Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pea Ridge #14 - Gen. Albert Pike prepares to move to Arkansas

Fort Gibson Historic Site
On February 15, 1862, 150 years ago today, Brigadier General Albert Pike began his efforts to bring reinforcements to the Confederate troops in the Boston Mountains from the Indian Territory of what is now Oklahoma.

Pike was then in command of Confederate forces in the Nations and had been instrumental in organizing a significant force there and pushing pro-Union Indian troops into Kansas. As the call for help went out from Northwest Arkansas, he prepared to move to the support of Price and McCulloch:

Gen. Albert Pike, CSA
...On February 25 I reached Cantonment Davis, near Fort Gibson, with Colonel Cooper's Choctaw and Chickasaw battalion, which had been encamped near the mouth of the Canadian. The same evening Col. D.N. McIntosh's regiment of Creeks arrived at the same point. I had in charge a large amount of coin and other moneys for the different Indian tribes, and found delegations of the Osages, Comanches, and Reserve Indians awaiting me, and the disposition of the moneys left unexpectedly in my hands, together with the dealings with the Indian tribes, detained me there three days. - Gen. Albert Pike, CSA, March 14, 1862.

Fort Gibson had long been an important landmark of the western frontier. Established in 1824, it was the "end point" of the Train of Tears and as such was the place where thousands of Native American families ended their long forced march to new land west of the Mississippi. It was occupied by Confederate troops early in the war and was the setting for several important councils with the various Indian nations.

Fort Gibson Historic Site
The Indians had entered the service of the Confederacy on the condition that they not be expected to cross the borders of their territory. In asking them to do so, Pike was making a major request. They were willing to do so, but insisted they receive their disbursements from the Confederate government first:

The Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks refused to march until they were paid off, and as by their treaties with us they could not be taken out of the Indian country without their consent, I had no alternative but to submit. The payment of the Choctaws and Chickasaws occupied three days. - Gen. Albert Pike, CSA, March 14, 1862.

Pike and his men would play a significant role in the coming Battle of Pea Ridge. I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign, with attention on the role of the Indian troops in it, over coming days, so be sure to check back often.  You can also read more at

You can learn more about historic Fort Gibson at

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pea Ridge #13 - The Skirmish at Fayetteville, Arkansas

Headquarters House in Fayetteville
At 11:20 a.m. on February 23, 1864, 150 years ago today, a dispatch from General Alexander Asboth announced that his troops had just raised the U.S. flag over Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Ordered south from the Union army camps at Sugar Creek, Asboth hit Fayetteville, driving out Confederate pickets and riding with his troops into the center of town to find public buildings burning around him. A small force of Southern cavalry was found formed on the south side of town and even as his men raised the Stars and Stripes from the top of the Washington Courthouse, orders were given to the Third Iowa Cavalry to charge the lingering Confederates:

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
...All the troops were in the best spirits, and the Third Iowa Cavalry, forming the advance guard, behaved very well, dismounting at command to act as infantry in the bushes. Of the activity, zeal, and energy of Colonel Phelps I cannot speak to highly. - Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA, February 23, 1862.

Casualties in the Skirmish at Fayetteville were light. One Union soldier was wounded, while one Confederate was killed and two others wounded (one thought to be mortal).

Another View of Headquarters House
As he consolidated his position in town, Asboth set up his headquarters at the home of Judge Jonas March Tebbetts. The home, now the Headquarters House Museum, still stands in Fayetteville. Built in 1853, the house is one of the few good examples of Greek Revival architecture left in Northwest Arkansas. It is located at 118 East Dickson Street in Fayetteville and is owned by the Washington County Historical Society

Legend holds that Asboth displayed his famed sweet tooth while in residence at the Tebbetts' House. A jar of preserves supposedly was set out for everyone at the table to enjoy but he ate them all himself.

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
The occupation of Fayetteville was welcomed by the Unionist citizens, but many of those who favored secession left with the Confederate troops. To those who remained, Asboth issued a printed declaration on the same afternoon:

...I have occupied your town to arrest the wanton destruction of public and private property already inaugurated by the Confederate troops; to sustain those of its inhabitants who have been faithful to the laws; to encourage all who may have been faithful to the laws; to encourage all who may have temporarily wavered in their duty under the threats of bad and designing men, and to establish the law and order essential to the public weal. While, therefore, calling upon the loyal citizens of this town to aid me in the furtherance and accomplishment of these objects, I at the same time offer to all who may have faltered in their fealty, but who shall now truthfully declare their allegiance to the laws of the Union, the protection of its flag. Deserted fire-sides cannot be guarded, but every house containing a living soul shall of the protection of our power. None, therefore, should depart. Those absent should return. - General Alexander Asboth, USA, February 23, 1864.

The first Union occupation of Fayetteville would be relatively brief, but for the moment symbolized that Union troops had driven all significant Confederate forces out of Northwest Arkansas and into the Boston Mountains to the south.

