Tag Archives: Albert Pike

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

Battle Looms in Northwestern Arkansas

March 2, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn led a unified Confederate army northward to confront Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s outnumbered Federals in northwestern Arkansas.

Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi District, arrived at the Boston Mountains in Arkansas to create the new 16,000-man Army of the West from:

  • Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards
  • Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s Texans, Louisianans, Arkansans, and Missourians
  • Brigadier General Albert Pike’s 800 Native Americans
General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Van Dorn’s objective was to reverse the recent Confederate withdrawal by reentering Missouri, capturing St. Louis, and possibly even invading Illinois. In so doing, Van Dorn would divert Federal attention and resources from General Albert Sidney Johnston’s efforts to unite Confederate forces scattered among various points in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Curtis opposed Van Dorn by leading the 10,500-man Federal Army of the Southwest into northwestern Arkansas. Van Dorn knew that Curtis had committed a classic military error by dividing his force in the face of a larger enemy–one wing was along the Telegraph road, and another was farther west at Bentonville. Van Dorn planned to move his Confederates between the Federal wings and defeat them both in detail. However, there was intense animosity between Price and McCulloch, as well as their troops, dating back to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek the previous August. This threatened to undermine the cooperation that Van Dorn needed to execute his plan.

Before moving out, Van Dorn issued orders for the men to bring just three days’ rations, one blanket, and 40 rounds of ammunition. No tents, cooking equipment, or extra clothing was allowed. This put the troops at risk of freezing on the Ozark Plateau, starving if they could not defeat the Federals and take their supplies, or both. The Confederates began moving out on the 4th.

The next day, Curtis received word that the enemy was approaching. Having just four infantry divisions along with some cavalry and artillery, Curtis awaited reinforcements as he began pulling back to stronger defensive positions. He also ordered Brigadier General Franz Sigel, commanding two of Curtis’s four divisions at Bentonville, to fall back and join the rest of the army about 10 miles northeast.

By March 6, Curtis’s Federals had begun setting up defenses along Pea Ridge, a high eminence along the northern bank of Little Sugar Creek that got its name from peas growing on vines. They also entrenched themselves near Elkhorn Tavern, north of Fayetteville. Facing south from these positions, the Federals could watch the important Telegraph road running from Fayetteville to Springfield, Missouri. West of the Telegraph road, Sigel’s Federals, mostly German immigrants from St. Louis, could watch the Elm Springs road for a potential Confederate advance.

Meanwhile, Van Dorn’s army continued marching northward from Fayetteville and Elm Springs, with Pike’s command, consisting mainly of three Cherokee regiments, leading the way. The Confederates advanced with hardly any protection from the heavy sleet and snow.

By the afternoon of the 6th, Price’s Missourians had reached the southern end of Pea Ridge. To the west, Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, attacked Sigel’s Federals near Bentonville and tried surrounding them. However, the Federals narrowly escaped and fended McIntosh off with artillery before joining Curtis’s men at Pea Ridge. Curtis prepared to defend against a frontal assault.

The Confederates camped along the Telegraph road that night as Van Dorn met with Price, McCulloch, and McIntosh. Van Dorn’s original plan to divide and conquer Curtis’s two wings was no longer tenable, and the commanders agreed that Curtis’s new positions were too strong to attack frontally. Therefore, a new strategy was needed.

McCulloch proposed taking the Bentonville Detour road at dawn and moving around the Federal right flank, which would threaten Curtis’s supply line and force him to fall back into Missouri. Van Dorn took this idea further–the Confederates would move that night around the Federal right and continue until they reached the Telegraph road behind the Federals, which would cut Curtis’s supply line and force him to surrender. Price’s Missourians would create a diversion by attacking the Federal left near Elkhorn Tavern.

Curtis anticipated some sort of flanking maneuver, but he did not expect Van Dorn to thrust so far into the interior of his lines. Such a move could have easily destroyed the Federal army had the Confederates not been so exhausted, cold, and hungry. Further hampering the plan was Van Dorn himself, who was so ill that he had to direct operations from an ambulance. This kept him from ensuring that Price and McCulloch worked in full cooperation.

The Confederates moved out that evening, leaving their campfires burning to hide their intentions. However, Federal scouts, including “Wild Bill” Hickok, kept a close eye on their movements.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12891-910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 137; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-18; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 140-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179; 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; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 281-82; 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

Divisions in the Indian Territory

November 20, 1861 – The war threatened to divide the Native American tribes just as it divided North and South, with Unionist Natives fleeing toward Kansas and Confederate allies of the Five Civilized Tribes in pursuit.

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Confederate agents had secured peace treaties from the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). However, Confederate Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, an agent to the Choctaws who had been adopted by the Chickasaws, received intelligence that a band of Creeks under Chief Opothleyahola officially broke with Chief John Ross to join the Unionists. Rumors abounded that the Cherokee were dividing as well.

Cooper raised a force of about 1,400 men that included Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and the 9th Texas Cavalry. After asserting that he could not resolve the dispute peacefully, Cooper announced that he would drive the Unionist “hostiles” out of the territory. Opothleyahola’s “hostiles” consisted of about 1,000 civilians, freed slaves, and a few Creek warriors, seeking to flee from their pro-Confederate tribes. They had few provisions.

Cooper discovered where they were camped and advanced up the Deep Fork of the Canadian River, where they briefly skirmished with the Creeks as they retreated north toward sanctuary in Kansas. Some Unionists taken prisoner informed Cooper that the band was building a fort on the Red Fork of the Arkansas River in case they received no support from Federal forces in Kansas.

The Confederates crossed the Red Fork at 4 p.m. on the 19th and saw the smoke of a camp in the distance. Cooper’s men charged, with the Unionist Creeks making a stand until the civilians could withdraw. Both sides traded fire into the night, until the Creeks returned to their camp. The clash continued the next day, with the Unionists gradually abandoning their camp to flee toward Kansas. The Confederates advanced and found the camp abandoned, as the Unionists crossed the Arkansas River that evening from the Creek Nation to the Cherokee Nation.

Although the Confederates controlled the Indian Territory for now, many Native allies deserted the ranks to protest this pursuit of Opothleyahola’s Creeks. Many of them had joined on the premise that they would be fighting white Federals, not their fellow Natives. The Confederates tried strengthening their grip on the region by appointing Brigadier General Albert Pike to command the new Department of the Indian Territory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 142