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1863 December 12: E. W. Gantt’s Address to the People of Arkansas

December 14, 2013

Following is the address mentioned in today’s previous post.  This article was printed in the December 12, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal.

Edward W. Gantt (1829-1874) was one of southwestern Arkansas’s leading politicians in the Civil War era.  He pushed for secession in 1860 and was elected to the First Confederate Congress in 1861. On July 29, 1861, he was elected colonel of the 12th Arkansas Infantry, which he helped raise. and then Gantt was a prisoner of war from April to August 1862. After being exchanged, he became dissatisfied with his inability to secure a command, and in the fall of 1863, Gantt became a Union sympathizer. He fled to Union lines and appealed to his fellow Southerners to lay down their arms. He promoted radical social, economic, and political change during Reconstruction as he led the Freedmen’s Bureau and Radical Republicans in Arkansas.  For more on Gantt, see his entry in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

FROM ARKANSAS.

Hon. E. W. Gantt’s Address to the People of the State.

HE COMES OUT FOR THE UNION.

The Memphis Argus has been furnished with an Address recently published in Little Rock by Hon. Edward W. Gantt, a prominent politician of Arkansas, and addressed to the people of the State.—We have not space for the document entire, but give below copious extracts which will be found interesting :

Introduction.

He prefaces as follows :

FELLOW-CITIZENS :  Since the third day of June I have been a prisoner in the Federal lines. Having but recently been through the entire South, having studied its resources, and wept over its ruin, and having become fully acquainted with its condition, and the character of its rulers, I have chosen, after long hesitation, to remain here and address you, in preference to being sent home and exchanged.  I am now out of the service, and can therefore speak with unreserved freedom.  My course in this struggle is known to this country. In the army and in prison, with a fire in front and in rear, I have been with you and of you so long as hope remained.  And to-day I know no devotion so strong as that I bear to my Southern home and to the masses of our people, whose terrible sufferings bind me closer to them now than ever.  I shall give you my views and counsel for what they are worth, frankly and fully in this address, and care not for the consequences to myself.  It is the path of duty, and I shall follow it fearlessly.  I shall speak to you as an Arkansian.  Shall therefore confine myself more particularly to what has occurred in our midst since the commencement of hostilities, and may thus give a prominence, to events and persons, that they would not otherwise deserve.  As I fear no one, I shall spare no one.

HIS ADVICE TO THE PEOPLE.

The first portion of his address alludes to the troubles with Holmes [Theophilus Hunter Holmes], Hindman [Thomas Carmichael Hindman], etc., their persecutions of the people, all of which is treated at length.  After leaving this he continues, in answer to the question :  “What shall [sic] We Do ?”

This question naturally comes up after all that has preceded.  If Mr. Davis [Jefferson Davis], when he held the lives of many millions in his hands, so blundered as to lose his opportunity, what can we hope from him, now that a scene of blackness, of anguish and desolation reigns, where wealth, happiness, and plenty smiled.  If he would not protect Arkansas when he could, but, instead gave it over to oppression and plunder by his pets, what have we to hope now that he trembles in Richmond for his own safety, and wakes up at last to the terrible reality of his own weakness, folly and indiscretion ?  If we were not protected when we could have been, and if we cannot now be protected, what must we do ?  Some say continue the struggle.  Let the last man die, etc.

I think differently.  We ought to end the struggle and submit.  But you say it is humiliating.  No more than to surrender when whipped.  We have done that often.  Always when we could do no better.  I have tried the experiment[t] twice and found it by no means foolish.  Submission is but surrender.  We are fairly beaten in the whole result, and should at once surrender the point.

If we don’t get the happiness we enjoyed in the old Government, we can get no more misery than we have felt under Jeff. Davis.  But I look for peace there.  We had it many years.  Even while we are arrayed against it, I find that hostile forces in our midst give more protection to citizens than they had when Holmes and Hindman were there.  It is true the Johnsons¹ tell you that General Steele [Frederick Steele] has imprisoned and oppressed people here.  Not a word of truth in it.  And they know it is all false.  In a few months, when no more Confederate money can be invested, and nothing more made out of the people, they will sneak back and claim its protection.

