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A Pictorial History of Arkansas: From Earliest Times to the Year 1890 by Fay Hempstead

A Pictorial History of Arkansas: From Earliest Times to the Year 1890 
Fay Hempstead

Chapter XVI.

The Administration of Governor Henry M. Rector—The Ordinance of Secession.

The opening of the year 1861 found the country in a state of great excitement, but friends of the Union had not abandoned hope that a peaceful settlement of existing difficulties, honorable alike to both sides, might be arrived at. In the Senate, John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, strove to fill the part of Mr. Clay in times gone by, in bringing forward a compromise measure, about the same as the  original Missouri compromise of 1820, which he proposed as a constitutional amendment. There was a strong feeling in the North in favor of the adoption of this measure, and letters and petitions in great numbers were presented from that section in favor of it. Leading Southern Representatives favored it; but when the subject came to a vote, the entire strength of the Northern Delegates was cast against it, and so the measure was rejected.

The State of Virginia had also taken measures to secure the holding of a general Peace Convention, in the hope of averting the evidently approaching hostilities, but nothing was effected by the Convention when held, and the entire aspect of the times was gloomy and foreboding. Early in the year two incidents of an ominous aspect took place in our home affairs. They were the taking possession of the United States Arsenal, at Little Rock, and the post, at Fort Smith, by a force of armed citizens. In November of the previous year a force of sixty men, under command of Capt. James Totten, of the 2d U. S. Artillery, was moved from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and stationed at Little Rock, re-inforcing a smaller number of troops previously there, occupying the Arsenal, at which, as we have seen, a quantity of arms and munitions of war belonging to the State were stored. In view of the increasing excitement of the times, this movement of the troops was regarded as suspicious, and as designed to have a menacing effect upon the action of the State in adopting its course of action. A sentiment prevailed that the State of Arkansas should take possession of the Arsenal and secure her property therein; and hold both intact until the State's course and position should be determined, neither permitting the arms therein to be destroyed, nor permitting the garrison to be farther re-inforced. This general opinion grew to such proportions that it first took definite shape in a mass meeting of citizens held at Helena, who telegraphed to Governor Rector their opinion, that it was his duty to take possession of the Arsenal, and tendering 500 men for the purpose.

The Governor replied that he would not permit the garrison to be farther re-inforced, nor the arms therein to be destroyed, but was not willing as yet to take possession of the place. Soon after this rumors were set afloat, and generally accredited, that other troops were on their way to re-inforce the garrison. Citizens in numbers, singly and in squads, began to assemble at the capital, and urged in the papers, in mass meetings and in speeches, that the Arsenal should be taken possession of to prevent farther collection of troops there. In view of this state of public disquiet, Governor Rector addressed a communication to Capt. Totten, of date January 28th, 1861, informing him that the Executive would sanction no attempt to take possession of the Arsenal as long as the State of Arkansas was a member of the Federal Union, unless it was because of attempts either to destroy the State's arms therein, or to re-inforce the troops stationed there, and stating, that if assurance could be given, that neither of these would be attempted, it would greatly tend to quiet the public mind and prevent collision between the citizens and the troops. 

Captain Totten made a courteous reply, stating his desire to do all that his official position would permit, to prevent any collision and bloodshed, and that he did not believe the garrison was to be re-inforced, but could not officially say what would be the future action of his government in the premises. 

By the 6th of February matters had grown so alarming, that Governor Rector felt constrained to again address Capt. Totten, and this time to demand possession of the Arsenal with its munitions, to be held until the 4th of March. To this Captain Totten replied that, believing that the presence of a large armed force in the city would likely occasion a conflict, he would deliver the post to the Governor, on condition that the troops should be allowed to depart, taking with them their public and private property, and marching away from the place with all the honor due them as Federal officers and soldiers, "who do not surrender their trust, but simply evacuate a post for want of instructions from their superior officers, and to prevent the bringing on of civil war among their countrymen." These conditions being agreed to, the troops departed February 8th, 1861, and the Arsenal was at once taken possession of by the State authorities, and garrisoned with a company called the "Phillips Guards," of Helena, under Captain Otey. In recognition of the forbearance of Captain Totten and his manly course in the affair, citizens of Little Rock made a present to him of a handsome sword before his departure from the city. One of the companies which came to Little Rock on this occasion was commanded by Captain, afterwards General, Patrick R. Cleburne.

Having learned that the United States Government had ordered 1 ,000 men to re-inforce Fort Smith, Governor Rector entrusted an adequate force to Col. Sol. Borland, with instructions to occupy that post immediately, in the name of the State of Arkansas. This was done, and General N. B. Burrow put in command.

