The Arkansas Secession

The Arkansas State Convention that had been formed at Little Rock to consider secession adjourned in March after voting against leaving the Union. Delegates were subject to recall in case of emergency. That emergency came when President Abraham Lincoln had issued his militia proclamation against the Confederacy. The delegates that reassembled may have been the same delegates from March, but they were different in that nearly all Unionist sentiment among them was now gone.

The secession resolutions came to the floor within minutes of the convention’s opening. Delegates voted to cancel the popular vote on the secession question that was scheduled for August, 55 to 15. Most of the 15 delegates opposing cancellation were from the Ozark Plateau in northwestern Arkansas, where slavery hardly existed. Support for secession was strongest in the lowland southeastern region, where most of the state’s cotton was cultivated.

The next vote was overwhelmingly in favor of ending relations with the U.S., 69 to 1. The ordinance called on Arkansans “to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas.”

This effectively made Arkansas the ninth state to secede. An observer noted: “A weight seemed suddenly to have been lifted off the hearts of all present…” Arkansas senators and representatives took their seats in the Confederate Congress at Montgomery on the 18th, and the state officially joined the Confederacy “upon an equal footing with the other States.”

Governor Henry M. Rector authorized the Arkansas militia to seize Federal arsenals at Fort Smith and Little Rock. State convention delegates approved a military alliance with the Confederacy in a common defense of the western frontier. When Confederate Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker offered to place a battery of guns at Helena, overlooking the Mississippi River, Rector replied that such a placement “meets my entire approval and consent.” Brigadier General Nicholas B. Pearce, commanding the Arkansas militia, was to serve under Confederate General Ben McCulloch, who became the commander of all forces in Arkansas.


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  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
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