The “Battle” of Little Rock – 156 years ago on Sept. 10, 1863

The Civil War came to an end for Little Rock 156 years ago today (September 10) as Federal troops took control of the city.  Unlike some other Southern capitols, there was no long siege or bloody battle.

On September 10, 1863, Confederate forces under General Sterling Price evacuated Little Rock in advance of Federal forces, thus ending the Little Rock Campaign. By 5:00pm, his forces had left the city and at 7:00pm, civil authorities formally surrendered. Little Rock became the fourth Southern capital to come under Federal control.

The battle was the culmination of a campaign launched by Maj. Gen. Fred Steele, on August 1, 1863 to capture Little Rock. The campaign includes engagements at Westport, on 14 August, Harrison’s Landing, on 16 August, Brownsville on 25 August, the Reed’s Bridge, on 27 August, and Ashley’s Mills on 7 September 1863. After the Union army affected a river crossing east of Little Rock, effectively flanking the Confederate defenses north of the river, the Confederates staged a brief delaying action at Bayou Fourche to allow for evacuation of Little Rock.

As local historian Dr. Bobby Roberts has noted, “It was really more of a ‘skirmish’ than an actual ‘battle.’”

City of Little Rock leaders must have been anticipating the result of the battle.  In August 1861, they took the City’s treasury to an undisclosed location and started scaling back on City government.

The Battle of Little Rock is also known as the Battle of Bayou Fourche.

Birth of Little Rock’s 22nd and 24th mayor – William Eliot Ashley

On August 6, 1823, future Little Rock Mayor William Eliot Ashley was born in Little Rock.  He would go on to become the first Little Rock Mayor to be born in Little Rock.  Ashley was the son of Mary and Chester Ashley; his father would later serve as a U. S. Senator from Arkansas.  He was the second of the couple’s seven children.

Though he was raised in Little Rock, he did receive some schooling out of state. The State History Commission has correspondence between eleven year old William, studying in New York, and his father. Part of the letter is a request for money.

On October 26, 1846, he married Frances Eliza Grafton at Christ Episcopal Church.  They were the first Little Rock residents to be married in that church.  The couple had five children, including triplets.  Only one of the children, Frances (who was one of the triplets) survived to adulthood.

Ashley was first elected Mayor of Little Rock in 1857. After completing a two year term, he was succeeded by Gordon N. Peay (another scion of a prominent Little Rock family).  In 1861, Ashley returned to the office of Mayor.  He was reelected to a third term in 1863.  In September 1863, following the defeat of Confederate troops by the Union forces at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations.  On September 21, 1863, Little Rock municipal government closed its doors, stopped collection of taxes and disbanded.  Thus Ashley’s third term ended.

In addition to his interest in local government, Ashley was a member of St. John’s College Board and a director of the newly-formed Little Rock Gas Company.

William Eliot Ashley died on August 16, 1868, at the age of 45.  He was buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery (which sat partially on land that had once belonged to his family). His parents, wife and children are all buried in Mt. Holly as well.

Interestingly, for someone who grew up in a prominent family, there does not appear to be a surviving likeness of Mayor Ashley – either in painting or photograph.  Several exist of his parents, but none of him.

Birth of Little Rock Mayor James Woodson (aka – future Ron Swanson)

On July 14, 1848, future Little Rock Mayor James Alexander Woodson was born in North Carolina.  The son of two prominent eastern families, he and his parents moved to Pine Bluff in 1849.  His father died within two weeks of the family’s arrival in Arkansas.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a drummer boy in the Ninth Arkansas infantry but was discharged because of his youth. He worked as a clerk at a general store in Pine Bluff. After the Civil War ended, he attended school in Virginia and Maryland before returning Pine Bluff. Upon his return he worked in the steamboat business and eventually started working in railroads. He was instrumental in putting together one of the forerunners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and worked for them for 18 years.

Woodson moved to Little Rock in March 1881 and continued working for the railroad until 1891.  Working in the mercantile business allowed him more time to be engaged in civic affairs.  In 1895 he was elected mayor.   He handily defeated former mayor W. G. Whipple who was seeking to return to office.

During Mayor Woodson’s tenure, he oversaw renovations of the 1867 Little Rock City Hall (which was located at the time on the north side of Markham between Main Street and Louisiana Street).  He also championed the construction of a city hospital and the first free bridge across the Arkansas River.  Mayor Woodson was reelected in April 1897 and April 1899.

In April 1890, he resigned to take over the Arkansas and Southwestern Railway.  After restoring it to sound financial footing, he later led the Arkansas Asphalt Company.  That company provided the first asphalt for paving Little Rock city streets.

Woodson served as a director of the Little Rock board of trade (forerunner to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce), director of the Mercantile Trust Company and president of the state board of trade (forerunner of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce).

Woodson married Virginia Lanier in 1868.  They had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood.  Mayor Woodson died on October 19, 1908 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.  His wife lived until 1937 and is buried next to him.  Also buried in Mount Holly are their children James Alexander Woodson, Benjamin Morehead Woodson and Gertrude Woodson Hardeman; each of whom died before their mother.  Mrs. Hardeman’s husband and son are also buried in Mount Holly.

Some have noted his resemblance to actor Nick Offerman of the show “Parks and Recreation.”

