Flag back 150 years after loss
LR remembers Civil War battles
When Union troops during the Civil War advanced into Little Rock to take command of the state capital Sept. 10, 1863, Confederate evacuation moved so swiftly that Southern soldiers didn’t have time to complete one last important task.
As the 3rd Iowa Cavalry moved into Little Rock, the first Federal troops to enter, they chased off the last straggling Confederate regiments who were supposed to set fire to the town and blow up the arsenal storing munitions at what is now the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.
“We like to think these companies from Iowa were instrumental, not just for being the first to come in, but to help keep the arsenal from being blown up,” said Stephan McAteer, the museum’s director. “It’s an interesting twist of fate. The arsenal that has been here for 173 years wouldn’t be here today, and our museum wouldn’t be here, if not for the Iowa troops.”
In an observance of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the capital city’s takeover, the museum will have a symbolic lowering of the Confederate national flag and subsequent raising
of the Union guidon by two Union re-enactors at 5 p.m. Sept. 10 in front of the museum building at 503 E. 9th St. in downtown Little Rock.
The museum will then host a five-week exhibition Sept. 11-Oct. 19 of two Civil War regimental flags from the 37th Arkansas Infantry and the 3rd Iowa Cavalry — both on loan from Iowa’s State Historical Museum, part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. A preview of the flag exhibit will be 5-7 p.m. Sept. 10, following the flag-raising ceremony. Both events, as well as admission to the exhibit, are free and open to the public.
Neither flag has been in Arkansas since the Civil War, McAteer said, but the two are somewhat related in history.
The Iowa regimental flag represents the first troops to enter Little Rock about 5 p.m. Sept. 10, 150 years ago, with city leaders officially surrendering the city two hours later. The Arkansas regiment’s flag was captured by a different Iowa regiment, McAteer said, during the Battle of Helena on July 4, 1863, which opened the way for the Little Rock campaign that led Gen. Frederick Steele’s 13,000 Union troops to advance toward the capital city.
“The 37th Arkansas Infantry fought both at Helena and at Little Rock,” McAteer said. “About half of them were captured at Helena. The ones who weren’t came back and participated in the defense of Little Rock.
“This is the first time either of these flags have been on exhibit in Arkansas,” he continued. “The two flags are very impressive. Just the fact that we can bring back a captured flag to Arkansas, that’s just gravy for us.”
Heavily outnumbered, the Confederate army under Gen. Sterling Price chose to evacuate Little Rock with mainly just small battles and skirmishes taking place on the outskirts of town to try to slow the Union advance.
“There was no ‘battle’ of Little Rock,” said Ian Beard, adult- education coordinator at the Old State House, which served as the capital for both Confederate and Union governments during the war. “There was a Battle of Fourche Creek, sort of a running skirmish that essentially was buying Confederate troops time to evacuate the city.
“There are plenty of accounts that Gen. Sterling Price lost far more troops from desertion while on his way to Arkadelphia than he would have by standing and fighting in Little Rock,” Beard added.
Politically, though, the Union takeover of Little Rock had big implications, Beard said.
“Reconstruction begins and Little Rock becomes a hub for freed men who had either escaped slavery or found freedom with the Union army or had been hiding out in the hills since the beginning of the war and could now more openly support the cause of the U.S.,” Beard said. “Certainly it was a heavy blow to the Confederate war effort in Arkansas and to the Confederate government in Arkansas.”
Confederate control of Little Rock was doomed, McAteer said, with the losses at Helena and Vicksburg, both July 4 that year, opening the Mississippi River valley and making Union troops available to move on Little Rock.
“The fall of Little Rock was a blow to the morale of Confederate troops,” McAteer said. “Basically you had the northern half of the state under Union control and the southern half under Confederate control.”
Several observances of the 150th anniversary of Little Rock’s surrender are scheduled during the month as part of commemoration events of the war’s sesquicentennial period. Admission to all events is free.
The Old State House Museum at 300 W. Markham in Little Rock will host a pair of brown-bag lunch lectures. On Thursday, Larry LeMasters will speak about “Walker’s Last Stand: The Marmaduke-Walker Duel.” The pistol duel between Confederate Brig. Gens. John S. Marmaduke and L. Marsh Walker happened Sept. 6, 1863, as Union troops closed in on the capital city. Walker died the next morning, leaving the Confederate army without one of its top military leaders. On Sept. 10, Mark Christ of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission will talk about the Union’s 1863 Little Rock Campaign.
On Saturday and Sunday, Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Park, on Arkansas 161 at the Bayou Meto crossing in Jacksonville, will commemorate the anniversary of the Aug. 27, 1863, Battle of Reed’s Bridge. Living history camps will open at 9:30 a.m. both days, with a battle re-enactment at 2 p.m. Saturday. A re-enactment of the Marmaduke-Walker duel is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. Parking will be $1 with shuttles available. More information can be found at the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society Facebook page.
On Sept. 14, the Scott Plantation Settlement, 15525 Alexander Road in Scott, will have lectures about the skirmish at Ashley’s Mills, which happened Sept. 7, 1863, and offer tours of the plantation settlement. Topics will include the Marmaduke-Walker duel and the presence of both Confederate and Union armies in Scott during the Little Rock Campaign. The property was used by Steele as a bivouac for his troops after Little Rock’s fall. More information is available by contacting the settlement at (501) 351-5737.
The Skirmish at Ashley’s Mills will also be a lecture topic Sept. 10 at the Grand Prairie Civil War Roundtable at the Lonoke County Museum in Lonoke, featuring Martin Gipson of Scott Connections. More information can be found by calling the museum at (501) 676-6750.
On Sept. 14, a rededication of the Confederate Last Stand Monument will be at 2 p.m. at the Ten Mile House, 6915 Stagecoach Road in Little Rock. The 8th Arkansas Infantry, Barrett’s Battery, is scheduled to mark the event with the firing of three cannons, according to a news release. The observance is of the final failed attempt by Confederate troops to defend Little Rock on Sept. 11, 1863 — an action the day after Little Rock’s fall that took place along McHenry’s Creek near the Ten Mile House, also known as the McHenry House and the Stagecoach House.
More information on sesquicentennial activities can be found at the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission website at arkansascivilwar150.com/events.