BY MELANIE BUCK –
A historical marker honoring the events that occurred in Polk County during the Civil War was unveiled on Saturday amid sunshine and a large crowd. The project was headed up by local historian, Shirley Manning, and involved several organizations presenting a program that honored the soldiers that took part in the skirmishes that now fill the pages of history.
The Mena High School Band Ensemble played The Battle Hymn of the Republic as the crowd sang along and a local veteran played Taps from his bugle before a gun salute rang out across the lawn of the Mena Depot. The marker sits on the north side of the Depot where many a traveler will be able to view it.
The Polk County Veteran’s Organizations, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and Daughters of the American Revolution presented flags, both old and new, for the United States, the Confederacy, the Union, and the State of Arkansas. Some were even dressed in period clothing, increasing the effect of nostalgia.
Following the unveiling of the marker, the presenters and the crowd paraded up DeQueen Street to the old Armory where refreshments were served. Manning began the program with an account of the events that have been documented in Polk County as happening during the Civil War. Manning said that during the war, three-quarters of the population were Confederates and the rest were Union. She said that many Union soldiers from the county have yet to be documented because they enlisted in other areas to keep their neighbors and family from knowing they had signed on with the Union, making tracking them down difficult for historians.
Manning is currently writing a book about the events and had much of the information required for the marker already on hand. However, much work was necessary to secure the marker. Polk County was the last county in Arkansas to received a marker for the Civil War and was encouraged by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, who began a project several years ago when the state recognized the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Since then, they have put several projects in place, including markers in each county commemorating their place in the Civil War.
The marker is a two-sided marker as Manning was able to provide documentation to confirm ten events, or skirmishes, that happened in Polk County from 1861-1864. All of the events are listed on the front and back of the marker. One of the biggest events was a scrimmage in South County. “A scrimmage happened, in what is now Howard County near Baker Springs, where one officer and several men were killed,” said Manning. Other key points include: being the gateway to the Texas & Trans-Mississippi regions; supplying three Confederate units and seventy-three Union soldiers; the hanging of a Confederate soldier by a mob; the courthouse being burned during the war; foraging by soldiers and Choctaw Indians.
Harold Coogan, longtime local historian of Polk County, also spoke at the Armory, specifically about General Robert Glenn Shaver, who was a Confederate officer that trained troops from Arkansas and was a former outlaw. A presentation was also made by Dennis Magee of the Civil War Museum West, Hot Springs. Magee displayed several actual Civil War artifacts.
The AHPP paid for half of the $2,600 marker and the rest was funded by the Polk County Genealogical Society and donations from individuals. Those serving on the Committee to secure the marker were Shirley Manning, Harold Coogan, Kathy Adams, Becky Horton, Margo Kimp, Janet Walker, Cortez Copher, Linda Johnson, Paul Berry, and Patrick Costello.