Thursday, November 17, 2011

Van Buren, Arkansas - Before the Battle of Prairie Grove

Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren
In November of 1862, Confederate General Thomas Hindman began to prepare for a move from the Arkansas River Valley across the Boston Mountains into the Ozarks Plateau of Northwest Arkansas. He hoped to return a large area of Arkansas to Confederate control, while also opening the door for further operations into Missouri.
The launching point for this planned campaign was Van Buren, a charming town on the Arkansas River. The location of important steamboat landings and a ferry that crossed over to Fort Smith, Van Buren had supported the Southern cause since the earliest days of secession.

Militia troops from the city had joined in the taking of Fort Smith from U.S. forces in 1861 and it had served as a base of operations for troops moving north across the mountains before both the Battle of Wilson's Creek and the Battle of Pea Ridge. Wounded Confederate soldiers were brought back to Van Buren after both battles and the graves of those that did not survive can be seen today in rows at Fairview Cemetery.

Van Buren from above.
In November of 1862, Van Buren took on a critical role as Hindman planned his move into Northwest Arkansas. A large force of cavalry was positioned just north of town under General John S. Marmaduke. His command included Captain William Clark Quantrill's Missouri guerrillas. Jesse James, then only 14, was not yet part of the command, but other men with names that still echo through history were there. Among them were Frank James and Cole Younger.

Downtown Van Buren, Arkansas
With Markaduke's command in place to block in Federal movement or probe on Van Buren, Hindman began stockpiling provisions, ammunition and other supplies in the city. These would be used by his army as it crossed over the mountains. Troops also began the slow process of moving across the Arkansas River from their camps on Massard Prairie. They knew that combat was coming, but did not yet know that they would remember the name "Prairie Grove" for the rest of their lives.

I will continue posting on the Prairie Grove Campaign over coming weeks.  Until the next post, you can read more about historic Van Buren at

Read more about the Battle of Prairie Grove at

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