Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Battle of Jenkins' Ferry 150th Anniversary

Monument at Jenkins' Ferry State Park
Today (April 30, 2014) marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas.

The last significant action of the Camden Expedition, as the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign is known, the battle took place in the floodplain of the Saline River about 12 miles south of Sheridan, Arkansas.

Gen. Frederick Steele
Courtesy National Park Service
In the Spring of 1864, Union troops from Little Rock and Fort Smith had joined forces for a march to join a second Union army making its way through Louisiana to Shreveport and northeastern Texas. Commanded by General Frederick Steele, the Federals made it as far as Camden before running into a hornets' nest of Confederate resistance.

Following disastrous defeats at the Battles of Poison Spring and Marks' Mill,  Steele's army faced the very real threat of starvation due to his inability to obtain supplies. Giving up on the idea of pushing forward to Shreveport, he ordered a retreat back to Little Rock.

Gen. E. Kirby Smith
Library of Congress
The Federals reached Jenkins' Ferry on the Saline River on April 29, 1864, and their engineers began building pontoon bridges for the soldiers to use in crossing. Heavy rains, however, turned the river bottom swamp into a muddy morass, bogging down men, cannon and wagons. Then, late on the afternoon of the 29th, Confederate forces arrived on the high ground to the south and began lobbing shells into the Union ranks.

The main Confederate army came up during the night and heavy fighting began at sunrise on April 30, 1864. As the Union troops threw up temporary breastworks of logs and fence rails, Confederate General E. Kirby Smith ordered wave after wave of Southern attacks.

The fighting was fierce and bloody as the soldiers fought in mud and water that ranged from a few inches to three feet deep.

To read more, please visit

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Battle of Van Buren marks 150th this week

Crawford County Courthouse
December 28th will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas. The Battle of Dripping Springs, a preliminary action, was fought on the same day, 150 years ago this week.

Over the next few days, I will post on the 150th anniversary of the Union capture of Van Buren, culminating of course with the actual anniversary on Friday.

In December 1862, Van Buren was - as it is today - the county seat of Crawford County, Arkansas. The town had served as the launching point for General Thomas C. Hindman's Prairie Grove Campaign at the beginning of the month and was the point to which the Confederate army returned after that bloody stalemate in Northwest Arkansas.

Both armies had been badly bloodied at the Battle of Prairie Grove, but it was the Confederate army that suffered most as its poorly equipped men limped back over the Boston Mountains to the Arkansas River Valley. The Southern army had been loosely and quickly organized to begin with and their inability to defeat the Union Army of the Frontier at Prairie Grove had taken, at least temporarily, the fight out of the men. They came back south suffering from hunger, cold and a shortage of ammunition and other supplies. Demoralization and sickness stalked their ranks during the days and weeks after the battle.

Van Buren from the Heights
The Union army had also suffered heavily at Prairie Grove, but found itself in possession of the field when the Confederates withdrew during the night of December 7, 1862, giving up their commanding position because they didn't have enough ammunition to continue the fight. This increased the morale of the Federal troops while their counterparts in the Confederate army were suffering a decline at the same time.

Despite the best efforts of General Hindman and his staff, it was the Union army that rebounded from Prairie Grove first. By the last week of December 1862 he knew his men were once again ready for action and he decided to lead them over the Boston Mountains to Van Buren. If he could take the city, he could push the part of Hindman's army not already south of the Arkansas either into or across the river and free - at least temporarily - his position in Northwest Arkansas from any threat of attack for the duration of the winter.

I will continue to post on the Van Buren 150th over coming days, but until then you can read more at

Friday, July 27, 2012

Battle of Massard Prairie (148th Anniversary)

Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
Fort Smith, Arkansas
Today marked the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.

Fought on July 27, 1864, the engagement was a significant cavalry action fought across miles of prairie on the outskirts of Fort Smith. It was a major Confederate victory and resulted in the virtual destruction of Mefford's Battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry.

The battle began when Brigadier General R.M. Gano's Confederates swept down the ridge from today's Fianna Hills community on the southern edge of Fort Smith and caught the Federal forces camped at the Picnic or "Diamond" Grove on Massard Prairie completely by surprise. The Union troops had just moved their herd of horses out onto the prairie to graze when the Confederates struck:

...As soon as the alarm was given that the enemy was in the prairie, which was about 6 a.m., I sent immediately for the herd, which had been out grazing since daylight, and was about three quarters of a mile southwest of camp. I formed my men on the right of camp to protect my herd as it came in and until it could be secured, but before the horses could be brought up the enemy charged on us, which stampeded the herd and left the men on foot to fight as best as they could. - Lt. Jacob Morehead, 6th Kansas Cavalry.

Gen. R.M Gano, CSA
Sweeping around the Union right to the sound of the Rebel yells of his Texans, Gano had stampeded the Federal herd and closed in on the Federal camp before Major David Mefford could get his men organized to save the horses and resist. As he approached the grove, Gano detached part of his column to drive right into the center of the trees as he struck the camp on its western flank.

At the same time, Colonel S.N. Folsom led the 1st and 2nd Choctaw Cavalries (C.S.) in a devastating attack on the Union left. These were the same men who exacted had such fierce revenge on black Union troops at the Battle of Poison Spring for attrocities in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that they were later accused of massacre.
Charged on right, left and center, the Federal lines collapsed and blue-clad cavalrymen began a desperate attempt to escape to safety across the prairie. By the time the fighting ended, three companies of "Arkansas Feds" (Union soldiers from Arkansas) had evaporated so completely they were not even mentioned in Union reports of the battle. Of the roughly 200 men (four companies) of the 6th Kansas Cavalry engaged in the battle, 144 were killed, wounded or captured.

To read about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please visit Also please consider my book, The Battle of Massard Prairie. It is available in both book and Kindle editions by following these links:

Book - The Battle of Massard Prairie ($14.95)
Kindle - The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas ($4.95)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

CSS Arkansas is Attacked at Vicksburg (Again!)

Vicksburg, Mississippi
On July 22, 1862 (150 years ago today), the Union fleet at Vicksburg made one more run at the famed Confederate ironclad, CSS Arkansas.
The Federals had been shelling the ironclad from long distance for days and, despite their reports of multiple hits, had done no real damage to the Arkansas. The railroad-iron sheathed gunboat intimidated the entire Federal fleet far more than the guns mounted on the bluffs of Vicksburg ever had or ever would.

They made one more attempt to destroy the Confederate warship on the morning of July 22, 1862, but things did not go well.

USS Essex (Civil War Photo)
Even though many of the men assigned to the Arkansas were ashore and there were only enough on board to man three guns, the ironclad made a formidable foe. The USS Essex, Queen of the West and General Sumter came in at full speed, planning to ram the Confederate vessel and send it to the bottom of the Mississippi River.

USS Queen of the West
(Civil War Water Color)

The Arkansas dodged the Essex, which missed its target and ran aground under heavy fire from the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg. The Union ironclad did succeed in sending a shot through the armor of the Arkansas at close range, killing 6 Confederates and wounding 6 others. Having lost 1 killed and 3 wounded, the Essex worked its way out of the mud and steamed downstream and away from the battle.

CSS Arkansas
The Queen of the West then came on, but missed as well. Turning around and coming back upstream, she succeeded in hitting the Arkansas but did little real damage. Pounded by cannon fire from both the Arkansas and the shore batteries, the Queen limped away back upstream.

The battle only succeeded to prove to Admiral David G. Farragut and other Union commanders that they would not be able to take Vicksburg using naval power alone. The CSS Arkansas, like the people of her namesake state, had proved herself to be strong, courageous and resilient. She had turned the tide of the first Battle of Vicksburg.

Farragut's attempt to end the city would end two days later.

To learn more about historic Vicksburg, please visit

Monday, July 16, 2012

CSS Arkansas Defies the Union Fleet on the Mississippi River

CSS Arkansas as drawn in 1904 by R.G. Skerrett
150 years ago this week, the CSS Arkansas touched off one of the most dramatic naval battles of the War Between the States.

Vicksburg, then commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn, was under attack from a massive river fleet. Admiral David G. Farragut had brought his large ships up the Mississippi after taking New Orleans and Baton Rouge. A U.S. Army flotilla of gunboats and ironclads had come down the river and the two forces were threatening Vicksburg.

Confederate Battery at Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Van Dorn, who proved himself a much more capable commander on the defensive at Vicksburg than he had on the offense at Pea Ridge in Arkansas, ordered the Arkansas from her construction port in the  Yazoo down to assist in the defense of the city. With a makeshift but courageous crew, Captain Isaac N. Brown brought the makeshift ironclad up to full steam and headed for the Mississippi.

A steam leak dampened gunpowder in the forward magazine and caused a delay, but the Arkansas was approaching Vicksburg by the morning of July 15, 1862 (150 years ago yesterday). She quickly came under attack from the U.S. gunboats Carondelet (ironclad), Tyler (wooden) and Queen of the West (ram). Most of the men making up the gun crews on the Arkansas had never handled cannon the size of those on board the ironclad, but they quickly fired a shot that disabled the Carondelet.

Wartime Image of CSS Arkansas at Vicksburg
The approach of the Confederate ironclad caught the Union fleet napping. Most of the ships did not have their steam up and Captain Brown took his vessel close by them, exchanging fire as he passed. Despite fierce cannon fire, he soon tied up at Vicksburg.

Farragut was not content to have had his entire fleet shown up by a single Confederate ship, so he prepared to exact his revenge that night. The same Chicago reporter witnessed the attack:

...Commodore Farragut made an ineffectual attempt to sink her. His entire fleet passed down the river, each vessel pouring a broadside into the Arkansas as she passed her. The Rebels acknowledge that one 7-inch steel pointed shot went through the Arkansas, but assert that this is the only damage she sustained. A reconnoissance next morning showed that the Arkansas was undergoing repairs, but she did not appear in any danger of sinking.

Old Courthouse at Vicksburg, Mississippi
General Van Dorn described the attack in a telegram dispatched from Vicksburg to the Confederate War Department in Richmond 150 years ago today:

...Enemy opened all their guns and mortars last evening, and shelled the city and batteries until after dark, when eight of their vessels of war passed down under fire of batteries and Arkansas' broadsides. What damage was done to them I have not learned, though they were repeatedly pierced by shot of the heaviest calibre. One heavy shot passed through the side of the Arkansas, killing two men and wounding three. This was all the damage done to us, with the exception of one house burned down in the city. Our troops here have a contempt for the fleet and bombardment, and await cooling for troops to land. The Arkansas is the admiration of all, and her daring and heroic act has inspired all with the greatest enthusiasm....

Total losses suffered aboard the Arkansas during her daring passage and the subsequent Union attack were 12 killed and 18 wounded, including the casualties mentioned by General Van Dorn. The Union fleet lost 23 killed, 59 wounded and 10 missing (lost in the river). The Confederate general's report was accurate, the Southern ironclad had been pierced only once despite the massive number of Union guns that fired on her.

I will continue the story of the CSS Arkansas over coming weeks, so be sure to check back for more. You can learn more about historic Vicksburg by visiting

Monday, April 30, 2012

Battle of Jenkins' Ferry (April 30, 1864)

Jenkins' Ferry Battle Monument
Today marks the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas.

A bloody and important engagement of the Arkansas portion of the Red River Campaign, the battle took place about 12 miles south of Sheridan in the lowlands and swamps along the Saline River.

Union General Frederick Steele had been badly mauled in a series of battles near Camden over the previous two weeks, particularly at the Battle of Poison Spring on April 18th. Learning that the Louisiana phase of the campaign to take Shreveport and advance into northern Texas had failed, he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and began to evacuate his fortified position at Camden on April 26, 1864.

Saline River at Jenkins' Ferry
The Confederates, who had hovered around Camden in large numbers and had defeated several efforts by General Steele to supply his hungry army, quickly moved in pursuit of the retreating Federals. Led by General Kirby Smith in person, they caught up with Steele at Jenkins' Ferry on the morning of April 30, 1864, 148 years ago today.

The ground over which the battle was fought was horrible for offensive operations. The river was running high and the bottoms were partially flooded. Thick swamps and mud hindered the movement of troops and cannon and greatly impacted Smith's ability to properly coordinate his forces.

Fighting on the defensive, the Federals were able to condense their lines and throw up breastworks of fence rails and logs. The Confederates had to come at them through the swamps and mud and without the protection of fortifications of their own. The result was a bloody fight that ended when Kirby Smith realized he would not be able to overwhelm the Union lines and ordered the attacks to stop. The Union army slipped across the Saline River during the night, destroying its pontoon bridge behind it, and moved on for Little Rock.

Total losses in the battle numbered nearly 1,000. The Confederates suffered casualties of at least 86 killed and 356 wounded. The Federals lost an estimated 63 killed, 413 wounded and 45 missing in action.

To learn more about the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry and Jenkins' Ferry State Park, please visit

Friday, April 20, 2012

Crawford County Courthouse - A Civil War Landmark in Van Buren, Arkansas

Crawford County Courthouse
One of the most beautiful old structures in the Arkansas River Valley, the historic Crawford County Courthouse is believed to be the oldest courthouse in active use west of the Mississippi River.

The original portion of the building was completed in 1842 and was just seven years old when Van Buren and neighboring Fort Smith became major jumping off points for "Forty-Niners" heading west during the California Gold Rush of 1849. During the early months of that year the population of Van Buren almost doubled when an estimated 1,000 prospective miners showed up in Van Buren ready to start their journey across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to California.

The land on which the Crawford County Courthouse stands was donated by John Drennan and David Thompson. The two town founders had purchased the site for Van Buren from Thomas Phillips for $11,000 and the town itself was surveyed in 1837. The community actually existed to some degree before then. People had been living in and around what became Van Buren since 1819.

