Hdqtrs., Jacksonport, Ark., Nov. 16, 1863
Governor: In accordance with a promise I made to you on the day before I left Arkadelphia, I forward to you an account of the conditions in this section of the country and also the remedy for existing evils. I find the country almost entirely demoralized, the people unwilling to go to the army while it remains south. There are several reasons which have produced this state of con[ditions]. For nearly three years the people have furnished not only the entire crops to the Confederate States without pay, but their stock of horses and cattle. Jackson County has been taken and completely outraged by bands of men claiming to belong to the Southern army when in fact they belong to no army.
Peaceful citizens young and old have been shot down in their own homes; appeals for protection have been disregarded, no protection whatever has been offered….The speculation which has so depreciated our currency has produced disaffection in our army and caused desertions. Now at this very time this country is filled with offshoots of our army in the shape of colonels, majors, captain and lieutenants with from ten to twenty men who disregard all private rights and by violence take whatever they desire. It seems strange that the people are not entirely Federalized….
I have not failed to advise Gen. Holmes of the state of affairs here, but as a citizen of Arkansas, I address myself to you calling your attention to the fact that in this section of the country there is not the shadow of the state government left – life and property are maintained by strong arm alone.
I also assert that beyond question no part of the Confederate States is more loyal than North East Arkansas. Assure her people of any possible plan for protection and their men will rally to the Southern Standard by thousands, but if things remain as they are now….it is useless to attempt to get them into the army...
Earlier McRae wrote:
Headquarters, Third Brigade
February 17, 1863
Colonel: In obedience to circular from division Headquarters requiring me to assume the office of my command and to inquire into the causes of the many desertions that have taken place heretofore, I have to report that I have so assembled them and after carefully checking the matter submit the following.
1. The great cause in desertion [seems] to be public opinion, which not only countenances but comforts, aids, and assists the deserters.
2. Public opinion being against the returning of deserters, no citizen dare attempt it. There is a great want of a sufficient police to arrest and send back a deserter. Thirsty men are tempted to neglect their duty for the allurements and comforts at home.
3. The uncertainty of punishment, or rather the certainty of not being punished, culprits have so long gone unpunished that the men having the opportunity, go home and then remain until brought back, expecting that the only punishment will be that they are put upon extra duty, a punishment wholly inadequate.
4. Insufficient line officers, who under suffering and privations become disheartened, neglectful of their duties in the presence of their superiors. Speaking of their great hardships and sufferings, all of which is unofficerlike and renders the men discontent and unhappy.
Whether it was within the scope of our duty or not, we have felt it our duty to inquire into the circumstances which have produced this deplorable state of affairs, and as to the first cause wit – public opinion. It would seem strange that public opinion would have any effect upon the military organizations, but it must be borne in mind that this command is composed exclusively of Arkansas troops and since its first organization has been confined in all of its movements to the state of Arkansas. The fathers, brothers, wives and friends of the soldiers are constantly visiting them, and the soldiers continuously visiting home, telling of their hardships, sufferings and maltreatment that they have or not been paid, that they are furnished with nothing but poorly and common made, that they are badly sheltered and much hard duty to perform not only upon the drill and the march but of fatigue which produces sickness and to be sick in the army, they state, amounts to a speedy death.
These relatives and friends upon visiting our army find but too much truth in these statements, but too many have to mourn the untimely death of a husband, son or brother. They find the sick in our hospitals swarming with vermin, with clothing unwashed for weeks, with but little if any food fit for the uses of the sick or convalescent. These persons return home and their statements corroborate the mournful story of the soldier. Our death lists so frightfully large, corroborates, so that the citizens have come to look upon the army with perfect horror, and the life of a soldier one of ineffable suffering. There comes letters from home to the soldier urging him to come home, that he will not be detested, that he will not be disgraced, and the consequence is that they go and are protected. Now we would not be understood as charging the citizens of the state of Arkansas with disloyalty to their government, for such a thing is not the case but in a few, a very few locations of the state of Arkansas has ever been true and has always been willing in defense of Southern rights to expose her sons to the pains of war. But it is now believed that very great and unnecessary sufferings and privations are inflicted upon this command. It is believed that a better duty than the perpetual unfit command can be procured and that the hospitals can be furnished and conducted that the soldier will no longer consider a hospital but as the gate of death, for lost to hope indeed is the poor retch who enters into the gloomy portals of our so called hospitals. These impressions as being the causes of the state of public opinion have been made upon us by information infested with deserters and absentees, as well as from observations.
Major-General, it is our opinion that if the soldiers are paid with anything like the regularity required by law and we beg you to state here that a failure to do this can possibly admit of no excuse whatever.
If the solders are furnished with sufficient and healthy food, and more attention paid to the wants of our helpless sick, then we full assume that desertions will become an exception and not a rule as it was a short time since. And so rendering of the truth of this the imposed condition of this command since its encampment at this point referenced to, for since we have encamped here the wants of the men have been clearly inquired into and every effort made to supply them and the manifest in the improved health and spirits of the men, which is respectfully submitted.