Friday, March 7, 2008

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

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