Monday, March 31, 2008

Battle of Cane Hill, Part Four

This is part four of a series on the Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas. To read the previous posts first, please scroll down the page.
For nearly an hour the Union artillery exchanged fire with Confederate cannon posted on the heights near Cane Hill College. The Confederate advance, under "Fighting Jo" Shelby, had been surprised by the sudden appearance of the Federal troops, even though - as Shelby himself admitted - they had known for 18 hours that the enemy was coming.
Seriously outnumbered by the unfolding Union line of battle, Shelby held his position on the northern edge of town for as long as he could, then withdrew in good order to a second position along a ridge about three quarters of a mile south of his original line. The fighting withdrawal took the soldiers of both sides past the college grounds, which are now open to the public.
Reaching his new position, Shelby found the rest of Marmaduke's Confederates already in line and waiting for him. Falling into line with their reinforcements, the Confederates looked back and beheld a sight they would never forget:
Here the naked eye could see General Blunt’s columns of cavalry and infantry pouring over the hills in our front, and advancing slowly and cautiously to the attack. It was a splendid sight – flaunting banners, serried ranks, as the long lines came gleaming on….
Our series will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting and looking for the "Battle of Cane Hill" link under the Battlefields and Forts heading (on the left column of the home page).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Battle of Cane Hill, Part Three

Learning of the appearance of Marmaduke's Confederates at Cane Hill and the skirmish involving his cavalry on the 25th, Union Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt sent dispatches to Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron in Missouri calling for reinforcements and began a movement down from Benton County to attack the Confederate cavalry.
Due to the rough nature of the roads and time needed to get his force organized and moving, it was daybreak on the morning of November 28, 1862, before he pushed out of a ravine and advanced down the road into the northern edge of Cane Hill.
The Confederates were alert and knew he was coming. As Blunt emerged into the open ground, he found them arrayed in line of battle before him. This following account of the opening shots of the Battle of Cane Hill come from Gen. Blunt's report in the Official Records series:
Dashing on, and driving them before us, a few hundred yards brought us to where the bluff on the right terminated, and in full view of the enemy, who were posted on the right of the road, on elevated ground, with timber in their rear, their guns in battery, bearing upon the road on which I was approaching, and from which they immediately opened a brisk fire. I at once ordered Rabb’s battery into position, and also the two howitzers under Lieutenant [E.S.] Stover, when a fierce cannonading ensued, which lasted for the space of nearly an hour.
Our series on the Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Battle of Cane Hill, Part Two

This photograph shows the historic Cane Hill College building. Although the surviving structure is of post-Civil War construction, the college was an important landmark of the community in 1862 and had been for more than thirty years.
The presence of a thriving college on the eve of the Civil War is just one of the indications that Cane Hill (sometime spelled Canehill) was a prosperous antebellum community. This was also noted by Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman:
Cane Hill is a ridge of perhaps 8 miles length and 5 miles width, in the southwest part of Washington County, Arkansas, just beyond the north base of the Boston Mountains. Three villages are built upon it (Russellville, Boonsborough, and Newburg), which almost blend with each other, covering a distance, as the road to Fayetteville runs, of 3 or 5 miles….
The pre-war economic prosperity of the community had made it a focus for the transportation network of southern Washington County. It was the point at which several key roads united after crossing the Boston Mountains. Anticipating a planned movement of his army up from the Arkansas River valley, Gen. Hindman sent a cavalry force of 2,000 men under Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke to occupy Cane Hill.
Marmaduke moved up in late November of 1862 and positioned his brigades camps stretching along the Cane Hill ridge. Although they comprised only a small part of Marmaduke's force, the presence of Captain William C. Quantrill's guerillas at Cane Hill is an interesting footnote to the battle. This was the organization that produced the notorious post-war outlaws Jesse James, Frank James and Cole Younger. Jesse was not present, but Frank and Cole may have been.
Marmaduke's pickets skirmished with Federal scouts in the vicinity on November 25, 1862, and all signs soon pointed to a looming battle.
Our series on the Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas

This is part one of a new series on the Battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas. Over the next several days, we will explore the history of this important engagement and look at some sites associated with the battle as they appear today.

