Tuesday, March 31, 2009
This unique statue at Fort Smith's Oak Cemetery marks the grave of James E. Reynolds.
Reynolds rose through the ranks of Company K, 30th Mississippi Infantry, during the Civil War, eventually becoming its captain in 1865. He was wounded at the Battle of New Hope, Georgia, during the Atlanta Campaign. After the battle, he was rescued from the battlefield by two local teenage girls with other women of the area to help the wounded. It was a gesture of mercy that Reynolds never forgot.
He went on to become a successful business leader in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas during the decades after the war and is remembered as the builder of Oklahoma's unique Captain's Castle in the small town of Cameron near Fort Smith. In his beautiful home he dedicated a room to Confederate heroes, decorating the walls with flag-draped portraits of famed Southern leaders. He called himself an "unreconstructed Confederate" all of his life, but did offer to fight for the United States during World War I and even contacted the famed Confederate "Gray Ghost" John S. Mosby to discuss forming a unit of aged Southern soldiers to fight in Europe.
Reynolds and his wife Felicity, a descendant of the famed Choctaw leader Greenwood LeFlore, both died in 1920. Over their graves was erected a monument in the form of a statue of a wounded Confederate officer being helped from a battlefield by two young girls. It was Reynolds' final tribute to the memory of the two young Georgia girls who helped him at New Hope Church more than fifty years before.
To see a larger photo of the Reynolds' monument, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oakcemetery. To learn more about the castle that Reynolds built in Cameron, Oklahoma, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/castle1.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
One of the most historic cemeteries in the United States can be found in Fort Smith.
Oak Cemetery was established at about the time Fort Smith was founded and contains the graves of hundreds of individuals that played critical roles in the history of the Western Frontier. Among these are soldiers, lawmen, a governor, Old West outlaws and even a Confederate spy.
Scattered through the cemetery can be found the graves of at least 122 Confederate soldiers, all of whom died during the decades following the war. Listed among them is Sarah Ish Parke, a female Confederate spy, courier and smuggler.
The cemetery also contains the graves of 28 men executed by order of another Civil War veteran, Judge Isaac C. Parker. Remembered as the "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith, Judge Parker served on the bench for the Western District of Arkansas during the decades following the war. He and his deputy marshals brought law and order to the wild and violent frontier. A Union veteran who served in the 61st Missouri Emergency Regiment, Parker hanged more convicted men than any Federal judge in American history. Among the burials at Oak Cemetery are 28 men, all convicted of murder, who met their fates on the gallows at Fort Smith.
Also buried at Oak Cemetery are more than 100 deputies, guards, court officials and posse members who served under Judge Parker.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/oakcemetery.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Confederate soldiers are buried in cemeteries across Arkansas, but one of the largest concentrations I have seen is at Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren.
The burial ground is located on a rise just north of downtown Van Buren and was in use at the time of the war. Soldiers buried here include men killed or mortally wounded at the Battles of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, and Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Cane Hill, Dripping Springs and Van Buren, Arkansas. Over 400 of the graves are of unknown soldiers.
The ridge along the northern edge of the cemetery was used as an artillery position by Union soldiers during the Battle of Van Buren on December 28, 1862. Rifled cannon placed here dueled with Confederate cannon firing on the town from across the Arkansas River.
Markers in the cemetery detail its history and a monument in its northeast corner pays tribute to the hundreds of Southern soldiers buried there. Other graves include a monument to one of the signers of the original Arkansas constitution and an unusual "mystery grave" that some claim was left behind by Hernando de Soto during the 1500s. It appears more likely, however, to date from the early days of the town's settlement as the form of the grave is similar to those found in other Southern graveyards from the same era.
To learn more about the Battle of Van Buren, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1. You can see additional photos of Fairview Cemetery in the "Online Tour" section.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
If you plan to do some Civil War site exploring in Northwest Arkansas, a good base for doing so is the beautiful and historic community of Eureka Springs.
