Mark Christ on The Die is Cast

Why was Arkansas so divided on the issue of secession?

The plantation areas of eastern and southern Arkansas, where the majority of the state’s slaveowners lived, were typically pro-secession, while the residents of the upland counties, where few slaves were kept, tended to oppose secession. Many of the state’s residents were committed Unionists, putting them into conflict with the fire-eating secessionists. At the same time, the state’s leaders were pursuing political courses that would benefit themselves, creating additional discord.

What were the deciding factors in Arkansas’s secession from the Union?

When President Lincoln called for the states to supply troops following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the state secession convention reconvened. The majority of the delegates felt that Arkansas needed to stand with her fellow slave-holding Southern states, many of which had already passed ordinances of secession. Only Isaac Murphy of Madison County voted that Arkansas should not secede from the Union. There also was widespread concern that Lincoln’s election would result in abolition and forced equality of the races.

Why does the Civil War still hold such fascination for people?

The Civil War pitted American against American, and was fought almost exclusively in the Southern states, making it possible to visit the sites today where combat took place 150 years ago. Many people are descended from soldiers who fought in the Civil War and revere their memories while still arguing about their reasons for fighting. The Civil War also revolutionized the United States—socially, politically, economically—in ways that are still being revealed today.

As a student of Arkansas’s Civil War history, do you a have a favorite anecdote?

My favorite anecdote comes from Isaac Murphy’s refusal to join the crowd and vote for secession. As the audience at the convention in the State House booed and hissed at Murphy, Mrs. Frederick Trapnall of Little Rock threw him a bouquet of flowers. This was an act of civility that would soon be out of place in the increasingly polarized state.

What, if any, role did women have in events leading up to Arkansas’s secession?

Women’s role in Arkansas’s secession was primarily behind the scenes in the months leading to disunion. Southern women were intensely interested in the secession crisis and made their views known to their husbands, sons, and brothers. In some cases, their affections were tied to the political leanings of their beau or spouse. And after the war began, Southern women aided the cause through such things as sewing uniforms and flags or encouraging men to enlist. In the case of Henry Morton Stanley of Saline County, his enlistment was directly influenced by neighbor women who sent him a petticoat in derision over his failure to sign up for a Confederate unit.

Were there many Arkansas Unionists in the state before and after secession?

Many Arkansans, including residents of the slave-owning Delta counties, were strong supporters of the Union. Arkansas had only been a state for 25 years, and most of the state’s residents were not in a hurry to leave the Union. The first gathering to discuss disunion was dominated by Unionist delegates, and it was only after Fort Sumter that most of them turned toward secession. Unionism continued to exist in the state between 1861 and 1865, demonstrated by the Arkansas Peace Society in the first year of the war and by the enlistment of thousands of Arkansas soldiers into Union regiments throughout the war.