The Secession of Arkansas and Tennessee!

Monday, May 6, 1861

It took some time to get things organized, but the states of Tennessee and Arkansas were ready to leave the Union. If the battle at Fort Sumter wasn’t enough to draw both of them to the Confederacy, Lincoln’s calls for troops was.

Tennessee’s legislature was called into an extra session on April 25th and by May 6th, it had voted 20 to 4 in the Senate and 46 to 21 in the House in favor of leaving the Union. A final, public vote would be held on June 8th, but that was a mere formality. Tennessee was out.

Right away the state adopted the Constitution of the Confederate States of America and enacted to raise 55,000 troops in defense of the South. Tennessee also ordered each of the counties to raise home guards, called for the arrest of “suspicious persons,” and to ensure that all slaves were disarmed.1

Arkansas’s decision was as complex as Tennessee’s. While Tennessee’s status as a border state weighed heavy on her government’s mind, Arkansas’s proximity to and relationship with Missouri weighed heavy on hers. For the time being, Missouri was with the North. Arkansas was a slave state, recently redeclaring that the North’s denial of slavery’s extension was cause enough to dissolve the Union. The state’s first secession convention met in March, but it had voted to remain in the Union.2

Now, after Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, the time had come. The legislature had voted 69 to 1 in favor of secession. In their ordinance of secession, Arkansas pledged “to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas.”3

Two more states were now for the Confederacy, bringing their count to ten. North Carolina was teetering and probably lost already. Maryland had voted to remain, but for how long? The border states of Kentucky and Missouri were now also in grave danger of falling.

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Davis Recognizes State of War – Is Authorized to Raise an Army

Confederate President Jefferson Davis approved a bill drawn up by the congress in Montgomery recognizing a state of war between the Confederate States and the United States. The bill stated that “earnest efforts to establish friendly relations” between the two governments had failed. It authorized Davis to use all military forces “to meet the war thus commenced.”

Davis was also given the right to issue letters of marque to privateers, thus allowing private vessels to attack and capture ships under the United States flag. While this amounted to little more than legalized piracy (and that only as much as the Confederate States of America were legal), the South had hardly a Navy of her own and this would be the only way to raise one.4

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Rebel Camp Right Outside St. Louis

Though Missouri was not out of the Union, her Governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, refused to furnish a single soldier for Lincoln’s call for troops. Much of the state militia had sided for the South and had established Camp Jackson on the outskirts of St. Louis on May 1st. By the 6th, over 600 troops had assembled.

This was legal, even under United States law. State Governors had every right to call out the militia when they saw fit. Camp Jackson, even though it flew the United States flag, was clearly secessionist. Southern flags and states rights banners were flown on the company level.

Jackson had already requested firearms from the Confederate government. They were all too happy to meet his request and two cannons were already on their way to St. Louis.

Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon had by this time organized five regiments of infantry and one battery of artillery. They stationed themselves in and around the St. Louis Arsenal grounds while Lyon kept a close eye on Camp Jackson. Though only technically a Captain in the United States Army, the men of his militia brigade elected him a Brigadier-General.

By some reports, Lyon took this reconnaissance to daring and extreme levels. It was claimed that on the night of the 6th, Lyon disguised himself as Missouri Congressman Frank Blair’s mother-in-law. He dawned a black veil to hide his beard and hid a pair of revolvers under his dress as he was pulled by carriage through the camp.

Whether or not this tale was true, Lyon was able to discover much about the happenings inside the rebel camp.5



  1. Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed at the General Assembly, Volume 1 by The State of Tennessee, Griffith, Camp & Co., state printers, 1861. []
  2. The Constitutional History of the United States: 1861-1895 by Francis Newton Thorpe, Callaghan & Co., 1901. []
  3. Official Records, Series 4, Vol. 1, p287-288. []
  4. The Rebellion Record, Document 140, published in 1862. []
  5. Wilson’s Creek by William Piston & Richard Hatcher. []
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The Secession of Arkansas and Tennessee! by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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