This is the fascinating story of the farmers and hill people from northern Arkansas, where slavery was not a big part of the local economy, who opposed the state’s secession from the Union.
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.
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.
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.