Tag Archives: Peter J. Osterhaus

Sherman’s March Causes Panic

November 18, 1864 – Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a proclamation urging all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 55 to form militias and oppose Major General William T. Sherman’s march through the state.

Sherman’s two Federal armies continued moving east and south from Atlanta. Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia moved east through Madison and approached Eatonton on its way to the state capital of Milledgeville. Increasing numbers of fugitive slaves joined the Federals, cheering them as they burned a slavepen in Madison.

Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee moved south through Hillsboro on its way to Clinton, which was west of the Georgia capital at Milledgeville. Federal cavalry under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick screened Howard’s advance. Governor Brown’s call for men to rise in defense of their homes did little to stop the Federals, as most Georgians saw the futility of resisting such a large force.

President Jefferson Davis urged Major General Howell Cobb, commanding a small Confederate militia force near Macon, to “endeavor to get out every man who can render any service, even for a short period of time, and employ negroes in obstructing roads by every practical means.” He also asked Cobb to arm himself “with shells prepared to explode by pressure, and these will be effective to check an advance.”

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The “shells” were land mines that Confederate Colonel Gabriel Rains had developed before the war. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding all Confederates in the Western Theater, ordered “a large supply of Rains’ subterra shells, with competent person to employ them,” for Cobb’s men. Beauregard was on his way from Alabama to take field command at Macon, but due to bad roads, he would not get there before Sherman’s Federals did. Beauregard therefore asked Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates at Charleston, South Carolina, to take command at Macon. Beauregard then issued an appeal to the people of Georgia:

“Arise for the defense of your native soil! Rally round your patriotic Governor and gallant soldiers! Obstruct and destroy all roads in Sherman’s front, flank, and rear, and his army will soon starve in your midst! Be confident and resolute! Trust in an overruling Providence, and success will crown your efforts. I hasten to join you in defense of your homes and firesides.”

As Hardee prepared to go to Macon, he received word that the Federals were bypassing that town and closing in on Augusta instead. He therefore concluded that Sherman’s ultimate goal would be Savannah, on the Atlantic coast. Hardee contacted Major General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the Confederates at Savannah, “What defense have you to protect Savannah from land attack?”

McLaws replied, “Have no defenses but an inundation, which is not complete and does not cover the crossing of the Charleston railroad over the Savannah River.” Hardee instructed him to “be prepared to press negroes if you need them” to build defenses. Meanwhile, Governor Brown and other state officials evacuated Milledgeville as Sherman’s Federals approached.

Hardee arrived at Macon on the night of the 19th. He had just 14,680 officers and men in his Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to face over 60,000 Federals. Hardee met with Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry in Georgia, and directed him to ride toward Clinton to “ascertain the enemy’s force and location.”

On the morning of the 20th, Wheeler’s horsemen rode into Clinton and clashed with Federal infantry under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus. Wheeler reported, “Six men dashed into the town and captured General Osterhaus’ servant (an enlisted man) within 20 feet of General Osterhaus’ headquarters.” Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry quickly came up to stop the Confederate advance. Wheeler wrote, “A regiment of the enemy’s cavalry charged us, making the retreat of my small escort necessary.”

Wheeler’s Confederates withdrew toward Milledgeville as Kilpatrick’s Federals rode toward Macon. A Federal brigade met Confederate forces about four miles east of Macon and pushed them back toward the town. The forces collided again at Walnut Creek, and this time the Confederates held their ground. The Federals fell back toward Griswoldville, where the rest of Kilpatrick’s troopers were busy destroying the town. They burned a factory that turned out revolvers, along with a locomotive, the railroad, and most public buildings.

Hardee directed Wheeler to lead his men to Griswoldville, but by the time they got there, the Federals were gone. On the night of the 20th, Howard’s column stopped between Clinton and Gordon, while Slocum’s stopped near Milledgeville. When it became apparent that the Federals would not threaten Macon, Hardee directed General Gustavus W. Smith to take his militia by train from Macon to Augusta and harass the Federal rear.

Smith’s 2,000 militiamen caught up to the Federal XV Corps rear guard at Griswoldville on the 22nd. The first and only infantry fight of the march ensued, as Brigadier General P.J. Phillips ordered the Confederates to charge across an open field and take the strongly defended Federal position. The Federals easily repulsed the charge, inflicting 523 casualties (51 killed and 472 wounded) while sustaining just 92 (13 killed and 79 wounded). Smith angrily denounced Phillips for ordering such a suicidal assault.

Meanwhile, Slocum’s Federals closed in on the state capital.

