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[ Intro - Secession and War -
First Two Years of War - Last Two Years of War -
Life in Confederate Arkansas - ]

Life in Confederate Arkansas

A Confederate appeal for blankets
A Confederate appeal for blankets

War always brings sacrifice, suffering and sorrow. The courage and faith of Arkansas people as they saw their cause lost in defeat is one of the brightest pages in the history of a bitter period.

Wartime conditions and problems.
Conditions in Confederate Arkansas varied greatly with the time and location. In 1861 no hostile forces entered the state. Troops were mustered and war preparations went on, but many people went about their business as usual. In most of the state outside some areas of the Ozarks the people supported the war with enthusiasm.

In the second year of the war Federal forces began to occupy northwest Arkansas and parts of the eastern lowlands. In the last two years of the struggle they dominated most of the state north of the Arkansas River and some areas to the south. In no section was Federal control ever complete. Federal garrisons held the larger towns but the Confederates usually ruled the countryside. Many Arkansas people saw no battles and no Federal soldiers.

War brought new problems to the ordinary people of Arkansas, and as the years passed such problems grew more serious. Like the soldiers in the field, families at home suffered increasing hardships. These bore especially heavily on those who lived in enemy-occupied sections.

The food problem.
Food was the most crucial problem of the war years. Farmers were urged to grow wheat and corn instead of cotton. Soldiers received furloughs in order to help with the crops. Sugar, coffee, tea and other foods not produced in Arkansas became scarce. As the war went on, gristmills and flour mills broke down, were destroyed or were taken over by occupying forces and it became harder for people to secure meal and flour. Confederate soldiers in the field sometimes suffered from hunger because no food was available and sometimes because supply wagons failed to keep up with them.

In areas not occupied by the Federals the food supply was generally adequate throughout the war. In other sections the people sometimes faced starvation and had to take refuge in south Arkansas, Texas, or Missouri. A wagon train of 1,500 persons left Fort Smith in August 1864, headed for the northwestern states. The Union army gave food to many refugee families.

The northwestern counties of Arkansas suffered especially heavily as a result of the war. Farms lay in ruin. Houses and rail fences were burned, and uncultivated fields grew up in bushes. Lone chimneys stood out against the sky where homes once had stood. Many of the people never returned.

Guerrillas, jayhawkers and bushwhackers.
Federal and Confederate armies brought destruction to Arkansas, and the irregular bands of armed men that infested the state caused untold suffering. The Ozark counties in particular were overrun for most of the war by guerrillas, jayhawkers and bushwhackers. Guerrillas were well-organized large groups which claimed to be fighting for either the United States or the Confederacy. Southern officers encouraged enlistment of "partisan rangers," or guerrilla units, in order to annoy the enemy.

Jayhawkers and bushwhackers usually operated singly or in small bands of two, three or a dozen men. They belonged to no army but hid out and struck at one side or the other when they saw the chance. Pro-Union irregulars were called jayhawkers by the Confederates, while Union troops referred to pro-Southern irregulars as bushwhackers.

Guerrilla warfare as conducted by these outlaw bands was merciless. Murder, arson, robbery, rape, pillage and ambush characterized their operations. Some irregulars attacked only those who sympathized with the other side in the war, but others raided wherever loot could be found. Regular army troops of both sides hunted down and killed the outlaws. For years after the war bandits continued to roam the hills, and killings continued as returning soldiers took revenge for wrongs done their families and kinsmen.

Social institutions.
In the early years of the war, churches and schools carried on much as usual. Some churches were deprived of their ministers when they joined the army. A Confederate regiment raised at Pine Bluff included forty-two preachers in its ranks. At Fayetteville in the second year of the war only one church still had a minister and regular services.

All of the colleges closed. Cane Hill College and Arkansas College at Fayetteville suspended operations when the war began. Students and faculty members joined the army. The buildings of Arkansas College housed Confederate troops and were burned early in 1862. St. John's College at Little Rock became a military hospital.

Hubbert's Hotel, the only building left standing in Berryville at the close of the Civil War
Hubbert's Hotel, the only building left standing in
Berryville at the close of the Civil War

Common schools and academies continued to operate for awhile, but before the end of the war most of those in enemy-occupied areas had closed. Behind the Confederate lines some schools continued in operation until the war ended.

Wartime amusements.
Throughout the war years social affairs continued. Dances, parties and picnics were held for boys who were going away to the army. Around the army camps social activities flourished. In the spring of 1861 it was reported from a camp in eastern Arkansas that many ladies visited the troops every day, and music and dancing occupied almost every evening. An officer in Little Rock in 1863 wrote of picnics, fishing parties on the river, and a military ball at the Anthony House, the town's leading hotel. At army camps in south Arkansas late in the war "backwoods frolics" were popular.