But we are whipped, fairly beaten.  Our armies are beaten and ruin approaches us.  Will continuing this struggle help us ?  Every battle we might gain ought to wring tears from the hearts of Southern men !  We are just that much weaker—that much nearer our final ruin.—Anguish and sorrow and desolation meet us wherever we turn.  The longer the struggle, the more of it.

Don’t let yourselves be deceived with the hope that the United States will abandon the struggle.  They can never do it.  They have toiled and spent too much to see the solution of the problem, and not foot up the figures.  They scarcely feel the war at home.  Their cities are more populous and thrifty to-day than ever.  For every man who dies or gets killed in battle, two emigrate to the country. Their villages and towns, their fields and country flourish as freshly as ever.  They could sink their armies to-day, and raise new levies to crush us and not feel it.

THE NEGRO QUESTION.

From the portion of his address devoted to the slavery question, we quote :

Its (slavery’s) existence had become incompatible with the existence of the Government.  For, while it had stood as a wall, damming up the current, and holding back the people and laborers of the North, it had, by thus precluding free intercourse between the sections, produced a marked change in their manners, customs, and sentiments.  And the two sections were growing more divergent every day.  The shock came which was to settle the question.  I thought that the Government was divided, and negro slavery established forever.  I erred.  The Government was stronger than slavery. Re-union is certain, but not more certain than the downfall of slavery.  As I have said, the mission of the latter is accomplished.  And, as his happiness must always be subordinated to that of the white man, he must, ere long, depart on the foot prints of the red man, whose mission being accomplished, is fast fading from our midst.

While I think the mission of the negro is accomplished here, I am clearly of the opinion that the time will come when civilization and learning shall light up the dark abodes of the four hundred million people in India; and when their wants and necessities will put the patient and hardy negro to toiling, and opening up the great valley of the fertile but miasmatic Amazon.

He warns his fellow-citizens against indulging in belief of dissensions among the Northern people, and denounces guerrilla warfare.

HE BITTERLY DENOUNCES HINDMAN.

*            *            *            *            *            *

Among the first acts was to declare martial law all over the State, and to appoint patrols of ten, with a captain, in each township—a new military organization of his own creation. Among their duties was to assist in arresting and imprisoning, without charge or complaint, the suspected freemen of Arkansas. And many a poor creature, thus torn from home and family, died in a loathsome prison, or perished by the wayside. Would you believe it, my fellow-citizens, that two or three lines from Hindman or one of his subordinates has been all the commitment upon which respectable citizens, with their heads shorn, have lingered a year in the penitentiary, treated as ordinary convicts? The records are in the city of Little Rock.

But this is not all. He plundered our people most mercilessly. Anarchy and despotism vied in their reign. His Commissary Department was so miserably managed that, with an abundant country to draw and collect supplies from, it was so neglected, that, I am told, in many instances he took bread from the mouths of helpless women and children, whose only stay and support had perished by disease or the bayonet. He assumed to regulate prices. By this arbitrary and tyrannical means he caused great suffering, and afforded increased facilities for the growth of fraud and crime, while all honest men were well nigh impoverished. He ordered cotton to be burned in regions remote from navigation, and where an army will never tread, and where, if it should come, it could not more than transport supplies, much less haul cotton. And he sent brutal, rough men to execute these orders. If a citizen complained, he was snubbed, plundered, or imprisoned. Oftener all of these things. Of all these things Jeff. Davis was duly informed.

When long absence and tales of distress, coming from the plundered homes of toil-worn soldiers, impelled them, from impulses not to be despised, to force their way home, to stop the cries of suffering babes and soothe the sorrows of heart-broken wives, with the intention of again returning to their command, he has not waited their return, but treated them as deserters, had them hunted with negro dogs, and when caught, executed with a fiendishness alike cruel and shocking to humanity.

