Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 3, 1862: The March to Prairie Grove Begins

Crawford County Courthouse
Van Buren, Arkansas
On December 3, 1862, 149 years ago today, Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman began his march from Van Buren into the Boston Mountains. The move would reach its climactic moment four days later at the massive Battle of Prairie Grove.
Hindman's army consisted of the First Corps of what Confederate reports called the Trans-Mississippi Army. The column put in motion on the 3rd included roughly 9,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 22 pieces of field artillery. Supplies were limited and he did not have enough shoes or arms for all of his men and was forced to leave many behind.

Hindman's primary objective was Union Brigadier General James G. Blunt's force at Cane Hill. When Blunt had attacked and taken Cane Hill (now spelled Canehill) on December 28, he had placed himself in an advanced position far from the support of other Union troops under Brigadier General Francis J. Herron in southern Missouri. Hindman quickly recognized this opportunity and hoped to sweep across the mountains and destory Blunt before he could be reinforced:

Boston Mountains
...My intention was to attack Brigadier-General Blunt, on Cane Hill, reported to have between 7,000 and 8,000 men and 30 cannon. I expected... to return immediately after the engagement, having barely ammunition enough for one battle, and not sufficient subsistence and forage for seven days at half rations. These meager supplies had been accumulated with extreme difficulty by hauling in wagons of the general train and regiments 80 miles, my transportation being very limited, the country around me entirely exhausted, and the river two low for navigation. - Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, December 25, 1862.

Hindman acknowledged at the time that his supply situation had become critical and he anticipated having to move his army to Little Rock soon. He felt for the security of the Arkansas River valley, however, that he needed to drive off Blunt before he went.

Marmaduke's cavalry division moved out ahead of the main force, leaving Dripping Springs with the main body of his horsemen on the Telegraph or Wire road that ran largely along ridge tops through the Boston Mountains. Smaller bodies of Confederate cavalry moved up parallel roads, scouting ahead of the infantry and artillery.

Van Buren, Arkansas
Confederate base in thePrairie Grove Campaign
To the west in the Cherokee Nation, Colonel Stand Watie was ordered to advance with his command to the community of Evansville on the Arkansas line. When he heard the sounds of battle, he was to move forward and, if possible, attack and take the enemy's supply wagons.

The main body then moved north on the Telegraph road from Van Buren, heading for the mountains. The column was long and the men were weak and hungry even before they started their march. As a result, the progress of the march was extremely slow. It would take three days for Hindman to emerge from the mountains at Prairie Grove, a distance that can be driven today by car in just a few minutes over an hour.

The move into the mountains was a bold gamble by Hindman, but one that had a good chance of working if he could put his army into position near Cane Hill before Blunt realized what was up. Destroying Blunt's command would open the door to all kinds of possibilities, the least of which would be the reoccupation of Northwest Arkansas by Confederate forces for the winter.  Hindman was careful not to give this as an objective, but the idea must have been on his mind.

I will continue to post on the Prairie Grove campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back regularly. Until the next post, you can read more about the Battle of Prairie Grove by visiting

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