I will continue to post on the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often at You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pea Ridge #12 - The Union Army rests at Sugar Creek

Map showing Pea Ridge Battlefield and Sugar Creek (at top)
News reports the front in Northwest Arkansas began to appear in regional newspapers on February 21, 1862, 150 years ago today.

 A special correspondent to the St. Louis Democrat got a message out from Springfield the previous evening. He reported that the main army was continuing to rest at Sugar Creek, near what would soon become the Pea Ridge Battlefield:

A messenger left our army at 10 o'clock A.M. yesterday, and reached here at 4 P.M. to-day. The army retsed at Sugar Creek, eight miles beyond the Arkansas State line.

Since the skirmish on Monday fourteen of the enemy were ascertained to be killed and three wounded. Capt. Switzler received a severe wound int he neck. Adjutant-General McKinney is wounded, though not dangerously. Our troops were bivouacking about eight miles from Cross Hollow, where Price had taken up his quarters. Cross Hollow is a deep ravine, through which runs the Fayetteville road, and is crossed by two other ravines, forming a level area in the valley between the salient point of six promontories. - Report to St. Louis Democrat dated Springfield, Missouri, February 20, 1862.

Topographic Map. Camps were along Creek at bottom.
The reports indicated that a battle was soon expected between General Curtis' Union Army and the Confederate force under Generals Price and McCulloch.

Later in the day a second report came in, describing the Battle of Dunigan's Farm which had taken place four days earlier (see: Pea Ridge #9 - The Battle of Dunigan's Farm).

Second Dispatch - Springfield, Mo., Feb. 20 - From the escort which accompanied the messenger from General Curtis to this place I have gathered some additional particulars of the skirmish at Sugar Creek on Monday. The enemy were concealed in the woods which line both sides of the road. The country is broken, hilly woodland. The First Missouri Cavalry, while charging up the hill, were fired upon by the ambushed foe concealed beyind the trees. After receiving a murderous fire, inw hich thirteen of our men fell and five were wounded, the cavalry fell back and formed in line. Major Brown came up and shelled the woods with his mountain howitzers. The enemy replied with their artillery. The latter ceased firing, and our advance fell back to their camp. Major Brown was wounded in the wrist. Capt. Switzler, of Wright's Battalion, Fourth Cavalry, and Major T.C. McKinney, assistant adjutant-general, are also reported among the wounded. - Report to St. Louis Democrat, dated Springfield, Missouri, February 20, 1862.

The report indicated that a number of Confederates had been captured but otherwise noted that details were meager.

Contrary to the first report, there was no real prospect of an immediate battle. Both armies took advantage of the lull to rest and and reorganize after the first phase of the campaign. Both had been in constant motion for weeks and the rest was needed.

I will continue posting on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign in coming days, so check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pea Ridge #11 - The Burning of Camp Benjamin

Gen. Ben McCulloch, CSA
Aware now that his camps at Cross Hollow could not be defended, Confederate General Ben McCulloch ordered them destroyed.

Some of the finest winter quarters of the Civil War went up in smoke and flame as McCulloch's men pulled out to withdraw into the Boston Mountains. General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard had already pushed into the mountains.

To protect the rear of his withdrawing column and carry out the destruction, McCulloch had cavalry cross the mountains from their winter camps in the Arkansas River Valley. Among the units that came over was the Sixth Texas, which reached Camp Benjamin 150 years ago today. The troopers saw to the destruction of the solid cabins that had once sheltered Colonel Louis Hebert's men:

...I was detailed to destroy the winter quarters in the vicinity of Cross Hollow and to bring up and protect the rear of the army, which was then falling back on Boston Mountains. As the thick, curling volumes of smoke and lurid glare of flame arose from Camp Benjamin my troops doggedly turned to the duty of rear guard for the army, and maintained this position until we were encamped upon the mountain. - Unidentified Member of Sixth Texas Cavalry, 1862.

Dripping Springs, Arkansas
Following the Wire and other roads south through the mountains, the Confederates fell back to the area around Dripping Springs in Crawford County. The cavalry blocked the passes into the mountains.

The movement put the forces under McCulloch and Price into positions they could easily defend. This gave them time to halt, rest, resupply and organize. McCulloch and Price had feuded quite a bit the previous year, but now they were forced to come together for the sake of their common cause. 

The Federals did not try to follow the Confederates into the mountains, but would advance as far south as Fayetteville in coming days. Their long advance, however, was all but over. The initiative would now turn to the Southern army and its new commander, General Earl Van Dorn.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over the next few weeks, so be sure to check back regularly. You can also learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pea Ridge #10 - The Action near Bentonville, Arkansas

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
Having concentrated his main army behind Sugar Creek and pushed back Hebert's men the previous day (see Pea Ridge #9 -The Battle of Dunagin's Farm), Union General Samuel Curtis ordered Brigadier General Alexander Asboth to push forward to Bentonville on February 18, 1862, 150 years ago today.

