meeting, to be held at Fayetteville on February 2, and at the appointed time some 400 or 500 persons assembled. B. F. Boone was called to the chair, and the convention was addressed by R. W. Mecklin. Dr. T. J. Pollard then read a series of resolutions, that had been adopted by a convention at Boonsboro on January 26, 1861. The principal clause was as follows: “Resolved, That it is the sense of this meeting that if the efforts of the border States, to wit: Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Caroliua, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, shall fail to adjust the present political troubles of our country, that the interests of Arkansas being common with theirs, she shall take such action as those of the older and more powerful slave States shall indicate for themselves.” The resolutions also declared in favor of J. B. Russell, David Walker, C. W. Dean and James H. Stirman for delegates to the convention. After the reading of these resolutions Dr. G. W. Taylor moved that a committee of fifteen be appointed to draft a report expressive of the sense of the meeting, whereupon Stephen Bedford took the floor, and charged that the chairman had been selected a week before, that the resolutions to be reported by the committee were already prepared, and that the secretaries [J. H. Van Hoose and M. C. Duke] were secessionists. These charges threw the meeting into the greatest confusion, and it adjourned sine die. No further attempt was made to formally nominate delegates. The election took place on February 18, and the Arkansian announced the result in the following: “The election on Monday passed off, under all circumstances, as quietly as our elections generally do, without bloodshed or angry feeling, and the Union is doing as well as could be expected. The following is the result: Convention, 569; no convention, 1,541; for delegates, J. H. Stirman, 1,924; T. H. Gunter, 1,780; David Walker, 1,777; J. P. A. Parks, 1,713; C. W. Dean, 410; John Billingsley, 364; W. T. Neal, 353; scattering, 42.

“From Benton, Madison, Crawford and Sebastian Counties we learn that the Southern Rights men have been defeated by as heavy majorities, in proportion to the number of votes polled, as in the county.”

On the 5th of March a meeting was held in the court-house “to take the sense of the people on the inauguration of A. Lincoln.” Judge B. J. H. Gaines was called to the chair. He explained the object of the meeting, and stated that although he had before been a Union man, he was now for secession. The inaugural address was taken up, and read by M. C. Duke, and a committee of five was appointed to report resolutions upon it. C. W. Deane, J. P. Doss, James D. Walker, Robert Buchanan and John Crawford were appointed the committee, but Mr. Walker declined to serve, and Dr. S. R. Bell was substituted. The committee reported the following resolution, which was unanimously adopted:

WHEREAS, The inaugural address of Mr. Lincoln clearly indicates his intention to retake the forts and arsenals of the seceded States, and, also, to collect the revenue in said States, and,

WHEREAS, Virginia, Kentucky and other border States have declared that such an attempt WOULD BE COERCION. Therefore, be it

Resolved, That in our opinion, the inhabitants of Arkansas being inseparably connected with the Southern States, she should immediately take such steps as would guarantee her safety.

This expression of opinion was, of course, taken to influence the convention which had met at Little Rock the day before, but the great mass of the people were even yet loth to give up the Union, and it was not until after the fall of Fort Sumter, and the call for troops by President Lincoln, that the convention decided to pass the ordinance of secession.

The events that led to that ordinance are, briefly, as follows: The convention deliberated from March 4 until the 21st, when it adjourned to meet at the call of Hon. David Walker, its presiding officer. In the meantime union and non-union addresses were issued to the people of the State; one, entitled “Union Address to the People of Arkansas,” was signed by the union members of the convention, among the first of whom were David Walker, J. H. Stirman, J. A. P. Parks, and T. M. Gunter, of Washington County. The object of this address was explanation of their action and the urgency of a popular election to vote on the question: “Shall Arkansas co-operate with the border, or unseceded slave States, in efforts to secure a permanent and satisfactory adjustment of sectional controversies disturbing the country, or immediately secede?” Says an extract from the address: “Thus, it will be seen, that while Arkansas is not committed to the doctrine of secession, she condemns coercion by the Federal Government, and recommends the removal of causes that might lead to a collision; and the adoption of constitutional means to restore peace and fraternal relations between the sections, and happiness and prosperity to our once united, but now distracted, country.” The remainder of the address was an appeal for union.

