Pea Ridge - Most Important Battle West of the Mississippi - Part 1
Historians Consider Pea Ridge Most Important Battle Fought West of the Mississippi River Article from the Rogers Daily News - May 25, 1963 (Now the NWA Democrat Gazette)
Editor's note -- The following is a digest of theaccount of the Battle of Pea Ridge as recorded by a History of Northwest Arkansas, published anonymously in 1888. ---------------------------------
The Battle of Pea Ridge, which took place in the northeastern part of Benton county on March 6, 7 and 8, 1862, has been rated by historians as the most important engagement of the Civil War to be fought west of the Mississippi river.
Defeat of the Confederate forces in the final day of battle in the vicinity of Elk Horn Tavern has been credited with saving the state of Missouri for the Union.
On February 18, 1862, the union army, commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel B. Curtis, crossed the state line from Missouri and went into camp on Sugar creek near Brightwater.
The Third and Fourth divisions advanced from this position 12 miles farther south to Cross Hollows, where Gen. Curtis established headquarters. The First and Second divisions went to Bentonville and a strong cavalry force, under Gen. Asboth, went to Osage Springs.
On February 23, Gen. Asboth made a dash into Fayetteville, 20 miles in advance, found the city evacuated and planted the Union flag on the courthouse.
On March 1, a division commanded by Col. Jeff C. Davis withdrew from Cross Hollows and took position immediately behind Little Sugar creek, covering the Fayetteville and Springfield road. Col. Davis fortified his position in anticipation of an attack from the south.
On March 2, the First and Second divisions, under Gen. Sigel, moved to McKissack's farm, four and a half miles west of Bentonville. Col. Schaefer of the Second Missouri Infantry and a detachment of cavalry was sent to Osage Mills, six miles south, by a little east, of the McKissack farm. These detachments were set up as a post of observation toward Elm Springs, and for the purpose of running the mill to grind flour for the troops.
Another detachment of cavalry was sent to Osage Springs, five miles southeast of Bentonville, to hold connection with the division at Cross Hollows. On March 5, a detachment under Major Conrad, was sent from the McKissack farm to Maysville, on the state line 31 miles west of Bentonville. Another detachment under Major Mezaros went to Pineville, Mo., 25 miles northwest, while a detachment under Col. Vandever, had been sent to Huntsville, in Madison county.
Meanwhile, the Confederate army, Commanded by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, concentrated in the Boston mountains south of Fayetteville, and on March 3 it was on the march to Fayetteville and Elm Springs, its advance arriving at Elm Springs on the evening of March 5.
On this march, Price's troops in the lead were followed by McCulloch's divisions, while Gen. Albert Pike, with a brigade of Indian troops brought up the rear.
The Federal officers did not learn of this movement until March 5, when the Confederates were only a day's march from Sigel's position at the McKissack farm.
It was the intention of the Confederate commander to move early on March 6 and if possible, cut off and capture Sigel's two divisions before they could prepare for defense, or effect a retreat.
Sigel, however, was advised of the advance of the enemy in time to prevent disaster. Col. Schaefer's outposts were attacked on the evening of March 5, and during that night he fell back, under instructions from Gen. Sigel, to Bentonville.
Gen. Asboth's division left the McKissack farm at 2 a.m. March 6 with the whole train, followed by the division of Col. Osterhaus. They passed through Bentonville from 4 to 8 a.m. and arrived at the camp behind Sugar creek, where the Union army was to concentrate, at 2 p.m.
Gen. Sigel, with about 600 men and a battery of six pieces, remained behind in Bentonville for the purpose of defending the main column on its retreat and to make observations reguarding the Confederates' advance.
At 10 a.m., Sigel discovered that the Confederates were forming a battle line about a mile south of Bentonville. With all posible haste and caution he set out with his rear guard to follow the main body of the Union army.
The Confederate troops quickly followed, and skirmished with Sigel's troops until they gained a point on Sugar creek about seven miles northeast of Bentonville. Here Sigel went up the creek toward Brightwater, where he joined the main army under Curtis.