Historical Marker at Crawford County Courthouse
One of the most noted cases considered in the courthouse took place in 1857 when Apostle Parley Parker Pratt, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day-Saints (Mormon) appeared there after being arrested in the Cherokee Nation of what is now Oklahoma. A member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of his church, Pratt was accused of various charges related to his marriage to Eleanor McLean. One of his twelve wives, Eleanor had not divorced her previous husband. Pratt was released after being held in Van Buren for five days, but a lynch mob caught up with him at the Wynn farm near Alma and brutally murdered him. (Please click here to learn more about the Murder of Parley P. Pratt).

Crawford County Courthouse
The courthouse was 20 years old when Union troops attacked Van Buren on December 28, 1862. The Confederate army of General Thomas Hindman had marched north from the town earlier that month in a campaign across the Boston Mountains that culminated at the Battle of Prairie Grove. Unable to defeat the Federal army of Generals James G. Blount and Francis J. Herron, Hindman had fallen back across the mountains to Van Buren. When the Union army had recovered sufficiently from the massive battle in Northwest Arkansas, it pursued the Confederates south to the Arkansas River.

One-Room School of Albert Pike is on the Courthouse grounds
On December 28th the Federals emerged from the mountains at Dripping Springs in northern Crawford County. After a sharp skirmish there, they pursued retreating Confederates south into Van Buren. A running battle took place right through the center of town down the street directly in front of the historic courthouse. (Please click here to learn more about the Battle of Van Buren.)

Confederate forces across the river shelled Van Buren that afternoon, but the Crawford County Courthouse survived the battle. Thousands of pages of the county's records, however, were destroyed during the brief Union occupation.

A fire attributed to arsonists gutted the historic courthouse in 1877, sparking a fight between Van Buren and nearby Alma over which should be the county seat. Van Buren won and the courthouse was rebuilt within its still standing walls. It continues to serve the residents of Crawford County to this day.

To learn more about historic Van Buren, please visit

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Confederacy abandons Western Arkansas - March 22, 1862

Pea Ridge Battlefield
The shattering defeat suffered by the Confederate army of Major General Earl Van Dorn at the Battle of Pea Ridge ended, at least temporarily, Southern hopes of holding Northwest Arkansas.
By March 22, 1862 (150 years ago today), the remaining Confederate troops in the region had fallen back to Lee Creek in Crawford County and were preparing to leave the area for good. The Union army and navy were pressing on New Madrid and Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River and Van Dorn proposed to his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, that he march in support of the trapped garrison there.

Arkansas River at Van Buren
On March 21st he had informed Brigadier General Albert Pike, commanding in the Indian Territory, that he had "decided to march with this army against the enemy now invading the northeastern part of the State." Then on the 22nd, Major General J.P. McCown commanding at New Madrid and Island No. 10 was informed by Beauregard that, "Van Dorn proposes to attack enemy in reverse at New Madrid. Be of good cheer and hold out."

Riverfront Historical Marker at Van Buren
While waiting for instructions from Beauregard, Van Dorn began an immediate movement of his army for Northeast Arkansas. He left quickly and on March 22nd, 150 years ago today, his Assistant Adjutant-General D.H. Maury left Van Buren on the steamboat Lelia. Before leaving, Maury issued a plan of march to Major General Sterling Price:

...Please direct your march, via Clarksville, Dover, and Springfield (Conway County), toward Batesville, on White River. Expressmen will meet you on this road with instructions which will control you in the further march of your column. The troops of the advance post in Boston Mountains, on Lee's Creek, should not, of course, be relieved until the last moment, and when relieved should march with Greer's cavalry as the rear guard of the army. It is of the greatest importance that the troops of your command should reach White River at the earliest possible date. - Dabney H. Maury, CSA, March 22, 1862.

Gen. Dabney H. Maury
Maury went on to instruct Price to assume command that day of "matters in this vicinity preparatory to your march." Scouts were to be left behind to watch the Union army in Washington and Benton County and provide quick alerts should it begin to move. Cavalry regiments on the march from Texas to reinforce the army and within 50 miles of Van Buren were instructed to unite with Greer's cavalry brigade at Ozark.

The plan to strike against the Union army attacking Island No. 10 was a bold one, but would not happen. The Confederate defenses on the Mississippi River would crumble far faster than any of the Southern generals in the region could imagine.

The movement of Van Dorn's army, however, placed the western half of Arkansas in a terribly exposed position. With spring arriving, the entire Arkansas River valley from Little Rock to Fort Smith was now subject to Union conquest. Fort Smith was prepared for capture by the Federals and General Pike was ordered to act on the defensive in the Indian Nations. A time of great crisis was developing for the pro-secession people of the region.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 13, 1862 - A Link Between Pea Ridge and Horseshoe Bend

Gen. Ben McCulloch, CSA
Among the remarkable connections that thread their way through Southern history is the story of the son of a soldier of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend who lost his life while commanding a Confederate division that included soldiers from the CherokeeNation.
Brigadier General Ben McCulloch fell on March 7, 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The commander of one of the two Confederate divisions engaged in that battle, McCulloch led a force that included Brigadier General Albert Pike's brigade from the Indian Territory. Among the men in Pike's brigade were warriors from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek Nations.

