Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Confederacy abandons Western Arkansas - March 22, 1862

Pea Ridge Battlefield
The shattering defeat suffered by the Confederate army of Major General Earl Van Dorn at the Battle of Pea Ridge ended, at least temporarily, Southern hopes of holding Northwest Arkansas.
By March 22, 1862 (150 years ago today), the remaining Confederate troops in the region had fallen back to Lee Creek in Crawford County and were preparing to leave the area for good. The Union army and navy were pressing on New Madrid and Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River and Van Dorn proposed to his commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, that he march in support of the trapped garrison there.

Arkansas River at Van Buren
On March 21st he had informed Brigadier General Albert Pike, commanding in the Indian Territory, that he had "decided to march with this army against the enemy now invading the northeastern part of the State." Then on the 22nd, Major General J.P. McCown commanding at New Madrid and Island No. 10 was informed by Beauregard that, "Van Dorn proposes to attack enemy in reverse at New Madrid. Be of good cheer and hold out."

Riverfront Historical Marker at Van Buren
While waiting for instructions from Beauregard, Van Dorn began an immediate movement of his army for Northeast Arkansas. He left quickly and on March 22nd, 150 years ago today, his Assistant Adjutant-General D.H. Maury left Van Buren on the steamboat Lelia. Before leaving, Maury issued a plan of march to Major General Sterling Price:

...Please direct your march, via Clarksville, Dover, and Springfield (Conway County), toward Batesville, on White River. Expressmen will meet you on this road with instructions which will control you in the further march of your column. The troops of the advance post in Boston Mountains, on Lee's Creek, should not, of course, be relieved until the last moment, and when relieved should march with Greer's cavalry as the rear guard of the army. It is of the greatest importance that the troops of your command should reach White River at the earliest possible date. - Dabney H. Maury, CSA, March 22, 1862.

Gen. Dabney H. Maury
Maury went on to instruct Price to assume command that day of "matters in this vicinity preparatory to your march." Scouts were to be left behind to watch the Union army in Washington and Benton County and provide quick alerts should it begin to move. Cavalry regiments on the march from Texas to reinforce the army and within 50 miles of Van Buren were instructed to unite with Greer's cavalry brigade at Ozark.

The plan to strike against the Union army attacking Island No. 10 was a bold one, but would not happen. The Confederate defenses on the Mississippi River would crumble far faster than any of the Southern generals in the region could imagine.

The movement of Van Dorn's army, however, placed the western half of Arkansas in a terribly exposed position. With spring arriving, the entire Arkansas River valley from Little Rock to Fort Smith was now subject to Union conquest. Fort Smith was prepared for capture by the Federals and General Pike was ordered to act on the defensive in the Indian Nations. A time of great crisis was developing for the pro-secession people of the region.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 13, 1862 - A Link Between Pea Ridge and Horseshoe Bend

Gen. Ben McCulloch, CSA
Among the remarkable connections that thread their way through Southern history is the story of the son of a soldier of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend who lost his life while commanding a Confederate division that included soldiers from the CherokeeNation.
Brigadier General Ben McCulloch fell on March 7, 1862, at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The commander of one of the two Confederate divisions engaged in that battle, McCulloch led a force that included Brigadier General Albert Pike's brigade from the Indian Territory. Among the men in Pike's brigade were warriors from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek Nations.

McCulloch, in turn, was the son of Lieutenant Alexander McCulloch, an officer in the army of Major General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama. Horseshoe Bend, many believe, started the Creek Nation on a road that would lead to its forced removal to what is now Oklahoma just three decades later. A large force of Cherokee warriors fought on Jackson's side in that battle and figured prominently in his victory.

Gun Hill at Horseshoe Bend Battlefield
McCulloch's father fought at the Alabama battle.
Fought on March 27, 1814, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was a bloody defeat for the followers of the Red Stick movement within the Creek Nation. Led by Jackson in person, a U.S. Army stormed Red Stick fortifications at the town of Tohopeka. Most of the warriors fought to the death, prompting one eyewitness to observe that the Tallapoosa River "ran red with blood." More than 800 Creek warriors died, while Jackson's force suffered losses of 49 killed and 154 wounded.

In addition to Alexander McCulloch, noteworthy individuals on the field included Sam Houston, Sequoyah, Menawa, Major Ridge, William McIntosh and others. The famed frontiersman Davy Crockett once claimed to have been there, but was not. (Note: Crockett did fight in other battles of the Creek War).

