County Commemorative Day recognizes history

Friday, June 1, 2018
A tree is planted in honor of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I during the Poinsett County Commemorative Day last Friday. (DT Photo/Corey Clairday)

Last Friday, several community members and veterans gathered at the courthouse square in Harrisburg for a number of presentations as part of the Poinsett County Commemorative Day.

Commander Everett Evans, with the NEA Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, presented a plaque for Poinsett County joining the Purple Heart Trail. Evans said the Purple Heart is the oldest military award. It was originally created by George Washington in 1782, when it was known as the Badge of Military Merit. In 1932, the Purple Heart was reinstituted and redesigned as a medal. It is awarded to those killed or wounded as a result of action by an enemy force, Evans said.

According to the Purple Heart website, "The purpose of the Purple Heart Trail is to create a symbolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges, and other monuments that give tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal. The Purple Heart Trail accomplishes this honorary goal by creating a visual reminder to those who use the road system that others have paid a high price for their freedom to travel and live in a free society."

"We want to remind you that these veterans established your freedom when they gave their life and their blood," Evans said.

Following this presentation, a tree was planted by the courthouse annex as a World War I memorial. Through a partnership with the Arkansas World War I Centennial Commemoration Committee and the Arkansas Forestry Commission, a Shumard Oak tree was provided to the county to be planted in memory of the 100 year anniversary of the end of WWI. Professor Richard Hartness, with the ASU Department of Heritage Studies, spoke during the presentation. According to Hartness, nearly 72,000 Arkansans served in WWI and of those, 2,183 died in the war. The practice of planting memorial trees was common in the years after the war. For the tree planted Friday, French soil was mixed in with the soil used to plant it as a further connection to World War I.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Poinsett County Courthouse. Curtis Sanders, President of the Poinsett County Historical Society, presented some history on the courthouse. The county's first courthouse was originally built in Bolivar, the first county seat, in 1839. In 1856, the county seat was moved to Harrisburg, and a new courthouse was built. This was a two-story brick building and cost $8,800 to build. It was gutted by fire in 1873, and a new courthouse was built using its walls in 1874. This courthouse burned down in 1917, and $200,000 was raised through appropriations and a tax to build the current courthouse, which was completed in 1918.

Sanders also spoke about a historical marker that was unveiled during the day's activities. The marker was the result of research conducted by Sylvia Evans and was paid for through a grant former County Judge Charles Nix was able to secure before he passed away.

The marker was provided by the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and notes a piece of local history that took place near the end of the Civil War. The marker reads, "As word of the collapse of the Confederate armies east of the Mississippi River came to Arkansas, Confederate Gen. M. Jeff Thompson established headquarters of the Northern Sub-District of Arkansas at Harrisburg in mid-April 1865. Thompson and Union Gen. G.M. Dodge began negotiating surrender terms, with Dodge offering the same terms U.S. Grant gave to Robert E. Lee in Virginia. On May 11, 1865, Thompson surrendered his troops in northeast Arkansas, and 7,454 of his men were paroled at Wittsburg and Jacksonport, saying 'all they wanted was to be allowed to live at home.'"

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