WHEN MOST PEOPLE talk about Arkansas’ role in the Civil War, they’re usually focused on the battles, such as Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, says Brian Robertson, senior archivist and manager of the Research Services Division of the Butler Center of Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. Less discussed, however, is the impressive number of Arkansans who, despite the state’s secession, were supporters of the Union cause.
“In fact,” Brian says, “outside of Tennessee, which had 2 1/2 times the population [of Arkansas], no other Confederate state had more men join the Union Army than Arkansas. And that’s just the white soldiers. We’re not even talking about the black soldiers who joined later.”
In 1862, when Lt. Col. A.W. Bishop was sent to Northwest Arkansas to maintain Union control of the area, he was struck by the sizable minority of Northern supporters, or Unionists, he found there. By the next year, he published the tome above, an original printing and one of the oldest books in the Butler Center’s collection, titled Loyalty on the Frontier, or Sketches of Union Men of the South-West; With Incidents and Adventures in Rebellion on the Border.
Bishop’s book chronicles the “civil war within a civil war,” as Brian puts it, which forced many Arkansans, particularly those living far from the slavery-powered plantations of the South and Eastern corners, to side against their neighbors and their home state, and choose whether to live in secret, flee north or join the combat.
It’s easy to think of the Civil War in clear-cut terms—black and white, North and South, slavery and abolitionism. But Bishop’s book, written early in Arkansas’ statehood, shows that those lines were often blurred, even here in The Natural State.
Want to learn more about Arkansas’ Unionists? You can purchase a recent printing of A.W. Bishop’s book at uapress.com