Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5, 1862 - The Confederates concentrate at Elm Springs

Telegraph or Wire Road at Pea Ridge Battlefield
On March 5, 1865, 150 years ago today, the Confederate army of Major General Earl Van Dorn concentrated at Elm Springs in Northwest Arkansas. The Battle of Pea Ridge was now just two days away.

Elm Springs is located near Springdale, roughly between Fayetteville and Bentonville. It provided a logical point for the Confederates to organize for the coming battle. With plenty of water from a cluster of natural springs and plenty of wood for fuel, it was also a good staging point where all of the Southern troops coming down out of the Boston Mountains could gather. It was also within easy striking distance of both Bentonville and the main Federal camps at Sugar Creek near Pea Ridge.

Topographic Map of Elm Springs
(Click to Enlarge)
Colonel Greer of the Third Texas Cavalry, which had led off the advance from the Boston Mountains on the 4th, described the advance of Van Dorn's army to Elm Springs:

...After leaving Fayetteville General McIntosh's brigade, which was composed exclusively of cavalry, marched up the Telegraph or Springfield road for 4 miles, while General Price's division, with the rest of our army, was ordered up the Elm Springs road. Four miles from Fayetteville Colonel Stone was ordered with his regiment to proceed a few miles farther up the Telegraph road, where he would remain during the night and rejoin our forces the next day. The rest of General McIntosh's brigade turned to the left, and after carefully reconnoitering the country and getting all the information we could of the enemy, joined the main body of our army at Elm Springs. Considerable snow fell again that night. - Col. E. Greer, Third Texas Cavalry, CSA, March 1862.

Gen. James McIntosh, CSA
Commander of the Confederate Cavalry Brigade
The position of the troops on the night of the 5th showed initial signs of General Van Dorn's plan for the coming battle. The Telegraph (Wire) Road, up which Colonel B.W. Stone was ordered to move with the Sixth Texas Cavalry, was the main road leading directly to Sugar Creek and the main Union encampment. Based on the movement of the main body of the Confederate army to Elm Springs, Van Dorn clearly was not planning a direct attack up the main road leading to the Union army.

Instead, the concentration of the Confederate force at Elm Springs showed that Van Dorn planned to continue north to Bentonville and then swing right (east) to hit the Federal army on its right flank. This would flank the strong position taken up by General Curtis behind Sugar Creek, eliminating the use of the creek as a natural barrier and bypassing the breastworks the Federals had thrown up on the slopes overlooking the creek.

The halt at Elm Springs also allowed time for Brigadier General Albert Pike to come up with his forces from the Indian Territory. He was now in Northwest Arkansas and would reach Elm Springs the next morning.

The snow continued to pile up on the night of the 5th, creating more misery for the freezing men in the Confederate army and more difficulty for the teams trying to bring up their wagon trains of supplies.

I will continue to post on the Battle of Pea Ridge tomorrow, so be sure to check back for an article on the Confederate army's move into position for battle. You can read more about the battle before then at

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