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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. 488-90; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13561-71; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 521-22; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 328; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 598; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474-75, 704; 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. 809; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 59-61, 82

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34

The Battle of Chattanooga: Aftermath

November 26, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal victory at Chattanooga opened Georgia to invasion and led to a command change in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this date, General Braxton Bragg’s two-month siege of Chattanooga had ended in defeat. As his Confederates fell back into northern Georgia, he reported:

“No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of the troops… in allowing their line to be penetrated. The position was one which ought to have been held by a line of skirmishers against any assaulting column.”

But Bragg took no responsibility for erroneously detaching troops to Knoxville, issuing vague orders, and failing to anticipate the Federals’ intentions until it was too late. His retreating Confederates continued moving southeast on the 26th, past Chickamauga Station to Ringgold, 15 miles down the railroad connecting Chattanooga and the vital industrial city of Atlanta.

As Bragg continued retreating toward Dalton, he ordered Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s division to block the Federals at Ringgold “at all hazards.” He then turned to his familiar pattern of blaming others by removing one of his two corps commanders, Major General John C. Breckinridge, from command. Bragg and Breckinridge had long been enemies, and Bragg alleged that Breckinridge had gotten so drunk after the battle that a division commander had to care for him during the retreat.

Meanwhile, Grant’s pursuit continued, with Major General Philip Sheridan’s division of Major General George H. Thomas’s army in the lead. Major General William T. Sherman’s forces advanced on Ringgold to cut supply lines and drive out any remaining Confederates, and Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals also pushed toward Ringgold through Rossville Gap.

Hooker’s lead division under Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus approached Ringgold at 8 a.m. on the 27th. By that time, Cleburne’s 4,000 Confederates had entrenched themselves on Taylor’s Ridge south of town. The numerically superior Federals drove in enemy skirmishers and then tried moving around Cleburne’s right (north) flank. When that failed, Osterhaus attacked the Confederate left, but Cleburne repelled that effort as well.

Hooker brought up Brigadier General John W. Geary’s division, which made little progress until Geary committed Colonel David Ireland’s brigade against the enemy left which, according to Geary, forced the Confederates “to recoil in the zenith of (Ireland’s) audacious charge…” The Federals then brought up several guns and began pounding Cleburne’s left. The Confederate line finally wavered, and Lieutenant General William Hardee directed Cleburne to withdraw around 1 p.m.

Cleburne lost 221 men while Hooker lost 442; the Confederates also took over 100 prisoners and three stands of colors. As they fell back to rejoin Bragg’s main army, Grant halted the pursuit. Federal supplies were running low, and Grant soon turned his attention to breaking Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate siege of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.

Bragg fell back behind Rocky Face Ridge the next day and arrived at Dalton, where he consolidated his scattered army. The troops cheered the arrival of Cleburne’s men after holding the Federals off at Ringgold. As President Jefferson Davis urged Bragg to concentrate and counterattack as soon as possible, Bragg reported:

“We hope to maintain this position, (but) should the enemy press on promptly we may have to cross the Oostenaula (River, 15 miles south). My first estimate of our disaster was not too large, and time only can restore order and morale. All possible aid should be pushed on to Resaca. I deem it due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat.”

Adjutant General Samuel Cooper responded on the 30th:

“Your dispatches of yesterday received. Your request to be relieved has been submitted to the President, who, upon your representation, directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant-General Hardee, the officer next in rank and now present for duty.”

Bragg immediately prepared to relinquish command of the army he had led since June 1862. During that time, he had taken the fight to the Federals by invading Kentucky, but his retreat after Perryville ended his invasion. He then lost Middle Tennessee by retreating after Stones River and Tullahoma. Bragg rebounded after giving up Chattanooga by routing the Federals at Chickamauga, but his siege of Chattanooga failed, and now his Army of Tennessee had been ousted from its home state.

For the Federals, Grant immediately looked to drive Longstreet out of eastern Tennessee. After that, he would begin planning a move into the southern heartland which included a drive on Atlanta.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 140-42; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 80-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 345-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 858, 860-61, 867; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 378-80; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 117-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 439-41; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 743-44; 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. 680-81; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133-35, 498-99

The Battle of Chattanooga: Lookout Mountain

November 24, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued their efforts to fight their way out of Chattanooga, including scaling the formidable Lookout Mountain and securing their fragile supply line once and for all.

