Virtual Programming: Explore the Civil War in Arkansas with Mark Christ

Missing our Arkansas history programs? We miss seeing you here in person, but while we wait to reopen our doors, we’re going online to highlight some important events in our state’s story.

CALS has its own expert on the Civil War on staff in the person of our head of Adult Programming, Mark K. Christ.

Christ has spent years studying the Civil War in Arkansas and has written and edited many books on the subject. Over the years, he has created and presented a series of talks about various aspects of the war in Arkansas. Now, Christ is giving those talks online supported by photos and documents, as he takes us on a close-up tour of the people and events of the war.

“My plan is to put the talks out as virtual programs in chronological order,” Christ said. “I picked the Skirmish at Orient Ferry first because it’s the earliest fight, in 1862. I don’t think it’s even in the records, but I researched it and published an article in the Independence County Chronicle about it.”

A childhood encounter sparks lifelong interest

Christ’s interest in the war began early in life with a chance encounter at a fair that caught his imagination.

“I grew up in northern Indiana, but my parents were from Kentucky, so I got a bit of both sides growing up,” Christ said. “But when I was a kid, I went to a festival in the city park and there was a guy on horseback in a blue uniform.  I asked what he was, and someone said he was a Union soldier.”

The image captured Christ’s imagination and started a lifelong journey.

“I started reading books and got hooked – the battles were so huge, and the bravery of the soldiers really inspired me,” he said.

Twenty-five years of dedication to historic preservation

Before coming to CALS, Christ worked for the state at the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, where he started and ran their battlefield protection program for 25 years.

“The main goal was physical protection of the sites, but I also worked to install interpretive materials at battlefields that didn’t have anything like that. The hook was always economic development – if you had something to see at these places, you would have something to attract visitors. And we have some of the best-preserved battlefields in the country here in Arkansas.”

A war that still encourages insight today

Christ sees important lessons in the Civil War that still apply to our cultural moment.

“Especially with the rise of hate groups over the last few years, it’s important to remember that the root cause of the Civil War was slavery. And the reason the Civil War was fought was to either defend that institution or destroy it. And there are those today who would seek to curtail some of those hard-fought rights.”

On the ongoing significance of the war, Christ quotes one of the country’s best-known Civil War scholars.

“I think Shelby Foote said it best,” Christ said. “Before the Civil War, people would say The United States ARE, but after the war they would say the United Sates IS. It’s the event that took us from a loose collection of states to a single country.”

Christ finds rewards in his study even after so many years devoted to the subject.

“The reward is in the learning of it: there are always new things to discover,” he said.  “And it’s the stories of the individuals that make it real. I use first-person accounts in my work as much as I can.”

Christ plans to eventually post seven or eight talks, several of which are now online here on the playlist of the CALS YouTube channel.

Christ has also created a reading list of materials available through CALS for those who want to pursue more study of the war in Arkansas.


feature by Rosslyn Elliott