Friday, April 9, 2010

Christ (ed.): "THE DIE IS CAST: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861"

[The Die Is Cast: Arkansas Goes to War, 1861 edited by Mark K. Christ (The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, 2010). Softcover, map, photos, notes, index. 156 Pages. ISBN:978-1-935106-15-5 $19.95]

The essay collection The Die is Cast originated from a 2006 history seminar of the same name, hosted by the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. With the overall guidance of editor Mark K. Christ, the essence of these presentations are now able to reach a broader audience in book form. Among the contributors are a distinguished set of Civil War Arkansas scholars. Michael Dougan's Confederate Arkansas: The People and Policies of a Frontier State in Wartime (1976) and Carl Moneyhon's The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Arkansas (1994) are classic works, and, most recently, Thomas DeBlack has published a fine up-to-date overview study titleed With Fire and Sword: Arkansas 1861-1874 (2003). Two others, gender scholar Lisa Tendrich Frank and Wilson's Creek expert and historian William Garrett Piston, parley their own particular interests to the discussion of Arkansas's early Civil War experience. All five articles are fully documented.

Sourced largely from his book Confederate Arkansas, Dougan's familiar article traces the actions of the secession convention, and how the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers dramatically altered the mindset of its members toward secession. In word and tone, he leaves no doubt about his personal distaste for Arkansas's Democratic Party leadership and their political machinations.

Frank's chapter recounts how the many ways that Arkansas women, shut out of the more direct political process, sought to further the particular cause they believed in. This was done through a variety of means, including domestic industry, formation of local aid societies, attendance at political events, and social ostracism of recalcitrant voters or hesitant military volunteers.

Investigating the reasons why Arkansas men volunteered for the Confederate army in the fevered atmosphere of 1861, historian Carl Moneyhon closely examined the writings from soldiers belonging to four representative infantry companies. He found little evidence that ideology was a primary factor in leading individuals to enlist. Instead, Moneyhon determined that their sense of "duty" stemmed less from moral or abstract political concerns than from defense of home and community from the prospect of invasion. His research also places individual glory seeking and the personal determination that war would be a grand adventure high on the hierarchical list of motivating factors.

Thomas DeBlack's essay, while it may not add a great deal of new interpretation to our current understanding of Arkansas unionists, does remind us that pro-Union sentiment was not regionally confined, but was a powerful force throughout the state that only grew in boldness and sentiment as the war dragged on. In the final chapter, a summary of Arkansas's participation in the southern victory at the Battle of Wilson's Creek is provided by William Garrett Piston.

Meshing well with a minimum of content overlap between contributors, Christ's compilation does a fine job of highlighting the great variety of political and military views and contributions to be found among Arkansas's divided citizenry. The Die is Cast is recommended reading for anyone interested in what motivated southern Americans to go to war in 1861, and all Arkansas libraries would do well to stock this slim yet useful volume.

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