Leetown Area of Pea Ridge Battlefield
McCulloch fell while leading the Confederate attack at Leetown.
On March 13, 1862, the New Orleans Times-Picayune memorialized General Ben McCulloch in a column that reminded readers of his father as well:

Ben McCulloch, whose loss on the field of battle will be mourned by his countrymen, was the son of Alexander McCulloch, who was a lieutenant and aid to Gen. Coffee, of Tennessee, in the battles of Talladega and Horse Shoe Bend, and who resigned his commission in March, 1814.
Ben was born in Rutherford county, Tenn., in 1814. He was a captain of Texas Rangers in the Mexican war, and was distinguished for courage and conduct in the battle of Monterey. On the 11th of July, 1846, he was appointed quartermaster, with the rank of major. He was also distinguished in the battle of Buena Vista, and as the commander of a spy company, before that battle, for a most daring and successful reconnoisance. He resigned his staff appointment in 1847. At his death he was a brigadier general, commanding a division, and chiefly composed of Arkansas and Texas troops. The 3d Louisiana, Col. Hebert, was attached to this division.

General Ben McCulloch was first buried on the battlefield at Pea Ridge, but his body rests today at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
To learn more about the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, please visit
To learn more about the Battle of Pea Ridge,  please visit

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day Two

The ground across which the Union army attacked
The learn about the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, please click here: Day One, Part One.

The sun rose over the Pea Ridge battlefield on March 8, 1862, 150 years ago today, to find the Union army completing its 180 degree change of front and the Confederate army hungry, exhausted and low on ammunition:

...The sun rose above the horizon before our troops were all in position and yet the enemy had not renewed the attack. I was hardly ready to open fire on him, as the First and Second Divisions had not yet moved into position. Our troops that rested on their arms in the face of the enemy, seeing him in motion, could not brook delay, and the center, under Colonel Davis, opened fire. The enemy replied with terrible energy from new batteries and lines which had been prepared for us during the night. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Col. Jefferson C. Davis, USA
The opening of the second day of the battle by the men of Colonel Jefferson C. Davis ignited an artillery duel for which the Union army was much better prepared. Curtis moved his batteries into position to create a crossfire that swept the Confederates with shot and shell from multiple directions.

The Southern batteries simply could not match the intensity of fire of the Federal guns. A portion of Van Dorn's army was positioned in the large rock and ravines of the mountain and the exploding shells shattered rock in all directions, inflicting gruesome injuries on these soldiers.

Curtis ordered forward his infantry in a staggered attack that began with the advance of his left:

Position from which the Union left wing attacked
...The left wing, advancing rapidly, soon began to ascend the mountain cliff, from which the artillery had driven most of the rebel force. The upward movement of the gallant Thirty-sixth Illinois, with its dark-blue line of men and its gleaming bayonets, steadily rose from base to summit, when it dashed forward into the forest, driving and scattering the rebels from these commanding heights. The Twelfth Missouri, far in dvance of others, rushes into the enemy's lines, bearing off a flag and two pieces of artillery. Everywhere our line moved forward and the foe as gradually withdrew. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Telegraph Road, along which part of the Southern army retreated
NPS Photo
As the Federal lines of battle moved forward, the Confederate army disintegrated. In the words of General Curtis, "no force could have withstood our converging line and concentrated cross-fire."

Hungry, tired, out of ammunition, the Confederates realized the battle was lost. According to Van Dorn, he ordered a withdrawal from the field that was carried out orderly and with little pursuit. General Albert Pike, however, told a different story. Pike was not even informed that Van Dorn was leaving the field and went forward for orders to find that the Federal troops were 150 yards away and that the Confederate commander was long gone:

Gen. Albert Pike, CSA
Pike described a disorganized but unhurried retreat of streaming lines of troops from their positions on the main line of battle. The Arkansas general described riding among these men trying to keep them organized as much as possible. He began positioning troops to make a stand on level ground north of the battlefield, but as he moved to bring other men into line, he turned around to find that the line had evaporated and the men once again were moving north. He rushed to catch up with them and tried a second time:

...I rode again to the front and halted the leading battery at the foot of the next level, ordered it into line, facing the rear, gave the necessary commands myself, and had three guns brought into position. Two regiments of infantry were standing there in lines ranging up and down the valley, the flank of each to the enemy. I directed them to form in the rear of the batteries; but at this moment a shell was sent by the enemy up the road from the point of the hill around which we had just passed. The cry of "The cavalry are coming" was raised and everything became confusion. - Gen. Albert Pike, CSA, March 14, 1862.

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
Victor of Pea Ridge
Had Albert Pike not assumed command of the Confederate cavalry still on the field and ordered it into position to protect the retreating infantry and artillery, Van Dorn's army might well have been completely destroyed. His impromptu rear guard, however, confused and delayed the Federal pursuit long enough for most of the disorganized Confederate army to escape.

Other officers, particularly those of the Missouri State Guard, also fought delaying actions as the army retreated. It is worth noting that the 200 or so mounted men of Colonel Stand Watie's First Cherokee Rifles were among the last Confederate troops to leave the field.

The Battle of Pea Ridge ended in disaster for the Confederacy, 150 years ago today.

I will post more on the aftermath of the battle in coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - A Lull in the Battle

Confederate Position on night of March 7, 1862
This is part three of a series of posts on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read the previous parts first, please see: The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One and The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two.

The night of March 7, 1862, brought an end to the bloody first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge. The moans and cries of the wounded echoed off the rocks of the ridge and the bodies of the dead carpeted the ground. On the Federal side of the battlefield, General Curtis positioned his line of battle in the edge of trees, with a wide and open field in front of them and there they slept on their arms for the night:

Union Military Map of the Pea Ridge Battlefield
...I directed a detail from each company to bring water and provisions, and thus without a murmur these weary soldiers lay and many of them slept within a few yards of the foe, with their dead and wounded comrades scattered around them. Darkness, silence, and fatigue soon secured to the weary broken slumbers and gloomy repose. The day had closed in some reverses on the right, but the left had been unassailed and the center had driven the foe from the field. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

Realizing that the fight would reopen the next morning along what had been his right flank, General Curtis completed the 180 degree pivot of his army by concentrating the entire Federal force along his final line of the day. The plan was for him to be able to resume the battle on the morning of the 8th with his entire army ready to fight on the front opened by the Confederates along the Telegraph road.

Elkhorn Tavern
Inside Confederate Lines on the night of March 7, 1862
On the Confederate side of the field, General Van Dorn assessed the situation that night to find that he was far from ready to resume another full day of battle:

...In the course of the night I ascertained that the ammunition was almost exhausted, and that the officer in charge of the ordnance supplies could not find his wagons, which, with the subsistence train, had been sent to Bentonville. Most of the troops had been without any food since the morning of the 6th and the artillery horses were beaten out. It was therefore with no little anxiety that I awated the dawn of day.- Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA, March 27, 1862.

Gen. William Y. Slack, CSA
The speed with which Van Dorn had marched his army into battle now turned on him. He had entered the engagement at Pea Ridge with a larger army than his Federal opponents, but he had not given proper care to his logistics or the condition of his men. Now, with one entire division of his army disorganized and confused, he found that his men had no food and very little ammunition.

In addition, he had lost a large number of his senior officers in the first day's fighting. In McCulloch's Division, Generals Ben McCulloch and James McIntosh had been killed and Colonel Louis Hebert, who had then assumed command, was missing and feared dead. In Price's Division, General William Y. Slack had been mortally wounded during the early phases of the attack down the Telegraph road. He would die two weeks later.

Col Stand Watie, CSA
To make matters worse, most of the troops of McCulloch's Division did not move to Van Dorn's position during the night. When he came up after another night of marching, General Pike (who had assumed command of McCulloch's battered force) was able to bring up only a portion of the infantry, Welch's cavalry squadron from Texas, a single battery and Colonel Stand Watie's First Cherokee Rifles. He reached Telegraph road to find all in confusion and spent hours trying to find General Van Dorn and receive orders as to where he should place his men.

As Van Dorn and Price tried to prepare for a resumption of the action the next day, their men lay exhausted and hungry on the cold ground. They had not eaten in 36 hours and were dangerousloy low on ammunition. From the Federal side of the field they could hear with their own ears evidence that the enemy was preparing to resume the fight:

Pea Ridge National Military Park
View from the Union lines on the night of March 7, 1862
...During the night great commotion was audible in the camp of the enemy. Their artillery and baggage wagons seemed to be continually moving. The officers of my command preserved their lines unbroken, in readiness for any emergency. - Col. Henry Little, First Brigade Missouri Volunteers (CSA), March 18, 1862.

About the only good news received by any of the Confederate troops that night came in the middle of the night when Colonel Henry Little's First Missouri Brigade received an unexpected gift from the Union army:

...About midnight the sound of wheels approached. We opened our lines and admitted a caisson with ammunition, which, through mistake of the driver, came to seek one of the divisions of the Federal army in the ranks of his adversaries. - Col. Henry Little, First Brigade Missouri Volunteers (CSA), March 18, 1862.

So passed the night of March 7, 1862, and predawn hours of March 8, 1862, 150 years ago tonight. I will post on the second day of the battle tomorrow, so be sure to check back! Until then, you can read more at

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two

Elkhorn Tavern
This is part two of a post on the 150th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. To read the first part, please click here: The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One.

The loss of three division commanders in such a short time on the Leetown sector of the battlefield completely disrupted the Confederate attack there. General Albert Pike did what he could to reorganize the shattered force, but there were no further Southern attacks that day on the Leetown front.

As the battle diminished at Leetown, however, it increased in severity along the Telegraph road. Van Dorn and Price drove forward against Carr's forces and heavy fighting erupted. Curtis ordered Generals Asboth and Sigel to change front from the Sugar Creek lines they had been holding and push to the relief of Colonel Carr.

Gen. Alexander Asboth, USA
Curtis himself accompanied Asboth, who boldly pushed forward ahead of his main body and rushed to Carr's assistance, arriving just in time:

...General Asboth had planted his artillery in the road and opened a tremendous fire on the enemy at short range. The Second Missouri Infantry also deployed and earnestly engaged the enemy. About this time the shades of night began to gather around us, but the fire on both sides seemed to grow fierce and more deadly. One of my bodyguard fell dead, my orderly received a shot, and General Asboth was severely wounded in the arm. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

At Pea Ridge, Asboth proved the estimation of him later written by General William Tecumseh Sherman that he was personally brave. Despite his severe wound, Asboth did not quit the field and continued to direct the fire of his cannon until they had completely used up their ammunition and had no choice but to fall back.
Telegraph Road, where Asboth stood with his artillery
...This caused another battery that I had located on the right of the road to follow, this latter fearing a want of support. The infantry, however, stood firm or fell back in good order, and the batteries were soon restored, but the caissons got quite out of reach. The artillery firing was renewed, however, and kept up till dark, the enemy firing the last shot, for I could not find another cartridge to give them a final round; even the little howitzers responded, "No cartridges." - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

On the Confederate side, General Van Dorn reported that he learned at 3 p.m. that Generals McCulloch and McIntosh had been killed. Despite the failure of the attack on the Federal right flank, he decided to push forward the attack down the Telegraph road:
Confederate cannon at Pea Ridge
...I nevertheless pressed forward with the attack, and at sunset the enemy was fleeing before our victorious troops at every point in our front, and when night fell we had driven him entirely from the field of battle.
   Our troops slept upon their arms nearly a mile beyond the point at which he made his last stand, and my headquarters for the night were at the Elkhorn Tavern. We had taken during the day seven cannon and about 200 prisoners. - Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA, March 27, 1862.

While the Federal troops would prove the next day that they had not fled from the field, Van Dorn's report indicated that he had largely lost communication with McCulloch's Division and had no knowledge of what was happening on that part of the battlefield.
Gen. Sterling Price, CSA
General Price described the Confederate attack down Telegraph road in much greater detail:

...I now advanced my whole line, which gradually closed upon the enemy and drove them from one position to another, until we found them towards evening in great force on the south and west of an open field, supported by masked batteries.
   The artillery and infantry of my left wing were brought up to attack them, and they did so with a spirit and determination worthy of all praise. The fiercest struggle of the day now ensued; but the enemy was driven back and completely routed. My right had engaged the enemy's center at the same time with equal daring and equal success, and had already driven them from their position at Elkhorn Tavern. Night alone prevented us from achieving a complete victory, of which we had already gathered some of the fruits, having taken two pieces of artillery and quantity of stores. - Gen. Sterling Price, CSA, March 22, 1862.

Nightfall brought the bloody fighting to an end and then men of both sides slept on their arms I will post later tonight about what happened during the night and what went through the minds of the commanders of both sides as they prepared to fight again the next day.

Please click here to continue to The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - A Lull in the Battle.
You can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge anytime at

The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part One

Pea Ridge National Military Park
Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, the engagement at Pea Ridge began when the morning of March 7, 1862, revealed Major General Earl Van Dorn's Confederate army moving in full force around the right flank of Major General Samuel Curtis's entrenched Union army.

Having fought with Federal troops near Bentonville the previous day and then sending part of his force up the Telegraph or Wire Road after them to keep up the impression that he intended a frontal attack on the Union army, Van Dorn moved out on a long, difficult and exhausting night march via a route called the Bentonville Detour. This road passed was a cut-off of sorts that connected Bentonville with the Telegraph Road just north of the Pea Ridge Battlefield.

Gen. Ben McCulloch, CSA
Van Dorn's plan was to strike Curtis on the right flank and rear. The commanding general himself accompanied the division of Major General Sterling Price, which followed the detour all the way around the Union army until it struck the Telegraph Road. In heavy force, Price and his men then began an advance south towards Elkhorn Tavern intending to hit Curtis from behind.

The other division was commanded by Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. He was to hit the right flank of the Union army as Price came down to strike it in the rear. If all went well, Van Dorn would smash Curtis and either force his surrender, put his men into flight into the mountains where they could not be supplied or drive them into Little Sugar Creek, which they were facing.

It didn't go as hoped. The road was long and hard and conditions were bad. The Confederate infantry spent the night trudging through cold mud and shivering in the winter weather of the Ozark Plateau. The supply wagons were far in the rear and as the march continued through the night, the distance between them and the main fighting force grew and grew.

Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA
Sunrise came and Van Dorn was not in position to begin his attack. The Federals observed his troops moving around their right and began to adjust accordingly. Even so, the surprise move almost ended in victory for the Confederates.

Convening a meeting of his officers at the tent of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, Curtis ordered his commanders to begin a complete change of front of his army. This was a remarkable thing to attempt under any conditions, but with an enemy attack pending it was intensely difficult and dangerous. The Union commander, however, had no choice.

Col. Grenville Dodge, USA
As this meeting was underway, a courier arrived to report that Confederate troops could be seen moving in force along the Ford road to the west. Colonel Peter Osterhaus was ordered to move with his division to probe the movement. As Osterhaus began to move his men to the west in the direction of Leetown, a small community on the battlefield, a second courier arrived to report that a second body of Confederates was moving south in force on the Telegraph Road, aiming for Elkhorn Taver and the Union supply trains.

Colonel Grenville Dodge's brigade was just outside the tent at the time and Curtis order Dodge's commander, Colonel Eugene Carr, to take Dodge's brigade and half the Confederate force advancing down the Telegraph Road. Carr moved out promising the battle would be over in an hour.

Leetown Battlefield at Pea Ridge National Military Park
Osterhaus struck first, engaging the Confederates under McCulloch near Leetown and finding them to be in greatly superior force. Ordering his division forward, McCulloch began to push back the Federals. General Curtis ordered Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis) to march to the support of Osterhaus and his men.

Almost simultaneously, Price attacked Union forces on the northern end of the battle, deploying his division out on both sides of Telegraph Road and pushing for Elkhorn Tavern. The Battle of Pea Ridge was now underway:

Col. Jefferson C. Davis, USA
...The battle raged...with terrible fury. Colonel Davis held the position against fearful numbers, and our brave troops nobly stood or charged in steady lines. The fate of the battle depended on success agaisnt this flank movement of the enemy [i.e. the movement by McCulloch against the Union right], and here near Leetown was the place to break it down. - Gen. Samuel Curtis, USA, April 1, 1862.

It in the woods and fields near Leetown that disaster struck the Confederate army. Realizing that the Federal forces opposing him were growing in strength, General McCulloch came up to view the Union lines in person before launching a major attack against them when he was shot down. So ended the life of on of the most remarkable men in the history of Texas, the South and the United States.

Gen. James McIntosh, CSA
Command of the division now fell to Brigadier General James McIntosh, but within fifteen minutes he too was shot down just a short distance from where McCulloch had been killed. He died on the battlefield, becoming the first Confederate general from Florida to give his life in the cause of the South.