McCulloch, in turn, was the son of Lieutenant Alexander McCulloch, an officer in the army of Major General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama. Horseshoe Bend, many believe, started the Creek Nation on a road that would lead to its forced removal to what is now Oklahoma just three decades later. A large force of Cherokee warriors fought on Jackson's side in that battle and figured prominently in his victory.

Gun Hill at Horseshoe Bend Battlefield
McCulloch's father fought at the Alabama battle.
Fought on March 27, 1814, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was a bloody defeat for the followers of the Red Stick movement within the Creek Nation. Led by Jackson in person, a U.S. Army stormed Red Stick fortifications at the town of Tohopeka. Most of the warriors fought to the death, prompting one eyewitness to observe that the Tallapoosa River "ran red with blood." More than 800 Creek warriors died, while Jackson's force suffered losses of 49 killed and 154 wounded.

In addition to Alexander McCulloch, noteworthy individuals on the field included Sam Houston, Sequoyah, Menawa, Major Ridge, William McIntosh and others. The famed frontiersman Davy Crockett once claimed to have been there, but was not. (Note: Crockett did fight in other battles of the Creek War).

Leetown Area of Pea Ridge Battlefield
McCulloch fell while leading the Confederate attack at Leetown.
On March 13, 1862, the New Orleans Times-Picayune memorialized General Ben McCulloch in a column that reminded readers of his father as well:

Ben McCulloch, whose loss on the field of battle will be mourned by his countrymen, was the son of Alexander McCulloch, who was a lieutenant and aid to Gen. Coffee, of Tennessee, in the battles of Talladega and Horse Shoe Bend, and who resigned his commission in March, 1814.
Ben was born in Rutherford county, Tenn., in 1814. He was a captain of Texas Rangers in the Mexican war, and was distinguished for courage and conduct in the battle of Monterey. On the 11th of July, 1846, he was appointed quartermaster, with the rank of major. He was also distinguished in the battle of Buena Vista, and as the commander of a spy company, before that battle, for a most daring and successful reconnoisance. He resigned his staff appointment in 1847. At his death he was a brigadier general, commanding a division, and chiefly composed of Arkansas and Texas troops. The 3d Louisiana, Col. Hebert, was attached to this division.

General Ben McCulloch was first buried on the battlefield at Pea Ridge, but his body rests today at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
To learn more about the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, please visit
To learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge,  please visit

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day Two

The ground across which the Union army attacked
The learn about the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, please click here: Day One, Part One.

The sun rose over the Pea Ridge battlefield on March 8, 1862, 150 years ago today, to find the Union army completing its 180 degree change of front and the Confederate army hungry, exhausted and low on ammunition:

...The sun rose above the horizon before our troops were all in position and yet the enemy had not renewed the attack. I was hardly ready to open fire on him, as the First and Second Divisions had not yet moved into position. Our troops that rested on their arms in the face of the enemy, seeing him in motion, could not brook delay, and the center, under Colonel Davis, opened fire. The enemy replied with terrible energy from new batteries and lines which had been prepared for us during the night. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Col. Jefferson C. Davis, USA
The opening of the second day of the battle by the men of Colonel Jefferson C. Davis ignited an artillery duel for which the Union army was much better prepared. Curtis moved his batteries into position to create a crossfire that swept the Confederates with shot and shell from multiple directions.

The Southern batteries simply could not match the intensity of fire of the Federal guns. A portion of Van Dorn's army was positioned in the large rock and ravines of the mountain and the exploding shells shattered rock in all directions, inflicting gruesome injuries on these soldiers.

Curtis ordered forward his infantry in a staggered attack that began with the advance of his left:

Position from which the Union left wing attacked
...The left wing, advancing rapidly, soon began to ascend the mountain cliff, from which the artillery had driven most of the rebel force. The upward movement of the gallant Thirty-sixth Illinois, with its dark-blue line of men and its gleaming bayonets, steadily rose from base to summit, when it dashed forward into the forest, driving and scattering the rebels from these commanding heights. The Twelfth Missouri, far in dvance of others, rushes into the enemy's lines, bearing off a flag and two pieces of artillery. Everywhere our line moved forward and the foe as gradually withdrew. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Telegraph Road, along which part of the Southern army retreated
NPS Photo
As the Federal lines of battle moved forward, the Confederate army disintegrated. In the words of General Curtis, "no force could have withstood our converging line and concentrated cross-fire."

Hungry, tired, out of ammunition, the Confederates realized the battle was lost. According to Van Dorn, he ordered a withdrawal from the field that was carried out orderly and with little pursuit. General Albert Pike, however, told a different story. Pike was not even informed that Van Dorn was leaving the field and went forward for orders to find that the Federal troops were 150 yards away and that the Confederate commander was long gone:

Gen. Albert Pike, CSA
Pike described a disorganized but unhurried retreat of streaming lines of troops from their positions on the main line of battle. The Arkansas general described riding among these men trying to keep them organized as much as possible. He began positioning troops to make a stand on level ground north of the battlefield, but as he moved to bring other men into line, he turned around to find that the line had evaporated and the men once again were moving north. He rushed to catch up with them and tried a second time:

...I rode again to the front and halted the leading battery at the foot of the next level, ordered it into line, facing the rear, gave the necessary commands myself, and had three guns brought into position. Two regiments of infantry were standing there in lines ranging up and down the valley, the flank of each to the enemy. I directed them to form in the rear of the batteries; but at this moment a shell was sent by the enemy up the road from the point of the hill around which we had just passed. The cry of "The cavalry are coming" was raised and everything became confusion. - Gen. Albert Pike, CSA, March 14, 1862.

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
Victor of Pea Ridge
Had Albert Pike not assumed command of the Confederate cavalry still on the field and ordered it into position to protect the retreating infantry and artillery, Van Dorn's army might well have been completely destroyed. His impromptu rear guard, however, confused and delayed the Federal pursuit long enough for most of the disorganized Confederate army to escape.

Other officers, particularly those of the Missouri State Guard, also fought delaying actions as the army retreated. It is worth noting that the 200 or so mounted men of Colonel Stand Watie's First Cherokee Rifles were among the last Confederate troops to leave the field.

The Battle of Pea Ridge ended in disaster for the Confederacy, 150 years ago today.

I will post more on the aftermath of the battle in coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - A Lull in the Battle

Confederate Position on night of March 7, 1862
This is part three of a series of posts on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read the previous parts first, please see: The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One and The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two.

The night of March 7, 1862, brought an end to the bloody first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge. The moans and cries of the wounded echoed off the rocks of the ridge and the bodies of the dead carpeted the ground. On the Federal side of the battlefield, General Curtis positioned his line of battle in the edge of trees, with a wide and open field in front of them and there they slept on their arms for the night:

Union Military Map of the Pea Ridge Battlefield
...I directed a detail from each company to bring water and provisions, and thus without a murmur these weary soldiers lay and many of them slept within a few yards of the foe, with their dead and wounded comrades scattered around them. Darkness, silence, and fatigue soon secured to the weary broken slumbers and gloomy repose. The day had closed in some reverses on the right, but the left had been unassailed and the center had driven the foe from the field. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Realizing that the fight would reopen the next morning along what had been his right flank, General Curtis completed the 180 degree pivot of his army by concentrating the entire Federal force along his final line of the day. The plan was for him to be able to resume the battle on the morning of the 8th with his entire army ready to fight on the front opened by the Confederates along the Telegraph road.

Elkhorn Tavern
Inside Confederate Lines on the night of March 7, 1862
On the Confederate side of the field, General Van Dorn assessed the situation that night to find that he was far from ready to resume another full day of battle:

...In the course of the night I ascertained that the ammunition was almost exhausted, and that the officer in charge of the ordnance supplies could not find his wagons, which, with the subsistence train, had been sent to Bentonville. Most of the troops had been without any food since the morning of the 6th and the artillery horses were beaten out. It was therefore with no little anxiety that I awated the dawn of day.- Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA, March 27, 1862.

Gen. William Y. Slack, CSA
The speed with which Van Dorn had marched his army into battle now turned on him. He had entered the engagement at Pea Ridge with a larger army than his Federal opponents, but he had not given proper care to his logistics or the condition of his men. Now, with one entire division of his army disorganized and confused, he found that his men had no food and very little ammunition.

In addition, he had lost a large number of his senior officers in the first day's fighting. In McCulloch's Division, Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh had been killed and Colonel Louis Hebert, who had then assumed command, was missing and feared dead. In Price's Division, General William Y. Slack had been mortally wounded during the early phases of the attack down the Telegraph road. He would die two weeks later.

Col Stand Watie, CSA
To make matters worse, most of the troops of McCulloch's Division did not move to Van Dorn's position during the night. When he came up after another night of marching, General Pike (who had assumed command of McCulloch's battered force) was able to bring up only a portion of the infantry, Welch's cavalry squadron from Texas, a single battery and Colonel Stand Watie's First Cherokee Rifles. He reached Telegraph road to find all in confusion and spent hours trying to find General Van Dorn and receive orders as to where he should place his men.

