Fearless and Incorruptible…


This flag caught the breeze at Jenkins’ Ferry.

Occasionally I come across some amazing artifacts housed in museums and archives across our country. One such item is located in the Missouri State Museum in Jefferson City. This was the personal flag of Confederate General John Marmaduke, who commanded a Division during the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry.

During the battle, Marmaduke was gathered with Generals Kirby Smith and Sterling Price, observing the action from the ridge that overlooked the Saline River bottoms. This flag would have flown alongside Marmaduke – a witness to the horror of Jenkins’ Ferry.

Here is what the State Museum says about the flag:

General Marmaduke’s Headquarter’s flag; horizontal, rectangular, dark blue background with white appliqued elements. There is a white crescent moon, on the moon is a sunburst embroidered with gold metallic thread. In the center of the sunburst is appliqued the letter “M” in blue silk and outlined in gold metallic thread. Below the tip of the crescent moon is a white Latin cross, the cross is outlined in gold metallic thread. There are two loops of metallic braid linking the cross to the crescent moon. There is white ribbon forming a decorative edge (remains on the bottom edge only). There is a hoist on the proper right edge. There are three pairs of white ribbons on the hoist serving as ties. Flag is in Fair Condition. Constructed of 1 piece of silk with appliqueed decoration. About 50% of original material remains. Large areas of original flag missing.

Flag was made by Mrs. Jordan in Arkansas in 1863. It was stationed at his headquarters. It was captured along with General Marmaduke at the battle of Mine Creek, Kansas on October 25, 1864. John Sappington Marmaduke graduated from West Point in 1857. In 1861, he resigned his U.S. commission to serve in the Missouri State Guard, and later the Confederate Army in Virginia. His service at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee gained him promotion to brigadier general. In this capacity he served as a part of General Sterling Price’s forces and participated in Price’s unsuccessful raid into Missouri in 1864. 

In addition to the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Marmaduke also commanded troops during the 1864 Camden Expedition at Poison Spring and Elkins’ Ferry.

He was a West Point graduate. He attended both Harvard and Yale and following the Civil War, served as 25th Governor of Missouri, dying in office on December 28, 1887.

He was interred in the City Cemetery in Jefferson City, Missouri.

His inscription reads: “He was fearless and incorruptible.”

That flag would have been rain soaked that April morning in 1864 and what a story it could tell.







The Blue…The Gray…and The Green

CSA Note 3

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy taking the hour drive from my home to Grant County where I’ll spend the afternoon in Sheridan and Leola taking in the sights, always spending the most time at Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. As I’ve said, that park brings back some of my fondest childhood memories and I always like to park and walk about, taking in the peace and quiet of an area that 150 years ago, was far from quiet.

It’s a little hard to drive through the area these days as the economic downturn that has affected so much of our country has certainly had an impact here. In both Sheridan and Leola (two of the larger towns around the battlefield), there are several empty storefronts. One restaurant that my family and I used to enjoy visiting, the “ice house,” has shut its doors due to the tough economic times. And all of this saddens me greatly as my heart will always belong to Grant County where I was raised. You might wonder what this has to do with the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry…. plenty.

In a study commissioned by the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), the economic benefits of Civil War Battlefields were examined. And the results of the study were amazing. The average Civil War tourist will travel hundreds of miles to view a Civil War battlefield. They are on average 50 years old, have a household income of $65,053 and 53.5% are college graduates. These Civil War tourists went shopping and spent money on lodging, food and beverages during their visit. On average, they spent almost $50 per person per day. This means a family of four spent nearly $1,000 during their visit to the Civil War Battlefield with the areas around the top twelve battlefields receiving $173 million dollars in revenue generated by Civil War tourists.


The best part? With the exception of providing some information brochures for the visitors, the financial outlay by Sheridan and Leola would be minimal. They don’t have to provide any increase city/county employees nor any additional police or fire protection. And with one of the most outstanding museums right there in Grant County with the largest collection of Jenkins’ Ferry related artifacts on display, there is very little folks need to do except get the word out that one of the largest Civil War battles in Arkansas history occurred right in their backyard. In other words, Grant County is sitting on a Civil War economic gold mine, one that will help take the bite out of the economic hard times.

