Friday, January 29, 2010
The original Fort Smith had been evacuated by the U.S. Army in 1824 in favor of new posts closer to the rapidly expanding Western frontier. But politics came into play and, over the objections of the army itself, the U.S. Congress appropriated money for a new Fort Smith. Army officers saw no need for the new fort, but since the money had been appropriated, they oversaw its construction.
The second Fort Smith was a magnificent piece of construction. A complex of brick and stone buildings surrounded by a five-sided stone wall with imposing bastions at its corners, the fort was one of the most beautiful of the growing nation's western posts. Because at the time no one could see the need for a major defensive work at Fort Smith, the engineers designing and building the post halted construction of the original plans and developed the citadel to serve a primary function as a supply post for troops assigned to the frontiers.
They could not then imagine the conflict that would soon divide North and South and split the United States in two.
To learn more about the second Fort Smith, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARFS4.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Although the Trail of Tears would not come for another nineteen years, by 1817 a number of Cherokee had accepted the inevitable and started moving west from their homes in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. The began settling in western Arkansas, carving homes and fields from the wilderness and rebuilding their lives.
The problem was that the Osage, a well established tribe already in the area, objected to what they considered a Cherokee intrusion. The two nations neared the point of war as incidents of violence escalated. To keep peace between the Osage and the Cherokee, the United States decided to establish a garrison on the far western frontier. On December 25, 1817, a company of 64 riflemen led by Major William Bradford nosed a boat up to a high bluff at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers. Then called Belle Point, a settlement of French fur trappers had existed at the site for many years.
The soldiers built a rectangular fort atop the bluff that had been designed by Major Stephen Long. He later selected the site for the modern city of Atlanta. With blockhouses on diagonal corners, other structures to serve as quarters, storehouses, etc., and cannon for its defense, the fort was named Fort Smith after General Thomas A. Smith.
The officers and soldiers of the isolated fort spent their first few years negotiating with the Native American tribes to avoid a full scale war and also roamed the hills and valleys of Arkansas and what is now Oklahoma on noteworthy trips of exploration. They visited such points of interest as Mount Magazine and even Hot Springs.
In 1821, the 7th U.S. Infantry arrived at Fort Smith, greatly expanding the military presence at the post. The noteworthy regiment had fought at the Battle of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson and was ordered west from Fort Scott in Georgia.
The original fort was held by the Army until 1824, by which time the flood of both Cherokee and white settlers into the region had pushed the frontier west. Seeing no need for the continued occupation of Fort Smith, the army evacuated the post in favor of new forts closer to the expanding frontier. The abandonment, however, would quickly prove to be temporary in nature.
To learn more about the original Fort Smith, the ruins of which are shown above, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARFS3.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Fort Smith National Historic Site preserves what remains of the historic fort that defended the frontier for more 50 years along with structures associated with the Judge Isaac C. Parker and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Parker was known even in his lifetime as the "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith and the deputies who operated under his jurisdiction brought law and order to the Old West and inspired such films as John Wayne's "True Grit" and "Rooster Cogburn" and Clint Eastwood's "Hang Em High."
Largely because the Parker years generate so much interest, many people do not realize today that the old fort played a key role in the Civil War. Both Union and Confederate troops occupied it at various stages of the war and it was a strategic focal point for both armies as they struggled to control both western Arkansas and the Indian Nations of what is now Oklahoma.
Over the next few posts, I will focus on Fort Smith and its role in the Civil War so I hope you will check back every day or so to learn more about one of my favorite cities and favorite historic sites in the nation. You can also learn more any time at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortsmith.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
Row after row of headstones, many of them marked as "Unknown," bring a great deal of reality to the brutal cost of the Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove Campaigns. This is especially true because, with a few exceptions, the men and boys buried here did not die in combat. Instead, they suffered from horrible battle wounds and debilitating disease. Often linger in misery for days and weeks before finally breathing their last.
These men were the hard luck soldiers of the Western frontier. Some of them marched through winter snows and ice with no shoes and threadbare uniforms literally falling off of their emaciated bodies as they followed Van Dorn to Pea Ridge and Hindman to Prairie Grove. Unlike many others, they did not desert and slip away into the mountains or through the lines to join the Federal forces. Instead they stood their ground and fought fiercely and bravely for the cause in which they believed.
Walking the beautifully preserved and landscaped battlefields of Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge today, it is difficult to really conceive the brutality that took place on such picturesque fields and ridges. But a walk through Fairview provides a sobering reminder of just how brutal the war was for the men in the ranks.
To learn more about the cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fairviewcemetery.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
A major figure in Arkansas in the years before the War Between the States, Pike was opposed to the secession of the Southern states, but served the Confederacy as a brigadier general. By the time he received his appointment in November of 1861, however,
he was already a noted explorer, lawyer, poet, writer, educator and soldier.
It is thought that the structure was built in around 1820, making it one of the oldest sta
nding buildings in Arkansas. Pike did not teach long before moving on to Little Rock where he engaged on a career in law, journalism and politics. He became a nationally known writer and poet in the Antebellum era.
His career as a Confederate general was brief. Assigned to command in the Indian Nations in what is now Oklahoma
, he led Native American troops at the Battle of Pea Ridge. He became involved in a conflict with General Thomas Hindman, however, and resigned his commission the following year.
Pike sat out the rest of the war, living part of the time in the Ouachita Mountains. In later years he continued his work in Freemasonry, which he had begun in the 1840s. He eventually became a 33rd degree Mason and is regarded as the father of modern Freemasonry.
To learn more about Albert Pike's School House in Van Buren, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pikeschoolhouse.
Friday, January 1, 2010
In addition to his skills as a farmer, Simon Sager was an accomplished carpenter and furniture maker. He helped build the Cherokee Male and Female Acadamies in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and supplied his neighbors with beautiful pieces of furniture, some of which survive to this day. He also raised beef and was by all accounts a successful entrepreneur along what was then the western frontier.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, changed everything for both Sager and the little community that would eventually become Siloam Springs. The area was heavily raided by Blunt's Division of the Union Army of the Frontier during the summer and fall of 1862. The Federals defeated Confederate troops at the Battle of Old Fort Wayne - less than 20 miles to the northwest - on October 22, 1862 and more fighting followed before the end of the year at the Battle of Cane Hill and the Battle of Prairie Grove.
To supply his thousands of men with food and other necessities, Union General James G. Blunt ordered out foraging parties that ravaged the countryside around what is now Siloam Springs. Farms, including that of Sager, were stripped of forage, grain, beef, pork, poultry and anything else the soldiers wanted. Families were often left to face starvation or flee and pro-secession families watched their homes go up in flames.
After the Prairie Grove Campaign, the armies soon moved on, but the area along today's Arkansas-Oklahoma border was then overrun by guerrilla bands. Some of these were allied with the Union, some with the Confederacy and some with no one at all. They swarmed over the countryside, raiding farms, mills and homes. Murder, robbery and assault were the watchwords of the day.
On May 17, 1864, Simon Sager's home was surrounded by a pro-Union guerrilla party of Cherokee "Pin" Indians. When the attack ended, Sager was dead. The creek flowing through the heart of Siloam Springs, however, still bears his name and one of his cabins is preserved on the campus of John Brown University.
To see additional photos and learn more about Siloam Springs, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/siloamsprings. For a good account of the 1862 fighting in Northwest Arkansas, be sure to check out William L. Shea's new book, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign.