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Pages from the Past: 1864

by MARK CHRIST Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 19, 2019 at 3:46 a.m.

The 200-year history of the Arkansas Gazette contains one noteworthy omission: 1864.

The newspaper ceased publication after Union forces took possession of Little Rock on Sept. 10, 1863, though a pair of combative loyalist papers would arise in 1864 to fill the city's journalistic needs. Arkansas State Gazette editors Christopher Columbus Danley and William F. Holtzman, meanwhile, lost their livelihood for the duration. And William E. Woodruff, founder of the Gazette, would end the year in exile.

Under the Union Confiscation Act, property owned or sold by Confederate sympathizers since July 1862 could be deemed abandoned property under control of the U.S. Treasury Department, though it could be leased by loyal citizens. The people of Little Rock, then, had to prove their loyalty to protect their property, usually by signing an oath of allegiance to the U.S.

Holtzman took the oath soon after the Federals took the capital, protecting his one-third share in the Gazette. Danley's two-thirds interest in the newspaper was offered up for auction April 5, 1864. He reluctantly professed his loyalty to avert the sale, though the Arkansas Gazette would not publish again until 1865.

The two Unionist newspapers mirrored the convictions of the generals who led Union forces into Little Rock. Brigadier Gen. John Wynn Davidson, commander of the Federal cavalry, was a Virginian who remained loyal to the Union when war broke out, and he favored a hard war against the secessionists. Major Gen. Frederick Steele, a personal friend of U.S. Grant who proclaimed him "a splendid officer ... fully capable of the management of the Army of the Potomac or any of the Departments," favored a more conciliatory approach, leading one Union officer to declare that Steele "has too much Copper mixed in him to suit most of [the] soldiers" -- a reference to the Northern Copperheads who wanted to make peace with the South.

The two generals' relationship, to put it lightly, was tense.

Davidson's views were initially prevalent, and following his issuance of General Orders No. 1, J.W. Demby took possession of the Gazette offices and published a single issue of The National Union, which perhaps surprised the Virginian by backing Steele's approach. Davidson quickly shut it down.

It was soon replaced by The National Democrat, edited by Dr. Cincinnatus V. Meador from the offices of another shuttered newspaper, the True Democrat. The latter had better equipment than that of the Gazette and also supported Steele's conservative views. Its first issue ran on Sept. 19, 1863.

A second Union paper appeared in early 1864. The Unconditional Union was edited by William M. Fishback, a future Arkansas governor, and T.D.W. Yonley, a jurist and Unionist politician. Gazette historian Margaret Ross contended that they formed the opposition paper "because they could not persuade Dr. C.V. Meador ... to publish proceedings of Radical meetings or other things that presented favorably the Radical viewpoint."

Its first issue on Jan. 23, 1864, published the new state Constitution that had just been approved by a Unionist convention.

Calvin C. Bliss, the state's lieutenant governor, bought The Unconditional Union in spring 1864 and displaced Meador from the better-appointed offices of the True Democrat. Meador's operations moved to the Gazette's offices. The newspapers' bitter rivalry became, in Ross' words, "a grim battle for survival. The newspaper business at Little Rock had never been less profitable, and probably neither newspaper was self-sustaining."

The National Union would publish until its demise in spring 1865; The Unconditional Union limped along until 1866.


And what of William Woodruff? By 1864 the Gazette's founder had long been out of the newspaper business, concentrating instead on his business as a real estate manager and landlord.

As with many secessionists -- including the Civil War Gazette owners Danley and Holtzman -- he faced the prospect of pledging loyalty to the Union or having his property auctioned off under the Confiscation Act. Woodruff pragmatically recognized the necessity of signing the loyalty pledge, but at the same time feared the reaction of his Confederate friends.

On Feb. 26, he wrote a letter to Rebel surgeon Isaac Folsom at Arkansas' Confederate capital Washington in Hempstead County explaining his reluctance to take "the oath of allegiance to Old Abe's government."

He wrote, "I fear I shall have to take it, or be cut off from getting rents from my properties ... the only source I have to support my family. If I do it, I shall probably take it to-morrow. If I do, it will be a matter of necessity, not choice -- and I shall be quite as strong a Rebel after taking it as I ever have been."

He took the oath on the 27th and added a postscript to his letter to Folsom: "Well, 'the deed am done,' and I am now a loyal citizen of the United States -- if the taking of the oath of allegiance can make me one. I took it on yesterday as my only alternative to starving ... Please place me on right on the subject with my friends South. Tell them I am not less a sympathizer with them than heretofore, but feel mortified and chagrined at the necessity that compelled me to do an act that my conscience revolted at."

Woodruff then duly took the letter to the office of Lt. Col. J.L. Chandler, the Union provost marshal, for perusal before it was sent on to Folsom.

Federal officials were not pleased with Woodruff's protestation of loyalty to the South. They issued General Orders No. 10 in late March, exiling Woodruff outside of Union lines with his family "in order that they may secure protections from those with whom they so deeply sympathize."

Woodruff and his daughter Evalina, who refused to take the oath, moved to the home of Judge Daniel T. Witter while wife Eliza and other children remained in Little Rock.

The family home was initially used as housing for the white officers of United States Colored Troops stationed in Little Rock, but Woodruff's wife and other children were given two rooms to live in and, daughter Frances Woodruff Martin remembered in an essay for the Gazette Centennial Edition in 1919, the Federals "treated my mother and sister and myself very nicely but their wives were far from agreeable."

The house was later used as a hospital for sick and wounded Yankees, though the Woodruffs retained their rooms. It would be more than 16 months, after the war had ended, before the Woodruff family was reunited and in possession of their house.

The 1853 William E. Woodruff House still stands at 1017 E. Eighth Street in Little Rock.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 21, 1989, it was vacant for many years before the Quapaw Quarter Association acquired it in December 2014 to keep it from being demolished. The association stabilized the Woodruff House, which is eligible for state and federal historic preservation tax credits, and it is available for rehabilitation and reuse.

Historian Mark Christ has edited 10 books about the Civil War in Arkansas and is the author of Civil War Arkansas, 1863: The Battle for a State.

ActiveStyle on 06/19/2019

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