I’m not suggesting this will solve all of the tough times, but with some good planning between the city and county fathers, I think that both Sheridan and Leola might see more folks in their restaurants and in their hotels. Is it not worth a chance? If you live in Grant County, I’m placing two links on the blog that I would like for you to take a look at. They both pertain to the economic study I mentioned. The first is a brochure and the second is the actual study. Download the documents and see for yourself how the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry might just be a path to prosperity for Grant County.


Treasure Hunting at Jenkins’ Ferry…


A few months back, while visiting the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield State Park, I happened upon a couple armed with a handheld GPS who were moving about the park in search of something….treasure.

Now, not the usual cache of gold that has been rumored to be buried somewhere on the battlefield (one of several “treasure” stories about the battle).  No, this was a different type of treasure hunting, one that is fast becoming one of the fast growing outdoor “sports” in the world.

I’m talking about “Geocaching.”

Geocaching is defined as: “the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website.”

Now I have to say, this is one of the coolest outdoor activities I’ve ever tried. Basically, you travel about and try to find containers that other folks have carefully hidden. Your goal is to discover the “treasure” using only your handheld GPS and your brain. You see, the person who hid the container has left you a couple of clues, in addition to listing the coordinates for the container. They do this through a website (www.geocaching.com). Below is a link to the site.

Geocaching.com Website

By entering your location, you’ll quickly discover why this is becoming one of the fastest hobbies – there are thousands of these within a days drive of you. Some are in large containers (bigger than a bread box) and some are extremely small. So, before you think you can just go out there and find them all in a single day – you won’t. Because there is trickery involved (why else would it be called a treasure hunt?). Folks who hide these “caches” want you to scratch your head a bit and perhaps even get a little frustrated, so they are crafty in where and how they hide them.

Take for example the geocache located at the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park. The folks at the Arkansas State Parks have embraced this geocaching idea and have placed hidden caches throughout their parks, including along the Saline River.

The one at Jenkins’ Ferry is a little tough to find which makes it all the more fun when you discover it. Here is the information for the Jenkins’ Ferry geocache:

Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield State Park Geocache

If you take your time, follow the coordinates and the clues, chances are good you’ll find the Jenkins’ Ferry geocache. Once you do, I have no doubt that you’ll be bitten by the “geocaching bug” and soon be in search of the scores of other caches hidden around you.

Don’t have a GPS? No worries, today’s smartphones have plenty of free apps you can download that have GPS capability.

The coolest part of all of this to me? This new hobby is attracting a new generation of families to the battlefield who might otherwise had never heard of Jenkins’ Ferry. That is so exciting to me.

Fall is coming soon. So why not visit the geocaching website, locate a few caches and take the family out for a weekend drive across our beautiful state and see what treasures await you.

Oh, and that couple I met? They found the geocache that day and got a copy of my book, Harvest of Death, to boot. I can never pass up an opportunity to share the story of that battlefield.

The Great Flood of 1927…

Saline River Bridge Tull

I am blessed that I inherited my love of history from my parents. I have fond memories of growing up, being driven about with my father around the Tull Community where I was raised, just a few miles north of the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield. Incidentally, the town of Tull was named after one of my ancestors on my Dad’s side of the family, so even my earliest memories were of the history that surrounded me.

Growing up, our home was only about three miles from the Saline River. This portion of the river was upstream from Jenkins’ Ferry. I can remember endless visits to the river with my father, especially during times when the river was up due to heavy rains. It was during one of these visits that I father pointed out an oak tree, about a half mile east of the river. This tree he explained was one of the most significant “witness trees” in the area. Witness trees is a term used to describe trees that were standing during significant historical events. This particular tree, so far from the banks of the Saline River, found itself as the bank of the Saline River – during the Great Flood of 1927.

It was called “The Great Flood of 1927″ for a reason – it was the most destructive flood in Arkansas history and one of the worst floods in American history. During the month of April of 1927, portions of Arkansas (including Tull and the area around Jenkins’ Ferry) received over twenty inches of rain swelling the area rivers.

