Without  any  doubt the darkest hours experienced by the
residents of  Craighead County were the tragic Civil War and
its aftermath,  more  commonly  known as the "Reconstruction
Period". This armed conflict pitted neighbor  against neigh-
bor, brother against brother, and  sometimes  father against
son. Families were split  to  the point that it took several
generations to bring them together again in unison.

    For  quite  some time prior to the Presidential election
of  1860,  there  was  much agitation in the southern states
over the question of slavery. Members of the Republican Par-
ty in the northern states wanted to check the spread of sla-
very or to abolish the practice completely. The mostly Demo-
cratic plantation owners in the South did not want  to  lose
the cheap labor needed to operate their large farms, and re-
sented the "intrusion" of the "Yankees" in the rights of the
states to do as they saw fit. The election in 1860 of Repub-
lican Abraham Lincoln of Illinois as President of  the Unit-
ed States threw the Southern slave holders into  a  turmoil.
They feared that the federal government  would  abolish sla-
very,  and  the  South  as  they knew it would be destroyed.
Several southern states had already threatned to secede
from the Union if Lincoln were elected.

    In  his inaugeral address on November 15, 1860, Arkansas
Governor Henry M. Rector in effect called for secession, de-
claring that the issue had been forced by the North  to  the
point where it must be defined as the Union without  slavery
or slavery without the Union. In  December,  South  Carolina
announced her independence from the  Union,  to  be followed
shortly by Florida, Georgia, Louisiana  and Texas. In Febru-
ary 1861  representatives of these states met in Montgomery,
Alabama, and formed the Confederate  States  of America. The
question of sucession in Arkansas was  referred to a vote of
the people, and  on  February  18,  1861,  the  people voted
27,472  to  15,826  in favor of a convention to consider the

    When the convention assembled in Little Rock on March 4,
1861,  it  voted to refer the question back to the people to
decide in a special election called for the  following  Aug-
ust. This was to change, however, when on  April 12, 1861, a
group of Southern soldiers attacked the  Federal Garrison at
Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor and began the tragic Civil
War. On May 6  the convention hurriedly reassembled  in Lit-
tle Rock and on the first ballot voted 65  to  5  for seces-
sion. After the call to make  the  vote  unanimous, only one
negative vote stood, that  of Isaac Murphy of Madison County
in northwest Arkansas.  Murphy was later to become the first
Union Governor of Arkansas.

    At  the outbreak of the war, there was little reason for
Craighead County to cast its lot with  the  Confederacy. The
county was only two years old, having been created by an Act
of the Arkansas  Legislature  on  February  19, 1859. In the
strategy of the war Craighead County was of  little signifi-
cance to either side.  It contained no major population cen-
ter, no major road, no railroad, no major river and  no fac-
tory or mine that would benefit  the  war  effort. The popu-
lation was made up largely of small farmers, small business-
men, trappers,  and  hunters. The majority of the population
were non-slaveholders  and  were either pro-Union or neutral
in sentiments.  The  U. S.  Census  of 1860 showed Craighead
County with a total population of 3,006, which included only
87 slaves. The slaves were owned by only  twenty-three citi-
zens of the county. There were no large  plantations such as
were found in other Arkansas counties. However, most  of the
county residents  were natives of, or descendants of natives
of  other Southern states, and  their loyalties ran deep for
the South.

    It  has  been erroneously reported by amateur historians
in the past  that  Phillip  K.  Lester represented Craighead
County in the secession convention,  and that he was a large
slaveholder. The fact of the matter is that Lester was not a
resident of Craighead County at  the  time. He was living in
Greene County in 1860  and moved to Lawrence County in 1861.
In 1860  he owned two slaves,  both  females. H. W. Williams
represented Craighead and Poinsett Counties  at  the conven-
tion and cast Craighead's  vote  for  secession.  On May 20,
1861,  Arkansas  was  admitted  to the Confederate States of
America and was now very much involved in the war.

    Although  Craighead County did not feel threatned by the
war, its young men quickly "rallied to the colors"  and vol-
unteered their services to what they considered  a  just and
honorable cause. Most thought that the conflict  would be of
short  duration, and some feared that hostilities  would end
before  they had an opportunity to fight. Few of  them real-
ized  that there were several years of extreme  hardship and
suffering,  and for many even death, in  store  for them and
their families.

    Four  companies  of  Confederate  volunteers were raised
primarily in Craighead County by  Captains J. M. Pollard, J.
D. Hillis, M. A. Adair, and Joel G.  Wood. A few individuals
joined companies formed outside the county. Usually they re-
turned to their native states to join. There were no  troops
organized in the county for the Federal Army. A few isolated
individuals, however, joined companies from the North  after
removing from this location. A few civilians remained in the
county who were sympathetic with the Union cause but did not
choose to bear arms against their Southern neighbors.