Less than 30 miles from Pea Ridge National Military Park on U.S. Highway 62, Eureka Springs is a major Spring travel destination in the Ozarks. There are a number of sites in the area with Civil War connections, including Pea Ridge, Blue Spring Heritage Center, War Eagle Mill and the Buffalo River area. Eureka Springs itself is a well-preserved Victorian era community noted for its amazing array of historic structures that range from America's "Most Haunted Hotel" to Thorncrown Chapel, an architectural landmark.
The city boasts a wide array of hotels, bed and breakfast inns, cabins and even treehouses as well as restaurants, cafes, unique shops and a variety of points of interest. Eureka Springs is also the per capita wedding capital of the United States. More people go there to get married each year than actually live in the town!
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eurekaindex.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Deep in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, a small community of settlers struggled through the brutal years of the Civil War in almost total isolation. Their existence is memorialized today by the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery on the Talimena Scenic Drive near Queen Wilhelmina State Park.
Most of these people simply wanted to be left alone. Their daily efforts to scratch a living from the top of the mountain occupied them far more than the issues behind the war that then raged across much of the continent. Some came to escape the ravages and raids taking place in more accessible areas of the state. Others were "Mountain Feds" or Union sympathizing Arkansans who fled to the mountains to avoid being conscripted into the Confederate military.
Regardless of their reasons for going high up on the mountain, the people living there during the war barely survived. Severe winter weather, hunger and sickness stalked the community. One of the more tragic stories of the time is still remembered today in the form of a ghost story about a young girl who went to a spring to obtain water for her sick family only to be cornered in a tree by wolves. Her body was found the next day, frozen stiff in the tree where she had sought shelter.
Now part of the Ouachita National Forest, little remains other than the cemetery to remind modern visitors that the community ever existed. The cemetery is located just west of Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Interpretive signs and a short pathway to the burial ground are maintained by the Forest Service.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/richmountainghost.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Over recent days I've posted about the movement of Union troops over the Boston Mountains from Northwest Arkansas and the attacks at Dripping Springs and Van Buren in Crawford County. When Fort Smith itself finally came under attack, however, the threat came not from the North but from the West.
The summer of 1863 found General James G. Blunt and the Army of the Frontier at Fort Gibson(temporarily called Fort Blunt) in what is now Oklahoma. On July 17th he had launched a preemptive strike against a Confederate army gathering to attack him, defeating General D.H. Cooper at the Battle of Honey Springs or Elk Creek.
By August, Blunt was moving east fort Fort Smith. General W. L. Cabell tried to hold him back but morale was bad and his force was rapidly disintegrating. Cabell had formed his men along the bank of the Poteau River just west of Fort Smith, but he knew the position was untenable. Rather than await the expected attack, he quietly withdrew during the night of August 31, 1863.
As the Federals advanced on the morning of September 1st, they found the Confederate positions abandoned. Moving forward, General Blunt ordered Colonel William F. Cloud to take the army's cavalry and pursue Cabell who was believed to be in full retreat to the South. Blunt, meanwhile, occupied Fort Smith.
Cloud pursued the Confederate army, skirmishing briefly with Southern cavalry at Jenny Lind, but then rode blindly into an ambush laid for him by Cabell at Devil's Backbone, a long ridge that stretched from near Greenwood, Arkansas, across the line into eastern Oklahoma.
From positions along the ridge, Cabell's men rose and opened fire on Cloud's approaching cavalry, inflicting casualties and sending the Federals scrambling for safety. Heavy fighting broke out and both sides brought artillery to bear, although most of the cannon fire went too high.
If you would like to learn more, check out the newly updated pages on the Battle of Devil's Backbone at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/devilsbackbone. The site includes photographs of the battlefield, an in depth account of the battle and both Union and Confederate reports.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The mountains that surround Devil's Den State Park near West Fork in Northwest Arkansas are the location of a wide array of historic sites.
One of the most significant is the trace of the old Butterfield Stage Line route, which passes through this valley and is now a hiking trail accessible to park visitors. Established in 1857 to link the cities of St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, California, the Butterfield line was one of the most remarkable commercial enterprises in American history.
With 250 stagecoaches and over 800 employees, the stagecoach line began delivering mail along a more than 2,000 mile route connecting St. Louis and San Francisco in 1858. Sections of the original road, which was also known as the Telegraph or Wire road, can be seen at several locations in Arkansas. One part passes through Pea Ridge National Military Park in Benton County, while another section is still used by modern traffic in the Rogers area. A third section passes through Devil's Den State Park.
The outbreak of the Civil War brought the Butterfield line to an end just three years after it began operation. The section of the route through Devil's Den was used during the war by both Union and Confederate troops, as well as by the guerrilla bands that hid out in the Boston Mountains.
In addition to the old stagecoach route, now called the Butterfield Trail, Devil's Den State Park also preserves beautiful mountain terrain that includes bluffs, rock formations, caves, the largest sandstone crevice area in the United States, caves and more. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ardevils1.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
In a post earlier today, I discussed the Battle of Van Buren, Arkansas. The engagement was preceded by a smaller fight several miles north of Van Buren at Dripping Springs.
When General Thomas Hindman had withdrawn his forces back to Van Buren and Fort Smith in the days following the Battle of Prairie Grove, he ordered Lt. Col. R.P. Crump and the 1st Texas Partisan Rangers (30th Texas Cavalry) to take up a position at Dripping Springs to watch for any movement across the Boston Mountains by the Union Army of the Frontier.
Crump and his men set up camp on the north slope of a commanding ridge, where they could observe the main road leading south from the mountains to Van Buren. Pickets were posted up the road to provide advance warning of any threat to the camp.
As the Union army moved out of the mountains on the morning of December 28, 1862, with 8,000 men and 30 pieces of artillery, they were alerted to the presence of Crump and his men by a local Unionist civilian. Generals James G. Blunt and Francis Herron moved forward with 3,000 cavalrymen and 4 pieces of artillery to engage Crump's regiment.
The Federals came into position on the level ground below the Confederate camp and formed a line of battle that stretched through both woods and open fields. In the mass charge that followed, they drew sabers and stormed across the fields. The Confederates, outnumbered by more than 4 to 1, resisted briefly before withdrawing from their camp and retreating up the road to Van Buren. The Union troopers went up and over the ridge and pursued Crump's men into the streets of Van Buren.
To learn more about the Battle of Dripping Springs, please visit our newly updated pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ARDrippingSprings1.
Fought on December 28, 1862, the Battle of Van Buren was an important skirmish that was the last real fight of the Prairie Grove Campaign.
Three weeks earlier, Union and Confederate forces had battled to a stalemate during the brutal fighting at Prairie Grove. Union generals James Blount and Francis Herron had considered pursuing General Thomas Hindman's battered Southern army back across the Boston Mountains, but winter weather intervened.
Then, three weeks after the Battle of Prairie Grove, they received incorrect reports that Hindman was being reinforced for another attack over the mountains. In reality, his army was rapidly disintegrating as he struggled to hold it together in camps around Van Buren and Fort Smith. Hoping to avoid another surprise, Blount and Herron set out from their camps in Northwest Arkansas on December 27, 1862.
Moving across the rough mountains, they struck Crump's regiment of Texas cavalry at Dripping Springs north of Van Buren on the morning of December 28th. Crump's men briefly resisted, then fell back on the road to Van Buren, skirmishing with the oncoming Federals as they went.
The troops reached Van Buren so fast that there was no time to warn the citizens of the coming battle. The people of the town were going about their daily business along the main street when they were stunned by the sight of soldiers on horseback storming down the street.
Crump's men boarded a ferry on the Van Buren waterfront and most managed to escape, despite artillery fire from the Union troops. Fighting then spread to various points along the Arkansas River as the Federals moved to capture steamboats that were trying to escape down the river. Two boats were forced to shore, looted and destroyed. Three others were fired by the Confederates themselves to save them from capture.
At about 2:30 in the afternoon, Confederate forces opened fire on Van Buren with a battery of artillery placed on the opposite side of the river. The Union troops responded with a battery of rifled guns positioned at Fairview Cemetery. The exchange lasted for some time and it was estimated that as many as 100 Confederate shells fell on the town, killing and wounding a few soldiers and civilians and also doing damage to some of the homes and other structures.
You can learn more about the Battle of Van Buren by visiting our new pages that are now online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vanburenbattle1. The link will take you to a complete site on the Battle of Van Buren that includes photographs, transcripts of official reports and a detailed history of the battle.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Although it is located across the line in eastern Oklahoma, historic Fort Gibson played a major role in the Civil War in Arkansas.
The old fort near Muskogee was the base for operations against Fort Smith in 1863, a campaign that resulted in the occupation of the Fort Smith area by Union troops and the Battle of Devil's Backbone.
After Federal troops occupied Fort Smith, the two installations were closely linked. Soldiers and supplies constantly moved back and forth between the forts, and in the process often provided tempting and easy targets for Confederate forces. General Stand Watie, for example, targeted steamboat traffic between the two forts with great success in 1864.
Union troops went to extraordinary steps to defend Fort Gibson during the war. The encampments were surrounded with strong earthworks, a small portion of which can still be seen at the historic site. They also launched an attack that led to the Battle of Honey Springs during the summer of 1863 in an effort to defend the post against a rumored Confederate attack.
If you would like to learn more about this historic fort, which was a major installation on the Oklahoma frontier for much of the 19th century, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/okfortgibson.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
In yesterday's post I mentioned the destruction of numerous water-powered gristmills across the Ozarks region of Arkansas during the Civil War. Another site of a destroyed mill can be found at Blue Spring Heritage Center just outside of Eureka Springs.
Blue Spring was a noted landmark of 19th century Arkansas and had been a campsite on the Cherokee Trail of Trears. Early settlers built a mill here, using the powerful flow of the spring to turn the wheel. Like many similar facilities, the gristmill at Blue Spring was targeted during the war and went up in flames.
A few traces of the early pioneer industry can still be seen and interpretive signs on the grounds tell the story of the mill and its important role to the lives of the original settlers of the region. The grounds of the Blue Spring Heritage Center are noted as being among the most beautiful in the South. In addition to the magnificent natural spring and mountain setting of the park, there are magnificent planted gardens that will be coming into full bloom in early April.
Blue Spring Heritage Center is located 6 miles northwest of Eureka Springs off Highway 62. The park opens for the season on March 15. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/eureka3.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
As the disorganized survivors of General Earl Van Dorn's Confederate army made their way back south from the Battle of Pea Ridge, a large group camped at the War Eagle Mill.
Still the site of an operating water-powered gristmill and the location of one of the most popular arts and crafts fairs in the nation, War Eagle helped feed both armies at various points of the Civil War. On the night after the battle, the fresh water of War Eagle River was a welcome sight for the exhausted and hungry Confederates.
The mill, however, did not survive the war. It was burned during the dark years between 1862 and the end of the war and, due to the hard and turbulent times of Reconstruction, was not replaced until 1873. The current structure, built in 1973, is a modern reproduction.
Structures like the War Eagle Mill were located along streams, rivers and creeks throughout the Ozarks region, but few survived the Civil War. Vital places where both armies could grind grain, they evolved into military targets as the war continued. Guerrilla bands and regular forces torched many of the mills, depriving not only enemy forces of their use, but also local citizens who depended upon the water-powered mills for survival.
War Eagle Mill is located 12 miles from Rogers, Arkansas, and 25 miles from Eureka Springs. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/wareagle.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
This view looks across the open fields of the Pea Ridge battlefield and shows the ground across which the Union army attacked on March 8, 1862, 147 years ago today.