Here is a link to learn more about the Great Flood:

The Great Flood of 1927

On April 1, 1927, the Saline River at Benton was measured at 30.50 feet deep. Just to put that into perspective, the average depth where the measurement was taken is about 3.0 feet. So, imagine the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry over 25 feet higher than it is today. There is no doubt the entire bottom where the battle was fought was under water, for how long I’m not sure.

My father was a small child in 1927 but he remembered that flood and he remembered the community of Tull gathered in the road near what is now that witness tree. Standing there with him, it seemed inconceivable that the Saline River could swell so much – but it happened.

I have no doubt there were photographs taken in and around Sheridan and Leola at the time of the flood but I’ve yet to see any. Perhaps I should inquire with the Grant County Museum to see if any photographs exist in their archives. I have seen photographs taken at the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park when the water had reached the top of the pavilion – putting the park under 10-15 feet of water.

Today, the “witness tree” at Tull still stands on the side of the gravel road that leads to the Saline River. The scores of people who drive by never notice that tree, never realize the history behind it. To them, it is just another tree among  the many trees that landscape the river bottoms. I have always thought of the idea of having a small marker placed there, to commemorate the site and the history it witnessed. Perhaps one day that might happen.

A “Pony Truss” bridge was constructed over the Saline River at Jenkins’ Ferry in 1927-28, replacing the ferry that had carried travelers across the river. The bridge over the Saline River at Tull was built in 1916 by Boardman and Company out of Oklahoma City. It is described as a “Pin-connected, 7-panel Pratt through truss with wooden deck.” That bridge was replaced a few years ago by a modern concrete one but the original still stands – saved for the history it represents. I understand the folks at Tull want to one day make a pedestrian walk bridge out of it, with a park at the base of it. What an absolutely splendid idea! One I know my parents would be proud of.

The photograph in today’s blog is the Tull bridge as it looks today. It stands as an island in the midst of the river, it’s ramps removed to prevent a vehicle from driving upon it. That bridge witnessed the greatest flood in Grant County history – as did my father. And the Great Flood was just one of the many stories my parents told me about the history that surrounded me.

My parents were awesome.


Lee Chapel

Sometimes change is tough but sometimes change is necessary.

Today I deleted my Facebook page.

I have been absolutely blessed by how the page had grown. I experimented with social media to see how effectively linking the two facets (Facebook and the Blog) would work. Though some of you have traveled over to view the blog links that I have posted, though some of you have not. My only explanation is that the blogs are simply not important to some of you, and that’s fine – we have our likes and dislikes, and these days, Facebook is overrun with “links” for us to visit. I for one enjoy reading about the day-to-day life adventures of those dear to me. What I have never enjoyed are those who post nothing about themselves but endless links, which do nothing for me but clutter. I have not done that here. I have posted only those items, which I felt you would enjoy reading about with the only link being to the blog.

I hope you find me through my website and continue to follow the blog as I enjoy writing it. As to battlefield tours, book signings and speaking events, they’ll be posted on my website. I continue to hope to meet you all at one of the events I’ll be attending. Look for two new books coming out over the next several months. You can find information about the books and upcoming projects on my website.

We started the Facebook page with one “like” and today we end it with 312 – not too shabby.

If you wish to follow my blog, there are two ways to do it. The easiest is to subscribe to the blog, which by going to the blog page you’ll find a “Subscribe to Blog via Email” option. You simply enter your email and the blog comes directly to your email moments after I post it. There is no junk mail, no spam – only the blog. The second option is to visit my website where, in addition to the link to the blog, you’ll find other links of interest

Upcoming projects? There is one I am especially proud of that we will be announcing in December. I believe it will help insure that the memory of those brave men at Jenkins’ Ferry will never be forgotten.

So…. though one chapter is ending today, I hope you will join me as the adventure continues, as we seek to honor those who fought in those Saline River Bottoms 150 years ago.