    Craighead County could well be proud of its men who ser-
ved in the war. Several of its citizens faught  in  some  of
the most decisive battles of the conflict.  Some were killed
in battle, and a large number were wounded or captured. Some
went  away  privates  and  came  back captains, as did I. S.

    There  were no major battles faught in Craighead County;
however, one  small  skirmish  did occur in 1862  and became
known locally as "The Battle of Jonesboro". The only printed
reference to this encounter was the report of Major Henry R.
Eggleston,  First  Wisconsin  Calvary,  in  his report dated
August 9, 1862. Union forces operating  out  of Helena along
the Ridge Road occupied Wittsburg (Cross County) on July 16,
collecting cotton and slaves. On  July 29  a courier arrived
from  Madison (St. Francis County)  with  instructions for a
detachment  to collect the sick soldiers left along the road
north to Chalk Bluff (Clay County). Lieutenant Porter of the
First Squad left with twenty men enroute north in accordance
with  the  command. At Jonesboro on Friday, August 1, Porter
ran  into two companies of Confederates commanded by Captain
Adair of  Craighead County and Captain Allen of Clay County.
At first  the Federals were successful, taking 24 prisoners,
30  horses, and  13 wagons. The prisoners were locked in the
courthouse that night, and pickets were stationed around the
town.  The  Confederates,  however,  returned in strength at
night, slipping in between  the  pickets and the main force.
In the battle which followed, only a few Union  pickets man-
aged to escape. The main Union force  then  retreated toward
Marianna. Seven Union soldiers were killed in the battle and
were buried across  Matthews  Avenue  from the St. Bernard's
Hospital. After the war ended, Union soldiers came and exhu-
med the bodies and took them away.

    While  the  county  was not overrun with Federal  Troops
continuously  and  did  not  suffer  from devastation of the
war, such as  fell  the  lot  of  many other counties in the
state, it still  was  not  without  exciting  experiences. A
portion of Marmaduke's  army  passed  through the  county on
his retreat from  Missouri,  and  some Federal commands also
passed  through  the  county  while  enroute to other points
where battles were to be faught. While  Craighead County did
escape the ravages of  a  direct  confrontation  between the
opposing forces, the suffering endured by its residents dur-
ing the war was without description. With most of  the able-
bodied men away, much of the land lay fallow. If goods could
be obtained by merchants, the consumer  had  no  money  with
which to buy them. If salt  could  be  found,  it  sold  for
$25.00 per barrel. Gun powder sold for $5.00 per pound,  and
quinine, the staple medicine of the day,  sold for $5.00 per
ounce. People  dug  dirt  from  their  smoke-house floor and
boiled  it  to  extract  salt.  To  add to their misery, the
Craighead County residents were  victimized by  roving gangs
of  outlaws, known as  bushwhackers,  (some  of  these  were
soldiers,  both   Union  and  Confederate)  who  roamed  the
countryside robbing, pilliaging, and looting. Livestock were
stolen, and crops were destroyed in the fields.  The thieves
entered the defenseless homes and  stole  meat,  flour,  and
anything of value the homeowners might have in their posses-
sion. Several  instances of such outrages were documented in
various parts of  the  county. Life was perhaps as difficult
on the home front as it was on the battlefield.

    Finally in 1865, the war ended with victory for the Uni-
on. The defeated men of the Confederacy  returned  home  and
attempted to resume normal life. However,  normal conditions
were not to exist for the residents of  Craighead County for
several years to come.

    In  an  attempt  to  punish the "Rebel" states for their
actions during the war, the "radical" members of the Federal
Legislature in March 1867 passed sweeping  legislation known
as  the  "Reconstruction  Act"  declaring  illegal all state
governments in ten southern  states, including Arkansas. The
South was divided into five military  districts, with Arkan-
sas and Mississippi  comprising the fourth. The generals who
headed the districts were given  complete  control  over all
civil authorities and directed to set up  military tribunals
and start the process of reconstruction.

    Under  the  new  plan, each of the "Rebel" states had to
present to  Congress  a  new constitution, giving all former
slaves  the  right to vote and hold political office. Voters
were  required  to take an "Ironclad Oath" stating that they
had not born arms against the Union. This disfranchised most
ex-Confederates  who  served in the war. The only people who
could vote were former slaves, wartime Unionists, draft dod-
gers, Southerners too old or too young for military service,
and Northerners who had moved to the state.