After seizing Orchard Knob the previous day, Grant initially expected the next major action to take place against the right flank of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, anchored on Missionary Ridge. Major General William T. Sherman commanded the Federals in that sector, with orders to seize Tunnel Hill at the base of the ridge’s northern end.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

On this dark, dreary day, Sherman deployed his four divisions into attack positions, with pontoon bridges laid for the men to cross the Tennessee River. Contesting Sherman’s advance was a Confederate division under Major General Patrick R. Cleburne defending Tunnel Hill. The Federals forced a river crossing just south of Chickamauga Creek, about six miles above Chattanooga, around 1 p.m.

With Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis’s Federal division guarding the bridge, the remaining Federals advanced and pushed back a Confederate brigade. They then seized the high ground in their front and notified Sherman, still at the bridgehead, that they seized Tunnel Hill. However, the Federals only seized a detached spur overlooking a ravine that separated them from their true objective.

On the other end of the line to the southwest, Major General Joseph Hooker’s Federals had orders to conduct a demonstration against the Confederates on Lookout Mountain. Initially, Grant intended for Sherman to capture Missionary Ridge, thereby separating Bragg from Lieutenant General James Longstreet besieging the Federals at Knoxville. Once this was accomplished, Lookout Mountain would fall with little effort. But Hooker pleaded to take the offensive, and Grant finally relented by allowing him to give battle only if the demonstration succeeded.

Federal Major General Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: Sonofthesouth.net

Hooker had three divisions totaling about 12,000 men. At 8 a.m., his lead division under Brigadier General John W. Geary began using felled trees to bridge Lookout Creek and scale the northwest face of the 1,100-foot-high mountain. Brigadier General Charles Cruft’s division came up on Geary’s left, and Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division came up on Cruft’s left.

Bragg had shifted most of his Confederates to Missionary Ridge, leaving just one division of 2,694 men under Major General Carter L. Stevenson to defend against the Federal advance, along with some guns on the plateau. They could offer little resistance.

Rain and heavy fog slowed the Federal progress, but it hampered the Confederates as well. Federal artillerists at Moccasin Point could not find their range, nor could their Confederate counterparts atop the mountain. The fog prevented the Federal high command at Orchard Knob from seeing the action. The command included Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, who later nicknamed the engagement “The Battle Above the Clouds.”

The Federals pushed Stevenson back beyond the Craven farmhouse, also known simply as the “white house.” Hooker reported that the Confederates “were hurled in great numbers over the rock and precipices into the valley.” Bragg had promised to send Stevenson reinforcements if he requested, but when Stevenson sent his request, he received no immediate response.

Bragg finally replied at 2:30 p.m. by ordering Stevenson to “fight the enemy as you retire” and join the rest of the Confederates on Missionary Ridge. Stevenson did not want to pull out while his men were still engaged, so he directed gradual withdrawals until the last defense line fell back around 8 p.m., under cover of heavy guns. The Confederates burned the bridge over Chattanooga Creek leading to Rossville Gap as they withdrew.

Grant telegraphed General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck at sundown:

“The fighting today progressed favorably. Sherman carried the end of Missionary Ridge, and his right is now at the tunnel, and his left at Chickamauga Creek. Troops from Lookout Valley carried the point of the mountain, and now hold the eastern slope and a point high up. Hooker reports 2,000 prisoners taken, besides which a small number have fallen into our hands from Missionary Ridge.”

However, Sherman had not yet reached Tunnel Hill, Hooker had not captured the summit of Lookout Mountain, and his Federals captured less than 200 Confederates. It was only after 8 p.m. that Hooker’s forces advanced and occupied the empty summit. That night, the rain stopped and a total eclipse of the moon appeared. Confederates considered this a bad sign.

Grant did not think highly of Hooker’s effort; he later wrote in his memoirs, “The battle of Lookout Mountain is one of the romances of the war. There was no such battle, and no action even worthy to be called a battle on Lookout Mountain. It is all poetry.” Nevertheless, taking the mountain enabled the Federals to no longer rely on the tenuous “cracker line” for supplies. It also enabled Hooker to move into Rossville Gap and operate against the Confederate left and rear.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 436-37; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 80-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 344; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 848-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 375-76; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 117-55; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 33-35, 65-67, 182; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 437; 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. 677; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 133, 445-47, 498-99

The Battle of Pea Ridge: Day One

March 7, 1862 – Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederates attacked Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis’s Federals in northwestern Arkansas, as part of Van Dorn’s mission to reclaim Missouri.

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General Earl Van Dorn | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By March 6, Van Dorn’s men had marched through snow and sleet to get within striking distance of Curtis’s Army of the Southwest entrenched on Pea Ridge, near Fayetteville. During the night, the Confederates left their campfires burning while they moved around the Federals’ right and into their rear. Van Dorn had the numerical advantage (16,000 to 10,500), but his men were exhausted and hungry, having marched 55 miles in three days.