Before the May meeting of the convention its chairman, the Hon. David Walker, issued the following address:

We have seen how the convention at Fayetteville expressed itself on March 5, and now, in answer to the above call, the voters of West Fork Township assembled on April 27 and passed the following resolutions: Resolved, First. That we are opposed to any ordinance of secession. Second. That we utterly oppose any action in the State convention that will sever the State of Arkansas from the Federal government without a full and fair expression of the loyal voters of the State. Third. That in case of an ordinance of secession we wish to co-operate with the other border State or States. Fourth. That we are opposed to any act of the convention that would unite us with the Southern Confederacy as it now exists. Among the names attached to these resolutions were C. G. Gilbreath, chairman; W. R. Dyer, secretary; J. C. Stockburger, D. E. Robinson, A. W. Reed, John A. Rutherford, Thomas McKnight and W. D. Dye, committee on resolutions. These two conventions represent the various conflicting instructions. After the act of the convention at Little Rock, martial activity was rife in every quarter. In Washington County, where sentiments were so divided, there was more or less uncertainty. The governor had ordered proclamations for troops, and those of this section were placed under Gen. Pearce. Then Brig.-Gen. Ben. McCulloch, who was in charge of Confederate troops protecting the Indian Territory and Arkansas, issued his proclamation for troops about the 1st of July, 1861. Under the latter several hundred men recruited at Fayetteville, in charge of Col. McRae. This raw material operated about Springfield and at Oak Hill. No opportunity, so far, had appeared for Federal recruiting; but the halting action of the county was evidence that there was a large latent element of neutrality or Federal sympathy. Indeed the men of Washington County were in a peculiarly trying position. With a large element of educated men, who felt the conviction that union was the only hope of the land, the strong fraternal feeling with the Southern States whose interests were similar, a stronger hope that their homes might not be laid waste by invasion, and that the secessional rupture might still be healed, all this certainly was an explanation, if not an excuse, for a great mass of uncertain and changeable action. In all these acts, however, the right of secession, if not silently assumed, was at least not denied, so that, without positive conviction on that right, all the motives that would appeal to citizens of Arkansas could not but lead to just such procedure as was adopted. And when once the secessional course was chosen it was natural for the authorities to take all measures for identifying the interests of the State with the Confederate States. The State government was in the hands of ultraists, and it is not strange that their radical measures should not be met by universal enthusiasm in Northwestern Arkansas; for, to quote from Col. A. W. Bishop, “Though bordering on the Cherokee line, it has been the intellectual center of the State, with Fayetteville as the point from which its intelligence radiated. Settled principally by Kentuckians and Tennesseeans, whose early teachings under Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson gave to their politics life, and to their loyalty vigor, attachment to the Federal Union has, from its settlement, been the prevailing sentiment of this section; a result attributable, in no small degree, to the educational institutions of Fayetteville and vicinity.” The time had come, however, when Washington County was supposed to furnish every able-bodied man to fight for State protection against the Federal Government and for the Confederate cause; and the most severe military measures were adopted to enforce this throughout the county, means which, to those not realizing the necessities of war, seemed hideous and barbarous. Those with neutral inclinations, or those in whom union convictions were supreme, were compelled to flee the country, hide in caves, use any deception to cover their intentions until a favorable opportunity arose, go armed, or, in some cases, suffer death. This state of affairs continued during 1861, and up to March 29, 1862, at which time the Union “Army of the Southwest” was lying at Cross Timbers, Mo., when refugees from all parts of this section applied to the Federal officers for protection and enlistment. The battle at Pea Ridge, in which McCulloch lost his life, was the signal for the exodus of Union sympathizers to the Federal lines, and it gave them more boldness at home in Washington County. The movement also aroused more severity among the State and Confederate authorities in their hopes to prevent it, until the lot of any in Washington County, except active adherents of the Southern cause, was far from pleasant. Neutral citizens of the county often joined one army or the other as seemed necessary to save their lives; Unionists thus became, in varying numbers, members of regiments from probably every State whose troops came within reach of Washington County–those of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and, probably, others. To illustrate this movement, the following from the overcaustic, though otherwise excellent, pen of Col. A. W. Bishop is inserted: “Prior to that event (Pea Ridge) the loyal (Union) citizens of Arkansas were cowed and powerless. With difficulty they avoided enlistment in the rebel army, and now that the reins of persecution began to slacken they availed themselves of every opportunity to strike for the Federal lines. The army of the Southwest moved to Batesville, and Cassville, Barry Co., Missouri, became the outpost of the frontier, with Lieut.-Col. C. B. Holland, of ‘Phelps’ Missouri Volunteers, as commander of the post, and M. La Rue Harrison, then of the Thirty-sixth Illinois Infantry Volunteers, as quartermaster and commissary of subsistence. Cassville was also at this time the seat of a general hospital, and in other respects a position important to hold. “On May 10, 1862, there came to its pickets a band of eleven Arkansans, led by Thomas J. Gilstrap and Furiben Elkins, of Crawford County. Listening to their story of suffering and wrong, and learning that others still were toiling their way northward, the idea occurred to Harrison of applying for authority to raise a regiment of Loyal Arkansans for the cavalry arm of the service. “On June 16, 1862, a special order of the War Department was issued authorizing the raising of the regiment, and Col. Harrison, with increasing zeal, now bent his energies to the task. Meantime, other fugitives had crossed the Missouri line. On May 14 there came into Cassville a band of thirty, led by Thomas Wilhite, of Washington County, men of nerve and activity, whose undesirable life on the Boston Mountains had, nevertheless, fitted them admirably for the wild-wood skirmishing in which they were destined to act a conspicuous part. “On June 20 there arrived another detachment of the yeomanry of Washington County, 115 strong, under the leadership of Thomas J. Hunt.” The return of the remnants of McCulloch’s army, after the death of their leader, and the laying waste of supplies on the retreat, left Washington County open for occupation by the new Federal troops under Col. Harrison, who had soon after organized the First Arkansas Cavalry, and afterward came to Fayetteville to establish a post, which was to be the key of Northwestern Arkansas, as it had been under Gen. McCulloch. In July, 1862, Maj. Hubbard, of the First Missouri Cavalry, and Maj. Miller, of the Second Wisconsin, appeared at Fayetteville on a raid of capture and recruiting. Meanwhile, all manner of Confederate guards, squads, companies and battalions, were organizing under the following:

During the summer Gen. Hindman’s pickets were near the southern boundary of Washington County, and the territory between that and the Missouri line was harried by parties from both armies, engaged in all that is included in bushwhacking, scouting, recruiting, foraging, burning, and all this not unattended by independent bands of robbers and assassins, who were fighting for no cause but plunder. So the situation continued in Washington County until December 7, following (1862). Meantime, the gallant and indefatigable Col. W. H. Brooks had become commander of that famous Washington County regiment known as the Thirty-fourth Arkansas Confederate Infantry, and on December 7, 1862, they engaged in the hard-fought battle of Prairie Grove. The Thirty-fourth Arkansas was to the Confederate cause in Washington County what the First Arkansas Cavalry was to the Unionists of this county, and T. M. Gunter, of the former, and T. J. Hunt, of the latter, both of Fayetteville, were their respective lieutenant-colonels, who were Washington County men. The retreat of Hindman’s army after Prairie Grove left the county in charge of the Federals, with headquarters at Fayetteville, where, January 8, 1863, Lieut.-Col. A. W. Bishop was made provost marshal and Col. M. La Rue Harrison was post commander. The First Arkansas Cavalry, under the immediate command of Maj. Thomas J. Hunt, bore the brunt of the service in scouring the country to relieve it of the independent bushwhackers, who were the result of Hindman’s order, No. 17. In March, however, the following proclamation offered new developments:

Events following the issuance of this proclamation are explained in the succeeding official report of Gen. Cabell’s attack on Fayetteville the following month:

