In the first months of 1861 many Phillip County men joined militia companies supporting the Confederate cause. In February 1861, they marched on Little Rock to take the Federal arsenal. Most joined the Confederate army that spring.
A Divided Nation on the Brink of WarBy 1860, many believed that war could not be avoided. Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election in November 1860. Weeks later, South Carolina left the Union. Others followed. The nation unraveled.
In the troubled months before and after the presidential election, the men of Phillips County formed seven militia companies, including the Yell Rifles and Phillips Guards. As war drew closer they prepared to defend, "our equality in the Union, our social system, our property, and our liberties."
After their return, Miss Emma Rightor, representing the young ladies of Helena, presented a flag to Capt. Joseph C. Barlow of the Phillips Guards.In late April 1861, the Phillip Guards and Yell Rifles left Helena to join the Confederate army. Arkansas did not leave the Union until May, but their Civil War had begun.
Many never saw Phillip County again, dying in service to the Confederacy before the Civil War finally ended in May 1865.
Crisis in Little Rock
In early February, rumors began to spread- the Federal government planned to reinforce the Little Rock arsenal. Secessionists in Helena urged the governor to take action. The Yell Rifles, Phillips Guards and other Delta militia marched to Little Rock, ready to take the arsenal by force.
Hoping to avoid bloodshed, Governor Rector met with the arsenal commander, Captain James Totten. The baldy outnumbered commander agreed to leave. Satisfied, the militia returned to the Delta.
The End of Everything They Knew
It is impossible for us to fully understand the changes the Civil War brought to Phillips County. Soldiers returning home in the spring of 1865 found that their lives, society—everything they had known in 1861—was no more.
Some men could not face the changes and left the country. Archibald Dobbins, a wealthy planter before the war, found his way to Brazil. General Thomas Hindman fled to Mexico, though he returned to Helena in 1868.
Thousands of men died in the war. Almost everyone in Phillips County mourned someone. General Patrick Cleburne's law partner, Priestly H. Mangum, returned to Helena with only $30 to his name and resumed the practice of law. Patrick Cleburne died at the Battle of Franklin. Robert Caswell Moore was one of the few Helena men in the 13th Arkansas Regiment who returned. James Lanier fought in the Battle of Helena. He returned to Phillips County and resumed farming. His brother, Albert, did not. His family said that his last days were spent in a Federal prison.
Captain Thomas Quinlan served in the 2nd Arkansas Infantry, CSA. He died January 1, 1862.Quinlan's red silk net uniform sash, left, identified him as an officer.Top, The Confederate Cemetery, HelenaJoseph C. Barlow worked in the dry goods trade before leaving Helena with the Phillips Guards in 1861. After the war he returned to Helena and opened a hardware store. Jesse P. Clopton and Roland J. Cook survived the war and returned to their farms. Cadwallader Polk, brother of General Lucius Polk, returned to the family homestead and resumed farming but Lucius, his health broken, never returned to Arkansas.
(Side 3):Joining the Confederate Army
In the weeks following the beginning of the Civil War, one-third of the men in Phillips County fit for military service joined the Confederate army. Several hundred men enlisted between 1861 and 1865. Men from Helena and Phillips County formed all or parts of the 2nd Arkansas. 13th Arkansas, 15th Arkansas, and 23rd Arkansas Infantry regiments, the Helena Light Artillery (Key's Battery) and Dobbins' 1st Arkansas Cavalry.
Most of these regiments fought with the Army of Tennessee in the Western Theater of the war. Dobbins's Arkansas Cavalry operated int he Trans-Mississippi and fought in the Battle of Helena.