The Pocahontas Civil War Monument was erected in remembrance of the great suffering by all the people of Randolph County during the American Civil War.
Like many other states in the upper American south, Arkansas was not eager to separate itself from the United States. But after holding a state convention on the subject in 1861, Arkansas declared its secession from the Union on May 6, 1861.
While the Randolph County residents in 1861 did not thirst for separation from the United States, they did oppose Federal coercion of states that did secede, and felt a kinship with other southerners.
Since most of Randolph County is hill country, we didn’t have huge flat land plantations with hundreds of slaves on them. There were many slaves held in Randolph County, however, and slavery was considered as “normal” here as it was in the deep south.
Governor Henry Rector sent all Arkansas troops (the state militia) to Pocahontas, because the Military Road, the primary government-built road for entry into Arkansas, entered the state just north of Pocahontas, at Pitman’s Ferry. This was, therefore, a strategic location for repelling any invasion of Arkansas by Federal troops.
Camp Shaver, on Mill Creek at the west edge of town, was temporary home to thousands of Confederate troops sent here to protect the state. They built defensive earthworks and suffered many deaths from disease.
Camp Shaver’s basic training facility was located at the northern edge of Pocahontas, just north of the current Baltz Lake.
The Port of Pocahontas on Black River was an important facility for bringing supplies in to support the army stationed here, since Pocahontas was accessible by steam boats coming from south, in the heart of the state.
Among soldiers stationed at Pitman’s Ferry was Henry Morton Stanley (1841 – 1904), a Welshman who went on in life to become a journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Upon finding Livingstone, Stanley famously asked, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Stanley is also known for his search for the source of the Nile, his work in and development of the Congo Basin region in association with King Leopold II of Belgium and for commanding the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1899.
In 1859, at age 18, Stanley emigrated to the United States from Wales, disembarking in New Orleans in search of a new life. He joined in the American Civil War, enlisting July 26, 1861, in Pocahontas, in the Confederate Army’s 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment.
Confederate Major General William J. Hardee took command at Pitman’s Ferry, just north of Pocahontas. Four military skirmishes took place there in 1862, with thousands of troops engaged in battle. Union troops eventually advanced several miles into Randolph County before giving up and returning north to Missouri.
In 1862 most Arkansas troops moved east of the Mississippi River to fight in the battle of Shiloh. Randolph County became a “no man’s land” of lawlessness. “Irregulars,” who had deserted from both the Union and Confederate armies, roamed the countryside taking what they wanted, because most of the county’s men were off fighting in Tennessee.
William Evans, Confederate army recruiter for northeast Arkansas, was assassinated in the lobby of the St. Charles Hotel in Pocahontas by Union sympathizers. Later that year Confederate General Jeff Thompson was captured by Union forces as he worked as his desk inside the St. Charles Hotel. Most of Pocahontas was burned by Union forces in late 1863, though the St. Charles Hotel, built in 1853, was spared to serve as military headquarters for the area.
As the North gained the upper hand in the Civil War, the St. Charles Hotel continued as headquarters for the Union army in northeast Arkansas. They took welcomed action to finally bring the “irregulars” under control in Randolph County, but the local population continued to suffer from lack of food and money.
General misery continued as the Civil War wound down to a close. Local legend holds that just after the end of the war, a group of Confederate soldiers rode up to the St. Charles Hotel on horses. The soldiers were part of the Arkansas 7th Infantry Brigade, Shaver’s Corps—known far and wide as the ‘Bloody Seventh’. Made up primarily of Randolph County men, the Seventh earned their nickname by routing the Yankees at the Battle of Shiloh. After fighting for almost five years in Arkansas and in Tennessee, they were returning from central Tennessee where they’d fought the bloody Battle of Franklin weeks earlier.
With the war finally over; they rode hundreds of miles to get back home. They came to Union Headquarters at the St. Charles Hotel to surrender and get back to their homes and families.
The men rode up, dismounted, and started to go into the hotel lobby. Before reaching the door the Union soldiers inside opened fire from the lobby and the hotel windows on the second floor. The soldiers inside said later they didn’t know the rebels had come to surrender—they thought it was an attack.
All the rebels fell shot on Bettis Street right in front of the St. Charles. Seven were killed immediately. Two more were wounded but lived. It was the bloodiest scene ever seen in Pocahontas. The event became known as the St. Charles Massacre.
The Pocahontas Civil War Memorial monument is a replica of an 1870 monument placed in Cowen Cemetery, just north of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where the seven victims of the massacre were buried.
After the war ended, Pocahontas and Randolph County continued to suffer the war’s effects, including hunger and poverty. Five years after the war ended, the county’s 1839 courthouse, on the Pocahontas town square, was in such a sad state it had to be demolished and a new courthouse built (the 1872 courthouse that still stands on the Pocahontas square). The county’s poverty led to the county failing to pay the final bills on the courthouse construction, so it couldn’t be occupied until 1875.