This defeat of Confederate arms, although not gaining to them their object, the capture of Fayetteville, was followed by the evacuation of that city on April 25 (1863), a few days later, under the order of Gen. Curtis, to “fall back by forced marches on Springfield,” thus leaving Washington County open to Confederate occupation. During the summer both Confederate and Federal troops were largely drawn off toward Vicksburg, and on the return of Col. M. La Rue Harrison from a raid down on the Arkansas River, he reoccupied Fayetteville on the 22d of September. The remainder of 1863 and the early half of the following year was occupied by the Fayetteville post in scouring the whole region for bands of bushwhackers, and by the Confederate bushwhackers in threatening and annoying the enemy in all ways possible, and who in October made a concerted attack on the city, but failed. On October 3 (1864), a detachment of Gen. Price’s army, under the command of Maj.-Gen. Fagan, which had circled about on its Missouri raid, and was lying at Cane Hill, made an attack on Fayetteville. About 800 of the First Arkansas Cavalry and others, making the number 1,128 men, were stationed in a fort, and behind a line of rifle-pits, and although the attack was kept up all day, and many attempts were made to storm the fortifications, they were repelled. On the morning following Gen. Curtis appeared with his army, in pursuit of Gen. Price, and, joined by the First Arkansas Cavalry, ended the great raid some time later, leaving Washington County comparatively quiet during the winter. During 1865 guerrilla warfare was carried on with varying degrees of intensity, until about the 1st of July, when news of the surrender of Gen. E. Kirby Smith, then commanding the Confederate trans-Mississippi department, reached Fayetteville, and on the 23d of August the sturdy First Arkansas Cavalry was mustered out of service. The following letter to Lieut.-Col. Bishop, acting adjutant general, Arkansas, gives an idea of a feature of Washington County life during 1865: FAYETTEVILLE, ARK., December, 23, 1864. Coionel:  I write this as a simple memorandum to guide you in your entreaties for the suffering women and children of Northwestern Arkansas. There are thousands of old men, women and children left here yet. You know their condition. I have from time to time worked to assist and protect them. Since you left I have established, at their request, post colonies at Rhea’s Mill, Engle’s Mill, Bentonville, Pea Ridge, Elm Spring and Huntsville, and am about organizing others at Mudtown, Mount Comfort, Oxford Bend, Richland, McGuire’s, Middle Fork, West Fork and Hog Eye. The plan is: 1. Fifty men, capable of bearing arms, unite and ask to be organized into a home guard company, and permission to settle on a large tract of abandoned land, which is all in one body. 2. They are organized, armed and move their families to the place. 3. They build a block house or small fort in the best point on the land (selected by me). 4. They sign articles agreeing to be loyal to the United States authorities; to abide by the laws and orders from the nearest military post; the laws and present constitution of Arkansas; the proclamation of the President, etc., and are all mustered in as home guards. They also agree to parcel out the land by vote, giving to each one all he wants to cultivate, but to have nothing in common, except common defense and obedience to law. Thus all persons within ten miles of these settleinents are expected to enroll their names and belong to them, and none but rebels have, so far, objected. Six of the settlements have made such progress that each will raise large quantities of corn next season, and the Union Valley settlement has agreed to deliver one thousand tons of hay next season, if needed. Bentonville and Elm Springs are filling with people who have moved in. Winningham is going to settle Mudtown with fifty Arkansas families returned from Missouri. All this is no chimera, it is half accomplished now, and the other companies are forming and will be at work in ten days. Some of the forts are nearly done. The refugees have nearly all left this place and gone to the colonies. [The rest pertains to the revocation of Gen. Canby’s evacuation order.] Yours, for Arkansas, M. LA RUE HARRISON, Colonel First Arkansas Cavalry

Union Army

The Fourth Arkansas Cavalry Volunteers was commanded by a citizen of Fayetteville, Col. Lafayette Gregg, but, as its further county representation was very small, this mention will suffice.

The Second Cavalry and Second Infantry of the Federal Arkansas troops had but few representatives from Washington County. Col. Edward J. Brooks, of Fayetteville, was given authority to organize a Fourth Arkansas Infantry Volunteer troop at Fayetteville, but his recruits were absorbed into other commands or disbanded. Independent companies were organized in the autumn of 1863, under orders of Maj.-Gen. Schofield, and among those organized in Washington County were Capt. Bracken Lewis’ company, Capt. Mackey’s company, and a West Fork Township company. The first two companies served in the defense of Fayetteville, November 3, 1864. The total number of Washington County men in the Federal army, according to an estimate of Col. T. J. Hunt, is between 500 and 800.