In all the other Southern States in which forts and arsenals were situated, similar movements were made for their possession. The chief of these, and the one out of which the first collision grew, was the case of Fort Sumter, situated in Charleston Harbor. The State of South Carolina demanded possession of this fort, which was garrisoned by Major Robert Anderson, of the United States Army, with about 80 men. A fleet of seven ships, with 285 guns and 2,400 men, under sealed orders, was fitted out and put to sea early in April, from the port of New York and the Norfolk Navy Yard, it having been declared the purpose of the Government to hold Fort Sumter. The Confederate authorities declared that the sailing of the fleet was a declaration of war.

When it was known that this fleet was nearing Fort Sumter, Gen. Beauregard, by command of the Secretary of War of the Confederate Government, demanded its surrender. This being refused, its bombardment was commenced. After 32 hours' continuous fire, Major Anderson capitulated and withdrew, leaving the fort in the hands of the Confederacy. President Lincoln immediately issued a call for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion, and called on the unseceded Southern States for their quota.

Notwithstanding many discouragements, the Union sentiment had, up to this time, been strong in Arkansas. A large portion of the people, probably not an absolute majority, but a strong, and nearly equal minority, held to the view that some settlement might be found for the troubles which were upon us. They were satisfied with the Union under the Constitution, and wanted no other. The papers were filled with letters and articles affirming the right of secession as an abstract right, and numberless speakers were advocating, not only the right, but the expediency and advisability of it, but still the people were slow to adopt this idea wholly, until an entire change came about, through the President's call for troops.

We have seen that the Legislature of 1860 to 1861 passed an Act, January 15th, 1861, requiring the 'Governor to issue his proclamation for an election, to be held February 18th, 1861, to determine the question of whether a convention should be held to take into consideration the state of public affairs, and to determine what course the State of Arkansas should pursue in the exigency of the times. On the next day after the passage of the Act, Governor Rector issued his proclamation for the election, as directed. The election was held at the appointed time, and resulted in a majority of 11,586 for convention. Accordingly the Governor issued his second proclamation convening the Body to be in session March 4th, 1861.

The Delegates assembled at the capital on Monday, March 4th, and the convention organized by the election of Judge David Walker, of Fayetteville, President, and E. C. Boudinot, of Fort Smith, Secretary.

The following is a list of the Delegates composing the convention, sent from the following counties:

It was a notable assembly of Delegates. Arkansas had sent her best men to deliberate for her in the terrible crisis which was upon her. On the second day of the session, a motion that a Committee of Thirteen be appointed to draft an ordinance of secession was presented, but after a prolonged discussion was withdrawn before a vote was had. It was renewed several times during the session, but was each time rejected, either by direct vote or by parliamentary procedure. The important steps taken by the convention, were a measure introduced by Judge Felix I. Batson, amended by Benjamin C. Totten, of Prairie county, submitting to a vote of the people the question whether they would co-operate with the Administration or would secede from the Union, the form of vote to be "for co-operation" or "for secession;" and one electing Albert Rust, Samuel H. Hempstead, T. H. Bradley, E. A. Warren and J. P. Spring, Delegates to attend the Border State Convention, proposed by the States of Missouri and Virginia, to be held at Frankfort, Kentucky, on the 27th of May; one tendering a vote of thanks to Hons. John J. Crittenden, Stephen A. Douglas and Albert Rust, for their efforts to procure a peaceable settlement of existing difficulties, and adjourning March 21st, to meet again August 19th, but with power in the President of the convention to call the Body together again at an earlier date, if any exigency should, in his opinion, require it.

This was as far as the conservative sentiment of the members would allow the convention to go at that time. The  general result was not pleasing to the Secessionists, who complained of the form in which the vote on "co-operation" or "secession" was to be taken, as "gulling the people with honied words." The temper of the convention may be gathered from the following Resolution, presented by Mr. Rufus K. Garland, of Hempstead county:

"Resolved, as the sense of this convention, that the people of Arkansas prefer a perpetuity of this Federal Union to its dismemberment or disruption, provided it can be perpetuated upon a basis recognizing and guaranteeing equal rights and privileges to every State in the Union, South as well as North."

This Resolution was placed on the calendar, but did not reach a vote. Similar Resolutions were also presented by other members. The strength of the Union sentiment in the convention was farther testified to in the following sarcastic Resolutions, presented by Mr. Echols, of Calhoun county:

"Whereas, the remarkably strong Union sentiment which prevails in this convention leaves no hope for the secession of the State of Arkansas from the Federal Union ....... and, whereas, the predominating sentiment of this convention seems to be, submission to the administration of Lincoln, therefore, be it resolved, that this convention adjourn sine die, that the people be requested to take their destiny into their own hands, and determine to live like men or die as soldiers."

