Saturday, March 7, 2009

Telegraph Road at Pea Ridge

Today marks the 147th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. I'll continue to post about the battle through the weekend.

This photograph shows the Telegraph Road as it leads south from Elkhorn Tavern in the direction of the final Union lines. The road was the center of intense fighting on March 7, 1862, as Gen. Sterling Price's Confederates finally forced back Col. Eugene Carr's Second Brigade from near the tavern and drove south down the road.

At a critical moment of the fighting, Union Gen. Alexander Asboth planted artillery directly in the center of the road and, supported by a couple of infantry companies, fired in the face of the oncoming Confederates. The heroic act shattered oncoming Confederate ranks. Holding his position, Asboth continued to fire until, his men falling around him and his ammunition exhausted, he fell back on the main Union line that was forming to his rear. The general was severely wounded during the stand, but would continue to fight until the end of the battle.

Asboth was one of the more remarkable Union generals of the war. A Hungarian refugee, he had served during the Revolt of 1848 in his native country but had been evacuated to the United States with Kossuth aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi. Settling in New York, he was an inventor who also did survey work before the work. He conducted the surveys of New York City's famed Central Park. General William T. Sherman wrote that Asboth was a man of great personal courage who was beloved by his troops. He was prone, according to Sherman, to underestimate his own abilities as a leader.
After Pea Ridge, he served in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky before assuming command of the Union District of West Florida. Severely wounded again at the Battle of Marianna, Florida, in 1864, he later became the U.S. Minister to Argentina.
The hard fighting by the outnumbered Union troops halted Price's assaults and gave Gen. Curtis time to evacuate his main line and rush men to the scene of the fighting. By the end of the first day's fighting, he had achieved a remarkable 180 degree turn of front. The tactical accomplishment is still studied by military officers today.

The first day ended with the Confederates occupying the edge of a wooded area just south of Elkhorn Tavern and the Union troops forming on a slight elevation beyond.

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