A former Hungarian freedom fighter and the Chief of Staff who had helped General John C. Fremont organize the Union army to defend Missouri the previous year, Asboth was at his best when operating with cavalry in advance of an army. He moved quickly and efficiently at 9:30 a.m.:

...Following Sugar Creek 4 1/2 miles, I struck the Cassville and Springfield Road (which leaves the Wire road at a point 6 miles behind Sugar Creek Crossing, where the First and Second Divisions were last encamped), and after surprising a dismounted rebel cavalry picket 4 miles this side of Bentonville and taking some of their horses and all their saddles and bridles, I occupied Bentonville at 20 minutes past 12 o'clock. - Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA, February 19, 1862.

Fremont Hussars (Civil War Drawing)
The Action near Bentonville was a quick skirmish. The Union force consisted of the Benton and Fremont Hussars from the Fourth and Fifth Missouri Cavalry Regiments (US) and two pieces of light artillery under Captain Elbert of the First Missouri Flying Battery. Sweeping aside the cavalry picket outside of town, Asboth rolled into Bentonville on horseback to find the town occupied by part of Colonel Frank Rector's Seventeenth Arkansas Infantry (CS).

General Asboth (foreground) and his dog
The Confederates were removing equipment and supplies from Bentonville. There are two versions of what happened next. Major C. Schaeffer Bornstein, Chief of Staff, reported that there was a brief battle::

...After a short engagement the rebels were driven to flight, leaving behind a large amount of provisions, arms, wagons and horses. Besides that, our forces captured a number of prisoners, and took possession of their regimental flag, which they found hoisted at the courthouse. - Major C. Schaeffer Bornstein, USA, March 4, 1862.

 General Asboth reported, however, that there was no resistance in the town:

Civil War map showing Bentonville, Arkansas
...Bentonville was entirely deserted upon our taking possession of it. In a short time, however, we collected from the bushes in its vicinity about 60 men, 32 of whom, being rebel soldiers or taken with arms, I brought in as prisoners.... To the others, sick and wounded and non-combatant inhabitants of the town, I administered the oath of allegiance. - Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA, February 19, 1864.

Asboth reported that the Confederate troops from Bentonville had evacuated their camp there to reinforce the main Southern position at Cross Hollows. After doing some scouting of the area, he returned to the primary Union camps at 7:30 p.m. and presented the captured flag to General Curtis.

The taking of Bentonville with such relative ease convinced General Curtis that he could move a flanking force around to the west from his position at Sugar Creek to force Confederate General Ben McCulloch's main body from its camps at Cross Hollows. McCulloch realized this as well and immediately prepared to evacuate that position and its comfortable winter quarters.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the  Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back regularly. You can always read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pea Ridge #9 - The Battle of Dunagin's Farm, Arkansas

Old Wire Road passes Elkhorn Tavern
The Union army continued to push south down the Wire Road on the morning of February 17, 1862, passing through Cassville and into the rolling mountain country south of that city.

The route of Curtis's cavalry took it across the Arkansas state line just north of Elkhorn Tavern and then through the fields and woods that would soon be the scene of the Battle of Pea Ridge. As the mounted forces reached Sugar Creek, they once again encountered stiff resistance from the Confederates, this time under the command of Colonel Louis Hebert of Louisiana.

Col. Louis Hebert, CSA
Pushing up to the creek and forming for the attack, Wright's Battalion of Missouri Cavalry and McConnell's Battalion of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry drove forward on the Wire Road and into the teeth of a Confederate crossfire:

...Colonel Ellis, leading the charge, took the road and received a heavy cross-fire from the enemy. As I approached, I discovered a heavy column of the enemy on either side of the road. I at once deployed my battalion to the right and charged their lines. Major McConnell went to the left. For a few minutes the fight was well contested on the right, the heavy timber and dense underbrush affording good coverage for the enemy. I ordered a saber charge after firing our carbines and pistols, but soon found that the brush was too dense to make it rapid enough. - Lt. Col. Clark Wright, Clark's Battalion, February 17, 1862.

Aerial View of Dunigan's Farm Battlefield 

Unable to cut through the Confederate resistance with sabers, Lt. Col. Wright ordered his men to return sabers and shift to their carbines. This tactic work and his battalion pushed forward, focing the Southern left from its position in the brush and into open ground beyond. This accomplished, Wright's Missourians fell back about 200 yards and reformed. Their loss was 1 killed and 3 wounded.

