The Arkansas in the Civil War Message Board

Schofield's plan for Arkansas

St. Louis, December 5, 1863.

Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.

Sir—The people of Arkansas, especially in the western portion of the State, are manifesting a very general disposition to return to their allegiance. Indeed, as you are aware, many of them have always maintained their fidelity as far as it has been in their power to do so. They now seem anxious to organize a loyal State government and elect members to Congress. Application has recently been made to me for an order calling an election for Representative in the Van Buren district. I have not encouraged the proposition to hold an election at this time for two reasons: First, because I do not think the State is yet in a fit condition to hold an election, and, second, because I am in doubt as to what policy the Government desires to be pursued, if, indeed, any general rule can be adopted for States which must differ widely in the temper and spirit of the people, even after armed rebellion within their limits is subdued. Whatever is to be done hereafter, and in other States, I have thought it advisable for the present simply to organize the loyal people of Arkansas in a military way, so as to give them strength, develop their numbers, cause them to pledge themselves to each other and to the Government, and enable them to maintain their fidelity, and to protect themselves after they have avowed their allegiance. This can be accomplished by the organization of Union clubs throughout the State, with a central club at Little Rock, to which all shall report, and through which I can learn the strength of the loyal sentiment in all parts of the State. This organization can only be effected so fast as military protection can be given. I propose to give this protection as fast as practicable, without interfering with the operations against the enemy’s main force, by the organization of Arkansas volunteers and by arming the loyal men who remain at home and organizing them as Home Guards. This latter organization can at present be effected with safety only north of the Arkansas River. The country south of that river is yet too much exposed to guerrilla raids to justify the arming of the people. So far as I can judge from the evidence heretofore received, the feeling of the people, especially in Western Arkansas, is very generally in favor of freedom as a fundamental principle in the reorganization of their State government. I believe at the proper time, and that not very distant, there will be no difficulty in securing an amendment to their State constitution prohibiting slavery forever. This feeling is rapidly increasing, and, in my opinion, no harm, or, at least, more good than harm, will result in permitting it to grow under the potent influence of a purely military government for some time to come. If I may be permitted to volunteer a suggestion in such matters, I would not recommend any attempt at the organization of a State government or representation in Congress until, by the method I have suggested, or some other, the strength of the loyal sentiment be ascertained and also the temper of the people on the question of slavery. At the risk of anticipating the development of the policy of the administration on this subject, I will venture the opinion that the State of Arkansas should be permitted to return to the enjoyment of her full rights and privileges as a State in the Union when she is prepared to do so as a free State, and not sooner. I express this opinion simply with reference to Arkansas, not presuming to judge of other States not in my department.

I would be glad, Mr. Secretary, to receive any instructions you may be pleased to give me on this subject. If intrusted with the execution of the policy of the Government in this matter, I will devote my utmost efforts to secure the desired results.

The greatly improved condition of Missouri and Kansas will soon enable me to leave them to the care of subordinate commanders, while the proposed advance of Major-General Steele’s column to the Red River, or, perhaps, into Texas, will leave Arkansas in a fit condition for the gradual, but I believe speedy, development of a loyal civil government.

If you approve my suggestions, or give me other instructions, I propose to visit Little Rock and other places in Arkansas during the present winter, for the purpose of carrying out the policy which may be adopted.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,