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The Fourth Military District was an area under the control of the U.S. Congress during Reconstruction. Consisting of the Department of Arkansas and the Department of Mississippi, the district was created after the passage of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, the states that seceded from the Union began a process to reacquire admission. Presidential Reconstruction began during the war while Confederate states were occupied by Federal forces. With the fall of Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Union forces in September 1863, steps began to reestablish a state government loyal to Washington DC. A constitutional convention was held in early 1864, and Isaac Murphy was selected to serve as governor. The influence of the new state government was severely limited and did not expand past Federal lines. When the two senators selected to represent the state in Washington DC, Elisha Baxter and William Fishback, attempted to join that body, their credentials were refused.
At the conclusion of hostilities, Presidential Reconstruction continued. The Arkansas General Assembly approved the Thirteenth Amendment in April 1865, and congressional elections were held in October. Only voters who took an oath that they had not supported the Confederacy after the reestablishment of a loyal state government were allowed to participate. Only about 7,000 ballots were cast, and the representatives who had been elected were not allowed to assume their seats in Congress.
The military districts were created by an act of Congress on March 2, 1867. The First District consisted of Virginia, and the Second District contained North and South Carolina. Alabama, Georgia, and Florida made up the Third District, while the Fifth District comprised Texas and Louisiana. Tennessee was the only state that seceded that did not fall under Military Reconstruction, as it had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and had been readmitted to the Union. Major General Edward Ord served as the first commander of the Fourth District, based at the headquarters in Vicksburg, Mississippi. A battery of artillery and two companies of infantry were stationed in Little Rock. Other towns housing troops throughout the state included Princeton (Dallas County), Washington (Hempstead County), Batesville (Independence County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Dover (Pope County), Fayetteville (Washington County), Monticello (Drew County), Madison (St. Francis County), and Burrowsville—present-day Marshall (Searcy County).
The commander of the district served as the chief executive of both states and could remove state officials from their positions. He could also overrule any law passed by the state legislatures. On April 15, 1867, Ord ordered Murphy to not reconvene the recessed General Assembly and also removed the state treasurer, LeRoy Cunningham, from office. The removal of the treasurer was to protect state assets from claims dating to Confederate control, while the dismissal of the legislative body was done to prevent retaliation against Unionist judges.
The troops stationed across the state were tasked with enforcing laws and protecting freedmen from attack. Special tribunals were established to settle disputes between landowners and tenants. Ord also set up military commissions to try civilians accused of committing crimes, including horse stealing. These commissions worked to provide recourse for Arkansans who felt that they could not get justice in the existing county courts. The heaviest sentence passed by a commission was a life sentence for a white man who killed a freedman.
Federal troops also worked to deflect criticism aimed at Ord and the military authorities. On August 8, 1867, a group of soldiers destroyed production materials of the Constitutional Eagle in Camden (Ouachita County). The action occurred in response to criticisms published in the newspaper of the soldiers stationed in the town and claims that many of the troops could be seen drunk on the streets. In response to the event, Ord ordered the major who led the troops in the vandalism to be court-martialed. Calling his troops’ attention to the fact that part of their charge was to protect the property and rights of citizens, Ord approved the guilty verdict. The sentence passed down by the court for the major included forfeiture of pay for one year, demotion to captain, being placed below fifty others on the promotion list, and a reprimand in the general orders.
Ord also worked to register and protect voters in preparation for a constitutional convention that would address congressional requirements for the state to reenter the Union. In September 1867, Ord called for an election to be held in November. At the time that the election was set, 66,316 voters were on the rolls in Arkansas. Of these voters, 43,170 were white, and 23,146 were freedmen. About sixty percent of these voters participated in the November election and approved the holding of a constitutional convention.
The delegates to the convention began meeting in Little Rock on January 7, 1868. The work on the new constitution was performed under the new commander of the Fourth Military District, Major General Alvan Gillem. The constitution written at the convention included male suffrage regardless of race but also disenfranchised anyone who violated an oath to the United States or civilized rules of warfare. This made many former Confederate soldiers and civil servants unable to vote. Democrats in the state worked to oppose the adoption of the document while the Republicans organized a slate of state electoral candidates, led by Powell Clayton for governor.
The election to adopt the constitution began on March 13, 1868, and continued for several weeks. The state board of election commissioners determined that the constitution was ratified on April 1. Democrats and other opponents of the constitution protested, but Gillem agreed with the board and reported that the document was officially ratified. A total of 25,600 votes were cast in support of the constitution, while 22,994 opposed it. The Arkansas General Assembly met in Little Rock, where they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, selected Benjamin Rice and Alexander McDonald to serve in the U.S. Senate, and requested to rejoin the Union.
Arkansas remained part of the Fourth Military District until June 22. 1868, when the state was officially readmitted to the Union. After that date, the district consisted only of the Department of Mississippi. That state was readmitted to the Union on February 23, 1870, and the district was disbanded.
For additional information:Cresap, Bernarr. Appomattox Commander: The Story of General E. O. C. Ord. San Diego: A.S. Barnes, 1981.
DeBlack, Thomas. With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861–1874. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
Ellenburg, Martha Ann. “Reconstruction in Arkansas.” PhD diss., University of Missouri, 1967.
Moneyhon, Carl. The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas: Persistence in the Midst of Ruin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
Ross, Margaret. “Retaliation against Arkansas Newspaper Editors during Reconstruction,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 31 (Summer 1972): 150–165.
Staples, Thomas. Reconstruction in Arkansas, 1862–1874. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964.
Thompson, George. “Leadership in Arkansas Reconstruction.” PhD diss., Columbia University, 1968.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 12/3/2018
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