Curtis reported that the battle had been opened with artillery fire by the Confederates, to which his own cannon had replied, but that the cavalry charge succeeded in driving the Southern defenders from their high ground. He did not attempt to estimate Southern losses, but reported his own total losses in the fight as 13 killed and 15-20 wounded:

USGS Topo Map of Dunigan's Farm Battlefield
...My advance encamped on the battle ground. General Sigel's command is 4 miles back and will reach me this morning. Have sent cavalry forward to annoy and explore. Cross Hollow is their next point, 12 miles ahead. I shall also await the arrive of the First and Second Divisions, as this is their great boasted trap for the Federal Army. - Samuel R. Curtis, February 18, 1862.

The Battle of Dunigan's Farm is also known as the Battle of Battle of Little Sugar Creek. The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas named it one of its Most Endangered Places for 2011. Please click here to read their comments.

 An important delaying action of the Pea Ridge Campaign, the stand by Hebert at Dunigan's Farm gave Price time to fully extract his Missouri State Guard from danger and reach the reinforcements waiting in Northwest Arkansas under General Ben McCulloch.

I will continue posting on the 150th Anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back regularly. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pea Ridge #8 - Skirmish at Flat Creek, Missouri

Gen. Sterling Price, CSA
National Park Service
February 15, 1862 (150 years ago today) found the Union army poised and ready for battle at Crane Creek in Southwest Missouri. The heavy fight that General Samuel Curtis hoped for did not develop, however, and the Confederates continued what he called a "precipitate flight."

The truth was that General Sterling Price was unwilling to sacrifice the lives of the men in the Missouri State Guard (CSA) in a battle he knew he could not win. As a result, he continued to move his army south down the Wire Road for Arkansas, but kept a strong rear guard in place to hold back any sudden move by the pursuing Federals.

Flat Creek, Missouri
USGS Photo
Having passed Crane Creek, Curtis ordered his cavalry forward to "overtake and charge the enemy." The horsemen moved forward rapidly and soon approached Flat Creek, a mountain stream that flows west to east and eventually feeds the White River (today's Table Rock Lake).

 They reached the crossing of Flat Creek to find that the fight was definitely not out of Price's Missourians:
...When they arrived here [i.e. Flat Creek] they were fired on by artillery and therefore made a stand until other forces came up. The little howitzers returned the fire of the enemy, and kept them at bay till I got heavier batteries in position and drove the enemy forward. The valley is very strong for the enemy, and I wonder he did not make a better stand. I am taking the straggling cattle for rations to-night, and will move on to Cassville at 4. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, February 1862.
Gen. Franz Sigel, USA
National Archives

Curtis was still having difficulty making contact with the second main column of his army led by General Franz Sigel. With little practical knowledge of that general's location and movements, Curtis expressed hope that they would meet soon:

I hope the force of your command is near me to-night. My men are living on meat, and have hardly time to cook it; but they seem eager to push forward, either to take Price or drive him out of the State. - Gen. Samuel Curtis to Gen. Franz Sigel, February 15, 1862.

Flat Creek township, it is interesting to note, was the childhood home of actor Don Johnson, famed for his roles in "Miami Vice" and numerous movies. On February 15, 1862, however, it was home to a sharp skirmish as General Sterling Price continued to fight delaying actions so his army could safely withdraw from Missouri into Northwest Arkansas.

I will continue to post on the 150th Anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime you like at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pea Ridge #7 - Exchanging Valentines of lead at Crane Creek, Missouri

Valentine's Day of 1862 (150 years ago today) found the Union army pushing closer and closer to Northwest Arkansas.

General Curtis and General Franz Sigel were advancing south along roughly parallel routes, hoping to trap Price before he could escape across the Ozark Plateau and into the Boston Mountains of Arkansas. As was often the case in such movements, howevever, Curtis and Sigel had difficulty communicating.
Map showing Crane Creek, McDowell's and Cassville
Notice the route of the Wire Road connecting all three.

At 7 p.m. on February 14, 1862, Curtis dispatched a message to Sigel from McCullah's Store that his cavalry had engaged Confederate troops at Crane Creek:

...Whether he will stand there or not is very uncertain, but I think it will be hard for his train and heavy artillery. He will probably move on through. I will try to attack him in rear to-morrow, but will delay if he stops until you can reach him. I regret that I can get no report from you, but hope you got my reply to yours this morning. I find one or two companies of Benton Hussars here, and will take them with me, as the nearest and best way for them to rejoin you. I hope you are able to reach the enemy or strike his flank at McDowell's since he is now probably passing Crane Creek. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, February 14, 1862.

Gen. Franz Sigel, USA
Crane Creek is located in Southwest Missouri about half-way between Springfield and the Arkansas line. The modern town of Crane sits on the creek, which is a trout-fishing draw for anglers from throughout the region.

The Union cavalry by February 14th had penetrated the country 30 miles below Springfield and the Missouri State Guard was on the verge of being forced entirely from its home state. By road Curtis and the advance elements of his army were now 49 miles from Arkansas.

