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

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