Category Archives: Arkansas

The Battle of Prairie Grove

December 7, 1862 – Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Francis J. Herron’s Federals about 12 miles southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas, sparking a confusing but brutal 12-hour battle.

General Francis J. Herron | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Herron led two divisions of 6,000 men and 30 guns to reinforce Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s 5,000-man division isolated at Cane Hill. Hindman had hoped to attack and destroy Blunt before Herron arrived, but when he learned that Herron was coming up fast, he decided to bypass Blunt, attack Herron first, and then turn back on Blunt. Hindman’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi consisted of 11,300 poorly equipped men and 22 guns.

Herron’s Federals reached Fayetteville, about 20 miles from Blunt, before dawn on the 7th. Hindman dispatched a small cavalry force under Colonel J.C. Monroe to keep Blunt occupied while the rest of the Confederates moved around Blunt’s flank to confront Herron. As Herron’s men continued marching toward Blunt, they were met by Confederate artillery near Illinois Creek, 12 miles down the road. Hindman’s army stood in line of battle at the village of Prairie Grove, between Herron and Blunt.

Hindman ordered an attack, led by Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s cavalry and William C. Quantrill’s partisans. Herron, fearing that Hindman had destroyed Blunt’s force, directed his men to stand firm. But the Federals, exhausted from marching nearly 100 miles in three days, began falling back. Hindman did not capitalize on this early advantage; he instead ordered his men to take defensive positions and wait for Herron to attack.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As both sides settled into defenses and traded artillery fire, Blunt heard the guns and realized that Hindman had outflanked him. “My God, they’re in our rear!” he exclaimed as he wheeled his troops around and hurried to Herron’s aid.

On the battlefield, Herron guessed that since the Confederates had stopped their advance, their numbers must be small. He therefore ordered an attack; the Federals charged twice but could not make headway. Hindman responded with a charge of his own, but Federal artillery beat it back.

Blunt’s Federals began arriving on the scene around 4 p.m., pouring enfilade fire into Hindman’s flank. Brigadier General J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate cavalry counterattacked, preventing Blunt from breaking the line. Nightfall ended the fighting.

The Confederates held their ground, but the weather turned bitter cold, the troops lacked ammunition for a second day of fighting, and the animals lacked forage to survive. Thus, Hindman ordered a withdrawal back toward Van Buren during the night. Men wrapped blankets around wagon wheels so the Federals could not hear the retreat. Thousands of soldiers, who had been reluctantly conscripted into the Confederate army, deserted along the way.

About 10,000 men on each side participated in the battle. The Federals sustained 1,251 casualties (175 killed, 813 wounded, and 263 missing), 918 of which were Herron’s. The Confederates lost 1,317 (164 killed, 817 wounded, and 336 missing).

The fight was a tactical draw, but the Confederate withdrawal made it a Federal strategic victory. Herron reported, “The fighting was desperate beyond description,” and accurately predicted, “I think this section is rid of Hindman.” This battle ended Confederate hopes of regaining Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, or the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The next morning, Hindman sent a request to Blunt under a flag of truce for his men to collect the wounded and bury the dead. Hindman asked for a 36-hour armistice, but Blunt believed this was a ruse to cover a Confederate escape and countered with just six hours. Hindman agreed; his army was already withdrawing, so six hours still gave him a day’s march ahead of his pursuers.

Both Confederates and Federals came out to the battlefield, along with nearby relatives of those in both armies. Some of the wounded had frozen to death, and hogs feasted on some of the corpses. Federal burial parties noticed that many Confederates had frozen to death without suffering any wounds. They also noticed that some Confederates had removed the bullets from the cartridges to fire blanks; this indicated that they had served against their will.

The Federals accused Marmaduke’s Confederates of taking weapons off the dead, prompting Blunt to end the truce and order those responsible captured as prisoners of war. But by that time, most of Hindman’s troops were well on their way to Van Buren, 45 miles south.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Frontier over Herron and Blunt, soon arrived on the scene and censured Blunt for not falling back to link with Herron’s reinforcements rushing his way. Schofield also censured Herron for attacking with troops so exhausted that many died of fatigue and exposure instead of combat.

Both the Lincoln and Davis administrations began attaching less importance to actions west of the Mississippi after this battle. President Jefferson Davis had asked General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department over Hindman, to send reinforcements to Vicksburg just before the battle occurred. The casualties sustained during the fight and the desertions afterward meant that Holmes had no reinforcements to spare.

The Confederate high command later sent Hindman east and replaced him with Major General Sterling Price, a Missourian who had long sought to reclaim his state for the Confederacy. Holmes was reassigned from department command to just the District of Arkansas within the department.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 89; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 238; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 11, 49-50; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236-37; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151-52; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 668; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 358; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93

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A Race in Northwestern Arkansas

December 6, 1862 – Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals were isolated in northwestern Arkansas, and the race was on to see whether reinforcements or the Confederates could reach him first.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As December began, Major General Thomas C. Hindman was preparing to move his Confederate army north to join forces with Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke near Cane Hill, Arkansas. The combined force would then attack Blunt’s Federals before the rest of the Army of the Frontier could hurry from Springfield, Missouri, to reinforce them.

Blunt’s force was stationed at Cane Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville. His immediate superior, Major General John Schofield, was on the sick list, so command passed up to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri from St. Louis. The Federal commander at Springfield was Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, who recently resumed command from General James Totten.

General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Little Rock, initially supported Hindman’s plan to strike Blunt. But then he suddenly reconsidered. The men exchanged cables on the 1st, with Hindman stating, “With the infantry and artillery alone I can defeat the Union force at Cane Hill.” By sending cavalry around both the Federal flanks, Hindman “hoped to destroy them. I urge upon you to leave me to my discretion in the matter. I will not trifle with the great interests entrusted to me.”

Holmes answered, “If your army is destroyed or demoralized, ruin to us will follow.” He urged Hindman to either stay put until he could better organize his army or advance into the Indian Territory. Hindman insisted that he must “push right up at once and try to regain what has been lost.”

When Holmes suggested that the army might be better off reinforcing Vicksburg, Hindman replied, “If this is done, Arkansas is lost. Holding Vicksburg won’t save a foot of it. Whenever the enemy gets south of the Boston Mountains, and establishes himself, he can press you down to Louisiana or into Texas without difficulty.” Hindman also argued that sending his men east would cause mass desertions. Holmes finally relented, writing, “Use your discretion and good luck to you.”

Hindman proceeded to prepare his Army of the Trans-Mississippi to march 75 miles north from the Arkansas River to attack Blunt’s 5,000 Federals. Hindman’s force numbered 11,300 men with 22 guns. Hindman was confident that he could easily defeat the enemy, but for his assault to succeed, he needed total secrecy. He also needed support on his left flank, which he hoped would be provided by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper and his band of Natives and whites in the Indian Territory.

Unfortunately for Hindman, Cooper’s force had largely disbanded after its defeat at Old Fort Wayne in November. Cooper notified Hindman, “The Indians are not inclined to venture much alone, they need white support.” Cooper could only send 400 men under Brigadier General Stand Watie to support the offensive.

Hindman also could not rely on the element of surprise, as Blunt received word on the 3rd that Confederates were coming to attack him. Although scouts had erroneously guessed that 25,000 men were just 25 miles away (only 11,300 were almost 75 miles away), the alarm had sounded that an attack of some sort was imminent.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Blunt hurriedly wired Totten for help, unaware that Herron had taken back his command in southwestern Missouri. He next wired Curtis for help, and then he telegraphed Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, commanding the 1st Arkansas (U.S.) Cavalry, directing him to guard the Telegraph road to facilitate Herron’s line of march. Blunt then resolved to stay and fight, ordering his men to build defenses and guard all approaches to Cane Hill.

Curtis received Blunt’s dispatch and feared he was too isolated to hold his ground. Curtis wrote, “You are too far in advance for support and supplies. Had better fall back to meet Herron’s reinforcements…” Curtis also ordered Herron to support Blunt in northwestern Arkansas, over 100 miles away. A race began to determine whether Hindman or Herron would reach Blunt first.

Herron told Blunt that he would have his men in motion by noon on the 3rd, but Blunt was so far away “that it may be necessary for you to fall back a short distance, but I will do my best to make that unnecessary.” Blunt refused to fall back, confident he could repulse any Confederate attack at least until Herron came up with his reinforcements.

As Hindman led his force through the Boston Mountains, the highest in the Ozark chain, he issued a proclamation to his men:

“Remember that the enemy you engage has no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you. His ranks are made up of Pin Indians, free negroes, Southern tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country; stolen and destroyed your property; murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes, and defiled the graves of your kindred. If each man of you will do what I have here urged upon you, we will utterly destroy them. We can do this; we must do it; our country will be ruined if we fail. A just God will strengthen our arms and give us a glorious victory.”

Herron led two divisions totaling 6,000 Federals and 30 guns into Arkansas the next day, marching along Pea Ridge’s granite slopes. The men reached Fayetteville on the night of the 6th. They had marched an incredible 110 miles through extreme cold in just three days.

Blunt closely watched the road from Van Buren, which he expected Hindman to use. He did not guard the Cove Creek road to the east, which Blunt believed the Confederates would be foolish to use because it would expose their supply lines to Federal destruction.

Hindman’s Confederates continued advancing on the 6th, clearing Federal pickets in their front and pushing Federal cavalry off Reed’s Mountain. Hindman planned to advance up the Van Buren road just as Blunt guessed and attack the next morning. However, scouts notified him that Herron’s reinforcements were approaching, and a frontal assault would only push Blunt back into Herron.

Refusing to retreat, Hindman instead planned to attack Herron first, hoping his Federals would be exhausted and not ready to fight. He would then turn and attack Blunt on Cane Hill. After midnight, Hindman directed his army to conduct a night march around Blunt on the Cove Creek road to an area south of Fayetteville around Prairie Grove.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 47, 49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 235-36; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600

The Cane Hill Engagement

November 28, 1862 – Federals led by Brigadier General James G. Blunt attacked Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s small Confederate cavalry force in a skirmish in northwestern Arkansas.

General John S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke had expected the Federals to advance from the northwest, but they came forward using the Fayetteville road to the northeast instead, which the Confederates had not guarded. The Federals quickly drove the pickets off and attacked Marmaduke’s unsuspecting flank.

The fight became a nine-hour running battle, with the Confederates being pushed back from position to position as Marmaduke scrambled to assemble a rear guard to protect his supply train. The Confederates retreated down the Van Buren road as their train hurried into the Boston Mountains.

Meanwhile, the chase scattered Blunt’s Federals, so he waited until they could be regrouped before resuming the offensive. Marmaduke continued falling back, with Blunt pursuing. As nightfall approached, the Federals ran into the Confederate rear guard, led by Colonel J.O. “Jo” Shelby’s “Iron Brigade,” which lay in ambush.

Shelby directed his men to form one column on each side of the road. The front line fired, raced to the rear to reload, and the next line fired to hold off the advancing enemy. This stopped the Federal pursuers and ended the engagement, enabling Marmaduke, his men, and his supply train to escape.

The Federals sustained 44 casualties (eight killed and 36 wounded), and the Confederates lost 80 (10 killed and 70 wounded or missing). During the night, Marmaduke fell back to Dripping Springs, eight miles north of Van Buren. This engagement shifted the initiative in Arkansas to the Federals.

Marmaduke sought to counterattack the next day, as Blunt took up headquarters at Cane Hill. The Federals were now over 100 miles from the rest of the Army of the Frontier and its support base at Springfield, Missouri. Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman hurried a regiment and a wagon train of ammunition to reinforce Marmaduke.

In his official report written that night, Marmaduke urged Hindman to come up with all “celerity and secrecy” to join in an attack. Hindman replied:

“The crossing will be completed to-morrow, and the command will move on Monday (December 1) at daylight. I shall march moderately, not above 12 or 15 miles a day, if it can be helped, so as not to break the men down before the fight commences.”

Believing that Blunt would stay at Cane Hill until he came up, Hindman added, “To prevent as far as practicable rumors of the movement getting to the enemy, spread the report that Little Rock is threatened, and I am ordered there. This can be done, I hope, without disheartening your men.” Meanwhile, Blunt’s isolated force remained at Cane Hill.

Hindman’s Confederates began crossing the Arkansas River on the 29th. His superior, General Theophilus H. Holmes commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, wrote him, “You must save the country if you can.” Hindman met with Marmaduke and his other commanders the following day. The Confederates only had enough ammunition for one day of fighting, so the attack needed to be quick and decisive. The leaders worked out a plan to divide the army into four columns, with one each attacking Blunt’s flanks, front, and rear.

In a sudden change of heart, Holmes warned Hindman, “You must not think of advancing in your present condition. You would lose your army. The enemy will either advance on you or for want of supplies will be obliged to return to Missouri.”

As the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi assembled near Van Buren, Blunt dispatched scouts to determine the enemy positions.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 233; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 290-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 552

Moving Toward Battle in Northwestern Arkansas

November 1, 1862 – Federal and Confederate movements ultimately led to a confrontation in northwestern Arkansas.

General John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this month, Major General John Schofield had reunited his Federal Army of the Frontier at Osage Springs, Arkansas. Schofield thought Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederates were pursuing him, but he soon learned that Hindman was actually moving in the opposite direction, toward the Arkansas River. Schofield wrote Brigadier General James G. Blunt, “I have hoped that the rebels would come back and give us battle where we could fight them together. But if they will not do this we must separate and follow our respective paths of duty.”

Thus, Schofield divided his army again, sending Blunt’s Federals back to Old Fort Wayne and leading the rest to Springfield in southwestern Missouri. Soon after, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri over Schofield’s army, received orders from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to assemble as many troops as possible at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River to either move against Little Rock or reinforce Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee driving toward Vicksburg.

Curtis resisted Halleck’s order because he feared sending troops to Helena would open a path for the Confederates in Arkansas to move north and invade Missouri. He directed Major General Frederick Steele to lead 10,000 Federals from Pilot Knob, Missouri, to Batesville, Arkansas. Steele protested Curtis’s order to Halleck and instead went to Helena, where he crossed the Mississippi and joined Grant’s offensive.

Meanwhile, Hindman and Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke sought to reunite their forces with those under Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Stand Watie at Little Rock. Hindman wanted to attack Schofield’s Federals returning to Springfield, but he lacked the strength to do it. So he instead moved to Fort Smith on the Arkansas River and worked to strengthen his army. The troops lacked adequate food and shelter, and illness ran rampant. And General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, struggled to fill Hindman’s requests for supplies.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Hindman’s army was bolstered somewhat by the addition of William C. Quantrill’s partisans. They joined Marmaduke while Quantrill went to Richmond to try securing a rank and official recognition of his force. Quantrill had gained a notorious reputation operating against Federal supply trains in Missouri and Kansas, with Federal search parties moving through many Missouri counties in search of his partisans.

By late November, about 5,000 new British Enfield muskets and 7,000 new uniforms arrived for the troops. The force was renamed the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, which Holmes planned to name the Army of Missouri once the men reentered that state.

As Holmes balked at President Jefferson Davis’s request to send troops east to defend Vicksburg, Marmaduke’s Confederates advanced 50 miles north of Fort Smith to forage near Cane Hill. When Curtis learned of this, he ordered Schofield to reunite his Army of the Frontier once again. Hindman, thinking that Curtis was shipping Schofield east, only expected to face Blunt’s division in his front.

Hindman thought that Blunt had fallen back into Missouri, but Marmaduke soon learned that Blunt was about 20 miles north of Cane Hill in northwestern Arkansas. He wrote Hindman proposing that the entire Army of the Trans-Mississippi attack Blunt while he sat supposedly isolated. Hindman agreed. Neither Hindman nor Marmaduke knew that Blunt was preparing to move south against them instead.

Marmaduke had about 2,000 cavalry, and he believed that Blunt was too weak to give battle. Blunt’s force consisted of about 5,000 troops, mostly from Kansas, camped west of Bentonville. Marmaduke told Hindman, “General, I feel assured that you can bag this party in a short quick fight. Blunt and no one else dreams of such a move. I will surprise friend and foe, hence the better chance for secrecy and success.”

On the morning of the 25th, Blunt dispatched a scouting party to determine enemy strength around Cane Hill. After a skirmish, Blunt learned that Confederate cavalry were in his front, soon to be joined by Hindman’s army. If Hindman and Marmaduke joined forces, they would have about 11,000 men and a good chance of driving through Blunt’s small force and reentering Missouri.

Blunt rushed to gather a supply train and advance on Marmaduke before Hindman arrived. He was unaware that Hindman was still several days away.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 673-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 227-28, 233; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 551-52

Confederate Struggles in the Trans-Mississippi

October 27, 1862 – Federal forces pushed from Missouri into northwestern Arkansas, as Confederates in Arkansas were asked to provide support east of the Mississippi River.