McDowell's, where Curtis hoped that Sigel would be able to strike Price from the flank, was about 20 miles southwest of Crane Creek between the modern cities of Cassville and Aurora.

General Sterling Price, meanwhile, was moving rapidly hoping to escape the attempt by Curtis and Sigel to trap him with their pincer movement. His main body spent the day pushing south on the old Wire Road, aiming for the Arkansas border and the support of General Ben McCulloch's forces in Washington and Benton Counties.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pea Ridge #6 - Skirmish at Springfield, Missouri

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
National Archives
On February 12, 1862 (150 years ago), Union General Samuel R. Curtis achieved the first major objective of the Pea Ridge Campaign, the capture of Springfield, Missouri.
The city that had been held so long by General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard fell to Federal troops after only minor skirmishing:

The flag of the Union floats over the court-house of Springfield, Mo. The enemy attacked us with small parties at 10.30 o'clock, 12 miles out, and my front guards had a running fire with them most of the afternoon [i.e. of the 11th]. At dusk a regument of the Confederate cavalry attacked the outer picket, but did not move it. A few shots from a howitzer killed 2 and wounded several. The regiment retreated to this place, and the enemy immediately commenced the evacuation of the city. I entered the city at 10 a.m. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, February 12, 1864.

Cannon at Wilson's Creek
National Park Service

Upon taking Springfield on the morning of February 12th, Curtis ordered his cavalry to continue to press Price's retreating Confederates:

...My cavalry is in full pursuit. They say the enemy is making at stand at Wilson's Creek. Forage, flour, and other stores in large quantities taken. Shall pursue as fast as the strength of the men will allow.- Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, February 12, 1864.

Elkhorn Tavern
The capture of Springfield was a pivotal moment in the developing Pea Ridge Campaign. The city was the last major Confederate defensive point between Curtis and the Arkansas border. His push south down the Wire or Telegraph Road would soon bring him across the line near a tavern known for the antlers of an elk that adorned it: Elkhorn Tavern.

The final advance on Springfield had pushed the Confederate forces under Sterling Price into full retreat. With insufficient manpower to make a stand against the oncoming Federals, Price had no choice but to retreat south for Arkansas. His objective now became the Boston Mountains and the thousands of Confederate troops in winter quarters in Northwest Arkansas. The men there under General Ben McCulloch offered not only supplies and safety, but the chance to form a large enough army to go back on the offensive.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pea Ridge #5 - Skirmish at Marshfield, Missouri

Union Approach to Springfield
Springfield at lower left, Marshfield in middle right, Bolivar at upper left.
The afternoon of February 9, 1862,150 years ago today, found General Samuel Curtis 18 miles in advance of Lebanon, pushing for Springfield, Missouri. The Pea Ridge Campaign was picking up speed.

Curtis's immediate objective was Springfield, Missouri, where Confederate General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard lay in wait. All signs were that Price was preparing to retreat into Northwest Arkansas where he would be reinforced by thousands of men under Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh, but there was no way for Curtis to know for sure.

One thing was for certain, his cavalry was getting closer and closer to Springfield. The First Missouri Cavalry (US), for example, had driven to Bolivar just 30 miles north of Price's headquarters. There they had captured a few stragglers, a heard of 125 cattle while "carrying terror and astonishment due north of Springfield."

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
National Archives
At Marshfield, 26 miles northeast of Springfield, a sharp skirmish took place when another Federal cavalry force entered the town:

...[A]t 4 o'clock a cavalry battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wright, entered Marshfield, routing and pursuing a small party of the enemy's force that was running the mill. Pursuit was made, and Captain Montgomery overtook them, killing 2, wounding 3, taking 3 prisoners, several slaves, 3 Government mule teams, 2 common teams, all loaded with wheat designed for the enemy. None of our men were hurt. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, CSA, February 10, 1862.

Curtis reported that he was pleased with his march so far and that the latest intelligence indicated that Price was still in Springfield. Firing could be heard from that direction.

What that firing was is unclear. The presence of Union cavalry in both Bolivar and Marshfield told General Price that he was being approached from both the North and Northeast and that Federal troops were now within a single day's ride of his position at Springfield. Curtis's infantry, he knew, could not be far behind.

The time was coming when Price would have to either retreat or fight. And it was coming fast.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days and weeks, so check back often. You can learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pea Ridge #4 - Signs of a Retreat into Arkansas

Gen. Sterling Price, CSA
A report from a war correspondent in Rolla, Missouri, 150 years ago today included information that indicated General Sterling Price was preparing to evacuate Springfield, Missouri.

The Union army was clearly about to descend upon him and, while the writer does not seem to have fully understood what he was reporting, his dispatch clearly indicated that Price was getting ready to withdraw his Confederate forces into Northwest Arkansas.

