Wednesday, March 7, 2012

150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas

Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge National Military Park
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. The battle was fought in Northwest Arkansas on March 7-8, 1862.

One of the most important battles of the Civil War and one of the largest engagements west of the Mississippi River, Pea Ridge is regarded by many as the battle that saved Missouri for the Union. Extremely bloody and fought over a vast area, it culminated a campaign by General Samuel Curtis (US) to drive the Missouri State Guard of General Sterling Price (CS) out of its home state.

Confederate Cannon at Pea Ridge
The fight, also called the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, took place when a Confederate army led by General Earl Van Dorn stormed out of the Boston Mountains and onto the Ozark Plateau of Northwest Arkansas. Using a long and exhausting night march to swing his army around the Federal camps behind Little Sugar Creek, Van Dorn attacked the right flank and rear of the Union army on the morning of March 7, 1862.

Leetown area of Pea Ridge Battlefield
The battle opened near the little community of Leetown in Benton County, Arkansas. One division of the Confederate army attacked through fields and woods in a desperate assault on the Union right flank. General Curtis rushed reenforcements to his men in that sector of the field and intense fighting erupted.

Disaster struck the Confederates making the attack, however, when General Ben McCulloch, who was leading the attack, was killed. General James McIntosh then rose to the command but was killed just fifteen minutes later. Colonel Louis Hebert then took command, but a combination of terrain, smoke, friendly fire and determined Union resistance broke the Confederate apart and he was captured. In just an hour or so, three Confederate division commanders were killed or captured.

View of the Pea Ridge Battlefield from the Mountain
As the fighting neared an end near Leetown, the second Confederate attack came down the Telegraph Road from directly behind the main Union line. This assault was more successful and through an afternoon of heavy fighting drove the Federals from the area around Elkhorn Tavern and back into the middle of the battlefield. Had darkness not ended the drive, Van Dorn might well have won the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Union cannon at Pea Ridge Battlefield
It did not happen that way. In his rush to get his army into battle, General Van Dorn had failed to properly see to his logistics and supply train and darkness found his army without food and almost out of ammunition. When the fighting resumed the next morning, he was not prepared to meet the now reorganized Union army.

After blasting the Confederate positions with artillery fire on the morning of March 8, 1862, General Curtis moved his army forward and drove Van Dorn from the field.

The site of the battle is now preserved as Pea Ridge National Military Park, one of America's finest national park areas. Driving and walking tours take visitors to all key areas of the battlefield and the mountains in the park offer outstanding views of the entire field.

To learn more, please visit

1 comment:

Rob From Amersfoort said...

That looks like an interesting park. I like the lines of cannons, it makes it easier to imagine the attacks taking place.