Happy 183 to Arkansas

Today is the 183rd birthday of the State of Arkansas.

For those who remember the Sesquicentennial – yes it has indeed been 33 years since that celebration! (We are now closer to the Arkansas Bicentennial than we are the Sesquicentennial!)

Congress approved it as the 25th state on June 15, 1836.  (On June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the union following the Civil War – but it is the first statehood date that is celebrated.)

On January 30, 1836, a convention was held in the Arkansas Territory for the purpose of adopting a constitution which would be submitted as part of a request for statehood.

The law granting statehood also established the state as a judicial district known as the Arkansas District.  The judge for that district would be paid $2,000 a year.  (The equivalent of $52,230 today.)  An attorney for the US was also created. That position would be paid $200 in addition to his stated fees. (The equivalent of $5,223 today)

 

Little Rock Mayor T. D. Merrick born on May 23, 1814

_Thomas D. Merrick was born on May 23, 1814, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He later moved to Indianapolis and Louisville before ending up in Little Rock.

On January 17, 1841, he married Anna M. Adams of Kentucky at Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock. They had seven children: George, Annie, Ellie, Mollie, Lillian, Dwight, and Thomas.

Merrick became a prominent member of the Little Rock business community, as a merchant and cotton broker. He was involved in Freemasonry, holding the position of Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in 1845.

In 1855 Merrick entered into a business partnership with future LR Mayor John Wassell. Merrick was also involved in city politics, serving on the city council and also as mayor from January 1854 to January 1855.

He saw active service during the Civil War. On February 6, 1861, Merrick delivered an ultimatum to Captain James Totten of the United States Arsenal at Little Rock, demanding the surrender of the federal troops.  This was more than two months before Fort Sumter was attacked.

Captain Totten ignored the ultimatum. Merrick, however, did not lead an attack on the Arsenal, which would have certainly been viewed as aggression against the federal government.

Merrick also raised a regiment of Confederate Arkansas Militia, holding the rank of Colonel of Infantry at Camp Conway, near Springfield, Arkansas.  Following the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), Merrick resigned his commission and returned to Little Rock.

Merrick died in his home in Little Rock on March 18, 1866.  He is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: Benjamin Harrison is first current POTUS to visit LR

On April 17, 1891, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to visit Arkansas.  He was on a cross-country railroad trip having left DC on April 13.

The morning of the 17th he spoke in Memphis and then took the train to Little Rock.  Accompanying him from Memphis to Little Rock were a delegation which included Governor and Mrs. James P. Eagle, Mayor H. L. Fletcher and Col. Logan H. Roots.  Also in the party was Mrs. W. G. Whipple, a former first lady of Little Rock.

They arrived in Little Rock in the afternoon.  A parade took them from the train station to the State House (now the Old State House Museum) where the Governor formally welcomed the President and his party.

In his brief remarks, President Harrison spoke of the hospitality and the natural resources available in Arkansas.  He also touched on the Civil War, which at the time was less than 30 years in the past. He noted “The commonwealth rests upon the free suffrage of its citizens and their devotion to the Constitution and the flag is the bulwark of its life.  We have agreed, I am sure, that we will do no more fighting among ourselves.” These remarks were met enthusiastically by the crowd assembled.

The President concluded is brief remarks thanking the State officials and the citizenry.  He then took the train to Texarkana where he made his third set of remarks of the day.

Benjamin Harrison was on the Presidential ticket two times. The first time he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland. The second time he lost both the popular and electoral votes to Cleveland.  He did not carry Arkansas in either election. Though he was the first sitting president to visit Little Rock, there is nothing here named for him.  Since there was already a Harrison Street named after his grandfather, he is skipped between Cleveland and McKinley in the presidential streets.

Little Rock Look Back: Robert F. Catterson, who united Little Rock and then divided Arkansas

It is interesting that the same man who brought an end to strife in Little Rock’s divided government in the post-Civil War era would then be active in a major rift in the Arkansas state government only a couple of years later. But that is just what Robert F. Catterson did.

On March 22, 1835, future Little Rock Mayor Robert Francis Catterson was born in Indiana, the son of Irish immigrants.  He studied medicine in Ohio and established a medical practice in Indiana upon completion of his studies.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in the Union Army.  Throughout the war, he was promoted and was eventually mustered out as a brigadier general in 1866.  During his service, he participated in the siege of Vicksburg, the Battle of Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Following his departure from the military, Catterson decided not to return to medical practice.  He moved to Arkansas and worked for a brief time in the cotton commodities field.  He later returned to military service commanding a militia fighting the Ku Klux Klan.  Catterson was appointed US Marshal.

In November 1871, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock. His election ended a tumultuous two-year period where the Little Rock City Council tried unsuccessfully to remove Mayor A. K. Hartman.  Mayor Catterson served a relatively quiet two year term in office until November 1873.

A few months after leaving office, Catterson would return to “military” service as he commanded the troops who were supporting Joseph Brooks as he wrested control for several weeks from Governor Elisha Baxter.

Sometime after order had been restored, along with the return of Governor Baxter to the statehouse, Catterson moved to Minnesota. He later moved to Texas where he died on March 30, 1914 at the age of 79.  He is buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery.