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  • Writer's pictureJacksonville Museum

This Week in Arkansas Military History - Arkansas Joins the Confederacy

The secessionist movement dominated Arkansas politics in 1860 and 1861. Like many states in the South, the seeds of secession began with the election of President Lincoln. Arkansas was predominantly divided along geographical lines: the northwestern half of the state was against secession, and the southeastern half favored it. Still determining which way to go, officials called for an election to decide whether Arkansas should hold a convention to consider secession from the Union. On February 18th, 1861, election results showed that the majority of the state favored the formation of a secession convention. Delegates across Arkansas officially met in Little Rock on March 4, 1861, and elected David Walker as their chairman. Despite the clear preference from most of the state, Walker opposed secession and rejected taking immediate action at the first meeting. However, other events intervened before voters could decide the issue.

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Digital Archives

On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. President Lincoln called for a regiment of troops from Arkansas to help defend the United States against the rebellion. Governor Henry Rector refused, and David Walker asked convention delegates to reconvene in Little Rock. The Secession Convention Delegates, chosen to represent the people's interest, voted almost unanimously on May 6, 1861, to secede from the Union in a secession ordinance passed by a vote of sixty-five to five. Arkansas withdrew from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America on May 20, 1861. The Secession Convention also enacted a new constitution. Delegates drafted a document very similar to the 1836 Constitution. The government’s basic structure remained the same, but the words “United States of America” were replaced with “Confederate States of America.” The June 1, 1861, convention adopted the new constitution, but it was never submitted to a vote of the people.

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Digital Archives

Little Rock remained the state capital; however, in 1863, as the Union army approached, the Confederate State Capital was moved to Washington, Arkansas. Union forces prevailed in the Battle of Little Rock in September 1863, defeating the Confederate Army. Union forces occupied Pulaski County for the duration of the Civil War, and after the War, state officials moved the state capital back to Little Rock.

Works Cited

"1861 Arkansas Constitution," Arkansas Digital Archives, last accessed May 22, 2024, PDF,

"Arkansas Secession Ordinance, 1861 May 6," Arkansas Digital Archives, last accessed May 22, 2024, PDF,

"Civil War and Reconstruction," Pulaski County History, last accessed May 22, 2024,

Resolutions passed by the Convention of the people of Arkansas on the 20th day of March. 1861. Pdf.


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