The Battle of Cane Hill is often treated by historians as a preliminary episode of the Battle of Prairie Grove. While this is technically true, it was also a significant encounter in its on right that involved thousands of troops and dozens of pieces of artillery.

The battle took place when Union General James G. Blunt attacked the Cane Hill (sometimes spelled "Canehill") settlements on the morning of November 28, 1862. The community was held by around 2,000 Confederates under General John S. Marmaduke.

Blunt's men emerged from the hills and ravines north of Cane Hill at daybreak and quickly engaged Marmaduke's men in a battle that would continue for the rest of the day. Over 9,000 men took part in the fight, that raged over 15 miles of mountain country.

Watch for our next post as we begin to explore the history of this important battle. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Monday, March 24, 2008

Robbers Cave - Outlaw Hideout on the Frontier

The cave seen in this photograph is not actually in Arkansas, but does have a close connection to the state's post-Civil War history.
This is Robbers Cave, the focal point of a state park near Wilburton, Oklahoma (about 45 minutes southwest of Fort Smith).
According to local legend, the cave and surrounding rock formations became a hideout in the years following the Civil War for a number of the most notorious outlaws on the western frontier, including Jesse James and Belle Starr. Many of these outlaw groups began as irregular or guerilla bands during the war. When the Civil war came to an "official" end in 1865, they continued to strike at targets of opportunity. The James-Younger Gang was involved in a number of incidents around Arkansas and it is certainly possible that they hid out once or twice around Robbers Cave.
To read more about this fascinating Oklahoma state park that is an easy drive from much of Western Arkansas, please visit and look for the "Robbers Cave State Park" heading on the home page.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Easter!

I will be taking a break for a few days to observe Good Friday and Easter.

New posts will be coming your way next week, but until then please have a happy, safe and blessed weekend.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

General Stand Watie at Fort Smith

Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, the only Native American to be commissioned as a general by the Confederacy, played an important role in the war along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.
A Cherokee warrior, Gen. Watie was the owner of a large plantation before the war. A long-standing opponent of the John Ross party that then help power in the Cherokee government, Watie sided with the Confederacy while many of his political opponents sided with the Union.
His reputation as a bold and fearless cavalry leader was well deserved and he achieved some of the most dramatic victories of the Civil War.
On July 31, 1864, Watie took part in a bold demonstration against the Union defenses of Fort Smith. Hoping to snap up Federal outposts and supplies and provide military protection for local Southern sympathizers who wished to evacuate the area, Confederate Gen. Douglas H. Cooper moved up the Fort Towson Road (today's Towson Avenue) against the southern defenses of Fort Smith at sunrise.
The advance was headed by Watie, who overran a Union outpost and then drove retreating Federals ahead of him all the way up to the earthworks that ringed today's downtown area. It was a bold and rapid attack, characteristic of the general.
Cooper's demonstration was never intended to be a full assault on Fort Smith, but he used Watie's bold attack and a subsequent show of force to intimidate the Federals long enough to inflict considerable damage and allow civilians wishing to evacuate the chance to do so.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Arkansas Feds at Massard Prairie

After Union troops occupied Fort Smith at the time of the Battle of Devil's Backbone in 1863, the Confederate forces in the region experienced a severe phase of demoralization. Hundreds of men (many of them probably more loyal to their region than to either cause) switched sides, slipping away from the Confederate army and joining the Union army that now occupied Fort Smith.
Many of these men were used to form the basis of what was expected to be a new Union regiment, the 4th Arkansas U.S. Infantry.
The 4th, however, never reached full regimental strength. During the most successful period of its formation, it achieved enlistments of 173 men (including officers and a surgeon). This was a sufficient force to form about three companies.
The men were placed in a training camp on Massard Prairie during the spring of 1864. They occupied three company-sized campsites in the woods seen here. The area then was an open grove of trees watered by a small stream.
These men were called "Arkansas Feds" by the troops of both sides. Confederate troops, obviously, had little use for them. Northern soldiers, meanwhile, were often suspicious of their loyalties. The men of the 4th became so irate at their treatment by their own (Union) army, in fact, that they sent a protest letter to the Little Rock Unconditional Union in July of 1864.
The letter provided revealing insights into the mindset of the "Arkansas Feds" in the last year of the war. After express their outrage at being mistreated by their Northern comrades, even though they had joined and were serving in the Union army while their own families were unprotected and subjected to bushwhacker raids, they continued:
Under these circumstances we came to lay our all on the altar of our country, many of us having competent estates. We never owned slaves, no! We never bought one, sold one, held an interest in as much as old Shylock’s pound of human flesh. We come with clean hands, we are Union soldiers, and like the Romans of old, we call on the army and the community to award us the honor and distinction due to American soldiers as long as we are faithful.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Massard Prairie - Fort Smith, Arkansas

