Arkansas Militia in Reconstruction

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The Arkansas Militia in Reconstruction was deeply involved in the ongoing civil disturbances which plagued the state until the late 1870s. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the militia was first utilized by the white population to re-establish control over the newly freed black population. Radical Republicans seized control in 1867 and abolished existing state governments and militia organizations, and disenfranchised former Confederates. The new disenfranchised whites turned to the shadow Ku Klux Klan to attempt to maintain social order. The Re-constructionist government raised a new militia, primarily of black soldiers with white officers and utilized this new "Black Militia" to put down the rising power of the Ku Klux Klan. Armed conflicts between rival parties continued in several counties and the Militia was called to re-establish control in Pope and Scott Counties. The most severe conflict of this period occurred during the so-called Brooks–Baxter War with rival parties, with supporting militias, battling for control of the governorship. With the end of reconstruction one of the first acts of the new resurgent Democratic state legislature was to abolish the office of Adjutant General in retaliation for the use of the militia to enforce the rule of the Reconstruction government.

Re-establishment of the Status Quo[edit]

After the fall of Little Rock in September 1863, a pro-Union government was established in Federally occupied Arkansas, under Isaac Murphy. Governor Murphy appointed Albert W. Bishop, former lieutenant colonel of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry as Adjutant General. Murphy and Bishop set about creating a pro-Union militia organization.[1] Immediately following the official end of the Civil War in the summer of 1865, white southerners began to repopulate the local militia organizations and utilized these organizations to begin to re-establish white control over the newly freed black population. White militia organizations even set about disarming returning black Union veterans in some areas. When the Radical Republicans seized control of Congress in 1867 they abolished all former confederate state governments and formed military districts, until the states rewrote their constitutions to include the reconstruction platform. Former Union General Powell Clayton was elected as the new Governor in the same election that Arkansas adopted its new constitution. The new constitution disenfranchised former confederates, forbidding them from voting and holding office. Many of the former confederates turned to the growing Ku Klux Klan organization for protection.[2]

Suppression of the Ku Klux Klan[edit]

Following the Civil War, Congress passed two laws in 1867 that impacted upon the Militia. The first was an act which dissolved all existing state governments and placed the states under the control of the occupying Federal forces, and the second, passed on March 2, 1867, abolished the various southern militia organizations.[3] Most white males who had participated in the late rebellion were now disqualified to vote, so Radical Republican candidates won all state offices and most seats in the legislature. The newly elected Governor, Powell Clayton succeeded in getting Congress to reauthorize militia organizations in states with pro Union governments re-established.[3]

The Republican controlled legislature passed an act to reorganize the state militia on July 14, 1868. General Keyes Danforth was appointed Adjutant General and he set about raising militia units composed of black soldiers. In October 1868 the Adjutant General could count 37 militia companies totaling 1600 men, the majority of which were black, in the newly formed Arkansas State Guard.[3]

This new militia was to spend much of the coming year battling Ku Klux Klan activity in three of the state's four militia districts. Governor Powell declared Martial Law and militia forces seized the town of Center Point in the southwest and took 60 prisoners on November 12, 1868.[4] The militia made several arrests in Hamburg in the southeastern district. The militia under General Daniel Phillips Upham killed and captured several in an engagement against Klansmen in Augusta in the Northeastern district. Also in the Northeastern District, Marianna was occupied with five captured and near Jonesboro one was killed and three captured. In Fulton County the Militia captured two men.[3] Klan activity seems to have been successfully suppressed for the time being because Martial Law was lifted in 1869.[3]

Pope County Militia War[edit]

Pope County in West Central Arkansas had been the scene of several politically motivated assassinations following the civil war.[5] In 1872 it appeared that another round of assassinations of county officials was imminent and local officials convinced the Governor Ozra A. Hadley, who had been installed by Governor Powell, who was now a senator, to allow the raising of a militia company to deal with the troubles. This militia company arrested the suspected assassins but was then accused itself of murdering its prisoners. As the situation continued to spiral out of control and more killings followed Adjutant General Daniel Phillips Upham was sent to investigate. Following a round of shoot outs and killings in Dover and threats to burn the town, martial law was declared and a regiment of the mostly black state militia was sent in to maintain the peace.[6] A Captain George R. Herriot, in command of the black troops in Pope county, was subsequently murdered in the county court house, but his killer was never brought to trial.[5]

Brooks Baxter War[edit]

Main article: Brooks–Baxter War

In the state election of 1872, Joseph Brooks represented the Liberal Republicans and Elisha Baxter represented the old Radical Republicans.[7] In a contested election, the legislature reviewed the returns and declared Baxter the winner, but on April 12, 1874, over a year after Baxter took office, a Judge declared Brooks to be the winner. Governor Baxter was forcibly evicted from the Statehouse by Brooks and an armed group of supporters. In the confusion that followed, both "Governors" called on the Militia for support, and both received it. The pro Baxter militia forces were led by former Confederate General Robert C. Newton. Pro Brooks militia forces were led by Former Union General Officer Robert Francis Catterson and former Confederate General James Fleming Fagan. Brooks maintained control of the Statehouse, and Baxter established a headquarters nearby in the Anthony House. One man was killed in fighting that erupted along Markham Street on April 16, 1874. Baxter managed to raise over 1,300 troops, while Brooks secure more than 2000 rifles for his supporters.[7] With orders from Washington DC to prevent a clash, Colonel Thomas E. Rose, commander at the Little Rock Arsenal, deployed U.S. regulars from the Sixteenth Infantry plus two pieces of artillery on Markham Street between the parties.[8] As violence continued, Federal Troops erected a barricade along Markham Street between the warring factions to prevent further encounters.