Today, in Virginia, change has come as well. In Lee Chapel, on the campus of Washington and Lee University, where the remains of General Robert E. Lee is interred with his family in a basement crypt, controversy swirls on the floor above where Lee sleeps today. The administration, under pressure from a group of African American students, have removed the Confederate battle flags from the chapel area where on the stage can be found the Edward Valentine statue “Recumbent Lee,” showing Lee, in uniform, asleep on the battlefield. It is a moving image to visit. For generations, this image of the General was surrounded by the Confederate battle flags he held dear to him, as dear as the students he sought to educate when he was elected president of what was then known as Washington College. The flags will be moved to the basement portion of the museum where they can continue to be viewed, just not “in the mainstream of foot traffic.” This was change I knew one day would come. The “political correctness” that is sweeping our nation like an unchecked virus finally reached Lee Chapel – and that saddens me. But, like today, I accept change for what it is and will make the best of it, just as they will at Lee Chapel.

Life is all about change.



The Lighter…

Grant Lighter

People will occasionally ask me, of all of the Civil War related artifacts I own, which one is my favorite. Of course, there are several Jenkins’ Ferry related artifacts that are sentimental to me. However, I think it’s a relic from the days of Ulysses Grant that is perhaps my favorite conversation piece whenever we have visitors stop by the house.

First, a little background on the relic.

We have to travel back to November of 1879 when a group of Union veterans of the Civil War had gathered in Chicago, at the Palmer House hotel, for a reunion of the Union’s Army of the Tennessee. Coordinating the event was Brigadier General John McNulta, formerly commander of the 94th Illinois Volunteers. In attendance were hundreds of veterans and honored guests, among them writer Mark Twain and former President and retired General Ulysses S. Grant.

As the evening progressed, General McNulta hatched the idea of collecting items from the gala evening for a time capsule, to be opened a hundred years from then. Among the items he gathered up during the event were military ribbons, place setting chart of the event, Civil War era currency, theater tickets, a photograph of the Generals’ wife….and a cigar.

Not just any cigar, but a cigar donated for the occasion by Ulysses Grant.

Grant was a well known cigar smoker, smoking as many as twelve a day. So there was no question he would have had a couple on hand to donate to the time capsule endeavor.

So the collection of objects were gathered together and placed in a seven inch tall, ten sided glass bottle with a glass stopper. McNulta’s final touch before sealing up the time capsule was to place a note, visible to all, which read “Do not open for 100 years.” From there the time capsule remained in the McNulta family (the General dying in 1900). In 1957, the family donated the time capsule to the McLean County Museum in Bloomington, Illinois where it remained, until a sunny Sunday afternoon in November 1979, when, amongst enormous fanfare with crowds and bands and the like (there was even a sizable article in the December 17, 1979 edition of Time Magazine), the time capsule was opened.

Among the items removed was General Grant’s cigar, which had a note attached that read: “Cigar given to John McNulta by General U.S. Grant, November 14, 1879, must not be opened for 100 years and then smoked by some one of the descendants or by some soldier who has rendered good service to his country.”

Three of General McNulta’s great-grandsons were brought to the podium, where a silver lighter was brought out and used to light the cigar that was once owned by Ulysses S. Grant.

I own that silver lighter.

Now, how many people can honestly say they have a lighter that was used to light a cigar that belonged to General Ulysses S. Grant?

I had the opportunity to purchase the item several years ago from an estate sale in Illinois. Included with the package I purchased were a number of items verifying the authenticity of the lighter. I was especially careful to research the item before making my bid on it. When it arrived at the house, I explained to my wife, Allie, the significance of the lighter. Now…you wives out there (and there are many who read this blog), when your husband brings home something completely out of the norm, I believe the reaction is, after the puzzled look and the slow nod and smile (where her mind is racing remembering why she married this man) comes the embracing of the newest relic in the Walker house.

As to how a 100 year old cigar might taste after being sealed in wax in a time capsule for century? Time magazine wrote this of the moment:

“They found it mild and surprisingly fresh, but they didn’t smoke it too far down. General Grant was known for his habit of giving out exploding cigars.”

Not all relics of war have to be about war. Some are just downright interesting.


Robin Williams…


Robin Williams died yesterday.

His death has brought the issue of suicide out of the taboo shadows it has always occupied and into the mainstream of discussions.

In my twenty years as a 911 Dispatcher I’ve taken my share of those kind of calls. Most of them end well, keeping the caller on the phone and talking through things while emergency responders move quietly onto the scene, offering the caller the help they need.

Some calls I’ve had have ended badly, with the caller taking their life while I’m talking to them. It is one of the most stressful parts of my job, one I have never talked about – until today.

