Beginning with the early stages of the American Civil War, underground groups referring to themselves as Peace Societies began to appear throughout the Confederacy. The first was discovered in 1861 in Van Buren County, Arkansas. Their members were opposed to secession and the war. Their efforts were aimed at bringing an end to the war, thus creating a new peace.
The Peace Society of Arkansas and a group called The Order of Heroes of America were the most widely recognized names. The influence of these groups spread from Arkansas to Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi and Florida.
By 1863, their influence had become a major thorn in the side of the Confederate war effort. The Peace Societies encouraged desertion from the Confederate Army, asked mothers to write their sons on the battlefield and ask them to "come home," and visited home front family members to talk about the horrors of the war and request that they refuse to serve.
As the Confederate Army worked to silence the Peace Societies, they went further underground, developing secret signs and code words to communicate. Members were encouraged not to get to know each other to lessen the chance that a captured member would be forced to reveal his associates.
Federal troops were rumored to be aware of Peace Societies and encouraged members to come forward. Their ranks extended into active duty officers and enlisted men. According to legend, if a captured Confederate soldier repeated the word "Washington" four times he would be released, as this was the code that would reveal allegiance to the Peace Societies and loyalty to the Union.
One of the bolder moves of the Arkansas Peace Society was an effort to convince Arkansas Senator W.K. Sebastian, who technically still held a seat in the U.S. Senate to return to Washington and assume his seat and thus demonstrate to the Union that Arkansas' people wanted nothing to do with secession. The Sebastian Plan was not successful, but brought much public attention to the workings of the Peace Societies.