He has, I am told, appointed Military Commissions which should keep no records, and from their midnight recesses spoken away the lives of citizen and soldier.  In one instance, this mysterious, and worse than Jesuitical tribunal, condemned to six months’ imprisonment, a citizen of our State.  With a stroke of his pen he raised the penalty to capital punishment, and the victim was accordingly executed.

JEFFERSON DAVIS.

This gentleman has proven himself totally unsuited to the emergency.  With the whole cotton crop and wealth of the South at his disposal, and the friendship of many European powers, he has accordingly [accomplished] nothing abroad.  His foreign policy has been a stupid failure.  He has permitted himself to be overreached and outmanaged in everything.  His policy at home, while proving him to be strong in some respects, has shown him to be weak, mean, and malignant to others.  He is cold, selfish, and supremely ambitious.  And under the cover of outward sanctity and patriotism, flows concealed the strongest vein of hypocrisy and demagogueism [sic].

He has never been up to the magnitude of the undertaking.  He refused troops for the war in May, A.D. 1861, because he did not “know that they would be needed.”  His idea at first seemed to have been that hostilities would cease, and he bent his energies for a cheap war.  His preparations and outfit were accordingly contracted and parsimonious.  Awakened to a sense of his error, his next aim seems to have been to conquer his foes, and put down every man that had crossed his pathway in life.  The latter succeeded at all events.  Instances of this are numerous, but that of Senator Brown²—the peer of Mr. Davis in everything, his superior in many, and his rival and successful competitor for the United States Senate—is pointed.  He joined a company in Davis’ army and was elected Captain.  He had capacity for any position. Yet Mr. Davis, not looking to the public interest, but to the gratification of his own private feelings, seeks this opportunity to strike an old rival, and embraces it.—He refused him promotion, and left him the alternitive [sic] of wearing himself out as Captain of a company, or seeking position elsewhere.  Mr. Brown’s election to the Confederate Senate terminated the matter.

He drove General Gustavus W. Smith from the army.  He was once ready to remove Stonewall Jackson, and only the success of the latter, backed by a powerful and excited party, prevented it.  He overslaughed and oppressed Beauregard [P.G.T. Beauregard], because he let the people know, that he desired to move on Washington at once after the first Manassas fight and was prevented by Davis.  He drove General Walker³ of Georgia, out of the service.—He retained Hindman in Arkansas with a positive knowledge of his outrages.—He removed him but to indorse his acts.  He retains Holmes here to gartify [sic] the Johnsons at the ruin of our people.  He has pursued and oppressed Gen. Price [Sterling Price], because, I suppose, the latter was made a Brigadier in Mexico and Davis was not.  He retained Pemberton [John C. Pemberton]  in command against the wishes of the army and the country, and to add insult to it all, sends him to Mobile to take command, where he is execrated by every man, woman and child.

WHY HE HESITATED IN DELIVERING THE ADDRESS.

Mr. Gantt upon this point says :

I hesitated long, my fellow citizens, before I determined to issue this address.  I dislike to be abused and slandered.—But, more than all, dislike to live under a cloud with those friends who have not yet reached my stand-point.  And, besides, all I possess is in the Confederate lines.  Their leaders will deprive my family of slaves, home, property—debts due me—in a word, reduce them from competence and ease to penury.  Aside from what I have inside the Confederate lines, I could not pay for the paper this Address is written upon.  But it may all go.  Did I desire future promotion, and could bring my conscience to it, I would do like the Johnsons ;  safe from bullets and hardships themselves, they assist in holding you on to this hopeless and ruinous struggle, and, at the end of the conflict will come back and say :—I stand with you to the last !”  “Honor me and mine.”  God deliver me from such traitors to humanity and to the interests of our bleeding people !  To me the path of duty is plain.  It is to lend my feeble aid to stop this useless effusion of blood.  And, though it beggar my family, and leave me no ray of hope for the future, I shall follow it.