The Federals under Brigadier General James G. Blunt and Major General John Schofield united at Sarcoxie, Missouri, where the Federals had retreated after the Battle of Newtonia on September 30. This combined force drove the Confederate cavalry forces of Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Jo Shelby out of Missouri, with Cooper leading his men back to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and Shelby heading to the Boston Mountains in southwestern Arkansas.

Schofield’s and Blunt’s Federals became known as the Army of the Frontier, with Schofield commanding and the three divisions led by Generals Blunt, James Totten, and Francis J. Herron. This new army numbered about 14,000 men, and its mission was to pursue the retreating Confederates into Arkansas.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federals crossed the state line on the 17th and camped on the Pea Ridge battlefield. They spent the next three days resting and gathering supplies. Meanwhile, Major General Thomas C. Hindman returned from Confederate headquarters at Little Rock to command the 6,000 Confederates falling back. Hindman divided the force in two, moving one portion south of Pea Ridge and sending the other to join Cooper west.

Schofield answered by leading two divisions against Hindman and sending Blunt’s division in pursuit of Cooper. Schofield’s pursuit stopped at Huntsville, where he learned that Hindman was heading toward the sanctuary of the Boston Mountains. Blunt moved to Maysville, where he learned that Cooper camped at Old Fort Wayne, seven miles south in the Indian Territory. Blunt resolved to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

The next day, Blunt attacked as planned, but due to a mix-up, Blunt advanced with only the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. Cooper ordered a retreat nonetheless because his main goal was to protect his supply train. A Confederate rear guard formed as a portion of Blunt’s force in the Federal center charged without authorization. Even so, the Federals overwhelmed the Confederates, consisting mostly of Indians under Stand Watie. This motivated the rest of the Federals to charge as well, and soon the rest of Blunt’s force came up in support.

The Confederates left their camps behind as they fled, but they made off with their supply train. Cooper fell back over 50 miles, south of the Arkansas River. While this was just a minor skirmish, it marked the first successful Federal foray into the Indian Territory, and it convinced many pro-secession Indians to switch sides. Blunt’s Federals set up camp near Old Fort Wayne.

Farther east, Hindman’s Confederates continued falling back into the Boston Mountains, and Schofield fell back toward Bentonville to protect his supply line. Schofield reported to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, the overall Federal commander of the department, that organized Confederate resistance had been cleared out of Missouri and Kansas. He then suggested that Blunt advance 80 miles south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to keep up the pressure on Cooper, while Schofield remained in northern Arkansas. Curtis, under pressure from Halleck to send troops east for the drive on Vicksburg, ordered Blunt to stay at Old Fort Wayne and Schofield to continue falling back to Springfield, Missouri.

Hindman countered by moving his Confederates to Fayetteville, a town from which he could advance or defend against Federals in any direction. When Schofield learned of this, he directed his Federals to confront the enemy. After a brief skirmish, Hindman ordered his Confederates to fall back to the Boston Mountains once more, and the Federals entered Fayetteville.

By month’s end, Schofield feared a Confederate attack and fell back to Osage Springs. Blunt came up to join forces with him, reuniting the Army of the Frontier.

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, outlining a plan for Holmes’s troops to aid in efforts to take back Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. The ultimate objective would be to expel all Federal troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Davis turned to Holmes after Braxton Bragg failed to secure Kentucky and the Confederates failed to expel the Federals from Mississippi. Davis hoped Holmes could coordinate efforts with Bragg in Tennessee and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Mississippi. A week later, the Confederate secretary of war sent a message to Holmes reiterating Davis’s plan:

“Cooperation between General Pemberton and yourself is indispensable to the preservation of our connection with your department. We regard this as an object of first importance, and when necessary you can cross the Mississippi with such part of your forces as you may select, and by virtue of your rank direct the combined operations on the eastern bank.”

Davis hoped to secure Tennessee and Mississippi before heading west to secure Missouri and Arkansas. But to Holmes, this seemed like Davis wanted to abandon Missouri and Arkansas altogether. This made Holmes reluctant to go along with the administration’s plan.

