Edited by Mark K. Christ

With a secession debate raging in early 1861 at the State House, the Arkansas women in attendance showed support for their favorite speakers by throwing flowers at their feet. This act of gentility contrasts with the violence to come in a tumultuous time in the state’s history according to a new book, The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861, edited by Mark K. Christ and recently published by Butler Center Books.

“Flowers provided a means for women to make their individual voices heard in a setting that only formally acknowledged the voices of men,” writes contributor Lisa Tendrich Frank. “During Arkansas’s first and more contentious debate over secession . . ., women routinely threw flowers at the feet of their beloved speakers. Some supported secession and others threw flowers at the Unionist majority.”

The five contributors examine the political and social forces in Arkansas that led to secession and transformed farmers, clerks, and shopkeepers into soldiers. Long-time Arkansas State University professor Michael Dougan delves into the 1861 Arkansas Secession Convention and the delegates’ internal divisions on whether to leave the Union. Frank, who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, discusses the role southern women played in moving the state toward secession. Carl Moneyhon of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock looks at the factors that led peaceful civilians to join the army. Thomas A. DeBlack of Arkansas Tech University tells of the thousands of Arkansans who chose not to follow the Confederate banner in 1861, and, finally, William Garrett Piston of Missouri State University chronicles the first combat experience of the green Arkansas troops at Wilson’s Creek. Collectively, these essays provide an overview of the diverse passions that brought the people of Arkansas to war.

DeBlack writes that slave owners accounted for only about 20% of the state’s white population. Those Arkansans who did not own slaves saw little reason to ally themselves with a cause they perceived as being little more than an attempt to protect the interests of slave owners.

For many, that view changed on April 12, 1861, when Confederate gunners opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. On April 20, John Brown, a Whig planter and Unionist from Camden who had strongly opposed secession, wrote in his diary, “The war feeling is aroused, the die is cast. The whole South will be aroused in two weeks.”

A serious challenge to state unity, however, soon arose in the north-central part of the state where residents formed a clandestine organization called the Arkansas Peace Society. Acting under orders from Governor Henry Rector, many of the resisters were arrested and sent to serve in the Confederate army east of the Mississippi River. Their reputations preceded them. Shortly before the battle of Shiloh, one Rebel officer told his men, “Boys, we are going to have a hell of a fight, and I have no confidence in these men sent here from Arkansas. If they try to get to the Federals, shoot them; if they fall back, shoot them; if they try to run, shoot them.”

DeBlack concludes that, “it is clear that Unionism in Arkansas was not confined to a few counties in the northern and northwestern counties of the state. Rather it was a powerful and widespread force from the beginning of the war until the end and one that powerfully influenced the course of the events in the state in that tragic period from 1861 to 1865.”

The Die Is Cast is available from local and national book sellers or through the University of Arkansas Press in Fayetteville, the distributor for Butler Center Books. Butler Center Books is part of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System.

5 ½” x 8 ½”, 156 pages
$19.95 paper, ISBN 978-1-935106-15-9 | 1-935106-15-5