    Would-be politicians, many of  them  former  Union  sol-
diers, swarmed into the  state,  bent  on captalizing on the
defeat  of  the  Confederacy.  These  people became known as
"carpetbaggers" because it  was  said  that they came to the
South with everything they  owned in a carpetbag or satchel.
Chief among these was  Powell  Clayton, who  was a native of
Pennsylvania. He was  educated  in  a  military  school  and
became a civil engineer. When quite a young man, he moved to
Kansas and lived there until the advent of the war. He was a
captain  of  the First Kansas Infantry and was soon colonel.
He came to  Little  Rock  with  General  Steele and was soon
placed in command of Union Forces at Pine  Bluff.  He recog-
nized the opportunities for an enterprising  young Union man
in the state after the war, purchased a plantation near Pine
Bluff and stayed to exploit his opportunities.

    In  order  to  make  everything appear to be regular and
legal, an  election  was planned, and delegates were elected
to a Constitutional Convention. Very few of the Confederates
and their sympathizers were allowed  to  vote  and  a  large
majority  of the delegates to the Convention were those whom
the carpetbaggers  wanted. When the convention met in Little
Rock in January  1868, there were only nine native Arkansans
among the seventy-five  delegates  who were to determine the
states future. However, a new State Constitution was drafted
and submitted to Congress. The document was accepted, and on
June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the Union.

    On  July 2,  1868, Powell Clayton was inaugurated as the
Reconstruction  Governor of Arkansas. Under Governor Clayton
and the carpet-bag administration, the legislature appropri-
ated hundreds of thousands of  dollars  for court houses and
jails which were never built,  and  millions  of dollars for
railroads which were never completed. State and local  offi-
ces multiplied in number as carpetbaggers sought  to build a
strong political  machine. Salaries increased  as did taxes,
adding additional  burdens to local  citizens. The situation
became intolorable in  Craighead  County. The freedom-loving
pioneers would not  endure  this  unjust oppression  without
fighting back. Units of the Ku Klux Klan  were  formed  over
the county to combat  oppression.  At  first  it was nothing
more than a secret society for mutual protection of property
rights, and none but former soldiers of the Confederacy were
permitted to join. Then hostilities started in earnest.

    On  November  4,  1868,  (the  day following the Federal
election) Governor Clayton placed  Craighead County and nine
other Arkansas counties under  martial  law. In his official
proclamation, he stated that the  affected counties "are now
in a state of  insurrection.  Civil authority within them is
utterly powerless to preserve order and protect the lives of
the citizens.  In  many of these counties a perfect reign of
terror now exists". The  sheriff, county  judge,  and  clerk
were removed  from  office  in Craighead County and replaced
with Republicans who were  agreeable  to  the Reconstruction
Government.  The  state  militia  was  sent  to the affected
counties by Governor Clayton to  "quell  the  uprising". The
militia, poorly disciplined and consisting mostly  of former
slaves, moved  through  the  state  stealing,  looting,  and
occasionally killing white  men. Clayton hired secret agents
who  provided  militia  officers  with  lists  of  men to be

    One major confrontation occurred between the militia and
the  Klan  in  Craighead  County on Buck Snort Hill north of
Jonesboro on the Greensboro  Road. A small force of Klansmen
under the command of Steve Kitchens was enroute to Jonesboro
to check on several of their fellow members who had been ar-
rested and were being held in  the  county  jail.  Near  the
Buck Snort community  they  were  met by a superior force of
militia. Shots were exchanged and the Klansmen began to  re-
treat toward Greensboro where  reinforcements  waited.  John
Tyler, a member of the Klan,  fell  behind the main body and
was captured by the militia. Despite  his  plea  for  mercy,
Tyler was ruthlessly  murdered  by the militia. Local legend
says that his throat was cut, and he was allowed to bleed to
death. Many county  residents were arrested and held in jail
without being charged  and  without  being permitted to make
bond. Finally, in an  attempt  to  ease  tension and end the
bloody turmoil, an  edict was sent out by W. W. Nesbett, the
Reconstruction  sheriff,  offering  immunity to all Klansmen
who surrendered and turned  in  their  guns. The people were
tired of the bloodshed and most of the Klansmen surrendered.
A short time later the militia was withdrawn from  the coun-
ty. After almost a decade of war and privation,  turmoil and
strife, the residents of Craighead County settled  down to a
state of peace. In the  years  that  followed,  many  former
Union Soldiers migrated  to Craighead  County  and  settled.
Their friendly intercourse with the  citizens indicated that
the battle ax had been buried for all time.

    In 1874  a new state constitution was written, restoring
civil  rights  to  all  citizens. The residents of Craighead
County and the  state  of  Arkansas were able to compromise,
and today the tragic Civil War and the  terrible Reconstruc-
tion Period are only interesting chapters  in  the fascinat-
ing history of Arkansas and Craighead County.

edited 4/9/91 June Masson

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