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

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