Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Booknotes: Mountain Feds

New Arrival:
Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society by James J. Johnston
  (Butler Center for Ark Studies, 2018).

As far as I know, James Johnston's Mountain Feds: Arkansas Unionists and the Peace Society is the first book that focuses entirely on the Society, its formation, its activities, and Confederate suppression measures.

A loosely organized collection of anti-secessionists, the Arkansas Peace Society sprung up in several northern counties in 1861. "In resistance to secession and to fighting for the Confederacy, they formed secret organizations—known commonly as the Arkansas Peace Society—and inaugurated their own leaders. Increased pressure from Richmond in the fall of 1861 for the Arkansas government to provide more soldiers pressed Arkansas’s yeomen farmers to enlist but only provided more incentive for the men to join the Arkansas Peace Society (later known as the Union League). Many Arkansas communities forged home protective units or vigilance committees to protect themselves from slave uprisings and what they saw as federal invasion. Unionist mountaineers did the same, but their home protection organizations were secret because they were seeking protection from their secessionist neighbors and the state’s Confederate government."

Adopting many of the practices of secret societies, members seem to have been primarily concerned with self preservation rather than overthrowing the Confederate government in Little Rock. However, as was the case in the handling of similar opposition groups in other states, Confederate authorities in Arkansas actively sought to quash the movement. More from the description: "In November 1861, the Arkansas Peace Society was first discovered in Clinton, Van Buren County, by the secessionist element, which rapidly formed vigilante committees to arrest and interrogate the suspects. The news and subsequent arrests spread to adjoining counties from the Arkansas River to the Missouri border. In most cases, the local militia was called out to handle the arrests and put down the rumored uprising."

By late 1861, local militia, state, and Confederate forces had broken up Society cells and arrested many of their members, offering army service as an alternative to incarceration. As expected, many of those reluctant Confederates deserted at the first opportunity and later-forming Union Arkansas regiments had numerous former Peace Society members or supporters in their ranks. "While some Peace Society members fled to Missouri or hid in the woods, others were arrested and marched to Little Rock, where they were forced to join the Confederate army. Leaders who were prominent in the Peace Society recruited and led companies in Arkansas and Missouri Unionist regiments, returning to their homes to bring out loyalist refugees or to suppress Confederate guerrillas. A few of these home-grown leaders assumed leadership positions in civil government in the last months of the war, with the effects of their actions lingering for years to come." The appendix section contains some useful additional documents and information, including a list of known Peace Society members and roster-histories of several companies that were filled with the reluctant Society recruits mentioned above.

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