Civil War on the Buffalo

In anticipation of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Buffalo National River is planning a number of interpretive themes and events to commemorate those difficult times. While the focus of Civil War interpretation is often on the battles, the history of this conflict in north central Arkansas and neighboring areas, while there were certainly skirmishes involving organized combatants, was truly a civil war insofar as it was the pitting of families and neighbors against one another within the context of small rural communities.

As our project unfolds, we will tell the story of these families and their experiences of the war, but to begin with the obvious, the small-scale battles will provide some context for later discussion.


Civil War (1861-1865)
The Period of the Civil War along the Buffalo can be characterized by these activities: (1) officially-sanctioned skirmishes resulting from Union or Confederate patrols through the area; (2) irregular activities of guerrilla groups on both sides; (3) the saltpeter cave nitre production.

The most visible effect of the Civil War was the denuding of the land, the burning of numerous homesteads, and the total disruption of family and community life. This part of the story of Buffalo River exists mostly as oral history. Skirmish sites, saltpeter caves, and other tangible reminders of the war period can be identified along the river.

Regarding the conflict, opinions varied as much along the Buffalo as they did throughout the nation. Newton County (upper river) represents the strong division of the inhabitants between North and South, even of family member against family member. The "Mountain Feds" (Union sympathizers) here, as were staunch Confederate supporters. The middle portion of the river, although showing both Union and Confederate sympathizers, appears to have been more sympathetic to the Confederate cause; this may have been due to the influence and activities of James Harrison Love, a Confederate captain from Searcy County who was involved in several engagements along the Buffalo. Middle river inhabitants also became part of the so-called Peace Society, an extension of similar activities from other mid-south areas. The lower river had fewer wartime encounters, partially because it was a more sparsely-settled area. After 1864, Yellville became a garrison for Union troops.

One of the main activities of the Confederate supporters in the area was the use of caves rich in bat guano, from which extracted nitre for gunpowder. Destroying the "saltpeter works" remained a mission of the Union troops.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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