Colonel Louis Hebert, of Louisiana, now assumed the command and ordered the attack. It went well at first and the Federals were driven back. Smoke, friendly fire and wooded terrain, however, created great confusion in the Confederate ranks and the attack stalled. Hebert became separated from his men and was taken prisoner.

Please click here to continue to The Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas - Day One, Part Two.

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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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 4, 1862 - The Confederates come down from the Mountains

Snow blankets Pea Ridge Battlefield (NPS Photo)
On the morning of March 4, 1862, 150 years ago today, Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn marched his Army of the West out of the Boston Mountains and onto the Ozark Plateau of Washington and Benton Counties, Arkansas.

As the Confederates moved out, Brigadier General James McIntosh's cavalry brigade was ordered to take the lead. This was a standard military move. The cavalry would move out ahead of the main body to clear the roads of any enemy pickets, to scout and to secure the route of march.

Part of this movement was spearheaded by Colonel Elkanah Greer and the Third Texas Cavalry. Organized at Dallas in June of 1861, the Third Texas was a seasoned regiment, having fought at Wilson's Creek, Chustenahlah and other actions:

The Boston Mountains
     At 7 o'clock on the morning of the 4th we left our encampment on Boston Mountains, my regiment going in advance.
     That night we encamped near Fayetteville. The day had been very cold, with quite a snow-storm during the morning.  - Col. E. Greer, Third Texas Cavalry, CSA, March 1862.

The Missouri State Guard, under Major General Sterling Price, stepped off in the wake of the cavalry from its camps near Cove Creek. Price later described how Van Dorn had ordered him to march with only three days rations and supplies:

Cove Creek Road
...That officer having arrived at Cove Creek and assumed command of the Confederate forces in Western Arkansas, I gladly placed myself and my army under his orders, and in obedience to these toop up the line of march in the direction of Bentonville on the morning of March 4, provided with three days' cooked rations, leaving my baggage and supply trains to follow slowly in the rear. - Gen. Sterling Price, CSA, March 22, 1862.

The total force under Price consisted of 6,818 men with eight batteries of field artillery. General Ben McCulloch marched with a similar size force, but due to his death in the coming battle did not file a report on his movements.

Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA
Brigadier General Albert Pike, meanwhile, had linked up with Colonel Stand Watie's First Cherokee Rifles at Cincinnati on the western border of Arkansas and on the 4th pushed on into Northwest Arkansas to link up with Van Dorn's army. 

The Confederate army was assembling for battle and, for one of the few times in a major battle during the war, would outnumber its opponent. The Battle of Pea Ridge was now three days away.

They day and night of March 4th were bitterly cold in the mountains and, as Colonel Greer later noted, heavy snow fell, particularly in the higher elevations. Van Dorn himself was sick with fever and had been with the army less than 24 hours, but insisted on the immediate advance.The weather, the terrain and his failure to properly organize his supply system would haunt him in the days to come.

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

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March 3, 1862 - Van Dorn reaches the Boston Mountains

Confederate Camp in Boston Mountains
On March 3, 1862, 150 years ago today, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn reached the camps of the combined forces of Sterling Price and Ben McCulloch in the Boston Mountains between Fayetteville and the Arkansas River:

...[B]eing satisfied that the enemy, who had halted at Sugar Creek, 55 miles distant, was only waiting large re-enforcements before he would advance, I resolved to attack him at once. Accordingly I sent for General Pike to join me near Elm Springs with the forces under his command. - Gen. Earl Van Dorn, March 27, 1862.

Van Dorn's plan was solid, but he was so determined to attack that he moved before he had a full understanding of the logistics of the situation facing him. As a result he would outrace his supplies, a critical mistake if the coming battle should last for more than one day.

Gen. Albert Pike, CSA
On the same day, even before receiving the commanding general's orders, General Albert Pike had marched from Park Hill in the Cherokee Nation with O.C. Welch's squadron of Texans, the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment and Colonel D.N. McIntosh's Creek Regiment. His immediate objectives were the towns of Evansville and Cincinnati, on the border between Arkansas and the Cherokee Nation. Colonel Stand Watie was waiting in Cincinnati with his Second Mounted Cherokee Rifles and would join Pike's force as he advanced.