Each of the callers I’ve lost, and yes, I use the term “lost” because in the depths of my soul I feel like I’ve lost the mission when someone takes their life during a call for help. How many I won’t share but I can still remember their voices, their final thoughts, their absolute final moments, realizing I was the last person to ever speak to that person. They remain with me each and every day. Anyone who does what I do for a living long enough will have the bad calls – the “awful awful” ones I call them. Sure, you have other “awful awful” ones, the parents who wake up to discover their infant has died during the night, the person who’s been shot and dying during their call for help. Those are tough – they are all tough. But the suicide ones have always been especially tough as the person on the other line is reaching out for the final time, and you’re the one who gets the call.

I’ve had many more good endings to those calls than bad. We take dozens of suicidal calls every week and far and away they end well where we get the caller the help they need. But they have to reach out to us first.

We’ve all known someone who has been touched by suicide. Unfortunately, it’s far more common than you would think. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in America with an average of 368 Arkansans taking their own life each year.

A while back there was a suicide inside the Jenkins’ Ferry State Park as a troubled person ended their life in a place that had already seen so much sorrow. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

I’ve never talked publicly about any of this. It’s something that those who answer those 911 calls know all about but something they don’t discuss. When we have a new employee begin working on the floor, all of the training in the world will never prepare them for that first call…that “awful awful” call.  I do what I do for a living because I love helping people and deep within my soul I feel this is the spot where I’m supposed to be.

We ALL get down – we have all felt frustration and helplessness in our life. What you have to remember is that the situations we face are temporary and talking to someone will help so much. So if life ever gets to you…talk to someone. Talk to a friend, talk to your minister, talk to your spouse and yes…make that call to 911. We’re there to help you, not to take you to jail or anything like that. We’re there for you to reach out to 24/7. But for goodness sakes, talk to someone, because on this journey we are on, sometimes it helps to have someone walk that path of life with you during the rough patches in the road.

There is another group – a special group – who is there 24/7 for you as well. It is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-TALK. Here is a link to their website:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Website

I am a 911 Dispatcher because there is immense satisfaction being that “beacon in the night” where people turn to at the very worse moments of their life knowing that help will soon come riding toward them.

“Go save the world,” a friend used to tell me each night before I began my shift. I miss hearing that. But their words remain with me each night I start my shift.

Let’s remember Robin Williams for the amazing talent that he was and not for his final moments.

I just wish he would have made that call to 911.


Lost to History…


There is a place being lost to history.

Following the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, the fields, that had seen so much bloodshed during the battle, were abandoned, the farmers refusing to plant where what was now soil saturated with men’s blood. So over the course of time the fields grew up, nature reclaiming part of itself until today, when you walk the battlefield, you see no trace of those bloody fields.

Nature has a way of healing itself.

There is another site related to the 1864 Camden Expedition that is experiencing a similar fate but this time we can do something about it.

About twenty miles north of the battlefield, alongside the Military Road, there once was a small town known as Belfast. First settled in 1850, it had a post office (established 1854) as well several shops and numerous houses. It served as a stage stop for many travelers through the area. But in May of 1864, it was a different set of travelers who made their way through the town – it was thousands of Federal troops making their escape back to Little Rock, having narrowly survived at Jenkins’ Ferry.

The army paused at Belfast only long enough to refill canteens in the spring that ran alongside the Military Road. After filling their canteens, the army moved on, putting Belfast behind as just another in list of stops in a failed campaign.

The town stood until 1878 when the railroad came to the area and the citizens decided to move their town, literally, a few miles to the north closer to the new railroad and the opportunities it brought. So, there became two cities, “Old Belfast” and “New Belfast.” It has been that way ever since.  “Old Belfast” became a ghost town until, with the passage of time, nature reclaimed the area.

Fast forward ninety years – to the spring of 1974, when a group of area residents gathered to commemorate the site of their ancestors and of Steele’s army, by placing a large monument at the site. For years that marker has stood there, with the spring still flowing adjacent to it. I remember growing up and even into adulthood of driving that road and seeing that marker on the side of that dirt road, a silent monument not only to the soldiers who marched through there, but especially to the families who migrated into the area to seek a new life – their descendants continuing to live in the area.