On a vote, the Resolutions were rejected. After the convention had adjourned, the friends of the Union were pleased that that Body had not precipitated them into a Revolution, and that there yet was hope that a peaceable solution might ensue. All possibility of such a conclusion was destroyed by the proclamation of President Lincoln, calling for 75,000 men to put down the rebellion. When this was done, all hope of Arkansas remaining longer in the Union was destroyed. There was practically no Union sentiment afterwards. The moment it was determined by the Administration to make war upon the South, the people of Arkansas declared that they would not stand idly by and see it done, and certainly would not aid in it. Mr. Cameron, Secretary of War, sent to Governor Rector a demand on the State to furnish 780 men to assist in subjugating the South. To this demand, Governor Rector returned the following indignant reply, of date April 22d, 1861:

"Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C:

Sir :—In answer to your demand for troops from Arkansas, to subjugate the Southern States, I have to say that none will be furnished. The demand is only adding insult to injury. The people of this commonwealth are free men, not slaves, and will defend to the last extremity their honor, lives and property against Northern mendacity and usurpation.

Henry M. Rector,
Governor of Arkansas."

Judge Walker, the President of the convention, in pursuance of the authority vested in him by the ordinance, issued his proclamation, April 20th, convening the Body to be in session May 6th, 1861. The Convention met on that day as required. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the Committee on Ordinances and Resolutions, by Col. W. Porter Grace, of Jefferson county, Chairman, presented an ordinance dissolving the union existing between the State of Arkansas and those united with her under the compact, entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

Upon its being presented, Mr. Yell, of Jefferson, moved that the ordinance be adopted, Mr. Dinsmore, of Benton, moved an amendment that it be submitted to a vote of the people in an election to be held on the first Monday in June.

On motion of Mr. Patterson, of Jackson, the amendment was laid on the table. Action was then had on the adoption of the ordinance. Upon a call of the roll the vote stood sixty-five in the affirmative, and five in the negative. Before the vote was announced, four of those voting in the negative changed their votes from negative to affirmative, leaving the vote as announced, sixty-nine in the affirmative, and one in the negative. The one in the negative was Isaac Murphy, Delegate from Madison County. The vote was concluded at ten minutes past 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and the announcement of the result was followed by a scene of intense excitement; the assembly, lobby and galleries breaking forth in the wildest cheering, that fairly shook the building. Just back of the building, overlooking the river, the Pulaski Artillery, under command of Capt. William E. Woodruff, had been stationed, anticipating the result, and when the vote was declared, the guns bellowed forth in a salute that added to the intensity of the occasion.

The taking of the vote had been a solemn and impressive occasion. An eye-witness thus described it:

"Every member seemed impressed with the vote he was giving. The hall of the House of Representatives was crowded almost to suffocation. The lobby, the gallery and the floors of the Chamber were full, and the vast crowd seemed excited to the very highest pitch. A profound stillness prevailed all the time, as vote after vote was taken and recorded, except occasionally, when some well-known Union man would rise and preface his vote with expressions of patriotic Southern sentiments, the crowd would give token of its approbation, but the adoption of the ordinance of secession was the signal of one general acclamation, which shook the building to its very foundation. Doubtless each member realized when he gave his vote that it meant a conflict, but what else could be done? Since the North had already begun the attempted subjugation of the South, it was war if we remained in the Union and war if we went out. It was war waged by us and through us, if we stayed in, and war waged on us and against us, if we went out. But every principle of honor and right dictated that we should rather be made war upon, than that we should, either actively or passively, suffer ourselves to aid in making war upon the other Southern States."

Among the acts of this Convention was one repealing the former action, in submitting to a vote of the people the question of "co-operation" or "secession," thus withdrawing it from a public vote. There was now no necessity or even propriety for it, since they had themselves adopted the Act of Secession, one of the subjects to be voted on.

Thus it will be seen that the Act of Secession was no hasty conclusion, impelled by the excitement of the moment, but was a step taken in the deliberate judgment, that a recognition of the sacred ties of kinship and affinity demanded it. She had been slow to part from the old Union, but when the issue was forced upon her, that she must either make war against the South by remaining in it, or with the South, by going out, she promptly withdrew, and cast her fortunes with her Southern sisters, with all the strength of men and material that her resources could command.

What was eloquently said by Senator John W. Daniel, of Virginia, with relation to Virginia, under similar circumstances, may well be applied to Arkansas also, in her present action. In an exquisite address delivered by him at the University of Virginia, in 1866, he said:

"When at the beginning of the late struggle there seemed a possibility of staying the hand of violence, she remembered the Divine precept, "Blessed are the peace makers" and sent her counselors to restrain it. But when she saw the black Northern storm sweeping Southward she bent before its fury in no craven spirit. She sent word to her sisters, 'Virginia will be with you.' Then taking down her ancient shield and spear from her capital walls, she moved grandly to the head of the battle line, with all the enthusiasm of the novice, and all the intrepidity of the veteran. As her bugle blast resounded through her borders, there came pouring forth from her lowly hamlets and her stately cities, from her mountain fastnesses and her secluded valleys, a shining host of warriors, as brave and true as ever clustered under a conqueror's banner."

Fay Hempstead, A Pictorial History of Arkansas: From Earliest Times to the Year 1890 (St. Louis: N. D. Thompson Publishing Company, 1890), 349-359.


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