This is one of the few surviving sections of Massard Prairie, once a vast expanse of grass and brush that stretched for miles on the southeast edge of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

When Confederate armies assembled and mobilized around Fort Smith at the time of the 1862 Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove campaigns, Massard Prairie was a vast military campsite. The presence of streams of water, excellent grass for livestock and the proximity to the town and post of Fort Smith made the prairie an ideal place for the Confederate armies to camp.

Much of the prairie has been lost to modern development. Factories, homes and even the Fort Smith Regional Airport now occupy ground that once looked much like this. This section of original prairie can be seen from Geren Road.

Massard Prairie was also the sight of one of the most dramatic cavalry charges of the Civil War. More on that is coming up this week here at Arkansas in the Civil War, along with news on the release of my new book, The Battle of Massard Prairie, Arkansas.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Atlanta Storms

Our prayers go out to everyone caught in the Atlanta storms and apparent tornado tonight. It sounds at this point like most of the injuries are minor and hopefully it will stay that way. Much damage was done, though, and many people in downtown Atlanta have been forced from their hotels and homes.Please remember them in your prayers.

If you wish to help, donations in situations like this can always be made through the American Red Cross at

Prairie Grove makes CWPT list of Endangered Battlefields

The Prairie Grove Battlefield in Washington County, site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War west of the Mississippi, is facing danger from ongoing development in the area.
The Civil War Preservation Trust has labeled Prairie Grove as one of the Ten Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields. Although state officials, who have done a tremendous job in expanding and developing the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, disagree to some extent with the designation, the CWPT made its decision based on continuing residential development in areas of the battlefield.
The State of Arkansas now owns and preserves 838 acres of the battlefield and have turned it into one of America's premier preserved battlefield sites. Another 2,000+ acres remain in private hands.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pea Ridge, Part Ten - Union Victory

When the artillery barrages opened the second day of the Battle of Pea Ridge on the morning of March 8, 1862, Union forces moved 21 cannon into position in Cox's Field facing the Confederate lines. Another six cannon were placed in a second field across Telegraph Road and the results were decisive.

Short on ammunition, the Confederates could not respond effectively to the Union artillery fire. In addition, Confederate troops positioned in the rocks of the hillsides (seen in the distance here) were decimated when the exploding shells shattered rocks and trees, sending splinters of iron, wood and rock showering through the men.

At 10 a.m., with his lines of infantry formed in the open and ready to advance, General Curtis gave the order and the left flank troops of Col. Osterhaus and Gen. Alexander Asboth moved forward. It was a spectacular site, with thousands of Union troops moving in formation across the open fields against the battered and exhausted Confederates.

The Confederate right gave way under the pressure of the advance and Generals Van Dorn and Price led these men away via the Huntsville Road. Half the army, however, was left on the field with no one in command. Seeing the Southern troops begin to retreat, Curtis ordered forward his entire army and swept the Confederates from the field. It was a dramatic defeat for Van Dorn and forever doomed his reputation among the troops from Arkansas and Missouri.

The Federals rushed to try to run down or cut off as many of the divided Confederates as they could, with General Curtis reportedly riding up and down his lines shouting "Victory! Victory!" to the cheers of his men.

What Curtis achieved at Pea Ridge clearly indicates he was one of the finest generals of the war, although he had few opportunities after the battle to demonstrate his capabilities. Not only did he save Missouri for the Union, he defeated a much larger Confederate army, achieved a complete reversal of front while in battle and demonstrated a sound strategic and tactical mind.

Van Dorn would fight again in Mississippi (and be beaten again at Corinth), but eventually fell not in battle, but to the gun of the outraged husband of a woman he fancied.