Here is a link to a site with some photographs of the monument:

Old Belfast Monument

Several years ago, the timber company began leasing their land to area hunting clubs and soon locked gates began appearing on the roads that, as a child, I used to enjoy traveling with my father as he shared stories of growing up in the area, pointing out landmarks that were long since gone, nature having found those places as well.

Soon, the Military Road became off limits, its gates blocking access not only to the Military Road but, more importantly, to the memorial at “Old Belfast.” It was now headed toward a path of being forgotten behind locked gates in a self-imposed exile.

When I was researching “Harvest of Death,” I received permission from the timber management company to travel into the area and take some photographs of the memorial for my book. It was such a sad visit to an old friend. The area around the marker where people, like my father, used to keep clean and the weeds and brush cut was now grown up, the marker almost obscured by the wooded area which was seeking to reclaim even this spot.

It was a disheartening visit. So many childhood memories include that place. Before her death, my mother asked me to rally those who could make a difference into opening that portion of the road back up; to clean up the site, and to prepare it for future generations to enjoy. We were unsuccessful then. Recently, I have revisited the issue in my mind, perhaps wondering if something can be done. Even if it remains behind locked gates for the immediate future, I wonder if we approached them, would the timber management company have an issue with a group of us spending a weekend and push nature back – to clean up and spruce up such an important part of our history. It’s just a thought, one I might pursue.

I can’t prevent nature from reclaiming what was once the Jenkins’ Ferry Battlefield but we can push back when it comes to “Old Belfast.”

It would be worth a try.


Confronting Your Past…

House of Cards

Frank Underwood is a complicated man.

For those who have never met him, he is our current Vice President. That is, if you follow the Netflix original series, “House of Cards.” Many years ago, during my college days, I was active in politics, working on several congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, so watching the series has brought back a lot of memories from my political past.

Imagine my surprise when, during the fifth episode of the second season, Underwood appears at a Civil War reenactment, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Overland Campaign. In the episode, you see an amazing transformation occur with him as he is confronted with his past, literally.

Following a day of opening ceremonies where Underwood is among the crowd watching the reenactment (which is nicely filmed, bringing honor to the Civil War reenactor – a group of individuals who participate as a way to remember their ancestors). He appears bored, as if he’s attending just another political event he’s called upon to do in his role as the Vice President.

Later, Underwood is given a personal tour of the Spotsylvania battlefield by a National Park Service Ranger. As they tour the “Bloody Angle” portion of the battlefield, the Ranger brings forth a Confederate reenactor, who is portraying Corporal Augustus Underwood of the 12th Regiment of McGowan’s Confederate Brigade, the Great-Great-Great Grandfather of the Vice President. Underwood is initially taken aback, making it clear that his father never mentioned anyone from their family fighting for the Confederacy. Assured they had extensively researched his ancestry, Underwood visits with the reenactor – visits with his “ancestor” – his past. You can almost feel how troubled he is with this encounter, for what we’re not sure. As he continues on with his tour, he continues to look back at young Augustus Underwood, looking back at his past.

Later, during the night, Underwood travels into the Confederate camp, where he again seeks out his “ancestor”, wanting to know more about him and how he died.

When he returns to Washington, he begins a journey, one I’m not clear on yet as the series is still progressing. He starts reading numerous books on the Civil War and more importantly, he begins a new hobby…constructing a Civil War diorama in his home. Previously, when he arrived home at night, he would relax by immersing himself in a video game, some sort of combat game. He trades the video games to relaxing at his desk painting miniature soldiers. You can feel him reaching for something internally – of what I’m not sure yet.

Initially, before his encounter with the reenactor, Underwood, showing his boredom with the entire reenacting event, walked away after delivering a few words to the crowd, and, looking into the camera (which he does often in the series, speaking to us in the “4th wall,” where the character brings us into the story), says this:

“In Gaffney people [the town where he was from] called it the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ I personally take no pride in the Confederacy. Avoid wars you can’t win and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”

At the end of the episode, Underwood is there again before a crowd and the reenactors, who are standing at attention in front of him. He is there to ceremonially turn the first shovel of earth for a new visitors center. When the moment comes for him to do it, he pauses, and asks his “ancestor” to do the honors. Once done, he turns to the reeanctors and says:

“A moment of silence and prayer…for the dead.”

