Members of Arkansas Peace Society Arrested as Traitors

November 28, 1861 (Thanksgiving Thursday)

Pacifism and peace societies, especially during the Victorian Era, have most often been associated with New England. In times of war, such conscientious objectors are often painted as unpatriotic cowards or religious zealots, such as the Shakers, Quakers or Dunkers. Though it’s largely been seen as a Northern phenomena, New England did not hold a monopoly on those who thought war a terrible way to solve problems.

Such a group came to the attention of Arkansas’ Governor H. M. Rector. Unsure of what to make of them, he wrote to President Davis. “A conspiracy has been discovered in the northern part of this State against the Confederate Government,” wrote Rector. This “conspiracy,” which had the intention “to join Lincoln’s army” if it moved into Arkansas, adopted “secret oaths, signs, and passwords.”

So far, twenty-seven men had brought to a prison in Little Rock. Rector expected 100 more in a day or so.1

This conspiracy against the Confederate Government, which supposedly involved over 1,700 people, was actually an anti-war party called The Peace Organization Society, and wanted little to do with either Army. It was true that they leaned more towards the Union, but they were also non-slaveholders and really just wanted to sit out the war.

They were not, like those in eastern Tennessee, Unionists hoping to bring their state back into the fold. Nor were they neutralists, like many in Kentucky, who simply wanted to not pick sides. Many of these folks, mostly from Marion, Searcy, Newton and Izard Counties in the northern part of the state, were conscientious objectors who would not have volunteered for either side.2

Over the past month, members had been watched and arrested for being Unionists. They were thrown in jail, promised a trial, but never received one. One night in mid-November, seventy-seven consciousnesses objectors and Unionists were taken from their jail cells to be marched the 125 miles to Little Rock.

“The seventy-seven were chained together two and two, with an ordinary log chain fastened about the neck of each,” wrote Albert W. Bishop, Lt. Colonel of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (US), “and for twenty-four hours prior to their departure from Burroughville were thus guarded, in two ranks, as it were, with a long chain running down the centre of the column.”

This arrangement was as cumbersome as it was cruel. With heavy logging chains around the necks of the prisoners, “the brutal guard discovered that this disposition of their prisoners was not at all favorable to pedestrianism.” The seventy-seven were, instead, “fastened together by twos only, the odd man bringing up the rear with a chain encircling his neck and thrown over a shoulder, that his walking might not be impeded.”

The long walk would take six days. The peaceful prisoners knew nothing of their fate as they lumbered their way to Little Rock.3


Possibly Insane, Sherman Recalled

General Henry Halleck, commander of the Union Department of Missouri, was in a quandary over which rumors to believe. While General William Tecumseh Sherman, lately expected of insanity, claimed that the Rebels of the Missouri State Guard were preparing to launch an assault upon the scattered troops at Sedalia, others, like General Pope, believed the Rebels to be much farther south.

Another report, this time from Rolla, stated that Confederates under Ben McCulloch were in Springfield, placing the Missouri State Guard, under General Sterling Price, to the west. This was only partially true. McCulloch had been in Springfield until recently, but had slinked back into Arkansas for the winter. Price was centered near Osceola, sixty-five miles north of Springfield and about the same distance south of Sedalia.

General Sherman, convinced that they were about to be attacked, ignored Halleck’s order to hold the troops in position. He began to consolidate the three divisions. “I have ordered forward Pope’s and Turner’s divisions to-day, but we cannot stay long here,” dispatched Sherman. “The cold is intense on this naked prairie. We must move forward or back. Will you indicate your wishes?”

Halleck immediately replied telling Sherman the he believed “that no immediate attack on Sedalia is intended.” Sherman was then ordered back to St. Louis to deliver his report of the disposition of the troops to Halleck.4

Sometime during Sherman’s excursion to western Missouri, Halleck apparently sent a physician to Sedalia to examine Sherman. The newspapers were still playing up the idea that Sherman was insane. His paranoia in Kentucky and, currently, in Missouri, did nothing to dispel the notion.

In Sedalia, Surgeon J. J. B. Wright, medial director of the Department of Missouri, met with Sherman, and, according to Wright’s son-in-law, General David S. Stanley, “the result was that he brought Sherman with him to St. Louis.”

Stanley later asked Wright about the rumors of Sherman’s insanity. Wright conceded that, according to Stanley’s memoirs, “the question of insanity was always a difficult one but that General Sherman’s condition was one of such nervousness that he was unfit for command and he had recommended that he be relieved.”5

Stanley’s memoirs, however, are ripe with inaccuracies and slant angrily against Sherman. This story, though interesting, might not be completely factual.

With Sherman on his way back to St. Louis, General Halleck halted the troops and ordered them to their original positions and to be “made as comfortable as possible.” For now, Halleck believed that the Rebels would not venture too far north and that his troops were under no threat of attack.6

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p699. []
  2. Borderland Rebellion by Elmo Ingenthron. []
  3. Loyalty on the Frontier by Albert Webb Bishop, R. P. Studley, 1863. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p390-391. []
  5. Personal Memoirs by Major-General D. S. Stanley, Harvard University Press, 1917. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p391-392. []
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3 thoughts on “Members of Arkansas Peace Society Arrested as Traitors

    1. Sherman had quite a sense of humor. He wasn’t really crazy and Grant wasn’t really a drunk (though he was probably an alcoholic). Public rumors and the press tried to do both Generals in, but history has seen fit to look at them differently.

  1. Interesting article! My great-great grandfather Franklin Wortman was one of the seventy-seven men chained and marched away. My grandmother, Grace Wortman Cox (1906-2002) said that her father John Lemuel Wortman told her that he would never forget the sight of his father being marched away in chains.

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