Although casualties from the battle are difficult to count with complete accuracy, it was one of bloodiest battles of the first year of the war. Curtis reported losing 203 killed, 150 mortally wounded, 830 wounded and 201 missing in action (a total of 1,384). Confederate losses were probably around 2,000 men, 500 of whom were captured on the battlefield.

The battlefield is now preserved as Pea Ridge National Military Park, located in Benton County, Arkansas. Established by Congress in 1956 and dedicated in 1963, the park is one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields in the country. Pea Ridge Battlefield is open to the public daily and facilities include a visitor center, tour road through key areas of the battlefield, Elkhorn Tavern and 4,300 acres of historic landscape.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pea Ridge, Part Nine - Confederate Batteries

By the end of the day on March 7, 1862, the Confederates under Gen. Price had pushed past Elkhorn Tavern. They followed the retreating Federals and took up positions south of the tavern looking out onto the fields across which their enemy was reforming.

Although they had been victorious on their sector of the battlefield, the Confederates were exhausted. Ammunition and other supplies were running short, largely because Gen. Van Dorn had pushed his army forward to Pea Ridge at such a rate that his supply trains were unable to keep up.

Federal troops, meanwhile, achieved a dramatic reversal of front that continues to be studied by military students to this day. Curtis turned his entire army around and during the night of March 7 formed his troops facing the Confederates.

Dawn broke on the morning of March 8, 1862, the battered Confederates found themselves facing a fully arrayed and fresh Union army. No supplies had yet come up and most of the Southern troops who had fought on the Leetown sector of the battlefield had not reached Elkhorn by the time the battle resumed.

Bold to a fault, Gen. Van Dorn formed three of his batteries on either side of Telegraph Road and began a fierce artillery duel with the Federal batteries facing him. The firing started at 8 a.m., opening a second day of fighting.

The Confederate guns, however, soon began to fall silent. Ammunition was running out. Union artillery soon began to inflict severe losses on the Southern cannon crews as counter-battery fire from the Confederate lines diminished.

The tide of the Battle of Pea Ridge had turned.

Our series on Pea Ridge will continue in our next posting. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Pea Ridge, Part Eight - The Monuments

The battlefield at Pea Ridge National Military Park is unique among America's major Civil War sites in that the hallowed ground is very uncluttered and open. Although there are interpretive panels and cannon, the park gives visitors a chance to see unobstructed vistas of the battlefield. As a result, Pea Ridge is one of the most beautiful preserved battlefields in the country.
While the beautifully preserved park serves as a permanent memorial to the men who fought and died here, visitors can also see two historic monuments that were placed on the field years ago near Elkhorn Tavern. The one seen here in the distance honors the Confederate generals who died at the Battle of Pea Ridge. It was paid for by the citizens of Benton County, Arkansas and erected on the battlefield in 1887.
The second monument, closer to the camera, is among the most unique to be found on any American battlefield. It was erected in 1889 by the veterans of both armies and symbolizes that they were once again reunited. It was one of the first monuments of its kind in the country, erected by soldiers who wanted the world to know that they were once again friends and countrymen, despite the hardships of the war they had fought against each other. It stands as an eternal reminder of the peace and unity that the soldiers themselves wanted the world to remember.
Our series on the Battle of Pea Ridge will continue. Until the next posting, you can read more by visiting

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pea Ridge, Part Seven - Attack at Elkhorn Tavern

