Multiple Regions- Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trail
Believe it or not, the state of Arkansas was the scene of more than 770 Civil War military actions.
To give a brief synopsis of Arkansas's history in the Civil War, delegates meeting at the Old State House in Little Rock voted for Arkansas to secede from the Union on May 6, 1861, but it was not until the following spring in 1862 that the state saw any large-scale military actions. Your group will explore Arkansas's battlefields, as well as the buildings that witnessed civilian and government activities during the Civil War.
Start your Civil War excursion in Little Rock. Little Rock actually fell to the Union troops in September of 1863. First, make a stop at the Little Rock National Cemetery, this site was initially used as a Union campground by U.S. troops. When the troops left, the Confederate Army buried their dead on the west side. The land was subsequently purchased by the U.S. government for a military burial ground of occupation troops. A wall was erected between Union and Confederate sections but was taken down in 1913. Next, stroll over to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. Opened in May, 2001, the museum interprets Arkansas' military history from the territorial period right up to the present. Exhibits relate the Arsenal's contribution to the Civil War during both Confederate and Union occupation. After learning about the fate of Confederate spy David O. Dodd, drive over to Mount Holly Cemetary. Established in 1843, Mount Holly is the final resting place Mr. Dodd, as well as five Confederate generals. The cemetary also holds graves of prominent figures in Arkansas history from territorial days. Next head to Arkansas's Old State House. Most recently known as the site where President Bill Clinton celebrated his election nights in 1992 and 1996, the Old State House, now an Arkansas history museum, was the state's original capitol building from 1836 until 1911. This lovely, historic building was the site of many significant historic events, including the 1861 Secession Convention. In 1863, the Confederate government fled the area, and the town went to Union troops. General Frederick Steele quartered his army in the State House during his occupation, and the building served as the seat of the Union Occupation Government until the end of the War. The Old State House houses one of the better collections of Confederate battle flags in the South, as well as other relics of Arkansas history. A 64-pound cannon, "Lady Baxter", originally from the Confederate gunboat Ponchartrain used in the 1863 defense of Little Rock, is displayed on the front lawn. Set in the oldest surviving state capitol west of the Mississippi River, the Old State House Museum has been designated a National Landmark. This magnificent Greek Revival structure houses a multimedia museum of Arkansas history, with a special emphasis on women's history, political history, and historical programming for school children. The Little Rock museum also boasts nationally recognized collections of Civil War battle flags, the inaugural gowns of governors' wives, Arkansas art and pottery, and African-American quilts. Overnight in Little Rock.
Learn about the Battle of Little Rock here: http://americancivilwar.com/statepic/ar/ar010a.html
Travel up through the beautiful Ozark Mountains and to the site of one of the most well known battles in Arkansas, Pea Ridge. Pea Ridge National Military Park is a 4,300-acre Civil War Battlefield that preserves the site of the March 1862 battle that saved Missouri for the Union. On March 7 & 8, nearly 26,000 soldiers fought to determine whether Missouri would remain under Union control, and whether or not Federal armies could continue their offensive south through the Mississippi River Valley. Major General Earl Van Dorn led 16,000 Confederates against 10,250 Union soldiers, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis. Van Dorn's command consisted of regular Confederate troops commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, and Missouri State Guard Forces commanded by Major General Sterling Price. The Confederate force also included some 800 Cherokees fighting for the Confederacy. The Union army consisted of soldiers from Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio. Half of the Federals were German immigrants. The park also includes a two and one half mile segment of the Trail of Tears. The Elkhorn Tavern, site of bitter fighting on those fateful March days, is a National Park Service reconstruction on the site of the original. Pea Ridge is one of the most well preserved battlefields in the United States.
Just south of Fayetteville, you'll find Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. Prairie Grove is recognized nationally as one of America's most intact Civil War battlefields, and the park protects the battle site and interprets the Battle of Prairie Grove. Here, on December 7, 1862, the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi clashed with the Union Army of the Frontier resulting in about 2,700 casualties in a day of fierce fighting. Walk along the ridge and into the valley where the heaviest fighting took place. You can view wayside exhibits on the 1-mile Battlefield Trail, or travel the park's 6 1/2-mile Driving Tour. Exhibits, tours and other programs describe the battle and its local effect. The park hosts Arkansas's largest battle reenactment on the first weekend of December on even-numbered years. Overnight in Fayetteville.
We take a leisurely drive back down south into the Ouachita Mountains and stop in Arkansas's "Spa City," Hot Springs. There are worthwhile stops on the path down from Fayetteville including the Fort Smith National Historic Site, which preserves the site of two military posts and the historic Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, noted as the jurisdiction of Federal Judge Isaac Parker, "The Hangin' Judge," during the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1861, Fort Smith was an outpost on the western frontier adjacent to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In April, 1861, Arkansas Governor Henry Rector sent militia troops to seize the fort and arsenal at Fort Smith. There are some Civil War spots right in the middle the spa city, including Hollywood Cemetery and Hot Springs Confederate Monument at Ouachita and Central Ave. Also enjoy Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row. Take in the beauty of the Ouachita Mountains from atop the Hot Springs Observation Tower, and definitely take a traditional springs spa and massage in the city. Overnight in Hot Springs.