Then he kneels down and does something truly interesting; he buries his class ring from the “the Sentinel,” a fictional version of The Citadel. As he kneels, with no one able to see, he removes the ring and buries it in the soil. He pauses for a moment – his mind lost in thought. Why he buried that ring has deep meaning to him, which continues to develop in future episodes.

I believe there was a “before and after” moment found in that episode. One that perhaps many of us have faced as we examine our past. One of the things I don’t appreciate is when 21st century people attempt to judge the actions and behavior of 18th and 19th century people. There are some moves afoot among some to “sanitize” our history – by that I means allowing political correctness to steer the direction of all things. Specifically, I am referring to some who would like the see the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson removed from our history books because of their “support” of the institution of slavery. I seek not to justify nor explain their actions. I look at the past for what it is – the past.

Publisher Marcus Garvey once wrote: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” 

We seek to honor the men who fought at Jenkins’ Ferry, and the other battles of the Camden Expedition, not because of the horror of war, but for the sacrifices of these brave men, blue and grey. These men are our roots, for without them we would not be where we are today as a nation.

Never mistake my reasons for my interest in preserving the memory of Jenkins’ Ferry. It is about bravery and honor – and it always will be.

Vice President Underwood was transformed after his encounter with his Civil War past. There are scores of people who live within twenty-five miles of Jenkins’ Ferry who, not only know nothing of what occurred there, but more importantly, don’t realize the chances are good they had an ancestor who fought there.

If you continue to educate the public about Jenkins’ Ferry, you will reach someone out there who will have that “Frank Underwood moment,” where they confront their past – and learn a little more about who they are and where they came from.

They will be amazed at what they might might find.

The Blood of Children…

Slave Children

Terrible things occurred in those Saline River bottoms in April of 1864 – and not just on the battlefield.

After the last shots were fired and the armies withdrew – one army making their escape across the Saline River, putting the horror of Jenkins’ Ferry behind them. The other army remained behind, carrying for the wounded of both sides and burying the dead, blue and grey.

After the Federal Army had crossed the Saline River, they destroyed their pontoon bridge to prevent the Confederates from pursuing them. Once they made it to the east side, they believed the worst was behind them – they were terribly wrong.

As they made their way through the bottoms, the Federals quickly discovered the east side was worse than the west side of the river. Mud up to knee to waist deep in places plagued the march. What made the nightmare even worse was the fact there were scores of new additions to the march – scores of newly emancipated slaves were trailing the army, hoping to make their escape from area plantations.

Some of the worst moments of the Camden Expedition occurred in that two mile stretch between the Saline River and the high ground (now the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 291). A soldier with the 33rd Iowa Federal Infantry recalled an absolutely heart wrenching moment during the march:

“One wagon contained a half-dozen negro babies, of assorted sizes, belonging to the colored American gathered to use since we started, when had been left there, stuck in the slough, drawn by the feeblest of all possible mules, that was just executing his last drowning kick as we waded by. One negro woman, as was told by many who said they witnessed the incident, having carried her baby as long as she was able, threw it away and left it as a soldier would his knapsack. What became of the child cannot be told; but probably it was not the only one abandoned.”

There is never a time when I drive down to Jenkins’ Ferry that I don’t silently reflect upon that quote as I pass that portion of Highway 46 that runs alongside where the Military Road once ran. I say a silent prayer – not only for those soldiers who perished there – but for those children – the innocents – who perished in those awful bottoms.

On most summer days when I drive into the state park, there are families gathered at the Saline River swimming hole, a place where generations of families (including mine) have gathered. I always wonder if they realize just what actually occurred around them 150 years ago. At places such as Gettysburg and Vicksburg, it’s obvious that war once raged upon those fields. But at Jenkins’ Ferry, unless you know your history, chances are you’d never know such a battle was fought there.

It’s one thing for a battlefield to be seeded with the graves of soldiers, that’s the nature of war. It’s quite another for the blood of children to soak the ground of those river bottoms.

It was a terrible time in 1864 Civil War Arkansas.


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