This photograph was taken from the bed of the old Telegraph Road in front of Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge National Military Park.
In conjunction with the attack at Leetown, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn planned to emerge from the woods and ravines here and advance up the Telegraph Road to strike the Union supply trains that were concentrated in the fields near the tavern. When the battle began, this was the rear of the Union army, but it soon became the front.
When couriers brought news to Union General Curtis that Confederate troops were advancing on this point, he placed Colonel Eugene Carr in command of Colonel Grenville Dodge's Brigade and sent him to investigate. Carr promised to drive out the Southern troops in less than one hour as he headed north up Telegraph Road.
By the time he reached this point, Carr realized that the Confederates were approaching in force. He spread his men into line on each side of the road and placed his artillery in the clearing where it control the road. He was reinforced by his second brigade and more cannon at around noon.
Both sides were advancing and collided in the trees visible in this picture. The ground there was broken and filled with rocky ravines. The weather was cold at clouds of smoke, "the fog of war," soon filled the hollows and so obscured the scene that neither side could see the other and the men fought by firing at the flashes from the barrels of the other side's muskets.
General Sterling Price and his Missourians battled fiercely against Carr and his men. Although the Confederates outnumbered the Federals by more than 300% in men and 700% in artillery, the Union troops threw back attack after attack in bloody, savage fighting. For six hours the battle raged back and forth here until Price was finally able to break Carr's left flank and drive the Federals back.
Now isolated, the men of the Federal right flank (commanded by Col. Dodge) dug in and held on instead of falling back. They piled fence rails and logs and continued to drive back Confederate attacks. Some of the fighting was literally muzzle to muzzle. Gen. Price finally ordered a charge against the full length of the line. The Union troops by now were running low on ammunition and Dodge had no choice but to fall back.
The fight around Elkhorn Tavern was one of the most intense and bloody stand-up fights of the Civil War. The ground is now preserved at the national park and can be viewed from your car, but the best way to see it is to get out and walk.
Our series will continue, but until then you can read more by visiting

Pea Ridge, Part Six - Elkhorn Tavern

One of the key landmarks of the Battle of Pea Ridge was Elkhorn Tavern. In fact, the engagement is sometimes called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas.
Elkhorn Tavern faced the old telegraph road and it was up this road that the second major Confederate attack advanced on March 7, 1862.
The original tavern was built in 1836 and was purchased in 1855 by Jesse and Polly Cox. The Cox family made a number of improvements to the structure and were living here at the time of the battle. Polly took shelter in the cellar during the Battle of Pea Ridge, along with her son, Joseph, his wife Lucinda, and their two young children.
Amazingly, although it was hit by cannon fire several times and fighting raged through yards, Elkhorn Tavern (so named because of a large set of Elk antlers displayed on the roof) survived the battle. The original structure was burned by Confederate guerillas one year later. The current tavern building was built by Joseph Cox after the war on the site of the original. It bears a striking resemblance to the tavern that stood here during the battle.
In our next post, we will look at the role played by Elkhorn Tavern in the Battle of Pea Ridge. Until then, you can learn more about the battle by visiting

Pea Ridge, Part Five - View from the East Overlook

Continuing our series on the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, this view was taken from the East Overlook on the tour road at Pea Ridge National Military Park. It provides a wide view of the battlefiled.
Little Sugar Creek, where the Union army was positioned prior to the battle, is hidden behind the trees in the distance toward the horizon. The Confederates attacked in two locations, trying to strike the Federal flank and rear at the same time.
The first attack, against Union troops around the hamlet of Leetown, was in the woods and fields in the distant right of this photograph and further west. The other attack, launched up the Telegraph Road against Confederate troops around Elkhorn Tavern, came up just to the left of this photograph. The vast field seen here was occupied by the Union army during the late afternoon and evening of March 7, 1862 and the morning of March 8th saw the blueclad soldiers arrayed in massive ranks across the open ground.
Our tour of the Pea Ridge Battlefield will continue in our next post. Until then, you can learn more by visiting

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pea Ridge, Part Four - West Overlook

You can access a National Park Service map of the Pea Ridge battlefield by clicking here. It might help you better visualize the locations we are describing in our series.
This view, from atop Big Mountain (also called Pea Ridge), provides an outstanding view of the Ozark Plateau over which the two armies moved during the days leading up to and during the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. On a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Bentonville (11 miles west) and Fayetteville (29 miles south). The West Overlook also provides good views of the wider battlefield area. The overlook is at Tour Stop #5 on the tour road at Pea Ridge National Military Park. No significant action took place at this spot, but it s a good place to absorb the incredible view.
Our series will continue. In the meantime, read more by visiting

Pea Ridge, Part Three - "Shooting Wagons"