Continue south and visit Historic Washington State Park. Following the capture of Little Rock by Union troops in September, 1863, the Confederate government of Arkansas fled to Hot Springs for a short time, then eventually settled in the court house at Washington, a major waypoint on the old Southwest Trail to Texas. Here, James Bowie had hired a local blacksmith and knifemaker to fashion the first of what became known as the "Bowie Knife", and both Bowie and Davy Crockett passed through here on their way to Texas and ultimately to the Alamo. Historic Washington State Park offers insight into a 19th century community and builds understanding of the people, times, and events of the Territorial, Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras in Arkansas history. This was the state capital from 1863-65 and a cultural, economic, and political center, especially after Little Rock was taken by the Union army in 1863. Site is on the Southwest Trail. Home tours are available, including the "Old Town" tour and the "Living in Town" tour, as well as the Historic Washington Museum Experience, which includes the gun, blacksmith, and print museums.
Onward to the east and Poison Springs State Park. In the spring of 1864, three Civil War battles took place in south central Arkansas that were part of the Union Army's "Red River Campaign." Arkansas's three state historic parks that commemorate these battles--Poison Spring, Marks' Mills and Jenkins' Ferry--are part of the Red River Campaign National Historic Landmark. The first battle occurred near Camden at Poison Spring on April 18 when Confederate troops captured a supply train and scattered Union forces. Arkansas was split in half with Union troops occupying Little Rock, Fort Smith, and every other town north of the Arkansas River. Confederates were encamped from Monticello to Camden, Washington and beyond. An elaborate Union offensive was hatched during the winter in Washington D.C. in order to capture the last Rebel stronghold of the West--Texas. Standing in their way was Shreveport, Louisiana, believed to be the front door to Texas. Thus began what would become known as the Red River Campaign. Take a stop in Camden, first going to Fort Southerland Park. Fort Southerland represents an excellently preserved example of urban Civil War defensive earthworks erected along the periphery of Camden. They were erected in 1864 in anticipation of a Federal attack from Little Rock. Next, drop by the McCollum-Chidester House Museum. This house, built in 1847, retains its furnishings brought here by steamboat in 1863 by the Chidester family. The city of Camden was occupied by Northern General Frederick Steele in 1864, leading to the Battle of Poison Spring. Overnight in Camden or El Dorado.
The last leg of your journey: drive east into the Delta and on to Gillett. Here, you'll find the site of the crucial battle at Arkansas Post National Memorial. The first semi-permanent European settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley region, Arkansas Post became part of the United States during the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. By 1819, the post was a thriving river port and the largest city in the region and selected the capital of the Arkansas Territory. The park contains the January 11, 1863 Arkansas Post battlefield where vastly superior numbers of Union troops under major General John McClernand defeated Confederate defenders under Brigadier General Thomas Churchill. While Fort Hindman now lies beneath the Arkansas River, there are still remnants of Confederate trenches. The battle, as well as the rest of Arkansas Post's rich history, is interpreted at the park museum. Head northward and onto the banks of the Mississippi River, where you'll find Civil War history at the Battle of Helena. The battle is represented by four Union battery sites, which are in various states of preservation (and are all on private property). The July 4, 1863 battle was a major defensive victory for the Union forces and provided a third crushing defeat within 48 hours (Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg, and Vicksburg surrendered on this same day) for the Confederacy. Battery A is located near Adams and Columbia Streets; Battery B is near Liberty Street; Battery C is near Clark and York Streets; and Battery D is on Military Road. Other points of the Battle of Helena are interpreted through historical markers throughout the city of Helena. An additional point of interest is the Confederate Cemetery in Helena, which contains the graves of many of the Southern casualties of the battle, as well as the final resting place of one of the South's great generals: Patrick Cleburne, a resident of Helena. On your way back to Little Rock, make sure you stop by Lonoke and see the Camp Nelson Cemetery, the tragic end for many Texas Confederate soldiers. While camped near Old Austin, Arkansas, a large group of Texas Confederate soldiers were overcome by a measles epidemic, causing the deaths of several hundred. The soldiers were buried near the encampment. In 1907, the General Assembly appropriated funds to remove the remains into the area that became the cemetery. The remains were not identified on the stone markers; a monument at the cemetery tells this story.
1 Capitol Mall, 4A-900 - Little Rock, Arkansas 72201 | 1-800-872-1259 or (501) 682-7777 (V/TT)