As Van Dorn and Price tried to prepare for a resumption of the action the next day, their men lay exhausted and hungry on the cold ground. They had not eaten in 36 hours and were dangerousloy low on ammunition. From the Federal side of the field they could hear with their own ears evidence that the enemy was preparing to resume the fight:

Pea Ridge National Military Park
View from the Union lines on the night of March 7, 1862
...During the night great commotion was audible in the camp of the enemy. Their artillery and baggage wagons seemed to be continually moving. The officers of my command preserved their lines unbroken, in readiness for any emergency. - Col. Henry Little, First Brigade Missouri Volunteers (CSA), March 18, 1862.

About the only good news received by any of the Confederate troops that night came in the middle of the night when Colonel Henry Little's First Missouri Brigade received an unexpected gift from the Union army:

...About midnight the sound of wheels approached. We opened our lines and admitted a caisson with ammunition, which, through mistake of the driver, came to seek one of the divisions of the Federal army in the ranks of his adversaries. - Col. Henry Little, First Brigade Missouri Volunteers (CSA), March 18, 1862.

So passed the night of March 7, 1862, and predawn hours of March 8, 1862, 150 years ago tonight. I will post on the second day of the battle tomorrow, so be sure to check back! Until then, you can read more at

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two

Elkhorn Tavern
This is part two of a post on the 150th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read the first part, please click here: The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One.

The loss of three division commanders in such a short time on the Leetown sector of the battlefield completely disrupted the Confederate attack there. General Albert Pike did what he could to reorganize the shattered force, but there were no further Southern attacks that day on the Leetown front.

As the battle diminished at Leetown, however, it increased in severity along the Telegraph road. Van Dorn and Price drove forward against Carr's forces and heavy fighting erupted. Curtis ordered Generals Asboth and Sigel to change front from the Sugar Creek lines they had been holding and push to the relief of Colonel Carr.

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
Curtis himself accompanied Asboth, who boldly pushed forward ahead of his main body and rushed to Carr's assistance, arriving just in time:

...General Asboth had planted his artillery in the road and opened a tremendous fire on the enemy at short range. The Second Missouri Infantry also deployed and earnestly engaged the enemy. About this time the shades of night began to gather around us, but the fire on both sides seemed to grow fierce and more deadly. One of my bodyguard fell dead, my orderly received a shot, and General Asboth was severely wounded in the arm. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

At Pea Ridge, Asboth proved the estimation of him later written by General William Tecumseh Sherman that he was personally brave. Despite his severe wound, Asboth did not quit the field and continued to direct the fire of his cannon until they had completely used up their ammunition and had no choice but to fall back.
Telegraph Road, where Asboth stood with his artillery
...This caused another battery that I had located on the right of the road to follow, this latter fearing a want of support. The infantry, however, stood firm or fell back in good order, and the batteries were soon restored, but the caissons got quite out of reach. The artillery firing was renewed, however, and kept up till dark, the enemy firing the last shot, for I could not find another cartridge to give them a final round; even the little howitzers responded, "No cartridges." - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

On the Confederate side, General Van Dorn reported that he learned at 3 p.m. that Generals McCulloch and McIntosh had been killed. Despite the failure of the attack on the Federal right flank, he decided to push forward the attack down the Telegraph road:
Confederate cannon at Pea Ridge
...I nevertheless pressed forward with the attack, and at sunset the enemy was fleeing before our victorious troops at every point in our front, and when night fell we had driven him entirely from the field of battle.
   Our troops slept upon their arms nearly a mile beyond the point at which he made his last stand, and my headquarters for the night were at the Elkhorn Tavern. We had taken during the day seven cannon and about 200 prisoners. - Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA, March 27, 1862.

While the Federal troops would prove the next day that they had not fled from the field, Van Dorn's report indicated that he had largely lost communication with McCulloch's Division and had no knowledge of what was happening on that part of the battlefield.
Gen. Sterling Price, CSA
General Price described the Confederate attack down Telegraph road in much greater detail:

...I now advanced my whole line, which gradually closed upon the enemy and drove them from one position to another, until we found them towards evening in great force on the south and west of an open field, supported by masked batteries.
   The artillery and infantry of my left wing were brought up to attack them, and they did so with a spirit and determination worthy of all praise. The fiercest struggle of the day now ensued; but the enemy was driven back and completely routed. My right had engaged the enemy's center at the same time with equal daring and equal success, and had already driven them from their position at Elkhorn Tavern. Night alone prevented us from achieving a complete victory, of which we had already gathered some of the fruits, having taken two pieces of artillery and quantity of stores. - Gen. Sterling Price, CSA, March 22, 1862.