Confederate Army

The following State troops were in service at Oak Hill: Col. Gratiot’s Third Arkansas Infantry, Col. Walker’s Fourth Arkansas Infantry, Col. Dockery’s Fifth Arkansas Infantry, Col. Churchill’s First Arkansas Cavalry and Col. Carroll’s Cavalry. Their Washington County representation was somewhat as follows: Colonel, Gratiot, Third Arkansas Infantry; lieutenant-colonel, David Province; Company —–, captain, Bell, and Company —–, captain, Pleasant Buchanan; first lieutenant, J. M. Lacy; colonel, J. D. Walker, Fourth Arkansas Infantry; lieutenantcolonel, T. D. Berry; major, S. W. Peel; Company —–, captain, T. M. Gunter; first lieutenant, Wythe Walker; colonel, —–, Dockery, Fifth Arkansas Infantry; captain, W. T. Neal; colonel, T. J. Churchill, First Arkansas Cavalry; colonel, Carroll; Company ––, captain, Jeff Kelly; first lieutenant, Lafayette Boone; second lieutenant, James A. Ferguson; third lieutenant, Samuel H. Smithson. Col. Walker’s regiment was organized about July 8, 1861, at Camp Walker, in Benton County, and was disbanded about the last of August, of the same year, at Walnut Springs. Among the other captains of the regiment were Denny, Fancher, Johnson, Pittman, Sanders, Bunch and Tinnin. An independent company, under Capt. J. F. Rieff, also did excellent service. The Fifteenth Arkansas Mounted Infantry of the Northwest, so distinguished from another Fifteenth Arkansas Infantry, did service at Wilson’s Creek. In it was organized by Capt. James Richards, probably in November, 1861, a company which took the title Company G, and also one under Capt. Pleasant Buchanan, called Company H. Capt. Richard’s company was partly of Washington County men, but Company H was entirely from that county. The company was organized at Cane Hill, with First Lieut. Patton Inks and Second Lieut. A. A. Evans. The captain and first lieutenant were captured at Elkhorn, and A. A. Evans became captain. The regiment then started for Pittsburg Landing, but the battle was over. Iuka and Corinth were their next points of action. At the latter place Capt. W. H. Holcomb, of Springdale, became captain of Company G. Companies G and H were next among the forces that moved to Port Gibson, then Jackson, Miss., and Champion Hill. At Black River, on May 17, 1863, Capt. Holcomb was captured and sent to Johnson’s Island, Ohio, and after the siege of Vicksburg Companies G and H were returned to Arkansas and consolidated under Capt. A. A. Evans. The organization of Company G was: Captains, James Richards, W. H. Holcomb; first lieutenants, William Cooper, J. H. Williams; second lieutenants, Marion Mosier, Evan Atwood; third lieutenants, James Cooper, White.

In the Seventeenth Arkansas Infantry, under Col. H. M. Rector and Lieut.-Col. Griffith, there was but one company, that of Capt. T. W. Thomason. The total Confederate representation from Washington County is estimated at about 2,000 men by Col. T. M. Gunter et al. It is greatly to be regretted that the records of Confederate soldiery in Washington County have all been lost except those uncertain traces left in the treacherous memories of those, now growing old, who passed through the distracting struggles. In the tombs that dot the cemeteries lying on the hills east and west of Fayetteville are the certain records of the deadliness of the conflict.

The National Military Cemetery

The National Military Cemetery, lying about three-quarters of a mile southwest of the court-house, is a natural mound embracing six acres, surrounded by a columned brick wall, and surmounted by a flag-staff, about which in concentric circles lie 1,214 of the victims of Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and Fayetteville. The place was located by the Government in 1867, and stationed in the brick lodge, with its adjoining stables, is the keeper, who is now in constant charge–Capt. A. Pettit. The grounds originally contained about 1,900 graves, but many have been removed by friends.

The Confederate Military Cemetery

The Confederate Military Cemetery lies on the slope of East Heights. It is an octagon, surrounded by a stone wall, with a smaller octagon in the center, intended for a monument, but which now contains the grave of Gen. Slack, who fell at Prairie Grove. The cemetery is divided into eight convergent sections, the four sections of graves alternating with the remaining four, which are devoted to ornamental shrubbery. Here lie about 700 who wore the gray at Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and Fayetteville, embracing citizens of Texas, Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas; and it represents a greater mausoleum in the hearts of the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of those men, or such of them as lived in Washington County, for it is the result of the efforts of the Southern Memorial Association, a society of ladies organized in Fayetteville, and other parts of the county, in June, 1872; it was dedicated by them precisely a year later. For some twelve years the president of the society has been an earnest and intelligent Christian lady–Mrs. Lizzie Pollard–to whose efforts the success of the movement is in no small degree due.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

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