Col. Stand Watie, CSA
Van Dorn, meanwhile, would march out from the camps in the Boston Mountains the next morning and engage the Federals at Pea Ridge just three days later on the 7th. 

His strategy was to swing around the right flank of the Union army of General Samuel Curtis, which was then encamped and entrenched on the north side of Sugar Creek in Benton County, Arkansas. If he could carry out this movement quickly and without being detected, Van Dorn believed he could launch simultaneous attacks on Curtis's right flank and rear, destroying the Union army before it knew what had hit it.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge tomorrow, so check back then to learn about the Confederate march from the mountains. Until then you can read more about the Battle of Pea Ridge at

Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2, 1862 - Van Dorn approaches the Scene of Action

Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA
March 2, 1862, 150 years ago today, found Confederate General Earl Van Dorn approaching the scene of the action in Northwest Arkansas.

He was in Pocahontas on February 22, 1862, when he learned that Springfield, Missouri, had fallen and that General Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard was retreating into Arkansas:

...I received dispatches on February 22, informing me that General Price had rapidly fallen back from Springfield before a superior force of the enemy, and was endeavoring to form a junction with the division of General McCulloch in Boston Mountains. For reasons which seemed to me imperative I resolved to go in person and take command of the combined forces of Price and McCulloch. - Gen. Earl Van Dorn, CSA, March 27, 1862.

Arkansas River
The magnitude of the emergency was evident and Van Dorn began to move. At the same time, the Confederate forces in the Boston Mountains continued to rest and regain their strength. Supplies flowed up from the Arkansas River and news came from west of the line that General Albert Pike was approaching with a large force of Native American Confederates. 

With Van Dorn on hand to overrule any disputes that might arise from the long-standing bickering between Generals Price and McCulloch, the Confederate army would be ready to defend itself. 

The Confederate commander had more in mind than just defense, however, and would prove it the next day. Although he was sick with fever, Van Dorn was as aggressive as ever and dreamed not just of defeating Curtis in Northwest Arkansas, but of taking Missouri and marching on St. Louis. This dream would lead him to undertake a bold gamble. He would show his hand in just five days at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Be sure to check back tomorrow as I post on the Confederate army's advance to Pea Ridge. You can learn more about the battle anytime at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pea Ridge #15 - Arkansas Rallies to oppose the Invasion

As General Earl Van Dorn scrambled to pull together a Confederate army to oppose the occupation of Northwest Arkansas by strong Federal forces, he was gratified by the speed with which the men of Arkansas responded to his call.

Boston Mountains of Arkansas
The following report from the Pocahontas Herald appeared in the Louisiana Daily True Delta on March 4, 1862. While the report was not dated, it appears to have been written around the first of March (150 years ago today) and details the rapid movement of men from throughout Arkansas to the Boston Mountains:

ARKANSAS RALLYING. - From all parts of the State, says the Pocahontas Herald, we hear the most flattering acconts of volunteering, and think that by the 5th of March over 10,000 sons of Arkansas will have enrolled their names and offered their services for the glorious cause of liberty and southern rights. In this county alone, fully three hundred men will go forth to battle under the late call, and we hear that other counties adjoining us are doing nearly as well. To talk of drafting Arkansians is sheer nonsense. If the men are needed all that is necessary is to call them out and furnish them guns to fight with. - Louisiana Daily True Delta, March 4, 1862.

Arkansas River landing at Van Buren
The men were reinforcements for the forces of Confederate Generals Ben McCulloch, Sterling Price and James McIntosh, all of which were positioned south of the Boston Mountains ridge in Crawford County.

Although Union General Samuel Curtis did not know it, the initiative that he had maintained so well in his advance down through Missouri and into Arkansas was now beginning to shift. A naturally aggressive officer, Van Dorn would move with characteristic speed to try to destroy his Federal counterpart. The Battle of Pea Ridge was now less than one week away.

In addition to the rapid movement of men, cannon and supplies to the south side of the Boston Mountains near Van Buren, troops also were on the march from the Indian Territory of today's Oklahoma. Brigadier General Albert Pike had marched for Northwest Arkansas on February 28th and was slowly moving for the Arkansas line near which he expected to link up with the Cherokee troops of Colonel Stand Watie. Together they would move thousands of Native American troops forward to take part in the Battle of Pea Ridge.

I will begin to accelerate my postings on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge tomorrow, so be sure to check back regularly. You can also read more anytime at