Friday, March 6, 2009
Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge, Arkansas
The restored Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge National Military Park in Northwest Arkansas is one of the most photographed sites of the Civil War in the West.
The original tavern, built in 1833, was a key landmark of the Battle of Pea Ridge. Facing the Telegraph Road in the northern edge of the battlefield, the tavern had looked out on the misery of thousands of Cherokees as they passed by on one of the routes of the Trail of Tears.
Purchased from the original owners by Jesse and Polly Cox in 1858, the tavern was remodeled at about that time. Among the changes made were the now familiar white clapboard siding, the addition of a set of elk antlers to the roof (from which the tavern took its name) and the construction of an outside staircase that allowed members of the Benton County Baptist Society to meet on the second floor without having to go through the tavern.
The area around the tavern was a camp for the supply train of the Union army on the morning of March 7, 1862. Realizing the danger to his supplies as the battle began to unfold, Gen. Samuel Curtis sent the Second Brigade under Colonel Eugene Carr rushing up the Telegraph Road to protect the supply trains. Carr reached Elkhorn Tavern just ahead of thousands of Missourians led by General Sterling Price.
Forming a line 400 yards north of the tavern, Carr engaged Price despite 3 to 1 odds. For hours the battle raged in the area around Elkhorn Tavern. In fact, it took Price six hours to finally dislodge Carr's outnumbered men. During the entire time, Polly Cox hid in the cellar of the tavern with her son, Joseph, his wife and two young children. The structure was used as a hospital and briefly as General Van Dorn's headquarters.
The tavern survived the battle, but not without damage from bullets and cannonballs. It did not, however, survive the war. Guerrillas burned Elkhorn Tavern in 1863. It was rebuilt on the original foundations after the war and was operated by Joseph Cox for a number of years and was noted for its display of battle artifacts picked up from the surrounding fields by members of the Cox family.
The post-war structure is very similar in appearance to the original and the cellar, foundations and south fireplace are surviving parts of the original. Now a part of the national park, the Elkhorn Tavern has been beautiful restored and is a major landmark on the battlefield.
I'll post more on the Battle of Pea Ridge tomorrow on the anniversary of the first day of the battle. To learn more before then, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.