Secession and Civil War 1860-1865

The Old State House served first as the Confederate and later the Union capitol during the Civil War. The building's furnishings were looted by each army when they departed the structure.

The first Confederate governor was the unpopular Henry Massie Rector, who fled Little Rock in May, 1862, when it appeared Little Rock would fall following the Battle of Pea Ridge. Unfortunately for Rector, the Union forces elected to retire to Helena on the Mississippi River.

"We would be glad if some patriotic gentlemen would relieve the anxiety of the public by informing it of the locality of the state government," a newspaper belonging to Rector's rivals mocked. "The last that was heard of it here, it was aboard the steamer Little Rock about two weeks ago, stemming the current of the Arkansas River."

Rector's humiliation was complete when he was not re-elected that fall. Less than a year later, however, his successor, Harris Flanagin, was forced to flee as Little Rock fell to Union forces on September 10, 1863.

For a time, Gen. Frederick Steele quartered part of his army at the State House. B. F. Simmons, a soldier barracked there, wrote to his family: "…The 3rd Minnesota was detailed as Provost Guard for the city and quartered in the State House. We're having a time of it, we walk on fine carpets, sit on large cushioned chairs, sleep on spring beds, and aluminate (sic) over fine rooms…."

Early in 1864, Gen. Frederick Steele ordered repairs to the State House, though these were cut short by his march to Camden in the spring. The building was then turned over to a Union government headed by Isaac Murphy. In 1866, after the war ended, Robert J. T. White, Murphy's Secretary of State, reported on the status of the State House:

"The windows have been renewed and painted in a neat and substantial manner; and as a measure of police, as well as convenience and comfort to the public officers and approaching future legislatures, the gas fixtures have been replaced with some improvement in arrangement...

"I have made arrangements with Mr. F. J. Ditter, by which the two legislative halls will be supplied with suitable furniture, including carpets, chairs, desks, etc., all of the originals of which have disappeared during the war."

See also the Spring 1985 and the Spring 1997 issues of the Arkansas News.

In 1863, during the midst of the Civil War, Little Rock fell to Union forces, and the Confederate state government moved the capitol to Washington, Arkansas, leaving the State House to be occupied by Union troops. The troops remained at the State House for seven months and then marched to Camden, leaving the capitol in the hands of a Unionist governor, Isaac Murphy. Murphy had the windows renewed and painted, gas light fixtures replaced and rearranged, and the floors and grounds cleaned up. After the Civil War, during the 1866-67 legislative session, the governor and secretary of state convinced legislators that the building was falling into decay, and certain ruin was inevitable unless something was done immediately. Money was allocated to rebuild the walls of the west wing and the main building, making it a one-story connection and thus providing desperately needed office space. At the same time, the stairway in the west wing leading to the executive offices was moved outside, providing an open-air stairway. To this day, why it was moved outside remains unclear.