Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21, 1862 - Rumors in Rolla

Gen. Samuel Curtiss
National Archives
The  situation in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri began to reach its critical point during the third week of January, 1862.
Union General Samuel Curtis still in Rolla, preparing to begin his final advance on Springfield and the Arkansas border, while Confederates in the region were still not ready for a major fight. Gen. Sterling Price was still in Springfield with the Missouri State Guard. "Old Pap," as he was called by his men, was still not a regular Confederate general, but held his rank only in his state's pro-secession militia.

Meanwhile, scouts and pro-Union citizens continued to flow into the Federal lines, bringing intelligence on the situation in Springfield and beyond. One such citizen arrived at the beginning of the third week of March with wide-ranging information on Confederate activity as far south as the Arkansas River Valley:

   ...[I]t was reported that 170 or 200 rebels were encamped at the head of Spring River, en route for Cassville.
   In regard to the number of troops in Northern Arkansas, he says he had it from good authority that there were only 500 or 600 at Cross Hollows and Cave Hill [i.e. Springs], Benton County. But a body of 5,000 men were at Tilsforth Bend, about 50 miles below Van Bergen [i.e. Van Buren], on the Arkansas river.
   Several secessionists told him that Price's forces at Springfield did not exceed 10,000.
   This gentleman met the scouts of the federal army beyond Lebanon, and other troops at different points this side. - Providence Evening Press, January 27, 1862.
Ozarks of Southwest Missouri

The report that the Missouri State Guard included 10,000 men or less was one of the first to accurately estimate Price's effective strength. Most previous reports had wildly exaggerated the strength of his force.

The citizen did, however, seriously under-estimate the number of Confederates then in Northwest Arkansas. The actual number was closer to 4,000 than the 500-600 he reported, with another few thousand Confederate cavalrymen just across the Boston Mountains in and around Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Such intelligence would continue to come in as both sides prepared for a campaign that would end in early March at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. I will continue posting on the campaign over coming weeks, so be sure to check back often. You can always learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

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