Sunday, April 25, 2010

Battle of Pea Ridge - Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Note: This is part of our continuing look at Civil War related historic sites to observe Confederate History Month.

The War Between the States developed slowly following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. Both sides worked desperately to organize armies and supply systems on a scale never before attempted on the American continent. Even after months, the armies were barely learning their business when Union authorities ordered their men into action. The result was the Battle of First Manassas or Bull Run, a smashing Confederate victory. The Southern army, however, was almost as disorganized by victory and unable to pursue its defeated foe through the mud of Northern Virginia.

It was west of the Mississippi River, however, that the two sides first took killing to a new level. The war in Missouri was bitter and bloody as two armies fought for control of the state. By March of 1862, the Union Army of the Southwest has pushed across the line into Arkansas and was in position at a place called Pea Ridge. The Confederate forces trying to oppose them were disorganized and barely functional, but the sudden arrival from the east of Major General Earl Van Dorn energized the Southern army and put it on the offensive.

Van Dorn dreamed of greatness, telling his wife that he planned to advance deep into Missouri and even take St. Louis. Unfortunately for his men, he failed to recognize the danger posed by the Union army that blocked his way into the Show Me State.  Dividing his army, Van Dorn swept around the right flank of the Federal army which was commanded by Major General Samuel Curtiss. The move proved disastrous.  Not only did Van Dorn lose operational control of his full army, but he advanced so fast that his worn out and hungry infantrymen could not keep pace. Making matters worse, his ammunition wagons and other supplies were left to follow the rear in favor of speed.

On March 7-8, 1862, the two armies battled for control of a sweeping area of fields, woods and mountains in what became known as the Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern. It was one of the largest battles ever to take place west of the Mississippi and was one of the greatest battles of the war to that point. More than 3,000 men were killed, wounded and captured and Curtiss achieved a remarkable 180 degree reverse of front of his army while under direct attack from a larger Confederate army. In the end, the Federals prevailed and Van Dorn's smashed army disappeared in bits and pieces back into the mountains of Arkansas.

To learn more about this remarkable battle in the West, please visit

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