Sesame Club hears history of White Sulphur Springs Community

The Sesame Club met recently at the Pine Bluff Country Club. The president, Bonnie McClure, called the meeting to order with the reciting of the Collect.

Following a business meeting, McClure introduced Mary Shannon Fikes, who presented a program on White Sulphur Springs Community and the Confederate Cemetery located there.

In the early days, White Sulphur Springs, as it was known to differentiate from Sulphur Springs in Benton County, was a spring used for medicinal purposes. With a reputation for relief from many health problems, many from outside Jefferson County came for the baths. Before the war there were two colleges – male and female, as well as a large hotel. Besides the healing properties of the mineral rich waters, the area was also free of mosquitoes which plagued lower Arkansas.

Because of these things, when the Civil War began, it was chosen as a site for instruction, organizational and defense encampments of the lower Arkansas and White rivers. It was there that recruits from Jefferson, Drew, Ashley and other counties were trained. One notable unit, the 9th Arkansas Infantry, also called the Parsons Company because of so many ministers, was founded at White Sulphur Springs.

With the loss at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Gov. Henry Rector and Gen. John S. Roan stopped Confederate troops from Texas and the Indian Territory from going further north and east. It was these troops that brought small pox and measles to the White Sulphur Springs encampment. While both sides ordered inoculations for their troops, not all received them. It was estimated that two of three Confederate deaths were due to disease. In an attempt to isolate these infected soldiers, the hotel, the Female Academy and the Methodist Church were set up as a hospital camp. An exceptional and heroic woman, Eliza Davis Currie, volunteered to care for the soldiers. Despite her efforts, the death toll was high, about 150 to 175. She also lost her life to small pox.

In 1862, the troops at White Sulphur Springs were sent to Arkansas Post or Vicksburg, and in October of 1863 Pine Bluff was captured by Union troops and any soldiers left at the hospital were captured and the hospital burned.

In the late 1870s, Sulphur Springs experienced a revival and became a popular spa, but the cemetery where the soldiers were buried fell into neglect. In 1912, the David O. Dodd chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated a monument to the dead. Again the cemetery was left unattended until the 1980s when both the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans began a project to restore the cemetery and identify the dead. In 1994 headstones began appearing and in 1996, fencing, flag poles and historical markers were placed. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Jan. 19, 2005.

Following the program, the hostesses — Ann Smith, Diana Millenbaugh and Vicki Taylor — served dessert.