The second day of fighting at the Battle of Pea Ridge opened with the Union army arrayed in full line now facing the Confederates who had formed in the cover of trees south of Elkhorn Tavern. The Confederate army had been dramatically reduced by the defeat of the attack at Leetown and now Van Dorn was outnumbered. The Confederates were also bone tired. They had been marched too hard through bad conditions on their way to the battle. In addition, they were running very short on supplies, including ammunition.
The Federals opened the second day of fighting with a massive bombardment of the Confederate positions. Battery after battery of Union guns rained fire on the Southern lines, creating chaos and heavy casualties.
Then, beginning with its left flank, the Union infantry began its main attack. Striking the weakened Confederate lines like a sledgehammer, the Federal attack split Van Dorn's army in two. His right flank began to retreat up the Telegraph Road, accompanied by Van Dorn and Price, Union in hard pursuit.
The left flank of the Confederate line was essentially abandoned by its commander and the men began to make their way from the battlefield as best they could. Many were captured.
When the cannon thunder in the Ozarks subsided, Samuel Curtis had one one of the most remarkable victories of the Civil War. Missouri was preserved for the Union and Van Dorn's army had been shattered. More than 3,000 men were killed, wounded or captured in the fighting and to this day it is impossible to know exactly how many Confederates were lost. A Southern army that had marched into battle with more men, more cannon and an excellent plan had been smashed. The blame, most felt, fell directly on Earl Van Dorn's shoulders. He drove his men too hard prior to the fight and then led them in the battle exhausted and with insufficient supplies. In addition, he lost over all control of the fight and much of the army battled with no specific orders from its commanding general.
This assessment was confirmed by his disastrous performance at Corinth, Mississippi, later in the year.
The site of the Battle of Pea Ridge is now preserved at the Pea Ridge National Military Park in Benton County, Arkansas. Just a short distance south of the Missouri line, the park preserves more than 4,000 acres of the battlefield and offers a visitor center, driving tour, walking trails, exhibits, interpretive stops and the restored Elkhorn Tavern.
To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
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.
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.
To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.
Friday, March 6, 2009
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.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
This photograph shows a row of Confederate cannon on the Leetown section of the Pea Ridge battlefield.
This was the section of the field where the Battle of Pea Ridge began, as General Ben McCulloch of Texas led thousands of men in a planned attack against the right rear of the Union lines. The other half of the Confederate army, led by General Van Dorn in person and commanded by General Sterling Price, was moving up around a mountain to sweep in directly behind the Union forces via the Telegraph Road and Elkhorn Tavern.
McCulloch was a famed figure on the frontier. Born in Tennessee in 1811, he was part of the group that was to accompany David Crockett to Texas in 1835 but came down with the measles and so was late linking up with Crockett and the other men. As a result, he missed being killed at the Alamo with Crockett, Travis and the other Texas heroes.
Outraged, McCulloch joined Sam Houston's army and commanded one of the famed "Twin Sisters" cannon at the Battle of San Jacinto. He fought in other skirmishes and battles against Mexican forces and also served under Major David E. Twiggs during the Mexican War.
During the years leading up to the Civil War, McCulloch served as a scout, U.S. Marshal, Texas Ranger and served as one of the peace commissioners sent to negotiate a truce with Brigham Young and his followers in Utah during the 1858 "Mormon War."
Commissioned as a colonel by President Jefferson Davis in 1861, McCulloch had accepted the surrender of U.S. military posts in Texas from his former commander, David Twiggs. He was then promoted to brigadier general and fought with distinction at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri.
He achieved initial success at Pea Ridge, overrunning a Union battery and driving toward the rear of the right flank of the main Union line. As he moved forward for a closer look at Union positions, however, he was shot from the saddle by a Union sharpshooter and died instantly. Reports indicate that, never fond of military uniforms, McCulloch had gone into battle wearing a black velvet suit.
