DECATUR Recently we visited four state parks that preserve some of the historical events of the Civil War.
Although Civil War history is
not a main point of interest for
me, visiting these parks and
learning more about what happened here in Arkansas gives me a better appreciation for this period of our state's past and what it means to our present lives.
Together, the four parks comprise the Red River Campaign National Historic Landmark.
Three of the parks - Poison Springs, Jenkins Ferry and Marks' Mills - are located in south Arkansas and commemorate major battles that took place in the spring of 1864.
Historic Washington State Park, located in southwest Arkansas, contains the 1836 county courthouse that served as Arkansas' confederate capitol during the later years of the Civil War.
During our trip, Historic Washington was the first of the Red River Campaign state parks we reached. Just as I had been told by others who havebeen to Historic Washington, this is really a neat place to see.
The park is actually an entire village with both private and public historic buildings. The town was established in the early 1800s and served as a stopping place for those traveling along the Southwest Trail to Texas. By 1860 the village had grown to include many buildings and businesses. After Little Rock was taken by the Union Army in 1863, Washington served for a time as the state's capitol.
The old buildings in Washington have been preserved nicely, and visitors can choose to drive or walk through the town to view them. In any case, plan to spend some time there if you visit. Some homes and museums may be toured for a fee.
There are several historic andrecord-setting trees on the grounds, such as a huge Magnolia that is about 170 years old.
We especially enjoyed visiting the Blacksmith shop - a newer building near the site of the earlier shop - to hear the story of how the original Bowie knife was designed and made there.
We also enjoyed a nice lunch in one of the historic buildings that now serves as a restaurant.
Each of the other three Red River Campaign parks can be seen in shorter visits. Beside a few exhibits giving historical information, there is not much else built on the Poison Spring and Jenkins Ferry sites. Marks' Mills has more to see and takes a little longer. None of the three have visitor centers.
Poison Spring is located west of Camden. It is a quiet, shaded park surrounded by split railfence. Jenkins Ferry is located on the Saline River south of Sheridan. According to park information, Union troops used an inflatable pontoon bridge across the river to fight off the Confederates' attack. Today, this is a serene spot with a boat launch and a swimming area that was being enjoyed by several young people on the day of our visit.
Marks' Mills is located on a dirt road southeast of Fordyce.
This park is spread out, and there are interpretive exhibits in several different spots, making it quite different than the other two parks. As the name indicates, the battle took place in the area where the Marks family owned mills. Some displays included equipment similar to what would have been used during the time of the war. Also, civilianand military accounts of the battle fought there were displayed, and there is a cemetery. Several of the displays were constructed by individuals interested in preserving the history of the site which gives a unique look compared to usual state park exhibits.
Whenever I visit battlefield parks, I am always taken aback by the contrast between the horrific battles fought there years ago and the quiet and tranquil places these sites are today. Even reading the exhibits, it is hard to imagine what happened there and, frankly, I'd rather not. However, I never leave without an awesome appreciation for those who throughout history have paved the way for my freedom and the life I am privileged to enjoy today. That makes it worth the visit.
Forum, Pages 5 on 07/29/2009