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.


Bob R Bogle said...

I just discovered your incredible blog. Superb! There seems to be an astonishing paucity of comments. I hope you will not be discouraged. If nothing else, you're accruing an important resource for the future. Keep up the excellent work.

(btw, I have ancestral connections who fought for the union and were wounded at Pea Ridge; years later owned property on the battlefield before it was acquired by the NPS.)

Dale Cox said...

Ernest, Thank you very much for the nice words. The traffic numbers for the blog are very good. I'm not sure why more people don't engage in the discussion. They seem to be reading, just not talking!


dlb8685 said...

My father grew up in Fort Smith and on one of my recent visits we watched a video about Arkansas in the Civil War, with a couple of other friends and relatives who were there. All of them were native Arkansans, and all of them were surprised at/had forgotten just how bad Arkansas had it during the war.

I see that there is a theme of posting events on their 150th anniversary. What about things such as the Union occupation and backwoods conflict that do not necessarily have a start and end date? Or should I just be patient :)

Dale Cox said...

Thank you for the note! I have done some bits and pieces on the Union occupation and guerrilla warfare in the past but plan to do a lot more in the future. I've been doing some research on that and think I will have some great material to share soon. It was a difficult time but a fascinating one to study.