As we continue our series on the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, please remember that you can access a map of the battlefield by clicking here.
The photo here shows the view from Tour Stop 4 on the tour road at Pea Ridge National Military Park. This was Foster's Farm at the time of the battle and was the scene where the Union cavalry collided with McCulloch's oncoming Confederates shortly before the action at Leetown (described in our last post).
After forming his division along a tree line, Col. Osterhaus sent forward his cavalry and three field guns to confront the Confederates and unveil the situation. As the Union horsemen emerged into the fields of Foster's Farm, however, they were stunned to see the 8,000 men under Gen. McCulloch advancing on across the same fields. The Union cannon opened fire, but McCulloch sent Gen. McIntosh sweeping around from his right to charge the severely outnumbered Federals. As the Confederate cavalry came storming down on them, the Federals broke and ran after a short fight and Southern troops overran their supporting cannon. The Confederates continued to advance and the battle moved into the phase that we described in yesterday's posting on Leetown.
Among the Southern troops that fought here at Foster's Farm was the Indian Brigade under Brig. Gen. Albert Pike. Composed of warriors from the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma), this Native American Confederate force was involved in capturing Union artillery, called "shooting wagons" by some of the warriors. They also successfully ambushed two companies of Iowa cavalry.
After the battle, Union troops discovered the scene of this ambush. Among the bodies littering the ground they reported that they found the remains of 8 men that had been scalped and another 17 that had been mutilated. The U.S. Congress launched an investigation into the incident and leveled the blame on Pike and his Native American warriors.
It should be noted that scalping and mutilation of dead enemies held ceremonial importance among some Native American tribes during the 18th century. It was a way of assuring that enemies would be much weaker in the next world. It is also worth noting that early white officials in the Southeast encouraged some of these practices, often allying themselves with specific tribes and rewarding war parties for every scalp they brought back.
Our series on the Battle of Pea Ridge will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pea Ridge, Part Two - Attack at Leetown

Note: If you aren't familiar with the Pea Ridge battlefield, you can use this map from the National Park Service to help understand the sites we'll be describing over the next few days.

As he arrived with his division at Leetown to the right and rear of the Federal right flank and found the Confederates there in force, Union Col. Peter Osterhaus deployed his infantry along a treeline and sent his cavalry forward into an open field. They were quickly driven back by Confederate cavalry.

The Confederates greatly outnumbered Osterhaus and planned to launch three separate attacks on this segment of the battlefield. General Ben McCulloch planned to attack Osterhaus' infantry with his man force, while Col. Lewis Hebert moved through Morgan's Woods and struck the Federal right flank. General Albert Pike's warriors from Indian territory would operate on the Confederate right.

Gen. McCulloch rode forward to take a closer look at the arrangement of the Union lines before launching his attack. It proved to be a fatal decision. He was shot and killed by Federal skirmishers.

His second-in-command, General James McIntosh, now assumed command of the attack. He was killed less than 15 minutes later, however, while leading a regiment forward. The Confederate attack disintegrated as command and control broke down on the battlefield. Other Confederate officers had no way of knowing that both generals were dead and so no one stepped forward to assume command of the attack. Osterhaus had held.

Col. Hebert was now the division commander, but had already moved with his men into Morgan's Woods following orders to attack the Union right flank. He drove back two Union regiments and captured part of a battery, but his attack became disorganized in the thick woods. Things became so confusing that some Confederates fired into the backs of their own men.

Since the attack on his front had fallen back, Osterhaus now swung his command to the to the right and struck Hebert's flank. Another force of Union troops under Col. Davis soon attacked the Hebert's other flank and his command disintegrated. The colonel himself became confused as he tried to escape the debacle and went in the wrong direction, only to be captured near Curtis' headquarters.

The Confederate attack at Leetown had failed and two promising Southern generals - Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh - had been killed. The Battle of Pea Ridge, however, was just beginning.

Our series on the battle will continue in the next post. Until then you can read more by visiting

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Part One

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The major Civil War battle was found on March 7-8, 1862.

We are marking the 146th anniversary of the battle with a new series here at Arkansas in the Civil War. Over the next week, we will look in depth at the Battle of Pea Ridge (also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern) and explore some of the key sites on the battlefield.

The battle began on March 7, 1862, when the Confederate Army of the West, commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn, launched an uncoordinated attack on the right flank and rear of the Union Army of the Frontier, commanded by Major General Samuel R. Curtis.