Nightfall brought the bloody fighting to an end and then men of both sides slept on their arms I will post later tonight about what happened during the night and what went through the minds of the commanders of both sides as they prepared to fight again the next day.

Please click here to continue to The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - A Lull in the Battle.
You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One

Pea Ridge National Military Park
Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, the engagement at Pea Ridge began when the morning of March 7, 1862, revealed Major General Earl Van Dorn's Confederate army moving in full force around the right flank of Major General Samuel Curtis's entrenched Union army.

Having fought with Federal troops near Bentonville the previous day and then sending part of his force up the Telegraph or Wire Road after them to keep up the impression that he intended a frontal attack on the Union army, Van Dorn moved out on a long, difficult and exhausting night march via a route called the Bentonville Detour. This road passed was a cut-off of sorts that connected Bentonville with the Telegraph Road just north of the Pea Ridge Battlefield.

Gen. Ben McCulloch, CSA
Van Dorn's plan was to strike Curtis on the right flank and rear. The commanding general himself accompanied the division of Major General Sterling Price, which followed the detour all the way around the Union army until it struck the Telegraph Road. In heavy force, Price and his men then began an advance south towards Elkhorn Tavern intending to hit Curtis from behind.

The other division was commanded by Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. He was to hit the right flank of the Union army as Price came down to strike it in the rear. If all went well, Van Dorn would smash Curtis and either force his surrender, put his men into flight into the mountains where they could not be supplied or drive them into Little Sugar Creek, which they were facing.

It didn't go as hoped. The road was long and hard and conditions were bad. The Confederate infantry spent the night trudging through cold mud and shivering in the winter weather of the Ozark Plateau. The supply wagons were far in the rear and as the march continued through the night, the distance between them and the main fighting force grew and grew.

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
Sunrise came and Van Dorn was not in position to begin his attack. The Federals observed his troops moving around their right and began to adjust accordingly. Even so, the surprise move almost ended in victory for the Confederates.

Convening a meeting of his officers at the tent of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, Curtis ordered his commanders to begin a complete change of front of his army. This was a remarkable thing to attempt under any conditions, but with an enemy attack pending it was intensely difficult and dangerous. The Union commander, however, had no choice.

Col. Grenville Dodge, USA
As this meeting was underway, a courier arrived to report that Confederate troops could be seen moving in force along the Ford road to the west. Colonel Peter Osterhaus was ordered to move with his division to probe the movement. As Osterhaus began to move his men to the west in the direction of Leetown, a small community on the battlefield, a second courier arrived to report that a second body of Confederates was moving south in force on the Telegraph Road, aiming for Elkhorn Taver and the Union supply trains.

Colonel Grenville Dodge's brigade was just outside the tent at the time and Curtis order Dodge's commander, Colonel Eugene Carr, to take Dodge's brigade and half the Confederate force advancing down the Telegraph Road. Carr moved out promising the battle would be over in an hour.

Leetown Battlefield at Pea Ridge National Military Park
Osterhaus struck first, engaging the Confederates under McCulloch near Leetown and finding them to be in greatly superior force. Ordering his division forward, McCulloch began to push back the Federals. General Curtis ordered Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis) to march to the support of Osterhaus and his men.

Almost simultaneously, Price attacked Union forces on the northern end of the battle, deploying his division out on both sides of Telegraph Road and pushing for Elkhorn Tavern. The Battle of Pea Ridge was now underway:

Col. Jefferson C. Davis, USA
...The battle raged...with terrible fury. Colonel Davis held the position against fearful numbers, and our brave troops nobly stood or charged in steady lines. The fate of the battle depended on success agaisnt this flank movement of the enemy [i.e. the movement by McCulloch against the Union right], and here near Leetown was the place to break it down. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

It in the woods and fields near Leetown that disaster struck the Confederate army. Realizing that the Federal forces opposing him were growing in strength, General McCulloch came up to view the Union lines in person before launching a major attack against them when he was shot down. So ended the life of on of the most remarkable men in the history of Texas, the South and the United States.

Gen. James McIntosh, CSA
Command of the division now fell to Brigadier General James McIntosh, but within fifteen minutes he too was shot down just a short distance from where McCulloch had been killed. He died on the battlefield, becoming the first Confederate general from Florida to give his life in the cause of the South.

Colonel Louis Hebert, of Louisiana, now assumed the command and ordered the attack. It went well at first and the Federals were driven back. Smoke, friendly fire and wooded terrain, however, created great confusion in the Confederate ranks and the attack stalled. Hebert became separated from his men and was taken prisoner.

Please click here to continue to The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two.

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