|Union Gen. Frederick Steele|
The Jenny and I went to see an early show of Stephen Spielberg's "Lincoln" yesterday, and it was mesmerizing. About 20 minutes to 30 minutes before the end, President Abraham Lincoln tells Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens that even if quickly readmitted to the Union, the southern states will not be able to block the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. He explains this is because all the northern states will ratify it, and he already controls Louisiana, Tennessee and ARKANSAS. Friendly Reconstruction governments already existed in those states because their capitals and large sections of them were retaken earlier in the war. Stephens, despite being an avowed white supremacist, recognizes the reality of this, and you can see the defeat on his face. (BTW, casting Jack Earle Haley as Stephens — brilliant!) Lincoln then says, "Slavery is done. It's finished."
My master's thesis was on Gen. Frederick Steele and the politics of wartime Reconstruction in Arkansas, so I really enjoyed this tiny little factoid in the middle of this big, sprawling historical film. I also was so proud of my state and the small role it played in ending slavery. Not many people know or acknowledge it, but the number of Arkansawyer who wore the blue and fought for the United States in the Civil War totaled at least 36,000. That's a conservative estimate. Many Southerners did NOT want to secede. Many Ozark Arkansans were passionate defenders of the Union. Little Rock probably was predominantly secessh, but after 1863, it was the the headquarters of the military Department of Arkansas and a reconstituted state government under Isaac Murphy. Murphy, on the final vote tally, was the lone dissenting vote in the Arkansas secession convention of 1861. (Notice they did not put it to a popular vote).
So, Murphy and other unionist leaders bravely were trying to bring Arkansas back into the United States well before the conclusion of the larger conflict. Murphy was not a carpetbagger either. They did a lot of that work here in Little Rock. Much of it with the help of other loyal, patriotic Arkansawyers — obviously with a big assist from Steele and the Feds. In the course of doing that, they ultimately helped free thousands and thousands of other Arkansawyers, African-American Arkansans, from bondage. Many African-American Arkansawyer men also took up arms against the Confederates knowing they would be killed if captured. They fought and died for their own freedom and the freedom of their families, too. Often we talk about Southerners as if they only were white. They weren't. In fact, I'd dare say a good part of Southern culture stems from the influence and contributions of African-Americans who were Southerners.
As we come up on the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War during the remainder of this year and in 2013, 2014 and 2015, let's all remember the role Little Rock, Arkansawyers and Arkansas played not just in fighting for the Gray but in fighting for the Blue, the Stars and Stripes and Emancipation. I don't see Lee's surrender at Appomattox to be a defeat for the South. It was a defeat for one element of the South. It was a triumph for the Union nationwide, North and South.