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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Northern Arkansas in chaos during the Civil War

In my last post about foot burning in the Civil War, I talked about how northern Arkansas was a No Man's Land during the late Civil War.

For the first two years of the war, most of Arkansas was firmly in Confederate hands. The Ozarks in the northern part of the state, however, went their own way as they always have. Some people were for the south, others for the north, and many simply wanted to stay out of it. When Little Rock fell on 10 September 1863, central Arkansas came under the control of the Union. The rebel armies retreated to southern Arkansas and were too weak to challenge the Union troops in the center of the state.

The Union troops in Arkansas were undermanned, and could do little more than hold the line. Large swaths of the Arkansas Ozarks were left unguarded and soon became prey to roving bands who robbed civilians. Some of these groups claimed to be on one side or the other, but many were simply bandits.

In the fall of 1864, Confederate General Sterling Price decided to launch an ambitious plan to march north from southern Arkansas and invade Missouri. This is the setting for my Missouri Civil War novel A Fine Likeness. In preparation for the invasion, Price sent Confederate cavalry raider J.O. Shelby and his Iron Brigade to slip across the Arkansas River into northern Arkansas to round up deserters and conscript locals. Shelby reported “the entire country overrun with able-bodied men; recruiting officers quarreling or sunk in total apathy; predatory bands of thieves roaming over the country at will, killing some, burning the feet of others, and all hungering with the lust of robbery; one officer refusing to report to another, no organizations, no discipline, no arms, no leader, no desire to fight, no anything.”

Currently I'm writing another book in the House Divided series that is loosely tired to A Fine Likeness. One of the protagonists is a member of Shelby's Iron Brigade who deserts after Price is defeated and retreats south. He finds himself hiding out in this chaotic region. It's a great setting for a historical novel because anything can happen there, and everything does.

For more on Shelby and his Iron Brigade, check out my book Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863.

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