While first noting claims that Price had told the Confederate soldiers of the Missouri State Guard that they were surrounded and must must, the reporter went on to note clear intelligence that a retreat might be in the works. The Confederate general, he reported, was collecting "large supplies of provisions ont he road leading from Springfield to Fayetteville."

Old Wire Road between Springfield and Fayetteville
National Park Service
The pro-Union writer seems to have interpreted this as an indication that Price was receiving large reinforcements from Arkansas, but in reality he appears to have been positioning supplies in anticipation of a retreat by his men from Springfield south into Benton County, Arkansas.

The journalist's interpretation of what the Union army was up to was much more accurate:

Gen. Franz Sigel, USA
National Archives
...The news from the West indicates that the preparations against the enemy are nearly completed. The forces for this movement are nearly all concentrated at the point where it is intended to move against the Rebels. In a few days the whole command will probably be on the march Westward. Generals SIGEL and ASBOTH'S divisions have reached Lebanon, and Major WRIGHT'S battalion of cavalry has moved thirteen miles west of that point. - Unnamed Correspondent reporting from Rolla, Misosuri, February 8, 1862.

The division of Colonel Jefferson C. Davis, meanwhile, was reported to be nearing Lebanon.

The leading cavalry of the Union army was now within 40 miles of Springfield and the first significant skirmishing of the Pea Ridge Campaign would take place the next day.

I will continue to post on the campaign over coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back often. You can also read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pea Ridge #3 - A Cold Winter on the Ozark Plateau

Elkhorn Tavern in the Snow
National Park Service
This is part three of a six week long series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read the two previous posts, click Pea Ridge #1 and Pea Ridge #2.
The winter of 1861-1862 was remarkably cold in the Ozarks region of northern Arkansas, even though it was strangely warm deeper in the Deep South.

From Alabama and Mississippi, for example, there were reports that meat was spoiling because there had been no proper "hog killing weather." In Arkansas, however, the snows were piling up. Letters written home to Louisiana by soldiers serving under Colonel Louis Hebert, for example, described snow accumulating to depths of between one and two feet in Benton County.

Ice Storm at Pea Ridge Battlefield
National park Service
The men serving in Northwest Arkansas that winter, however, were reasonably well-housed and well-equipped. Winter quarters in the Cross Hollows area between Fayetteville and Bentonville were strongly constructed of sawed lumber and the thousands of men camped there were sheltered from the cold wind, sleet and snow the characterized that winter. Most described their cabins as "comfortable."

They also were as well-fed as any army in the field at that time. The Arkansas River had been running high through the winter, allowing steamboat traffic to continue at a brisk pace between Little Rock and Fort Smith. The latter city was a major supply center for Confederate troops serving in the West and a steady stream of supply wagons made its way up and over the Boston Mountains with provisions, clothing, shoes, weapons and other necessities for the troops in Washington and Benton Counties.

Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA
Sickness was also diminishing in the camps. Most of the men had now served long enough for their systems to adapt to the rigors and stresses of service in the field.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Arkansas, General Earl Van Dorn had arrived in Pocahontas and appeals had been issued for the men of Arkansas to enlist in his army as quickly as possible. In every county of the state, new companies were forming and preparing to march in response to the calls of General Van Dorn and Governor Rector. An army was forming of sufficient size to approach the Union onslaught that was expected to come down from Missouri in the spring.

I will continue posting on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge over coming days and weeks, so please check back often. You can read more about the battle anytime at

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pea Ridge #2 - Brigadier General Alexander Asboth

Brig. Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
National Park Service
This is part two of a six week series on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read part one first, please click here:

Among the Union generals preparing to advance on Springfield and the Northwest Arkansas, Brigadier General Alexander Asboth is perhaps the least known. And yet, his life was one of the most remarkable of all.

His name is often given as Alexander Sandor Asboth, but this is a misnomer. "Sandor" is the Hungarian equivalent of "Alexander" so using both is an unnecessary but common duplication.

Born in Hungary in 1811, Asboth was an educated soldier and engineer who allied with Governor Lajos Kossuth in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. In the movement, which attempted to establish an American style democracy in Hungary, Asboth became a close ally and friend of Kossuth and fought at the Battles of Kapolna and Nagysallo.

Brady Photo of Gen. Asboth
National Archives
When the revolution collapsed before an assault by the allied forces of Austria and Russia, Asboth joined Kossuth and other Hungarian leaders in fleeing to the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). Congress authorized a relief expedition to save them and President Millard Fillmore dispatched the USS Mississippi for that purpose.

The Hungarian revolutionaries arrived in the United States to a hero's welcome. Asboth settled in New York where he engaged in surveying and engineering and by 1861 had become a naturalized U.S. citizen. His most noteworthy achievement during his New York years was his role in conducting the survey for what became Central Park.

When the Southern states left the Union, Alexander Asboth was appalled. A true Unionist, he considered the U.S. government to be, as he later told a delegation of Southerners in Florida, "the best in the world." He offered his services to President Abraham Lincoln.

Leaving New York for Missouri, Asboth served as chief of staff (or as he termed it, adlatus) for General John C. Fremont and participated significantly in the effort to raise and organize an army to preserve the state for the Union. He was nominated by President Lincoln to the rank of brigadier general, but the commission was not confirmed by the U.S. Senate until well after the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Wartime Sketch of Asboth in Missouri
Notice his dog. It always accompanied him.
During his Missouri years, General Asboth was well known to two other officers who would go on to assume much greater roles in the war: William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman later described him as a personally courageous man whose only real fault as an officer was that he sometimes doubted his own abilities.

When Fremont began his push into southwestern Missouri, Asboth functioned as a major general, leading the 4th Division. He continued this role when General Samuel C. Curtis rose to the command of the army. A noted cavalry leader, even though his division was primarily infantry, Asboth often operated ahead of the main army and would lead the advance to Bentonville and Fayetteville in February of 1862.

His role in the Pea Ridge Campaign will be discussed in coming days and weeks. After the battle, he served in Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee before finally being assigned to the command of the District of West Florida as Sherman was planning his March to the Sea. For a time it was thought that Sherman might have to cut his way through to the Gulf Coast and it was expected that Asboth would be able to move rapidly to his relief should the necessity arise.

Battlefield at Marianna, Florida
He was severely wounded at the Battle of Marianna, Florida, on September 27, 1864, while carrying out the deepest penetration of Florida by Union forces during the entire Civil War. To learn more, please visit

Awarded the brevet rank of major general after the war, Asboth was appointed U.S. Minister to Argentina and Uraguay by President Andrew Johnson. He died in Buenos Aires in 1868 from the effects of the wounds he had received in Florida, in particular a wound to his jaw that had never healed.

Buried in Argentina, his body remained there for 122 years until it was returned to the United States in 1990. The general was reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony that included a eulogy written by President George H.W. Bush. Asboth is revered as a hero in his native Hungary to this day.

If you would like to learn more about his service in Florida after the Battle of Pea Ridge, please consider my book: The Battle of Marianna, Florida: Expanded Edition. (Also available in Kindle format).

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge itself at

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pea Ridge #1 - Brigadier General Albert Pike

Brig. Gen. Albert Pike, C.S.A.
Library of Congress
Note: For the next six weeks I will focus on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Be sure to check in regularly for new postings.
Perhaps the most enigmatic of all Confederate generals, Brigadier General Albert Pike was the commander of Southern forces in the Indian Nations of what is now Oklahoma when the Pea Ridge Campaign developed in 1862.

Born in Boston on December 29, 1809, Pike was the son of a cobbler and one of six children in a hard-working Massachusetts family. He attended public school where, in the tradition of that day, he received an excellent education that included studies in Hebrew, Latin and Greek as well as literature and mathematics. At the age of only 16 he passed the entrance exam for Harvard, but could not afford to go due to the cost of the tuition.

Instead of going on to college, Albert Pike becake a teacher and a poet. He published his first poem at the age of 23 and his work appeared in some of the leading literary journals of his day.

Albert Pike School in Van Buren, Arkansas
Like many Americans of the 19th century he was intrigued by the West. He relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico (then part of Mexico), in 1831 and too part in an exploration of the headwaters of the Red and Arkansas Rivers. He soon appeared in Fort Smith and taught school for several years in the area. One of his one-room schoolhouses, in fact, still survives and can be seen on the grounds of the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren. Please click here to learn more.

Pike fought a Duel on the River in Fort Smith
Involved in politics and journalism before the war, Pike studied law during the antebellum era and represented clients including Creek and Choctaw Indians who had not been paid moneys due them from the U.S. Government. His military career began in 1846 when he joined 1,500 other Arkansans in volunteering for service in the Mexican War. He became embroiled in a controversy with Lieutenant Colonel Seldon Roane and after returning home the two fought a noted duel on the banks of the Arkansas River at Fort Smith. No one was injured in the exchange of fire and both men ended the contest with the honor intact.

Brig. Gen. Albert Pike, C.S.A.
National Park Service
When Arkansas left the Union in 1861, Albert Pike was named commissioner to the Indian nations. The Confederate government subsequently commissioned him as a brigadier general and gave him command of the Indian Territory. He was involved in raising Confederate troops among the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee and Seminole nations.

It was as a brigadier general in command of the troops from the Indian Nations that Pike would take part in the Battle of Pea Ridge, the largest action in which he would fight. In a dispute with General Thomas C. Hindman over which man commanded the forces and supplies in the Indian Territory, Pike resigned his post on July 12, 1862, just four months after the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Albert Pike is perhaps best known, however for his involvement with the Masonic Lodge. He became a Mason in 1850 and in 1859 became Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, which made him the leader of all of the South's Masons. In 1871 he published Morals and Dogma for the Scottish Rite and later penned several other books on Masonry. Appropriately he died at the Scottish Rite Temple in Washington, D.C. on April 2, 1891 and is now buried in a crypt inside the temple.