Also this month, Federal naval forces continued pushing up various rivers in Arkansas from their base at Helena on the Mississippi. Federal landing parties from the U.S.S. Louisville and Meteor burned the towns at Bledsoe’s and Hamblin’s landings in retaliation for a guerrilla attack on a Federal mail steamer. The naval commander reported that “the people along the river bank were duly informed that every outrage by the guerrillas upon packers would be similarly dealt with.”

A Federal landing party from U.S.S. Baron de Kalb clashed with Confederate scouts at Hopefield. The Federals captured the scouts after a nine-mile pursuit that included “impressing” local horses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225-26; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 530-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 224; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 280; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356

From David Ash, 37th Illinois Volunteers

Letter from David Ash, Company B, 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, three days after the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Sugar Creek, Arkansas

March 11, 1862

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

DEAREST ELIZA:

I seat myself down to let you know that I still am alive and enjoying good health. Well, Eliza, I received a letter from you a few days ago that had been on the way a long time. But I was glad to hear from you at any time.

I must try to tell you what we have been doing. Price and McCullough attacked General Sigel on the 6th. He retreated back to our camp, but kept firing into them all the way on the morning of the 7th. Our division was called on to rally and be on hand at any time. We kept moving from one point to another until two o’clock P.M., and we found where they were in the brush around.

Our brigade, the 37th and 39th Illinois regiments, formed a line of battle and marched into the butternuts. We marched up in front of them within about a hundred yards, and firing commenced on both sides. We all dropped down in the brush and fired and loaded. Jim Lee dropped dead at my feet by a shot from one of Company A, which was on our right. I saw the ball strike him on the back part of the head. He never moved a muscle.

The balls flew thick and fast. They cut the brush all around my head, but fortunately none hit me. We all fell back a few rods and loaded and went up on to them again. We fired into them again and they returned the fire. There were four regiments of them engaged at that time and only two of us. They had a good many Indians, one Brag, Louisiana regiment, and I don’t know where the rest are from…

There was a buckshot hit me in the shoulder, just merely going through my clothes, and made a little red spot. The ball had no force at all. It might have hit something before it hit me. I fired eight shots into them the first day, but it was not all over yet.

The morning of the 8th, we were rallied out before sun-up and went about a mile and formed a line of battle along a fence. Three of our company were positioned a few yards to the right along a fence, and our battery began to play upon them. There is two batteries firing at them but they have the best position and we moved back a short distance and formed again. They put balls around us with their battery until we moved, cutting trees off all around us. A ball hit one of our horses on the hind leg and cut it off but out men planted their battery again and began to fire into them, and in a short time they had silenced their battery entirely. They fired over us every time after we moved and did not hurt a man.

Five regiments then formed a line and commenced to advance on to them. We came on to them in about a mile (and) found them in the brush again. We opened on to them again and they ran like whiteheads. But we stopped some of them in the brush for good, they were thick laying dead as they fell. There was a flag taken. It was a beautiful one. Our Lafayette flag waved triumphantly that day. The Illinois 59th had no flag and Colonel White asked Captain Dick for it and he let him have it. It looked grand floating after the enemy, they brought it back honorable.

After we chased them clear out of the brush, we made a halt to rest and wait for orders. As we were very tired, I went all through the brush to see what had been done. I found any amount of dead secesh (secessionists, i.e., Confederate soldiers) and none of our men at all. I guess our division lost two or three men on the 8th and two or three wounded. They wound a great many more in proportion to what they kill than we do, for their guns are not so good–they have a great many shotguns and small rifles. Their surgeons don’t have many of our balls to pick out, for they generally go through.

It is the hardest sight a person could behold to see the dead lying round after they bring (them) in. They lay them in a pile until they get time to bury them. There was twenty-one killed out of our regiment (and) one hundred and nineteen wounded. Albert Hilliard was laying alongside of me when he was shot, says he, “Oh Dave, I am shot.” It was the hardest thing I have done for some time to call the roll the first time after the battle, so many of our boys wounded and one killed. But Eliza, I don’t know whether it is over yet or not, they’ve gone back a piece. It may be they are getting a good ready to come at us again. But I guess we can do the same thing for them every time.

I must close, for my paper has almost run out. If I am spared, I will write to you the first chance I have to send a letter. Dear faithful girl, I bid you goodbye for present. May the richest of heaven’s blessings be yours. Be a good girl and remember me.

