Follow in the footsteps of history
The state of Arkansas was the location of more than 770 Civil War military actions. You can explore Arkansas’s battlefields, as well as the buildings that witnessed civilian and government activities during the Civil War.
Your Civil War march starts in the scenic Ozark Mountains
Start your Arkansas Civil War adventure in the Northwest corner, traveling through the beautiful Ozark Mountains 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. The park also includes a two-and-one-half mile segment of the Trail of Tears.
Just south of Fayetteville, you’ll find Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, nationally recognized as one of America’s most intact Civil War battlefields. 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. You can view wayside exhibits on the one-mile Battlefield Trail, or travel the park’s 6.5 mile driving tour. The park hosts Arkansas’s largest battle reenactment on the first weekend of December on even-numbered years.
On your journey southward, stop at 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. It is 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).
Civil War in the capital
Next stop, Arkansas’s capital city. Little Rock actually fell to the Union troops in September 1863. First, stop at the Little Rock National Cemetery – this site was initially used as a Union campground by US troops. Next, stroll over to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. The museum interprets Arkansas’s military history from the territorial period 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 Cemetery. Established in 1843, Mount Holly is the final resting place for Mr. Dodd, as well as five Confederate generals. The cemetery 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. It houses one of the best collections of Confederate battle flags in the South. A 64-pound cannon, “Lady Baxter,” originally from the Confederate gunboat Pontchartrain 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. Follow the Little Rock Campaign Tour. It outlines the 1863 advance by Union forces who seized the state capitol. The tour includes detailed exhibit panels at seven roadside pullouts that are accessible from I-40 between Little Rock and Lonoke. Stops include Brownsville Cemetery on Ark. 31 north of Lonoke; Reed’s Bridge on Ark. Hwy. 161 in Jacksonville; Ashley’s Mill at the intersection of Walkers Corner and Alexander Roads in Scott; River Crossing off U.S. Hwy. 165 near Baucum Corner; Bayou Fourche in Pratt Remmel Park off U.S. I-440; stone monument at 6200 Fourche Dam Pike Road; and Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock.
Onward to the south
Continuing south into Hot Springs, find additional Civil War spots, including Hollywood Cemetery and Hot Springs Confederate Monument. 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. Historic Washington State Park offers insight into a 19th century community and portrays people, times, and events of the Territorial, Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras in Arkansas history. This became the state capital from 1863 to 1865.
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. Make a stop in Camden, first going to Fort Southerland Park, which represents an excellently preserved example of urban Civil War defensive earthworks erected along the periphery of Camden.
The final stop in Arkansas’s rich Civil War history
On 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 park contains the January 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.