I have witnessed the desolation of the Southern States from one end to the other.  This hopeless struggle but widens it.  Each day makes new graves, new orphans, and new mourners !  Each hour flings into this dreadful whirlpool more of wretched hopes, broken fortunes, and anguished hearts !  The rich have mostly fallen.  The poor have drunk deep of the cup of sorrow, while surely, and not slowly, the tide of ruin, in its resistless surge, sweeps toward the middle classes !  A few more campaigns and they will form part of the general wreck !  Each grave and each tear, each wasted fortune and broken heart, puts us that much further off from the object of the struggle, and that much further off from peace and happiness !

Viewing it thus, the terrible question was presented to me, as to whether I should continue my lot in an enterprise so fruitless and so full of woe, and help hold the masses of the people on to this terrible despotism of Davis, where only ruin awaits them ;  or whether I should be a quiet observer of it all, or lastly whether I should assist in saving the remnant of you from the wreck.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ?

The shortest way in my opinion, to resume our relations with the Federal Government is to instruct Hon. W. K. Sebastian4 to take his seat in the United States Senate.  It is by all means desirable that such instructions be so clear that the United States Government may be at no loss to see that our people are loyal, and that Mr. Sebastian may have but one course of conduct left.  I feel sure that he will respond favorably to your wishes.  Whenever it can be done, meetings should be held promptly, instructing him to resume his seat in the Senate.  Where it cannot be done, or where citizens cannot attend meetings, let them get up petitions to that effect.—The proceedings of such meetings, and the petitions if sent to me at this place, will receive prompt attention.  We should do all this before the meeting of Congress in December.  We will have trade open and get all the other benefits of a government that much sooner.

I must publicly acknowledge here, my regret for the strong terms of disapprobation I used towards that distinguished gentleman, Hon. W. K. Sebastian, for his refusal to join us in this struggle.

To those who differed from me in the commencement of this rebellion—the extent and bloodiness of which no mortal could foresee—I must say, that developments show, that you were right and I were [sic] wrong.  But let bygones be forgotten, and let us all unite to bring about peace, and to lure our lost Pleiad from her wanderings, that she may again sparkle in our nation’s coronet of stars !

Your fellow citizen, E. W. GANTT,
Little Rock, Oct. 7, 1863.

1.  He is probably referring to Robert W. Johnson and his politically powerful family.
2.  Albert Gallatin Brown (1813-1880) was one of the most popular and influential men in the state of Mississippi. He served three terms in the State Legislature, four in the national Congress, once on the circuit bench, twice elected United States senator (1854-1861), was the governor of  Mississippi (1844-1848), and senator in the Confederate Congress (1862-1865). He was also a strong advocate for the expansion of slavery.
2.  William H. T. (Henry Talbot) Walker (1816-1864) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer who fought with distinction in the Mexican War. He chose to go with his home state of Georgia when the Civil War broke out, and became a colonel  and then a major general in the George State Militia. Walker transferred to the Confederate Army infantry as a colonel in April was promoted to brigadier general in May, and resigned his commission in October 1861, either due to his health or from being dissatisfied with his assignments for the Confederacy. Almost immediately after resigning, Walker signed up again in the Georgia militia as a brigadier general from November 1861 to January 1863, when he resigned to re-enter the Confederate States Army. Walker resumed his brigadier general rank in the Confederate Army in February 1863, and in May was assigned to brigade command in the Confederate Department of the West. Walker participated in the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Chickamauga, and the Battle of Atlanta, where he died on July 22, 1864.
3.  William King Sebastian (1812-1865) was a U.S. Senator from Arkansas from 1848 to 1861. He withdrew from the Senate at the start of the Civil War and was later formally expelled by the Senate for his suspected support of the Confederacy, but took no active part in the Confederate government. Sebastian returned to Helena (Arkansas), where he lived during most of the Civil War and practiced law. After federal troops occupied Helena, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1864 and resumed the practice of law. He died in Memphis on May 20, 1865.

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