D.L. ASH

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Source: Tapert, Annette (ed.), The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books Edition, 1998), p. 40-42

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day Two

March 8, 1862 – Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis regrouped his Federal Army of the Southwest and prepared to counterattack Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates at Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern.

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brig Gen S.R. Curtis | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As Curtis concentrated his Federal line on the Telegraph road facing Elkhorn Tavern, Van Dorn intended to renew his assault from the previous day. A chance to capture the Federals’ supplies motivated the starving Confederates. Van Dorn began with a minor artillery bombardment, opting to use just three of his 15 guns.

When the firing stopped, Curtis correctly guessed that the Confederates were low on ammunition and ordered a general advance to start at 10 a.m. Curtis preceded the advance with an artillery barrage of his own, using all six of his guns to silence the Confederates’ cannon. The Federal artillery then turned on the enemy infantry, firing a shot every other second for two hours and inflicting many casualties.

Following the barrage, about 7,000 Federal infantrymen surged forward, led by Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s German immigrants from Missouri and Illinois. Sigel announced to his men before advancing that their only two options were to destroy the Confederates or surrender.

The charging Federals drove Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards away from Elkhorn Tavern to the east, while two divisions led by Sigel and Colonel Eugene A. Carr drove the Confederates off to the west. The demoralized Confederates quickly wavered all along the line, and Van Dorn ordered a retreat.

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Day 2 fighting | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Van Dorn could not retreat in the same direction from which he came (the west) because Curtis could cut him off and destroy his army. Van Dorn therefore directed a withdrawal to the east, and then south, to his original encampment near Fayetteville in the Boston Mountains. To Van Dorn’s benefit, the bulk of the Federal attack came against the western portion of his line, enabling the eastern portion to slip away and pushing the rest in the direction that Van Dorn needed to go.

However, what Van Dorn hoped would be a fighting retreat soon became a confused rout, as the Confederates fell back in multiple directions. This resembled the panicked retreat at Bull Run, except this time it was the Confederates who fled.

The bulk of Van Dorn’s army rejoined the supply train around 2 p.m., and by nightfall, most of the Confederates had reached Van Winkle’s Mill, some 20 miles from the battlefield. Sigel’s Federals conducted a half hearted pursuit and camped about 10 miles north, while the rest of Curtis’s army remained at Pea Ridge.

As a consequence of this battle, Missouri remained firmly in Federal hands. Curtis sustained 1,384 casualties (203 killed, 980 wounded, and 201 missing or captured). Colonel Carr later received the Medal of Honor for his performance in the first day of fighting. Curtis wrote his brother after the battle:

“The enemy is again far away in the Boston Mountains. The scene is silent and sad–the vulture and the wolf now have the dominion and the dead friends and foes sleep in the same lonely graves.”

The Confederates had fought well considering their exhaustion and hunger; many had gone into the fight with shotguns or obsolete flintlock muskets to take on state-of-the-art Federal weaponry. Van Dorn suffered about 1,300 casualties (1,000 killed or wounded and 300 missing or captured). His worn out men straggled back toward the Arkansas River and ultimately Van Buren, but it took them two weeks to fully regroup.

Despite being driven off in confusion, Van Dorn reported: “I was not defeated, but only foiled in my intentions.” He acknowledged that no victory could have replaced the cost, which included the loss of Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh on the battle’s first day. However, Van Dorn had high praise for Price’s Missourians:

“During the whole of this engagement, I was with the Missourians under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than Gen Price and his officers… Gen Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger.”

The Confederates did not accomplish their goals of regaining Missouri or diverting Federal attention from the Confederate military buildup in northern Mississippi. However, they inflicted enough damage on Curtis to compel him to end his Arkansas invasion and return to Missouri.

Van Dorn ultimately led his Army of the West across the Mississippi River to join Confederates confronting Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s army in Tennessee. This caused great resentment among Brigadier General Albert Pike and his Native American Confederates, who had participated in the first day’s fighting at Pea Ridge, because it broke a Confederate pledge to protect the Indian Territory from Federal invasion.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 120; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (8 Mar 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 282-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 119; Hoffsommer, Robert D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 688; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 141-46; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 180-81; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 404-05; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 283-85; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 813; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67, 707