Van Dorn, then advanced his army on the Bentonville and Keetsville road, passing on the right of the Union army as it was then in position facing southward, Van Dorn, with Price's command, passed north of Big mountain until he reached the Fayetteville and Springfield road at a point north of Elkhorn Tavern and in the rear of the Union army.
Van Dorn expected to reach this point before daylight on the morning of March 7, but on account of obstructions placed in the road by Col. Dodge's Iowa regiment, he did not reach it until nearly 10 a.m., of that day.
During the night, while passing along the north side of Big mountain, McCulloch's command countermarched and returned to the west end of Big mountain, taking position immediately west amd south of the mountain, with his lines facing south and southwesterly.
During the night of March 6 the Union army rested in line of battle, facing southward from behind Sugar creek. Gen. Asboth's division held the extreme right, Col. Osterhous was on his left, Col. Davis next, and Col. Carr, with his division, on the extreme left.
The extreme right was so retired as to face southwest. Curtis expected to be attacked from the south, and had made preparations accordingly, but early on the morning of March 7 he learned that his enemy was in his rear instead of the front. After consultation with his division commanders at Pratt's store, Curtis faced about and directed Col. Carr to take immediate control of the commanding general, Van Dorn, laying east of Big mountain, while McCulloch's forces lay west and southwest of the mountain. Thus, all immediate communications between the two portions of the Confederate army were cut off.
The Union army also was divided in order to contend with the divided forces of the Confederates, but Gen. Curtis established his headquarters near Pratt's store and kept up communications between the two portions of his army.
When the battle opend on the morning of March 7, the Union cavalry sent out from Sigel's command to meet McCulloch's advance was repulsed, and in return, the Confederates were checked in their onslaught by the command of Osterhaus.
"At this point," Gen. Sigel said, "the speedy arrival of Col. Jeff C. Davis' division on the right of Osterhaus, and its energetic advance turned a very critical moment into a decisive victory of our arms. McCulloch and McIntosh fell while leading their troops in a furious attack against Osterhaus and Davis. Hebert and a number of his officers and men were captured by the pickets of the Thirty-Sixth Illinois (cavalry), under Capt. Smith, and of the Forty-Fourth Illinois Infantry under Capt. Russell.
"Thus the whole of McCulloch's column, deprived of its leaders and without unity of command, was thrown into confusion and beaten back. Though a great advantage was gained on our side by the death and capture of those leaders, the principal cause of our success was rather the quick rallying and excellent maneuvering of Osterhaus' and Davis' forces, as well as the coolness and bravery of their infantry, supported by Welfley's, Hoffman's and Davidson's batteries. Osterhaus changed his front twice under the fire of the enemy, to meet the dangerous flank attack and pressure of Hebert's Louisiana and Arkansas infantry, while the brigades of Davis, by striking the left of McCulloch's advancing column, threw it into disorder and forced it to retreat."
During the day the left wing of the Confederate army under Van Dorn and Price, was eminently successful, as conceded by Gen. Sigel, who said: "In spite of the heroic resistance of the two brigades of Dodge and Vandever, and the reinforcements sent them during the afternoon, they were forced back from position to position until Elkhorn Tavern was taken by the enemy, almost without ammunition, their artillery reduced by the loss of guns, men and horses, their infantry greatly reduced, had to seek a last shelter in the woods and behind the fences, separated from the enemy's position by open fields, but not farther than a mile from our trains. They formed a contracted and curved line determined to resist, not disheartened, but awaiting with some apprehension another attack. Fortunately the enemy did not follow up this sucesses, and night fell in, closing this terrible conflict"
The Elkhorn Tavern was burned by bushwhackers not long after the battle. It was rebuilt on its original foundation in 1865. The building was remodeled in 1915 and has been restored again in more recent years.
---------------------------------------------- Please note: This article, based on writings from a mere 26 years after the battle, is being presented in two parts due to its length. The end of the first day of battle (March 6th) seems to be a reasonable stopping point. Check back soon for part two.