General Albert Pike would play a signficant and controversial role in the Battle of Pea Ridge and his involvement in the campaign will be dealt with extensively over coming days and weeks. You can learn about his little one-room school in Van Buren by visiting

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February 2, 1862 - "The snow here has been a foot deep"

Col. Louis Hebert, C.S.A.
The letter that follows was written by a Confederate soldier stationed at Camp Benjamin in Northwest Arkansas on February 2, 1862 (150 years ago today).
The man identified himself only as "T" and was probably a member of Colonel Louis Hebert's brigade.

Camp Benjamin, according to an account by Surgeon Washington L. Gammage of the Fourth Arkansas Infantry, was two miles southeast of Cross Hollows and two miles east of the main road connecting Fayetteville and Springfield in Benton County, Arkansas. Gamage described the camp as being in a "narrow, level valley, bounded on the north and south by a high range of hills, and supplied with an abundance of pure sparkling water by a mountain stream, which was of sufficient size to support a grist mill where the corn and wheat which the neighboring farms supplied in abundance."

The soldier's letter provides good insight to the mindset of Confederate soldiers in Northwest Arkansas during the early days of the Pea Ridge Campaign:

Thinking perhaps a line from this section might be acceptable, I write you a line from our lonely winter quarters. We are situated twenty miles east of Fayetteville, in a hollow, surrounded on all sides by high hills, and as freefrom any society except our own forces as we would be in the deserts of Arabia. The daily routine of camp duties is all there is to relieve our monotonous life. My duties confine me very close to my quarters.

We look for stirring times, however, on the opening of the spring campaign. Our General, McCulloch, has returned to command us, which gives universal satisfaction. It would have beeen a great misfortune to this brigade if Price's newspaper friends had succeeded in displacing our General. I fear our brigade would ahve been completely demoralized. McCulloch is beloved by officers and men, here, as a prudent, careful and brave officer, and those who know him best love him most.

Our regiment is looking forward with much interest to the time (17th May,) when we are to be permitted to see our friends at home once more. We are willing to "fight on, fight ever," as long as the war and life last; but we would like, if possible, to go home first.

The snow here has been a foot deep on a level the past week, and the weather intensely cold. To-day it is sleeting and raining by turns, while icicles hang from the eaves of our houses four feet long. We are in comfortable quarters. Three regiments being quartered here it looks like quite a village. The houses are built uniform, 18 by 36, two rooms in each, and about one hundred and fifty houses in all, laid out in regular streets and avenues, in military style, the regimental and staff forming a square at the head of each regiment.

The entire regiment is well clothed and healthy.

A marker for the Confederate camps at Cross Hollows is located at the corner of Cross Hollow Road and Old Wire Road, near Rogers and between Fayetteville and Bentonville. The actual hollow runs from just north of Lowell east into what is now Beaver Lake.

I will continue posting on the 150th anniversary of the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

The map below shows you the Cross Hollows area as it appears today.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 2, 1862 - Curtis reported at Lebanon, Missouri

Gen. Samuel Curtis, U.S.A.
National Archives
As the initial movements of the Pea Ridge Campaign continued to take shape, a report datelined Rolla 150 years ago today indicated that Union General Samuel Curtis had reached Lebanon, Missouri.
Lebanon was a midpoint between the previous Union headquarters in Rolla and the position of Confederate General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard in Springfield. The Union army was now reported to be within 55 miles of the latter city:

...Reliable information from Lebanon says that Gen. Curtis is now in that place, and the number of troops there is constantly increasing. It is doubtless his intention to remain at that place till all his forces arrive, which will be several days yet, as some of them have not started. A considerable number of them are under orders to march this morning, and probably within two or three days all that are going will have departed. - Unidentified Correspondent writing from Rolla, Missouri, February 2, 1862.

Rumors continued to drift north through Missouri that Price's command at Springfield had been reinforced by 12,000 Confederate troops from Arkansas. Some believed such reports, but the correspondent writing from Rolla on February 2nd noted that most did not.

A much bigger concern was caused by high water in the rivers flowing through Southwest Missouri. Flood conditions were causing delays in the movement of both supplies and men:

...The roads between this place [i.e. Rolla] and Lebanon are almost impassable. Fifty teams are said to be on this side of the Gasconade river, waiting for the water to subside.

The report concluded with a note that the main body of the Third Missouri Cavalry (U.S.) had reached Rolla. A couple of companies were still coming up. The regiment, it was noted, would be attached to the division of General Franz Sigel.

I will continue to post on the Pea Ridge Campaign over coming days and weeks, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at