Pea Ridge was one of the few major battles of the Civil War in which the Confederate forces outnumbered the Union forces. Van Dorn brought an army of 16,000 men and 65 cannon into the fight, compared to the Union force of 10,500 men and 52 cannon.

Van Dorn's primary strategy was to sweep around the left flank of the Union army and surprise Curtis with a devastating attack on his flank and rear. The Union forces were then entrenched in a line overlooking Little Sugar Creek in northern Benton County, Arkansas. Despite severe cold and the exhausted state of his men, Van Dorn committed them to battle on March 7, 1862, without waiting for his supply trains to come up or for his forces to move completely into position. His attack was intended to encounter an invasion of Northwest Arkansas by Curtis, who had moved into the region in February and penetrated as far south as Fayetteville.

General Curtis was meeting with his subordinate generals behind his lines at Pratt's Store on the morning of March 7, 1862, when couriers reported that Confederates were present in force on the Ford Road just north of the little hamlet of Leetown. A second report soon indicated that more Southern troops were coming south down the Telegraph Road. All of these sites are now part of Pea Ridge National Military Park. Curtis sent Colonel Peter Osterhaus with his division to intercept the Confederates at Leetown, while Colonel Eugene Carr marched north with Colonel Grenville Dodge's brigade to unveil the situation up the Telegraph Road.

Osterhaus reached Leetown to find that the reports were correct and that a major Confederate offensive was sweepingdown on the Union right flank.

Our series on the Battle of Pea Ridge will continue later today. Until then, you can read more by visiting

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

This week marks the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This massive engagement was found across thousands of acres of beautiful Ozark Plateau countryside in Northwest Arkansas on March 7-8, 1865.
Also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, the Battle of Pea Ridge was one of the largest battles ever fought west of the Mississippi River and was also one of the largest battles of the first year of the Civil War. The site today is preserved at Pea Ridge National Military Park, an outstanding national park area in Benton County, Arkansas.
Beginning tomorrow, we will begin a multi-part series on the Battle of Pea Ridge. We will look at the strategy and tactics of the battle and share photographs of the battlefield as it appears today. Until then, if you would like to read more, please visit

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Jenkins' Ferry - Part Five

We wrap up our series on the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry and Jenkins' Ferry State Park today with this view of the state park area.
Things are a little brown here (the photo was taken in late February), but the trees should be showing plenty of green soon.
The park is a very nice place to stop for an hour or so and reflect on the history of the area or to enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine. In addition to its historical significance, Jenkins' Ferry State Park offers picnic tables, a boat ramp and a "swimming hole." There are no facilities at the park, so keep that in mind.
After crossing the Saline River at the end of the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, the Union army marched away across the ground seen here and continued their retreat to Little Rock. The withdrawal ended the last significant Arkansas action of the Red River Campaign.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jenkins' Ferry, Part Four

This photo gives you a good idea of the appearance of the actual battlefield at Jenkins' Ferry as it appears today.
This vast swampy scene of the battle is located across the Saline River from Jenkins' Ferry State Park and remains on private property. Access is restricted, so please respect private property rights.
At the time of the battle, as seen here, the white oak swamps bordering the Saline River were overflowing and the men of both sides fought in water, muck and mud. This contributed greatly to the inability of Confederate commanders to properly coordinate their attacks and proved an advantage to the Federals in defending their wagon trains until they could get them across the river.
If you would like to read more about the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, please visit I'll be adding other Arkansas sites from the Red River campaign over the next few weeks.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Jenkins' Ferry, Part Three

This is the monument erected at the Jenkins' Ferry battlefield in 1928 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument is to the left just inside the entrance to the state park.
Although estimates of casualties vary, the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry was extremely bloody for Confederate forces who hurled themselves repeatedly against the breastworks of the Union army. The Southern attacks were uncoordinated and hampered by flooding. As a result, the Confederate ranks experienced severe losses.
Although they were unable to carry the Union lines, the Confederates were able to hammer the Federals so hard that they withdrew from the battlefield in an extremely battered condition, bringing the Arkansas phase of the Red River Campaign to a close.
Our look at the Jenkins' Ferry battlefield will continue, but in the meantime you can read more by going to