Civil War Connections at Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs and the War: An Introduction
Congress and President Jackson created Hot Springs Reservation, the precursor to Hot Springs National Park, in 1832. Four square miles in size, it encompassed much of the present-day city of Hot Springs, a thoroughly southern town at that juncture. The 1850 census recorded a total of 361 slaves in Hot Spring County, and the 1860 census recorded 616. By the 1860s, established roads allowed troops of both sides to travel through, sometimes encamping here. Many Hot Springs men of military age signed up with the Confederate Army at the war’s outset. Hiram Whittington, for whom a section of the park is named, was a native of Massachusetts but volunteered to put up money for one Confederate regiment. Skirmishes are recorded as having taken place in the vicinity of Hot Springs, including one with fatalities east of Cedar Glades in 1863. No evidence of such fighting has been found in the park, despite archeological surveys performed at conjectured battle sites. In 1864 federal troops arrested numerous Hot Springs residents who refused to take the loyalty oath.

black and white photo of a valley with several buildings built on the right side of a stream with a dirt street in front. There are a fewer buildings on other side of street with some chimneys indicating former building places.
The Hot Springs valley from an 1867  stereoview picture. Note the chimneys on the right side of the dirt street indicating former buildings that were burned down during the war and not yet rebuilt.

The realities of war made life miserable for civilians. Food, clothing, and shelter became scarce. Independent militiamen of the two sides, called bushwhackers and jayhawkers, burned structures and took potshots at uniformed soldiers. They also murdered and committed mayhem on civilians who harbored the “wrong” sympathies. Many locals fled to Texas, Louisiana, or “the Rock” (Little Rock). As for regular troops, Lieutenant Colonel Henry C. Caldwell, Third Iowa Cavalry (USA), wrote of traveling through this area in 1863: “I subsisted my men, as far as practicable, on the country, and supplied myself liberally with forage, horses, and mules whenever wanted, but I was always careful to see that secessionists supplied me with these wants, and that they were taken in an orderly manner.” Understandably, civilians trying to survive during lean times resented this. On the other hand, a letter from Major General Frederick Steele (USA) to Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke (CSA) reads in part: “General, permit me to call your attention to a report that has been made to me by a man who is said to be reliable. It is to the effect that a party of soldiers belonging to your division have been hanging citizens in the vicinity of Hot Springs, and elsewhere, on account of their supposed sentiments toward the Government of the United States. I do not believe all the stories that are told me but as this bears the air of probability, I inform you of it under the conviction that you would regard an outrage on the part of troops in the same light that I do myself.”

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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