Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas (CWRTA)

Jerry Russell, Bill O’Donnell, and Cal Collier began the Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas (CWRTA) in March 1964 during the height of the national Civil War Centennial celebrations. Russell served as its first president. The CWRTA has been active continuously since 1964, with eleven meetings each year (no meeting in December). The CWRTA has sponsored a number of bus tours over the years to regional Civil War battlefields and sites, including the Pea Ridge National Military Park (with Professor Bill Shea of the University of Arkansas at Monticello as the guide) and sites associated with General Frederick Steele’s Camden Expedition through southern Arkansas (guided by Ed Bearss, the retired chief historian of the National Park Service). In commemoration of the Engagement at Bayou Fourche, the roundtable funded a granite monument, which sits on the site of the battle near Fourche Creek in eastern Little Rock (Pulaski County).

The CWRTA developed a driving tour of central Arkansas Civil War sites and is active in funding, placing, and maintaining a number of interpretative panels connected with the Little Rock Campaign of August and September 1863. Placed in strategic locations, these panels provide information about fighting in and around Brownsville (Lonoke County); the Action at Bayou Meto near Jacksonville (Pulaski County); and the site of the duel between John Sappington Marmaduke and Lucius Walker east of North Little Rock (Pulaski County). The roundtable provides pamphlets providing directions for the driving tour at several official locations in Little Rock (the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, for example) or online.

One of the objectives of the CWRTA is to bring to Arkansas outstanding Civil War scholars, often with national reputations, to lecture or present programs on every aspect of the war. The CWRTA is open to all, members and non-members, who have an interest in the Civil War and a desire to expand their knowledge, share their expertise, and exchange ideas. The preservation of Civil War battlefields is a high priority among the roundtables.

The CWRTA was the first organization of its kind in Arkansas, but the first Civil War Roundtable in the nation was founded in Chicago, Illinois, on December 3, 1940, by Ralph G. Newman (1911-1998), owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, along with a group of writers and historians, including Carl Sandburg, Bruce Catton, Otto Eisenschiml, E. B. “Pete” Long, Stanley F. Horn, Lloyd Lewis, and T. Harry Williams. They all went to dinner at the Bismarck Hotel prior to listening to Percival G. Hart’s presentation of “Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign” and there chartered the first Civil War Roundtable. This meeting eventually spawned more than 200 other roundtable discussion groups meeting across the United States and around the world.

The CWRTA meets the fourth Tuesday of each month, January through November, at 7:00 p.m. at the Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. As of 2011, the officers are Rick Meadows (president and secretary), Jan Sarna (vice president and program coordinator), and Brian Brown (treasurer). At one time, Jerry Russell, one of the founders of the first roundtable in Arkansas, helped to establish ten local Civil War roundtables in Arkansas: Fayetteville (Washington County) and Springdale (Washington County), Batesville (Independence County), Benton (Saline County), North Little Rock, Hot Springs (Garland County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Arkadelphia (Clark County), Paragould (Greene County), Searcy (White County), and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Some of these have since disbanded. Those roundtables in Arkansas known to still be meeting are the Batesville CWRT, the Northwest Arkansas CWRT, the Saline County CWRT, and the White County CWRT.

For additional information:
Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas. (accessed February 1, 2022).

O’Donnell, William W. “Civil War Roundtable Guards a Heritage.” Arkansas Gazette, April 3, 1966, p. 5E.

Paul D. Haynie
Harding University


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