During the American Civil War, Arkansas was a Confederate state, though it had initially voted to remain in the Union. Following the capture of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Abraham Lincoln called for troops from every Union state to put down the rebellion, and Arkansas and several other states seceded. For the rest of the civil war, Arkansas played a major role in controlling the Mississippi River, a major waterway.
Arkansas raised 48 infantry regiments, 20 artillery batteries, and over 20 cavalry regiments for the Confederacy, mostly serving in the Western Theater, though the Third Arkansas served with distinction in the Army of Northern Virginia. Major-General Patrick Cleburne was the state’s most notable military leader. The state also supplied four infantry regiments, four cavalry regiments and one artillery battery of white troops for the Union and six infantry regiments and one artillery battery of “U.S. Colored Troops.”
Numerous skirmishes as well as several significant battles were fought in Arkansas, including the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern in March 1862, a decisive one for the Trans-Mississippi Theater which ensured Union control of northern Arkansas. The state capitol at Little Rock was captured in 1863. By the end of the war, programs such as the draft, high taxes, and martial law had led to a decline in enthusiasm for the Confederate cause. Arkansas was officially readmitted to the Union in 1868.
Arkansas was a member of the Confederacy during the war, and provided troops, supplies, and military and political leaders. Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States on June 15, 1836, entering as a slave state. Some of antebellum Arkansas was still a wilderness in most areas, rural and sparsely populated. Slavery had existed in the area since French/Spanish colonial times, but had been limited in scale until after statehood. Plantation style agriculture had taken hold in the areas of the state that had easy access to water transportation for moving cash crops, like cotton, to market. Counties bordering the Mississippi, Arkansas, White, Saline, and Ouachita rivers had the highest slave populations. Slavery existed but on a much smaller scale in the mountainous northwest and north central parts of the state. The 1850s had seen rapid economic growth in the state.
News of John Brown’s Raid in Virginia in 1859 had spurred a renewed interest in the state’s militia system which had been virtually dormant since the end of the War with Mexico. Like most of the United States, Arkansas had an organized militia system before the Civil War. State law required military service of most male inhabitants of a certain age. By August 1860 the state’s militia consisted of 62 regiments divided into eight brigades, which comprised an eastern division and a western division. New regiments were added as the militia organization developed. Additionally, many counties and cities raised uniformed volunteer companies, which drilled more often and were better equipped than the un-uniformed militia. These volunteer companies were instrumental in the seizure of federal installations at Little Rock and Fort Smith, beginning in February 1861 before Arkansas actually seceded.