Hostilities quickly spread to other parts of the state. Nine Brooks supporters were killed and thirty wounded in an ambush set by Baxter forces at New Gascony in Jefferson County, south of Pine Bluff.[7] Engagements between the two sides also occurred on May 1 in Lincoln and Arkansas counties, and two days later, they fought another battle near Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), killing five more men.[8] On May 8, Brooks men ambushed a steamboat, the Hallie, and a company of pro-Baxter militia near Palarm Creek, south of present day Mayflower, on the Arkansas River. The boat was captured by Brooks forces but was eventually sunk by Baxter supporters.[7]

Baxter forces occupied Argenta (present day North Little Rock) across the river from the Statehouse and kept up a steady stream of sniper fire on Brooks forces at the Statehouse. Brooks forces eventually declared that unless the sniping was stopped, they would shell the city of Argenta with the two six pounder cannon present at the Statehouse.[7]

On May 13, 1874, a four-hour skirmish was fought near the site of the present state capital. Pro-Baxter militia had arrived by steamboat from Fort Smith and they were intercepted by pro-Brooks forces. The number of casualties from this engagement is unknown.[7]

Both sides appealed to President Ulysses S. Grant for aid and on May 15, 1874, Grant recognized Baxter as the governor and ordered all "turbulent and disorderly persons to disperse and return to their homes". By May 16, Brooks supporters disbanded and began returning home. The total number of casualties in this political war is estimated at above 200.[8]

The Waldron War[edit]

Armed conflict between warring factions broke out in Waldron, Scott County, in West Central Arkansas in the Summer of 1875.[9] Governor Garland and eventually Governor Miller used the state militia forces to maintain peace, with up to seven companies of militia stationed in the county in 1877 and 1878. Eventually tensions between local "militias" rose to the point that Adjutant General James Pomeroy "took up his residence at Waldron", directing the "militias" and ensuring an orderly term of the circuit court in the spring of 1878.[10] But now the political pendulum had swung, reconstruction was over, and the new state legislature, now back firmly in the control of the previously disenfranchised democrats, objected to the governor's use of the militia in what the legislature saw as a local issue. The reaction was so severe that in March 1879, the legislature, over the governor's veto, enacted a law abolishing the Office of Adjutant General:[9]

Act No. XLIX
An Act to Abolish the Office of Adjutant General and for other purposes.
Section 1- Governor's Private Secretary required to perform duties of Adjutant General and Salry [sic?]
Section 2- Office of the Adjutant General Abolished
That from and after the passage of this act, the Governor’s Private Secretary shall perform all the duties now performed by the Adjutant General, and shall receive a salary of $1600.00 per annum, for his services as such Private Secretary and Adjutant General.
Be it further enacted, that the office of Adjutant General be, and the same is hereby abolished, and that this act take effect and be enforce from and after its' [sic?] passage: and that all laws, and parts of laws, in conflict with this act be and the same are hereby repealed.
This bill having been returned by the Governor, with his objections thereto, and, after reconsideration having passed both houses by the constitutional majority, it has become a law this 11th day of March 1879.
J.T. Bearded, Speaker of the House
M.M. Duffie, President of the Senate

In addition to abolishing the office of Adjutant General, the Legislature also cut all funding for the militia. Despite the efforts of each succeeding Governor, this situation continued for over twenty eight years, until 1907 when the Legislature finally reauthorized the office of Adjutant General.[11]


  1. ^ Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Arkansas by Albert W. Bishop, Adjutant General of Arkansas, 1867
  2. ^ "Ku Klux Klan (Reconstruction)". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Archived from the original on November 22, 2010. Retrieved November 4, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Arkansas National Guard Museum, Reconstruction". The Arkansas National Guard Museum. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  4. ^ "HISTORY OF CATTERSON'S MILITIA". The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Volume 16, Summer 1957, p. 203. Retrieved May 2, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Bell, Kathleen. "Pope County Militia War". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ Kathleen Bell "Pope County Militia War", The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, Accessed 25 November 2013,
  7. ^ a b c d e f "The Arkansas National Guard Museum, Brooks-Baxter War". The Arkansas National Guard Museum. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c Moneyhon, Carl (September 25, 2009). "Brooks-Baxter War". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "The Arkansas National Guard Museum, Scott County". The Arkansas National Guard Museum. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  10. ^ Goodner, Wes (November 5, 2007). "Waldron War". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 
  11. ^ "The Arkansas National Guard Museum, McCarthy Light Guards". The Arkansas National Guard Museum. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved February 15, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyett, Gene W. “The Black Experience in the First Decade of Reconstruction in Pope County, Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 51 (Summer 1992): 105–119.
  • Claunts, P. M. From Memory’s Scrapbook: A History of the Early Days of Scott County, Arkansas. Waldron, AR: The Scott County Library Heritage Committee, 1983.
  • Goodner, Norman. A History of Scott County, Arkansas. Siloam Springs, AR: Bar D Press, 1941.
  • “Governor Miller addresses Legislature.” Arkansas Gazette. January 16, 1879, p. 2.
  • McCutchen, Henry Grady. History of Scott County, Arkansas. 2nd ed. Waldron: Scott County Historical Society, 1988.
  • Reynolds, Thomas J. The Pope County Militia War: July 8, 1872, to February 17, 1873. Little Rock: Foreman-Payne Publishers, 1968.
  • Shull, Laura L. “Pope County Violence, 1865–1875.” Pope County Historical Association Quarterly 37 (June 2005): 2–27.
  • Vance, David L. Early History of Pope County. Mabelvale, AR: Foreman-Payne Publishers, 1970.

External links[edit]