The soldiers engaged in sports, games and athletic contests. Cavalry units held tournaments in which riders attempted to catch a small ring on the end of a long lance. Army bands entertained with concerts featuring songs such as "Lorena," "Dixie," "The Bonnie Blue Flag," and other Southern favorites. Ladies gave programs and concerts with proceeds going to a hospital, soldiers' aid society, or some military unit. Even the Negroes gave balls and benefits for the Confederate cause. But away from the towns and army camps there was little merrymaking.

Mining and manufacturing.
During the first two years of the war the Confederates mined niter or saltpeter, used for making gunpowder, in caves near the upper White River. The Federals sent expeditions to wreck the mines and in 1863 operations practically ceased. The Southerners took small quantities of lead from mines in Newton and Johnson counties before Union forces overran the area.

Cloth mills at Cane Hill, Murfreesboro, Van Buren and Norristown proved too small to supply the need for cotton and woolen cloth. With outside supplies cut off, the home spinning wheel and loom had to be brought into service. Home clothmaking was hampered by a shortage of cards, or instruments used for arranging the fibers of cotton and wool before spinning them into thread. Clothing was made in the home, and shoes were produced by local shoemakers when they could secure leather. Shops at Camden and Fulton made shoes for the soldiers.

Salt was sometimes dug from beneath smokehouses, as well as produced at salt works. The works on the Rolling Fork River in Sevier County had three large furnaces and seventy-nine cast iron kettles, each holding from fifty to 150 gallons. Salt water from wells was boiled in these kettles until the water evaporated, leaving the salt.

Confederate Arkansas had few facilities for making weapons. Blacksmiths pounded farm tools into swords and knives. A railroad machine shop at Hopefield near Memphis served as an armory for repairing guns until the Federals destroyed it. The Little Rock arsenal repaired guns and cannons and manufactured cartridges, and the state penitentiary became a factory for making military goods. After Little Rock fell to the Federals, Camden, Arkadelphia and Washington became manufacturing centers for army supplies.

As the war continued, shortages of goods and commodities caused prices to rise. Confederate paper currency declined in value and many people lost confidence in its worth. Near the close of the war chewing tobacco was $6 a plug, butter cost $5 a pound, chickens $2.50 each, coffee $18 a pound when it could be found, and a good saddle horse was worth $2,000. Confederate money finally became practically worthless and trade was carried on by barter.

Caring for the sick and wounded.
Illness was an ever-present problem both at home and in the army. Even ordinary medicines such as quinine and castor oil were in very short supply, and the people at home had to find substitutes. There were no hospitals and most of the doctors were away in the army. In army camps, measles and other diseases often took a heavy toll. At a Confederate camp near Austin in 1862 some 1,500 men were reported to have died of illnesses partly caused by drinking impure water.

Army hospitals were set up in churches, schoolhouses, and private residences. After a battle every building in the vicinity was usually transformed into a temporary hospital. Since surgeons were few and their methods crude, the sufferings of the wounded were severe. Ladies organized hospital associations to try to help. Appeals were made in Little Rock for stoves to heat hospitals and for other supplies of all sorts. Carpets were cut up and used as blankets.

Confederate Gunboat No. 51, a converted passenger steamer, on White River
Confederate Gunboat No. 51, a converted
passenger steamer, on White River

Travel and communications.
When the war began, Arkansas had only thirty-eight miles of operating railroad line. It extended from Hopefield, across the Mississippi from Memphis, to Madison on the St. Francis River. Early in 1862 trains began to run on a new section of track reaching from Little Rock eastward to DeValls Bluff on White River. Throughout the rest of the war the gap of forty-five miles between DeValls Bluff and Madison remained unclosed. Passengers going from Little Rock to Memphis had to take a steamer from DeValls Bluff to Clarendon, ride a stage from Clarendon to Madison, take the train to Hopefield, and then ferry the Mississippi. The trip required at least thirty hours.

Steamboats afforded the most important means of travel except when streams became too low for boats to operate. Land travel was slow and difficult. One army unit required five days in going from Pine Bluff to Little Rock, and another took six days in moving from Little Rock to Arkadelphia. Roads that were rough and dusty in dry weather became pools of deep mud and water when it rained. There were few bridges, and armies sometimes had to crossway roads with poles in order to get through swamps. Civilian travelers as well as soldiers often slept on the ground.

The Butterfield Overland Mail line, which ran coaches from St. Louis to Fayetteville and Fort Smith on their way to San Francisco, ended its operations in Arkansas soon after the state seceded. As the war dragged on, stage lines connecting Arkansas towns went out of business because of worn-out equipment or the danger from bushwhackers. Mail service was slow and uncertain, and newspapers had to stop publication because of paper shortages and other difficulties. The Washington Telegraph was the only Arkansas Confederate newspaper which managed to survive throughout the war.