Van Dorn, directing operations from an ambulance due to illness, further compromised his superior manpower by dividing the army in the hopes of executing a “double envelopment”: Major General Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guards marched down the Telegraph road to confront the Federals’ eastern (left) sector near Elkhorn Tavern, while Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s force attacked the Federals’ western (right) sector near Leetown. Van Dorn expected the two wings to reunite as they pushed the Federals back.

Curtis had anticipated an attack on his right flank, but not such an aggressive drive so deep behind his lines. Near dawn on the cold, dreary morning of the 7th, Curtis realized the extent of the Confederate maneuver and hurriedly ordered an “about face” to meet the threats to his flank and rear.

Skirmishing opened between 6 and 7 a.m. Delays in positioning the Confederate troops gave Curtis more time to brace his army for the impending attack. Price’s surprise attack on Curtis’s left was also slow to generate, and it was not until 10:30 that the first sortie began.

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Battle of Pea Ridge | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fighting surged back and forth all day. Three Federal divisions held off attacks from McCulloch, Brigadier General Albert Pike, and a portion of Price’s Missourians in the western sector, which became the Federal left after the troops about-faced. Meanwhile, Colonel Eugene A. Carr’s Federal division, supported by artillery, repelled Price’s main force near the important intersection at Elkhorn Tavern.

In the western sector, Pike’s Cherokee regiments, led by Colonel Stand Watie, withstood an artillery barrage from Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus’s Federal division. The Natives then charged the battery in full warrior dress, armed with rifles, bows and arrows, and tomahawks. They sent the Federals running, with many later accusing the Natives of scalping their victims.

The Cherokees became disorganized when they stopped to celebrate their victory. This gave another Federal division time to step up and counterattack. Pike could not regroup his command, and the Federals sent the Natives in retreat. Many of them left Van Dorn’s army completely, heading back to the Indian Territory by nightfall. This was the first and last major battle of the war that featured Native American combatants.

McCulloch, on Pike’s left, had hoped to capitalize on Pike’s initial success with gains of his own. However, the disorganized retreat left his men unsupported in the western sector. Consequently, the exhausted Confederates could not close the gap between themselves and Price as Van Dorn had hoped. As they slowly advanced, McCulloch rode out front to reconnoiter the Federal lines around 10:30 a.m. Wearing a black velvet uniform, he was easily visible among his butternut-clad men, and a Federal sharpshooter shot him dead.

McCulloch had been the second-ranking Confederate brigadier general, and his death demoralized the troops. Brigadier General James McIntosh, McCulloch’s cavalry commander, replaced him but was killed just minutes later while leading a charge against the divisions of Osterhaus and Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). This, along with the capture of the Confederates’ third-ranking officer, further damaged troop morale.

Meanwhile, brutal fighting occurred in the eastern sector. Carr’s Federals repelled two charges by Price’s Missourians, despite being outnumbered two-to-one. A furious third charge knocked the Federals back beyond Elkhorn Tavern, but they counterattacked and regained the lost ground as Carr repeatedly called for reinforcements. A fourth assault just before nightfall drove the Federals about 800 yards west, as more Federals finally arrived to stabilize Carr’s lines.

Fighting ended by nightfall. The Confederates had gained some ground and inflicted substantial damage on Curtis’s army. However, the two wings could not coordinate their efforts to destroy the Federals as Van Dorn had hoped. And the failure to regroup the Cherokees, along with the deaths of McCulloch and McIntosh, caused considerable disarray among the Confederate ranks.

Van Dorn reported that McIntosh had been alert, daring, and devoted to duty, and his death was significant due to his popularity among his troops. Both McIntosh and McCulloch became the two greatest heroes of this battle. Van Dorn, apparently resentful of Pike’s inability to regroup his Natives, omitted their contribution in his official report. As both sides settled down for the night, the Confederates found themselves separated from their supply train. Van Dorn had not directed it to follow his army, thus depriving the troops of food and ammunition.

At Federal headquarters, Curtis held a council of war. Federal prospects seemed bleak considering that the Confederates had taken Pea Ridge and Elkhorn Tavern, and they cut his supply line to the north. However, Curtis knew that McCulloch had been killed, and that other top officers had also been killed or captured. He also knew that the Natives had left the fight. Guessing that Confederate morale was low, Curtis resolved to concentrate his forces and fight his way through to the north the next morning.

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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 (7 Mar 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12910; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 138; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9562; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381, 461-62; 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. 118-19; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179-80; 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; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458, 585; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 566-67