His second-in-command, General James McQueen, died just fifteen minutes later when he was killed in a charge launched to recover McCulloch's body. The Confederate attack rapidly fell apart, perhaps ending the greatest possibility of success for Van Dorn's army in the Battle of Pea Ridge.
General McCulloch was initially buried on the battlefield but now rests at the University of Texas-Austin.
I'll post more about Pea Ridge tomorrow, but until then you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The artillery position shown here is visible beyond the interpretive stop at Pea Ridge battlefield that explains the role of General Albert Pike's Indian Brigade during the battle.
Ordered by Van Dorn to bring as many men as possible to join the attack on Curtis's army and planned invasion of Missouri, Pike arrived from the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma) with a large force of warriors that curiously included men who favored both the Confederacy and the Union. It was an oddity of the Battle of Pea Ridge that both Unionists and Secessionists fought on the side of the Confederacy under Pike's command.
While the actions of the Indian Brigade did not constitute a major part of the action, they did manage to overrun a Union artillery position and also successfully ambushed two companies of Iowa cavalry during the fighting. When the Confederate attack in the Leetown area faltered following the deaths of Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh, the Native American soldiers joined the other Confederates on this section of the field in falling back.
Union soldiers combing the woods and fields for traces of fallen comrades came across the site where Pike's Indians had ambushed the Iowa cavalry companies and were shocked by the scene. Eight of the Iowa soldiers had been scalped and another 17 had been mutilated. The incident prompted outrage in the Union ranks, but was not considered particularly unusual by the Confederates on the western frontier. Native Americans of many tribes believed they were hampering their enemy's passage into the next world through such rituals.
After the Battle of Pea Ridge, some of the members of the Indian Brigade went on to fight for the Union for the rest of the war, although most of the soldiers remained loyal to the Confederacy until the bitter end. Some of these men were still with General Stand Watie when he became the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in 1865.
I'll post more on some other points of interest on the battlefield in the next post. Until then, you can learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex. This weekend marks the 147th anniversary of the battle.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
This weekend will mark the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The battlefield is now preserved at the massive Pea Ridge National Military Park in Northwest Arkansas.
The battle was unique among major battles of the Civil War in that it marked one of the few times when Confederate forces went into action with a major advantage in manpower and artillery over their Union counterparts. Unfortunately, Major General Earl Van Dorn wasted his advantages through poor planning and even poorer command and control during the battle.
Van Dorn pushed his men too hard through freezing conditions as he approached the battlefield and also left vital supplies behind. Even so, he surprised the Union army of Major General Samuel Curtis by sweeping undetected around the right flank of Curtis's entrenched army and closing in from the flank and rear. It had the potential to be a major victory and open the door for an invasion of Missouri. Van Dorn had mentioned in a letter to his wife that he planned to take St. Louis.
It was not to be. The first Confederate column stormed in behind the Union right flank, but its commanders - Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh - were shot down within fifteen minutes of each other and the attack stalled and disintegrated.
Unaware of what was happening with the first attack, Van Dorn sent General Sterling Price smashing up from the hollows and ravines toward the Union rear. Hard fighting by severely outnumbered Federals, however, bogged down Price's attack in the area around Elkhorn Tavern.
By the end of the day on March 7, 1862, Van Dorn had failed in his plan to strike Curtis's army from the rear and destroy it. Curtis, meanwhile, had executed a remarkable 360 degree change of face for his army and the next morning led it into battle against Van Dorn's exhausted and hungry men. By the time the fighting was over, it was Van Dorn's army that had been largely destroyed. His men soon began calling him General "Damn Born" as an expression of their disdain for his leadership.
The Battle of Pea Ridge was one of the largest battles of the war in the West and saved Missouri for the Union. I'll be posting more about this dramatic engagement over the coming days, but you can always read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/pearidgeindex.