At the beginnings of the Civil War, "amid the firing of cannon and the cheers of the people," a local newspaper reported, Arkansas State Militia raised the Confederate flag and took control of Fort Smith on April 23, 1861.
With the Confederate victory in South Carolina at Fort Sumter, the U.S. War Department ordered all southern forts abandoned. Despite pleas of concerned citizens, U.S. troops (later called Union troops) left Fort Smith just an hour before state militia arrived. The transition took place without conflict.
While Arkansas militia troops controlled the fort, citizens of Fort Smith and the surrounding region remained deeply divided. Many pro-Unionist kept silent, suppressed their loyalties, or left town. After Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 followed by Confederate defeat west of Fort Smith at Honey Springs, Union forces reclaimed Fort Smith in September 1863.