Civil War Sesquicentennial

The Civil War Sesquicentennial was commemorated in Arkansas from 2011 to 2015. The planning of events related to the sesquicentennial began in 2007 with the establishment of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission by the Arkansas General Assembly as part of Act 635.

The Civil War in Arkansas was commemorated during several anniversary events during the twentieth century. The United Confederate Veterans held a reunion in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1911, the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war. In 1959, the Arkansas General Assembly created the Civil War Centennial Commission of Arkansas, which operated until at least 1965. While other events commemorating the Civil War were held in the state over the next several decades, the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission was the next official organization created.

The commission was organized with sixteen members and four advisors. The following members, or their designees, were appointed to the commission through Act 635 of 2007:

·       Carolyn Ashcraft, director of the Arkansas State Library

·       Bill Gatewood, director of the Old State House Museum

·       Richard Davies, director of the Department of Parks and Tourism

·       Mark Christ of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Department of Arkansas Heritage

·       Timothy Nutt, representing the Arkansas Historical Association

·       Dushun Scarborough, chairman of the Martin Luther King Commission

·       Dr. Lisa Speer, director of the Arkansas State Archives

·       W. Danny Honnoll, president of the Arkansas Civil War Heritage Trails Foundation

·       Tom Dupree of Jacksonville (chairman), appointed by Governor Mike Beebe

·       Ernest Cunningham of Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), appointed by Governor Mike Beebe

·       Dr. Jamie Brandon (vice-chairman) of Magnolia (Columbia County), appointed by Governor Mike Beebe

·       Archie Moore of Little Rock, appointed by Governor Mike Beebe

·       Robert Dodson of Camden (Ouachita County), appointed by House Speaker Robert Moore Jr.

·       Dr. George Lankford of Batesville (Independence County), appointed by Senate Pro Tem Paul Bookout

·       Dr. Blake Wintory of Lake Village (Chicot County), appointed by Senate Pro Tem Paul Bookout

·       C. C. “Chip” Culpepper of Little Rock, appointed by House Speaker Robert Moore Jr.

Act 635 also designated the following to serve in an advisory capacity to the commission:

·       M. Ray Jones III, president of the Arkansas chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans

·       DeeLois Lawrence, representing the Arkansas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy

·       John C. Scott, superintendent of Pea Ridge National Military Park

·       Tom Ezell, representing the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War

The first meeting of the commission was held on June 7, 2007. The commission worked to identify topics that could be explored during the commemoration and ways that information related to the war could be shared with the public. Some of the projects that the commission completed included the creation of a traveling exhibit and a historical marker program that saw the installation of markers in every county in the state. The commission also maintained a list of speakers on various topics related to the war and created podcasts that could be downloaded from the commission website. Additional broadcasts were regularly made on National Public Radio, detailing events of the war.

With the conclusion of the sesquicentennial in 2015, the commission ceased to exist on December 31 of that year. The website for the commission remained online to allow researchers access to the materials gathered or created by the organization.

Other organizations held events related to the sesquicentennial. The Arkansas Historical Association held annual conferences from 2011 to 2015 in locations across the state related to events during the war. The 2011 conference was held in Little Rock, chosen for its location related to secession; the 2012 conference was held in Fayetteville (Washington County) due to its location near the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove; the 2013 conference was held in Helena-West Helena to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Helena; the 2014 conference was held at Historic Washington State Park in remembrance of the Camden Expedition; and the 2015 conference was held in West Memphis (Crittenden County), near the location of the sinking of the Sultana. Each of the conferences included multiple sessions related to the war. The association also published one issue of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 that focused exclusively upon the war.

Numerous events were held around the state during the sesquicentennial including symposia and reenactments. Books related to the war were published before and during the sesquicentennial by both the University of Arkansas Press and Butler Center Books, including reprints of several classic Arkansas-related Civil War works.

The Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration in Arkansas included events and other outreach projects that reached thousands of citizens and educated them about aspects of the war. It proved to be one of the most successful historical outreach projects ever conducted in the state and provided a framework for future projects, including the Arkansas World War I Centennial Commemoration Committee.

For additional information:
Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. www.arkansascivilwar150.com/ (accessed October 30, 2018).

Arkansas Historical Association. http://arkansashistoricalassociation.org/ (accessed October 30, 2018).

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 10/30/2018

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